Sight & Sound vs. AfterElton on the Greatest Movies

Scene from "Shelter" - the Greatest Gay Movie,
according to the staff of
On August 1, 2012, the British Film Institute's magazine Sight & Sound published its list of the Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time. The list was based on polls and surveys from 846 critics, programmers, academics and distributors. Only six films were from the past 30 years. The top choice was Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958). The list has a strong, international presence with a significant number of European and Asian names, but, if you're looking for black faces or the names of African filmmakers, you won't find hardly any. Same goes for other minorities like Hispanics or homosexuals. Understanding Hollywood, and its white heterosexual bias over the decades, I don't blame Sight & Sound. It just makes for interesting comparison.

A month later, on September 11, 2012, the web site AfterElton published its list of the Top 100 Greatest Gay Movies. Much in the way that Citizen Kane (1941) was dethroned from the # 1 spot in the Sight & Sound poll, Brokeback Mountain was dethroned by Shelter (2007), a gay film about a young surfer, which didn't get any Oscar nominations, but became just as significant in the gay community.

You'll never see Shelter in the BFI Top 50. Brokeback Mountain is the likely film to catch BFI's attention, but even that won't happen, probably not until another 30 or 40 years, if ever. Comparing the AfterElton list to the Sight & Sound one is a bit unfair, given the nature of it. Looking for gay films or expecting any on the Sight & Sound list from the start was futile.

The better list to compare to the AfterElton list would probably be the IMDB Top 250. The IMDB list share 17 movies with the Sight & Sound poll, but the IMDB list is comprised of a lot of mainstream, populist and recent films, including action blockbusters like The Matrix (1999) and even animated movies like Toy Story 3. A gay film like Brokeback Mountain would more likely make the IMDB list, but currently as of September 15, 2012, no gay film is on the IMDB ranking either.

At least, the IMDB list features movies that prominently star ethnic minority actors, including Slumdog Millionaire and The Shawshank Redemption (1994), which is IMDB's #1 film and has Morgan Freeman in its leading role. The AfterElton list is just as inclusive with titles that feature a diverse series of images of black and brown faces. Unlike with the IMDB or Sight & Sound list though, the AfterElton movies are all unified under the banner of all being gay films.

While the Sight & Sound poll was criticized for having hardly any films past 1980, the AfterElton list could also be criticized for having hardly any films prior to 1980. Yet, it actually can't be so criticized because, despite always having gay people in their midst, Hollywood didn't make gay films prior to 1980. Arguably, it still doesn't. It's only thanks to the advent of independent cinema and independent film-making that AfterElton was even able to make this list.

I've been able to see most of the movies on the AfterElton list, a good chunk theatrically thanks to the various film festivals that cater and support gay movies. By contrast, for example, I haven't seen Vertigo projected on a big screen. I'm sure I would enjoy it, if I did, just as I enjoyed most of the gay films. That being said, out of the 100 titles on the AfterElton list, there are 28 that I would eliminate.

The obvious elimination from the AfterElton list is #88 Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World. It's obvious because it's not a gay film. It has a supporting character who is gay, but unless the protagonist is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, it doesn't or shouldn't count as a gay film. Another obvious elimination is #41 Yossi & Jagger, only because it's not feature length. It clocks at only 65 minutes. That's not long enough to be a feature film.

Aside from # 6 Weekend from the UK and # 70 Romeos from Germany, I'm not willing to ascribe the word "greatest" to the number of gay films that were released in the immediate past year or so. That includes the recent Oscar-winning film Beginners, which is # 45. The dump continues with #54 Plan B, # 62 Judas Kiss, # 65 North Sea Texas, # 71 Private Romeo, # 81, 82, 90, 91, 95 and 96.

On the chopping block are also # 15 Angels in America and # 16 Prayers for Bobby. It's not that they're bad or I didn't like them. It's just they were made for television, which is an important, technical distinction. If a movie didn't play in a theater, it doesn't or shouldn't count in this ranking. There are movies on the AfterElton list that I thought were bad or simply weren't appealing to me. This even goes to gay films that were critically-acclaimed or much beloved like #13 Mysterious Skin and #46 Rent.

Of the 28 movies I'd take off the AfterElton list, I would start replacing them with five documentaries. AfterElton generated a separate list of the 25 Greatest Gay Documentaries, but the Sight & Sound list didn't parse fiction from non-fiction films, so I won't either. I would put Chris & Don: A Love Story (2007), which is the romantic history of Christopher Isherwood, the writer behind Cabaret, into the list of the Greatest Gay Movies. The other four docs I'd introduce are Outrage (2009), Tarnation (2003), Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon (2008) and Naked Fame (2004).

# 69 on the AfterElton list is Wild Reeds (1994) by André Téchiné. Even though Wild Reeds is his most hailed, winning the César Award for Best Film, as far as I'm concerned, The Witnesses (2007) is Téchiné's more accomplished work. # 11 Were the World Mine (2008) and # 59 The Curiosity of Chance (2006) are two musicals that may or may not be ready for Broadway, but I would replace them both with 20 Centimeters (2005) and Colma: the Musical (2006).

Other movies to get the cut are #18 The Birdcage, #24, 27, 28, 29, 56, 85, 89 and 96. Given the ones I already eliminated and my substitutes thus far, there are 20 empty slots remaining to balance the AfterElton list. Here are the remaining 20 gay movies I'd use to fill those slots in no particular order.

1. Kinsey (2004)
2. Brother to Brother (2004)
3. Infamous (2006)
4. The Conrad Boys (2006)
5. Straightman (1999)
6. Quinceañera (2006)
7. East Side Story (2006)
8. The 24th Day (2004)
9. Broken Sky (2006)
10. Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss (1998)
11. Come Undone (2000)
12. Food of Love (2002)
13. The Seminarian (2010)
14. Dorian Blues (2004)
15. Punks (2000)
16. Urbania (2000)
17. Long-Term Relationship (2006)
18. Loggerheads (2005)
19. Straight-Jacket (2004)
20. Leather Jacket Love Story (1997)


Popular Posts