REPOSTED FOR YOUR SELF-QUARANTINING NEEDS:
The camp classics that defined generations of gay men seem to have been all but forgotten lately. After the jump, I’ve listed the 50 most captivating, inspiring, and important movies that you absolutely NEED to see before you die. It’s Homo 101 on the WOW Report.
(You don’t need to watch them in this order, but I’d start with the handful at the top and work your way down.)
1) Auntie Mame: Rosalind Russell is Auntie Mame, the woman who taught gays to be gay. Start here, and if you aren’t captivated, forget the rest of the list. You obviously haven’t got a camp bone in your body. (AND PLEASE DON’T WATCH THE TERRIBLE MUSICAL VERSION “MAME” WITH LUCILLE BALL)
2) Sunset Boulevard: Gloria Swanson as an absolutely demented silent film star trying for a comeback with the help of her creepy butler, Max, and a reluctant gigalo. Probably the most oft-quoted movie of all time.
3) Breakfast at Tiffanys: Slightly dated, but Audrey Hepburn’s role as a flighty call-girl is still the be-all and end-all of New York chic. Just mute the screen whenever Mickey Rooney appears. PLEASE.
4) All About Eve: Bette Davis’ volcanic performance as a fading theater actress is at turns bitchy, bawdy, and tragic. Another one you’ll be quoting for years.
5) Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?: Towering egos Bette Davis and Joan Crawford are aging sisters locked in a deadly power struggle. Gorgeously grotesque performances all around.
6) Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?: Real-life married couple Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton viciously and deliciously mind-fuck each other while torturing their guests at a boozy after-hours party.
7) Suddenly, Last Summer: Homosexuality! Cannibalism! Dementia Praecox! and Elizabeth Taylor in a see-through white bathing suit. One of the nuttiest movies ever made, based on the play by twisted sister Tennessee Williams. It’s the movie that made me the queen I am today.
8) The Women: The 1939 original, darling, not the anemic remake with Meg Ryan (shudder). The Women stars the greatest female stars of the ’30s (not a man in sight) as society dames who gleefully rip each other to shreds. “JUNGLE RED!”
9) The Thin Man: Three reasons to see this: Myrna Loy, Myrna Loy, Myrna Loy. She’s witty, sophisticated, and able to drink her husband under the table – who doesn’t want to be her?
10) Gypsy: Another Rosalind Russell powerhouse performance, this time as a smothering stage mother trying to make her daughter, Natalie Wood, a star in vaudeville.
11) Sweet Charity: Shirley Maclaine as a plucky dime-a-dance girl looking for love in ’60s Manhattan. Come for Shirley’s unforgettable performance, stay for the awesome Bob Fossee dance numbers.
12) Valley of the Dolls: Based on Jacqueline Susanne’s all-time best-seller, this lurid show-biz drama traces the ups and downs of three young women as fame, booze, pills, and men get the better of them. Trashtastic good fun.
13) A Streetcar Named Desire: Vivien Leigh as a fragile Southern belle who takes refuge at the home of her sister and her sister’s savagely sexy husband (played by Marlon Brando at the height of his hubba-hubba hotness)
14) The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone: Vivien Leigh as an over-the-hill actress who moves to Rome so she can sample the local cuisine, by which I mean pick up street hustlers.
15) Lolita: A man marries his landlady so he can take advantage of her teenage daughter in one of the most wickedly funny and intellectually challenging movies of the ’60s.
16) Cabaret: Liza Minnelli wows as a free-spirited singer at a divinely decadent cabaret in pre-war Berlin.
17) Barbarella: ’60s psychedelic-sci-fi-meets-soft-porn featuring Jane Fonda and her anti-gravity breasts.
18) Midnight Cowboy: Naive country bumpkin Jon Voight moves to New York to become… a Times Square hustler? Fantastic must-see cameo by Sylvia Miles and a groovy Warhol-esque party scene (starring actual Warhol superstars).
19) Rosemary’s Baby: Mia Farrow’s baby might be Satan, but all about her hairdo here. And a chance to watch Ruth Gordon chew some scenery.
20) Freaks: Tod Browning’s 1932 cult masterpiece about circus life starring real-life sideshow freaks. Chilling and heartbreaking. “Gooble Gobble, one of us!”
21) I Want to Live!: Powerful story of the life and execution of Barbara Graham (Susan Hayward) a perjurer, prostitute, liar and drug addict. Now THAT’S acting!
22) Harriet Craig: Joan Crawford as an over-the-top, tough-as-nails, slightly mannish bitch-goddess. In other words, herself.
23) Straight Jacket: Joan Crawford, in the twilight of her career, as a recently paroled axe murderer, clinging to what’s left of her sanity.
24) Now, Voyager: Bette Davis transforms from dumpy spinster into soigné society beauty due to the love of Paul Henreid.
25) Of Human Bondage: Young Bette Davis at her volatile best as a tawdry Cockney waitress who absolutely DESTROYS poor Leslie Loward. (“When we used to kiss, I had to wipe me mouth, WIPE ME MOUTH! Then I’d laugh! HA!”)
