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Theatre, Music, etc.


December 28, 2007

The 2007 Prism Awards

Nine stand out in a so-so year for queer film

Letís face it: A few years ago Brokeback Mountain spoiled the cinephiles in the LGBT community. We all thought that with the critical acclaim and box office success of that film, that Hollywoodís closet doors had been annihilated like Britney Spearsí career. Not to mention that we had an embarrassment of riches with Breakfast on Pluto, Transamerica and Capote strongly complementing the queer quotient of cinema that year.

After that, this year is not much to write about when it comes to queer cinema. Not that it has been a bad year, but it hasnít really been all that noteworthy. The real winners this year are LGBT-related musicals and documentaries which really sparkled.

Even here, it is not so much that we have a plethora of queer characters in these musicals like Jack and Ennis from Brokeback or Truman Capote or Bree from Transamerica. Rather, the genius of Hairspray or Sweeney Todd is in their creators who, to many outside the LGBT community, remain invisible.

As for dramas, this was a poor year, with no real serious films of quality about the gay experience, with the exception of The Kite Runner, which is an important film that deals with the taboo of homosexuality in the Islamic world, yet raises these issues subtly and with complexities far beyond the scope of a multiplex audience.

So here are the best of the LGBT films of 2007 in our annual Prism Awards.

Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role

Cate Blanchett, Iím Not There

Queen Latifah, Hairspray

Michelle Pfeiffer, Hairspray

Meryl Streep, Evening

Vanessa Redgrave, Evening

Streep and Redgrave turned in a master class in acting in this tale of unrequited love. Latifah and Pfeiffer were also at the top of their game in Watersí cult classic set against the backdrop of desegregation in America.

It is Blanchettís gender-bending turn as one of seven Bob Dylans in Iím Not There that is the hands-down winner. Blanchett, who seems like a lock for her second Oscar win for this role, tapped into the ephemeral essence of Dylan turning in a performance that is masterful.

Best Male Actor in a Supporting Role

John Travolta, Hairspray

Hugh Dancy, Evening

Alan Tudyk, Death at a Funeral

Vincent Cassell, Eastern Promises

Armin Mueller-Stahl, Eastern Promises

Zekeria Ebrahimi, The Kite Runner

Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada, The Kite Runner

The two new Afghani youngsters in this tale of political, sexual, and other brutalities, made The Kite Runner enigmatically worth watching. Their inner beauty and innocence leaps off the screen in very natural, real performances. Travolta in a fat suit and drag was irresistible and adorable, even though this role truly belongs outright to Harvey Fierstein, who created it on Broadway. Cassell as the closeted Russian mafia son and Mueler-Stahl as his dominating father were eerily brilliant. Tudyk turns in one of the funniest performances of the year when he shows up to the funeral of a man being outed after his death, accidentally drugged up, spending most of the film sans clothes.

Dancy, in this very strong category, edges out the win, for a stunningly poignant and skilled portrayal of a closeted young man who dulls the edges of his unrequited love with alcohol and thoughts of suicide. It is a wonderful portrait of 1950s America when homosexuality was so taboo it remained subterranean, ruining countless lives.

Best Female Actor

Nikki Blonsky, Hairspray

Helena Bonham Carter, Sweeney Todd

Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose

Claire Danes, Evening

Even though Bonham Carter is no Angela Lansbury, she makes her mark in the iconic role of Mrs. Lovett. Newcomer Blonsky was just right as the sassy, pudgy, accidental civil rights activist in the musical Hairspray. Danes was luminous in Evening, always stretching her acting chops to the max.

There has, however, been no female performance that comes even close to the dazzling genius of Cotillardís embodiment of the bisexual chanteuse Edith Piaf. Cotillardís work is cinematic magic as she simply disappears behind this larger-than-life persona. It is a work of daring transformation. Cotillard never plays Piaf, she is her.

Best Male Actor

Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises

Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd

Khalid Abdalla, The Kite Runner

Homayoun Ershadi, The Kite Runner

Patrick Wilson, Evening

Abdalla as the grown Amir, who must live with never having stood up to the rape of his best friend Hassan, creates a nuanced performance and Iranian master Ershadi is equally affecting as their father in The Kite Runner. Wilson, as the object of the affections of his best friend, unable to return the feelings, turns in a stoic portrait of tolerance and friendship in Evening.

The best performances are a tie. Depp as the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, is maniacally good, turning in yet another memorable role. Mortensen as the solid, silent yet volatile chauffeur to the Russian mafia don and his son (who secretly is in love with Mortensenís character), turns in a performance that is simply stunning. With a few words he bares his soul completely and the nude fight scene maybe one of the most memorable and controversial of the year. Mortensen is an actor of many talents, rarely acknowledged to the extent they should be.

