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Beau Travail (#110 of 3)

50 Essential LGBT Films

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50 Essential LGBT Films
50 Essential LGBT Films

You’ve sported a red equal sign on Facebook, watched Nancy Pelosi show Michele Bachmann her politically correct middle finger, and read some of those other lists that have compiled lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) films, hailing usual suspects like High Art and Brokeback Mountain as gay equivalents of Vertigo (oh, don’t Citizen Kane me; we’re talking regime upheaval here). Now, as you continue to celebrate the crushing of DOMA and Prop 8 (and toss some extra confetti for Pride Month while you’re at it), peruse Slant’s own list of LGBT movies you owe it to yourself to see. Curated by co-founder and film editor Ed Gonzalez, this 50-wide roster is a singular trove of queer-themed gems and classics, spanning the past eight decades and reflecting artists as diverse as Kenneth Anger, Derek Jarman, and Rainer Werner Fassbinder. You won’t find The Birdcage among our ranks, but you will find Paul Morrissey’s Trash, Ira Sach’s The Delta, David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, and Céline Sciamma’s Tomboy. Consider the list a hat tip to what’s shaped up to be a banner LGBT year, particularly on screen, with lesbian romance Blue Is the Warmest Color taking top honors at Cannes, and Xavier Dolan releasing the masterful Laurence Anyways, which also made our cut. R. Kurt Osenlund

Venice Film Festival 2012: The Master

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Venice Film Festival 2012: <em>The Master</em>
Venice Film Festival 2012: <em>The Master</em>

Power, ambition, sex, religion, daddy issues—themes that have obsessed Paul Thomas Anderson throughout his patchy but compelling career. You’ll find them all here and more in The Master, a feverish snapshot of America at the dawn of the ’50s, war fresh in its mind. Anderson’s dazzling feature is also, notoriously, a thinly veiled portrait of the birth of Z-grade science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard’s celebrity-endorsed religion, though less barbed than you might expect.

Credit for this nuanced approach should go to Philip Seymour Hoffman, who imbues title character Lancaster Dodd with a large dollop of avuncular charm. One gets the impression that “The Cause,” Dodd’s teachings that claim to have the potential to cure cancer and bring about world peace, is simply an outlandish bit of mischief that’s gotten out of hand, a petty confidence racket that requires increasingly flamboyant lies as his followers multiply.

The film opens like a playful Beau Travail. WWII is nearing its end and on a golden South Pacific beach members of the U.S. Navy lark in the blue surf like they’re in an Old Spice commercial. One of these sailors, Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix, gaunt, loose-limbed, in Two Lovers form), stands out from the wholesome crowd. Freddie is pure id, a volatile ball of bodily functions and uncontrollable urges. After entertaining his buddies by miming a sex act with an anatomically correct female sand sculpture, he wades knee-deep into the drink to jerk off. This is as close to contentment as we’ll see Freddie for the rest of the film.

Deus ex Sanguina: Claire Denis’s Trouble Every Day

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Deus ex Sanguina: Claire Denis’s <em>Trouble Every Day</em>
Deus ex Sanguina: Claire Denis’s <em>Trouble Every Day</em>

Trouble Every Day aches with spiritual dread. Using the iconography of vampire films to illustrate religious fervor, co-writer/director Claire Denis also shows reverence to the medium of film, particularly to the purity of silent movies. There’s almost no dialogue, and what little there is feels like it takes place within the half-heard context of a dream. An early scene on an airplane features Shane Brown (Vincent Gallo) en route to Paris for his honeymoon, his comfort and security literally in midair. He politely excuses himself to the bathroom, stares blankly into the void, and remembers or envisions a murderess, or maybe a dying girl, covered in blood. There’s no sense of shock to the image, but there’s an unsettling fascination with the textures of wet skin and dried blood. The context isn’t so much violence as repressed indulgence. Josh Hartnett may have gone 40 Days and 40 Nights without twenty-something sex or self-gratification, but Gallo’s angst-ridden version of Lent is the perilous and hellish adult version.