26) Long Days Journey Into Night: Long and talky, but Katherin Hepburn’s turn as an Edwardian morphine addict at the end of her rope is one for the ages.
27) Picnic: William Holden is a little long in the tooth to play the studly drifter who drives everyone wild with passion, but Rosalind Russell delivers one of her best performances ever (and that’s saying A LOT) as a sexually repressed school marm. Her big scene at the picnic will haunt you for the rest of your days.
28) Bringing Up Baby: Young Katherine Hepburn is positively incandescent and young Cary Grant is boner-inducingly adorable in THE definitive screwball comedy of the 1930s.
29) Qui Ete Vous, Polly Magoo?: ‘60s Fashion 101. Scathingly satirical art house movie spoofing the fashion world and its excesses.
30) Mahogany: Diana Ross as THE MOST BEAUTIFUL MODEL IN THE WORLD, determined to become a designer instead. Camp beyond camp.
31) Funny Face: Audrey Hepburn is a reluctant supermodel, Kay Thompson is a Diana Vreeland-esque fashion editor “(“THINK PINK!”), and Fred Astaire is a Richard Avedon-like photographer. Absolute heaven.
32) Funny Girl: Arguably Barbra Streisand’s best role. As the legendary stage star Fanny Price, Barbra is a revelation. If you aren’t gasping at her big “Don’t Rain on My Parade” number, well, you just aren’t gay, that’s all.
33) Some Like It Hot: Arguably Marilyn Monroe’s best role. With Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis doing booger drag. Vaguely insulting, but the drag revolution had to start somewhere, I guess.
34) Die! Die! My Darling!: One of your only chances to see the iconic Tallulah Bankhead on screen. Schlocky ’60s horror, but, oh, that voice. Like a foghorn dipped in molasses.
35) Mommie Dearest: Fay Dunaway absolutely CHANNELS Joan Crawford in the most important biopic you’ll ever see.
36) Party Monster: Murder in clubland starring Macaulay Culkin, Seth Green, Chloe Sevigny, Marilyn Manson, and Natasha Lyonne. (What? You didn’t think I’d leave my own movie out did you?)
37) Xanadu: Olivia Newton John stars as a goddess who escapes from a mural on a California beach, then helps Gene Kelly open a roller disco. And yes, it’s as batshit as it sounds. Great early ’80s music, though, from Olivia and Electric Light Orchestra.
38-40) Pink Flamingos/Female Trouble/Polyester: I list all three John Waters peerless masterpieces starring the late, great Divine, because you can’t choose just one, obviously. I suggest an all-night Saturday night marathon with friends.
41) Andy Warhol’s Trash: Drag superstar Holly Woodlawn is absolutely mesmerizing (Paul Newman campaigned to get her an Oscar nomination!) in this low budget art house classic, also starring a frequently nude Joe Dallessandro (only the hottest guy of the ’60s). The scene where she fucks the beer bottle to get his attention is horrifying, heartbreaking, and unlike anything that’s ever been filmed…
42) Pink Narcissus: ’60s experimental homoerotic classic. Once you see it, you’ll notice it’s influences everywhere, from the photography of David LaChapelle and Pierre et Gilles to the fashions of Jean Paul Gaultier.
43) Double Indemnity: The noirest of films, with Barbara Stanwyk as a ball-busting bitch plotting to kill her husband for the insurance policy. My GOD, she’s magnificent.
44) Imitation of Life: Lana Turner stars in this three-hankerchief weeper about an actress who sets up housekeeping with a homeless, black widow and her light-skinned eight-year-old daughter who rejects her mother by trying to pass for white. A favorite of your old, gay uncle’s.
45) Leave Her to Heaven: A rare Technicolor film noir, with Gene Tierney as perhaps the nastiest femme fatales ever to appear on screen.
46) Choose any of the following Marlene Dietrich/Joseph Von Sternberg collaborations: The Scarlet Empress/Devil Is a Woman/Morocco/Blonde Venus/Shanghai Express
47) Choose any of the following Douglas Sirk movies: All that Heaven Allows/Magnificent Obsession/Written on the Wind
48) Mildred Pierce: Joan Crawford fights her way up from the gutter to own a chain of diners. Her snooty daughter Vida is embarrassed of her mother’s lower class roots. (“Weren’t the pies ENOUGH, mother?“) It’s Joan at the absolute height of her Joanality.
49) My Fair Lady: Not one of my favorites – I find the premise rude and the character of the professor nasty and misogynistic – WHY WOULD SHE WASTE HER TIME WITH HIM? – but the Ascot scene (by gay god Cecil Beaton) is beyond sublime, and the Lerner & Lowe songs are among the best ever written, so…. yes, you need to watch it, sigh.
50) The Boys in the Band: I haven’t included many gay films here – you know, movies about actual homosexuals – because usually they’re either too dreary or too earnest and lack that certain “quotable quality” that makes something camp. The Boys in the Band, however, manages to be both an important milestone in queer cinema AND catty good fun.
Agree? Disagree? Well, these are MY gay essentials. Feel free to tweet me your own @JSJdarling #gayessentials