Best Screenplay

Julie Taymor, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais of Across the Universe wrote a story that is one of the best renderings of America in the 1960s, creating romantic and political magic.

Leslie Dixon, John Waters, Mark OíDonnell, Thomas Meehan (Hairspray) give us a necessary tale about tolerance with sweetness and humor.

David Benioff (The Kite Runner) streamlines Khalid Hosseniís epic novel into a compelling story about the political and sexual nightmares that haunt two best friends from childhood into adulthood.

Steven Knight (Eastern Promises) weaves an original story about the Russian Mafia in London where the heir apparent is silently self-destructing because he cannot be his true gay self in that dark world of crime and overt machismo.

John Logan, Stephen Sondheim, Hugh Wheeler and Christopher Bond (Sweeney Todd) give us a solid adaptation of an American classic.

Dean Craig (Death at a Funeral) has written a bravura satire about the funeral of a patriarch, visited by his eccentric family and the appearance of his longtime gay lover.

The winners are Todd Haynes and Oren Moverman (Iím Not There) who have written a most ingenious script, deconstructing the mythical Bob Dylan. They are not so much interested in defining Dylan. They are interested in redefining the musical genius biopic, which has become a staid, stale and predictable genre (Ray, Walk the Line).

Best Score

Alberto Iglesias, The Kite Runner

Howard Shore, Eastern Promises

Marc Shaiman, Hairspray

Murray Gold, Death at a Funeral

Jan A. P. Kaczmarek, Evening

Iglesias, who has given us some of the best cinematic scores of the last few years (The Constant Gardner and most of Pedro Almodovarís great films) wins for his moody, moving and culturally eclectic music that soars like the kites in the film.

Best Cinematography

Roberto Schaefer, The Kite Runner

Darius Wolski, Sweeney Todd

Bruno Delbonnel, Across The Universe

Bojan Bazelli, Hairspray

Peter Suschitzky, Eastern Promises

Gyula Pados, Evening

Delbonnelís kaleidoscopic camera work for Across the Universe is a visual tapestry so vivid and enchanting, that it will sweep you off your feet. Padosí brilliantly-lit Evening was a close second.

Best Director

Todd Haynes (Iím Not There) directs with intelligence and mystery, creating a brave piece of cinema.

Adam Shankman (Hairspray) comes through with flying colors as he deftly makes the movie musical relevant and interesting again.

Tim Burton (Sweeney Todd) uses his trademark quirkiness and visual mastery to make a film that is still unique in its own right.

Marc Forster (The Kite Runner) shows us yet again why he makes such moving films about children, as in Finding Neverland.

Julie Taymor (Across the Universe) maybe the most interesting aesthete working in American cinema. Here she creates a wonderful film with so much passion that it is overwhelming to watch, yet she marginalizes the gay and lesbian storylines a bit.

Olivier Dahan (La Vie en Rose) tells Piafís story with an impressionistic panache, although he could have given Piafís bisexuality (especially with Marlene Dietrich) a bit more heft.

David Cronenberg (Eastern Promises) wins for his brutal portrayal of the underbelly of the Russian mafia where sexuality is not simply the love that dares not speak its name, it is the love that better not speak its name.

Best Film

La Vie en Rose is one of the best musician biopics out there, and one of the rare ones focusing on a woman.

Hairspray reminds us that musicals need not be afraid of their musicality for musicalityís sake. Even though John Waters created the story about racial tolerance, it is a necessary film that speaks to the need for greater tolerance and equality for LGBT Americans with a quiet power.

Iím Not There is a brilliant film, sometimes too brilliant for its own good as Haynesí elliptical narratives can seem a bit distancing, a tad alienating.

The Kite Runner is a necessary film that subtly addresses, maybe too much so, the nexus of homosexuality and Islam. Like Eastern Promises, this film tackles homosexuality in worlds we rarely acknowledge it exists.

Sweeney Todd is the second great musical of the year, one based on a dark tale that speaks to social justice in its own demented way. Sondheimís inventiveness is beautifully complemented by Burtonís visionary skills.

For The Bible Tells Me So is not the most masterful documentary ever made, but in these times where so much religion (especially fundamentalist Christianity) is bastardized to fuel homophobia, this film is a must see for anyone who cares about the constitution and civil rights of all Americans.

Death at a Funeral is a laugh-riot, black comedy that entertains every step of the way.

Across The Universe is one of the best movies ever made about the 1960s, yet the filmmakers give short shrift to the gay rights movement burgeoning alongside the feminist and civil rights struggles.

Evening tackles the clichťd genre of unrequited love (gay and straight) with sensitivity and warmth with every scene a picture postcard.

Eastern Promises slightly edges out Sweeny Todd, Hairspray and Iím Not There for the grand prize for its honesty and starkness, with all-round stunning performances, taut writing and brilliant directing.


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