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Alone in the Dark: A Gay Girl Film Fanatic's Fave Flicks for 2008

Alone in the Dark: A Gay Girl Film Fanatic's Fave Flicks for 2008

From Baby Mama to Revolutionary Road, it's been a good year for women in film. Here's a lesbian's breakdown of 2008's greatest moments alone in the dark, including with Anne Hathaway, Penelope Cruz, Angelina Jolie and Kate Winslet.



This year I've had the best time alone in the dark at the movie theater. Armed with buckets of popcorn and a passion for celluloid I've sat enrapt through hours and hours of great cinema. With the end of the year behind us and Awards' season on the horizon, here's a look at the year's inspired escapism.

From Tina Fey and Amy Poehler dominating the box office in a female buddy comedy to Anne Hathaway's raw portrayal of a family black sheep fresh out of rehab, Hollywood had a good year in 2008. 

Missing from my list of fave flicks, presented here from numbers 11 to 1 -- I couldn't think of just 10 -- are a few runners-up including Doubt, which I just caught this weekend, but rather I went for Meryl Streep in a fun-filled musical romp.  Kate Winslet chewed the scenery in The Reader, but I opted for her period portrayal of a suburban housewife instead.

Also missing is Sex and the City. While my nostalgia for Carrie Bradshaw and the girls made me long for more than just the two-plus hour movie, I still couldn't count it among the greatest of the year.

While there weren't many main-stream films teeming with lesbian content or characters, I've included a Gay Girl Break Down for each film. One lesbian-themed movie that bears mentioning for its gorgeous stars, sex and lesbian romance is I Can't Think Straight, which is definitely worth a spin in the DVD player.

Pop some corn and head to the Cineplex or to your Netflix cue. Alone in a darkened theater was one of the best places to be in 2008.



The Duchess

A lush period piece starring Keira Knightley, The Duchess, helmed by Saul Dibb, loosely tells the story of Georgiana Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire, a fashion icon and budding feminist well before her time. But alas, her husband, The Duke of Devonshire tamped down her seemingly irrepressible spirit.  A tight-lipped, taciturn Ralph Fiennes immaculately portrays the bastard who sucks the life out of the Duchess while shooting for a male heir and indulging in a decades-long affair.

At turns stoic and charismatic, Knightley nails the portrait of a spirited, passionate woman trapped in an arranged and loveless marriage. Hayley Atwell, a stunning newcomer --who looks fabulous in a corset -- lends fine support and plenty of eye candy.

Much ado has been made over Georgiana as an ancestor to Diana, Princess of Wales, including a direct comparison in the UK trailer for the film.

Gay Girl Breakdown: Knightley sealed her place in collective lesbian hearts in Bend it Like  Beckham but it's Atwell's full lips and cleavage that really seal the deal here. Plus, there's a moment of Sapphic pedagogy that's a pleasant surprise. 



A Christmas Tale

A perfect mélange of the tried-and-true holiday family dysfunction film and art cinema, Arnaud Desplechin's A Christmas Tale is dark, brooding and deeply funny look at an estranged family forced together under impending tragedy.  The ever-watchable Catherine Deneuve plays the matriarch with staid sex appeal and ennui. This is Jodie Foster's Home for the Holidays on fine scotch and valium bender. It's a challenging and rewarding study of family featuring stunning and often claustrophobic camera work.

Gay Girl Breakdown: The iconic Deneuve has been a gay girl favorite since her foray into lesbian roles in the eighties with The Hunger and Entre Nous. Plus, while the family's grandmother has long since passed, her female life partner is an unquestioned staple at family meals / battles.



Burn After Reading

The Coen Brothers, Frances McDormand, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Tilda Swinton and John Malkovich in a signature, dark comedy. What's not to love? As wide-eyed dreamers and utter dolts, McDormand --looking to fund her fantasy body ala plastic surgery-- and Pitt are the perfect dumbass pair utilizing what they believe to be secret Russian documents to blackmail an implacable Malkovich. Not as dark than Blood Simple and  Fargo nor as fantastical than The Big Lebowski, Burn After Reading features the Coens' twisted humor light peppered with a major dash of star power.

