Given all the hoopla, you’d think Milk was the only queer Oscar game in Tinseltown. However, other films had queer themes and subplots, too.
The most obvious is Doubt, in which Oscar-worthy Meryl Streep plays a nun who suspects a priest, portrayed brilliantly by Philip Seymour Hoffman (Best Supporting Actor nominee), of molesting a black boy. This landmark film about the intersection of homophobia and race has a character felt throughout, but not actually seen: the boy’s homophobic father. We learn this from the boy’s mother, played by Viola Davis (Best Supporting Actress nominee).
Though Vera Farmiga’s performance as the mother in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas surpasses all the women nominated for Best Supporting Actress this year, Davis is my pick. Wonderful Amy Adams, also a Best Supporting Actress nominee for Doubt, has a larger role, but Davis compresses multiple levels of consciousness in her much smaller role—reminiscent of Beatrice Straight’s brief but breathtaking 1976 Oscar-winning Network performance.
But watch for Best Supporting Actress nominee Penelope Cruz. She’s a charismatic fireball in Woody Allen’s fascinating inquiry into female sexuality, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, swinging both ways between Javier Bardem and Scarlett Johansson. Wouldn’t you, too?
Milk’s Sean Penn legitimately could take home the Best Actor statuette, but he’s equaled by Richard Jenkins in The Visitor, still my personal choice for 2008 best film, though it wasn’t Oscar-nominated. Frank Langella beguiles as Tricky Dick in the fab Frost/Nixon. Brad Pitt is damn good as the aging-backward Benjamin Button, whose Curious Case, an elegiac love letter to the 20th Century, is Best Picture caliber.
Mickey Rourke has been touted as Penn’s Oscar nemesis for a courageous, soul-baring portrayal in The Wrestler. His life implodes, partly stemming from neglecting his understandably bitter lesbian daughter (a bristling Evan Rachel Ward). He deserves a nod, but not the award.
The media puts forward the late Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight) as a Best Supporting Actor shoo-in, but he has competition. Actually, his and Hoffman’s roles are arguably leading ones. Ledger’s scenes are impressively high-octane, but Hoffman’s are exceedingly multifaceted. Of course, Ledger’s best remains Brokeback.
That said, the spoiler still could be Michael Shannon, who plays a 1950s shock-treatment victim in the stunning Revolutionary Road. It’s not written as gay, but it brings to mind how GLBT folks back then were fodder for such experimentation. Shannon emanates inner turbulence, not only with variation, but also without any special effects.
Josh Brolin’s Dan White in Milk is stellar. Bill Irwin was robbed by not being nominated for Rachel Getting Married, as was Ralph Fiennes for The Duchess. Robert Downey Jr.’s blackfaced Tropic Thunder? Whoa! That’s a whole article.
The Reader isn’t gay, but for a film that’s mainstream, it’s audacious indeed, yet likely won’t beat Benjamin Button or Slumdog Millionaire for Best Picture. Stephen Daldry has directed a consummate examination of guilt and shame. Kate Winslet gives the most boldly erotic Oscar-nominated leading performance since Marlon Brando’s in Last Tango in Paris (1973). She has an affair with a 15-year-old boy, but we learn that’s nothing compared to a crime she was a part of while serving as a Nazi guard. Yet, what she’s most profoundly ashamed of is her illiteracy. Daldry gave us the multi-Oscar-nominated lesbian masterpiece The Hours (2002).
While The Reader deconstructs female sexuality, the staggering animated Best Foreign Language Film nominee, Waltz With Bashir (Israel), deconstructs violent military machismo with amazing male vulnerability. Both films have intriguing homoerotic nuances to watch for.
Best Animated Film nominee Wall-E exhilarates with a recurring “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” from gay-guys-fave Hello Dolly! plus love between two contraptions that may or may not be gender-codified, depending on your point of view.
If you love tough ladies, then Melissa Leo’s your gal in the riveting Frozen River.
Oddly, the darling Sally Hawkins won both the Golden Globe Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical Award and the New York Film Critics Best Actress Award for the terrific Happy-Go-Lucky, but no Oscar nod. It also features a scathing Eddie Marsan as Scott, nomination-worthy as an urban redneck homophobe, London-style.