By Hans Pedersen, January 2016 Issue.
You’ve seen Julianne Moore and Ellen Page in the tearjerker Freeheld. You cackled at Lily Tomlin’s awesome performance in Grandma. And hopefully you were wowed by the irascible, wisecracking trans stars in Sean Baker’s Tangerine.
These were just a few of the powerful dramas and comedies featuring LGBTQ themes Echo covered this past year.
A groundbreaking, award-winning movie can bypass local theaters in markets like Phoenix, only to fall off the radar while awaiting release months, or even sometimes a year, after first turning heads.
Some received a proper red carpet arrival when they premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, but there are others we wanted to shed light on by giving them their due with a little fanfare.
Before the 2015 credits roll, here are five titles that recently popped up on Netflix or other platforms that you may have missed earlier this year.
It’s an impressive idea: shoot a movie only on Tuesdays for an entire year, with events in the film also unfolding in a string of 52 Tuesdays.
The premise sizzles with creative possibilities. Actor Del Herbert-Jane, who in real life was undergoing a transition from female to male during the shoot, plays the role of a parent who is making a similar transition.
Incorporating an actor’s gender transformation into the story over the course of the year gives the movie an entirely new dimension.
The daughter’s reaction to the gender reassignment, and her own sexual adventures with another boy and girl at school, become part of this fascinating story, which evolved as the creative team shot the film over one year.
Director Sophie Hyde pulled off this feat using $350,000 in seed money from an Australian initiative that is designed to create films without market attachments. Her efforts paid off with a slew of accolades, including the Directing Award at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival in the World Cinema Dramatic category.
The result is an intriguing portrait of a girl who’s making the change from adolescence to adulthood, as her mother becomes her father. 52 Tuesdays is available on Netflix and for purchase on iTunes on Amazon.
Courageous Tig Notaro is a masterful comedian who has faced all kinds of battles. In this edifying profile about her ability to make people laugh and create a sense of connection, she recalls the night she came on stage at a standup club and announced she had cancer.
“Good evening. Hello I have cancer. How are you?” she can be heard telling the stunned crowd. “Is everybody having a good time? Diagnosed with cancer …”
Some people were crying, and by the end of the set, her brutal honesty had the audience at their feet. People praised her performance on social media, and overnight her world changed.
Notaro had already been diagnosed with a dangerous bacteria that consumes one’s digestive system. Following that, her mother had died. She went through a breakup with her girlfriend, too. She was not finding any humor in her situation.
But then doctors walked in one day and gave her the cancer diagnosis … and something clicked. The absurdity of the string of tragedies she faced opened up the creative floodgates and, while struggling to live, she found her career was skyrocketing.
With cameos by Sarah Silverman and Zack Galifianakis, the 2015 Sundance Film Festival selection is an inspirational profile of a woman with courage and confidence.
Most uplifting is how Notaro falls for actress Stephanie Allynne, her co-star from the movie “In A World …” and the couple winds up totally defying categorization. And viewers will likely be happy they welcomed Notaro into their living rooms. Tig has recently been released on Netflix.
Robin Williams delivers a harrowing performance in what was his final film. The story is decidedly nightmarish as it demonstrates how hiding in the closet turns one man’s life into a misguided wreck. Married to a woman for decades out of convenience, meek banker Nolan Mack and his morose wife, ironically named Joy (Kathy Baker) sleep in separate beds and seem more like household partners than spouses.
Nolan’s mild-mannered life gets upended when he becomes enchanted with a young hustler, Leo (Roberto Aguire). Soon Nolan is living a double life, hiding each hotel rendezvous with the hustler from his wife. And neither his homophobic boss nor his best friend, Winston (Bob Odenkirk), are privy to the truth.
Across the board, the stellar cast makes this movie a compelling and worth-while watch. But the fact Nolan meets with Leo regularly “only to talk,” and never to have sexual relations, is a little tough to believe – and feels like a watered down version of what could have been a grittier script.
While the film may have a few flaws, it evolves into a taut thriller about how living a lie will catch up with you. Boulevard is available for purchase on iTunes, Amazon streaming and on home video.
My Prairie Home
Rae Spoon, who prefers gender-neutral pronouns, is a songwriter, film score composer, music producer, multi-instrumentalist and published author who resides in Calgary, Alberta.
This Canadian indie-folk musician is the subject of this original performance film that features music video-like interludes shot against the gorgeous Canadian landscapes, interspersed with interviews with the performer reflecting on gender identity, faith and the challenges of family through songs and stories.
Director Chelsea McMullan was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival for this unique story of an iconoclast who shows how society tends to pigeon-hole all of us with gender roles.
Growing up in a conservative Christian family, the singer talks honestly about oppressive societal constraints and makes the brilliant remark that “gender is stupid.” My Prairie Home is available on iTunes.
Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine
The young man was tortured and murdered – left to die on a fence in October of 1998 – and it was one of the most brutal hate crimes in U.S. history.
Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine is the type of movie that deserves to be watched by everyone in the LGBTQ community. The hate crime shocked the country, and proved how deeply hatred runs against anyone who defies hyper-traditional gender roles.
Director Michele Josue was a close friend of Shepard’s and here she takes a closer look at the crime, using rare footage and photos that help viewers experience how devastating his murder was for his loved ones. Told from this personal perspective, the new information unveiled in this documentary may rile you up and break your heart.
Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine won several awards at various film festivals around the country and is available on iTunes, Amazon streaming and home video.