Gay Girl Breakdown: Aside from McDormand's endless appeal and Swinton's androgyny cum uber-bitch, there's not much gay appeal here. Of course, with those two heavy hitters, it's enough. But throw in Pitt's full lips and pretty pout and there might just be enough eye candy for everyone.




While Angelina Jolie made an obvious and expected splash packing heat and kicking ass in the action flick Wanted, it's in Clint Eastwood's Oscar bait Changeling that she exercises her toughest acting muscles.

As Christine Collins, a 30's-era mother determined to locate her kidnapped son despite the corrupt LAPD's insistence that a strange boy is her son --a wildly bizarre true story --Jolie delivers a nuanced and heartrending performance that belies the  screaming Jolie implied by scenes in the trailer. Eastwood's penchant for melodrama and faux art shots has never been a big draw for me, but Changeling is a haunting film that excavates Jolie's deepest emotional recesses.

Gay Girl Breakdown: It's Angelina Jolie for God's sake!



Mamma Mia

A pure guilty pleasure! From the initial glossy shot of the remote Greek Island where this crowd pleaser takes place and the first notes of "I Have a Dream," Mamma Mia hooks all but those with ice in their veins.  There's just no denying the sheer joy of two-time Oscar winner and perennially nominated Meryl Streep dipping into an ABBA tune.

Streep's rendition of "The Winner Takes it All" is a masterpiece, at once fully with and without irony. High camp at its best, Streep -- pouring her heart out to a charming and lovable Pierce Brosnan -- mines every ounce of authenticity from this pop gem.

Toss in the adorable Amanda Seyfreid as her daughter and Christine Baranski and Julie Walters as her gal pals and Mamma Mia is a smile-against-your-will romp.

Gay Girl Breakdown: Streep, Seyfried, Baranski and Walters. Plus, the film turns "Dancing Queen" into a feminist anthem. Need I say more?



Happy Go Lucky


The eternal cock-eyed optimist, Sally Hawkins' Poppy is a force in Happy Go Lucky. A perfect slice of British life, Mike Leigh -- who helmed modern classics including Secrets and Lies and Life is Sweet -- directs this darling film about an incessantly upbeat North London primary school teacher.

Gay Girl Breakdown: Happy Go Lucky is a fairly straight piece all around but Hawkins is damned fetching and fun to watch, especially as she tortures her misanthropic, misogynist driving instructor.




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Baby Mama

Before Tina Fey and Amy Poehler became election gold with their Saturday Night Live portrayals of Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton respectively, the comedy duo topped the box office for a single week in April in Baby Mama. It was the first time a female-driven comedy made it to number one box office since Goldie Hawn and Bette Midler's girl buddy comedies of the eighties.

Fey's hot nerd businesswoman searching for a surrogate mother, and Poehler's lovable fop of a baby mama make for hilarious and hot girl / girl odd-couple comedy.

Gay Girl Breakdown: Fey and Poehler exude lesbian appeal for their sheer ability to make waves in what is traditionally a man's world of comedy. Toss in ER's Maura Tierney as Fey's sister, The L Word's Holland Taylor as her mother and that's plenty gay.



Rachel Getting Married

Child star turned big-time Awards' contender -- and damned easy on the eyes -- Anne Hathaway is all grown up and chewing the scenery in Jonathan Demme's studied dissection of family and weddings.

Shot like a wedding video with a handheld, shaky and often jarring camera, Demme's lens captures its stars in those off, contemplative moments as if no one is watching. Hathaway delivers a raw and vulnerable performance as Kym, the Connecticut family's dark sheep on furlough from rehab to her sister Rachel's wedding.

Rachel welcomes a fine return to form from Debra Winger as the girls' mother, while Rosemarie DeWitt delivers a strong turn as Rachel, the beleaguered daughter with older sibling martyr syndrome. Broadway vet Bill Irwin also makes an impressive showing as the powerless father.

Gay Girl Breakdown: It's a bit odd that a film that features a bi-racial marriage, bohemian musicians and plenty of free-spirited wedding guests includes not a single gay or lesbian character. But Hathaway, Winger and DeWitt are all wildly appealing. This is after all, a film about family relationships, and particularly about the dynamics between the women.




Poignant, prescient, devastating and hopeful, Gus van Sant's Milk, about slain openly gay San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk, could not have arrived at a more important time for LGBT civil rights.

Released on the heels of that hateful antigay marriage measure Prop. 8's passage, Milk illustrates both how much and how little progress the gay rights' movement has made since Milk took office in the late seventies.

A compulsory, must-see film for any gay, lesbian, bi, trans and straight person who knows or loves a gay person, Milk is impeccably acted and beautifully constructed. Tears of frustration and nostalgia will be shed by all but the most immune viewer. Sean Penn as Milk, Josh Brolin as Dan White, the fellow Supervisor who assassinated him, and Emile Hirsch as activist Cleve Jones deliver hard-hitting, dead-on performances.

Gay Girl Breakdown: The lovely Allison Pill stars as Milk's campaign manager -- and the film's only ostensible lesbian character -- Anne Kronenberg. For a film about LGBT rights, there aren't many gay women on the screen but this is a film about the Castro in the seventies, where it really was boy's town.


Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Dripping with the sensuality, wit and neuroses under the honey-kissed Barcelona sun, Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a pitch-perfect comedy brimming with eye candy.

The luscious Scarlett Johansson stars as Cristina, a free-spirited college grad, and Rebecca Hall --deftly channeling Allen's neuroses for this film -- plays her best pal, the career-driven and betrothed Vicky. The pair spends the summer in historic and romantic Barcelona, and inspired by Gaudi, music and art Cristina begins a torrid affair with Javier Bardem's Spanish charmer.

When his feral, artist ex-wife, Penelope Cruz's Maria Elena -- speaking in hilarious and wildly sexy Spanglish -- turns up, the three indulge in a three-way affair. Johansson and Cruz engage in a steamy first kiss in a dark room sans Bardem, indicating that their attraction goes deeper than the standard two girls and a guy straight male fantasy.

A filmmaker, who's also an ardent lover of other filmmakers including Fellini and Bergman, Vicky Cristina tips a proverbial hat to Spanish filmmaker extraordinaire Pedro Almodovar, resulting in lush, sexy fun.

Gay Girl Breakdown: Full-on kisses between Johansson and Cruz get the heart rate up and Hall is beautiful and quirky.  Plus, indie fave and High Art star Patricia Clarkson is ever-watchable in a supporting role.


Revolutionary Road

On the surface, Sam Mendes' Revolutionary Road, based on Richard Yates' 1961 novel, is about marital trappings and lost hope in 1955 suburban Connecticut. At its core, the film -- and novel -- acts as an ahead-of-its-time feminist manifesto both fascinating and devastating.

Arguably the greatest actress of her generation, Kate Winslet portrays housewife and mother April Wheeler with unfettered yearning. Her Titanic co-star Leonardo Dicaprio digs his heels into the role of her boyish husband Frank, who struggles with his role as the man and provider of the family in the post-war era. Neither of these characters gets off easy but Winslet, as a woman with few options, blows the doors off suburbia.

Mendes wastes not a single frame in illustrating the couple's inevitable ripping apart at its seams. A penultimate shot of Winslet caught in front of the bay window of their suburban trap, her iconic blonde coiffure and linen skirt suit in full view, is the most devastating and fully-realized single shot I've seen this year.

Gay Girl Breakdown: Any film starring Winslet -- who's played Sapphicly-inclined in Heavenly Creatures and Iris -- gets its gay girl props. Also, look for fine work from the indomitable Kathy Bates and a great supporting turn from Crossing Jordan's Kathryn Hahn.




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Tracy E. Gilchrist

Tracy E. Gilchrist is the VP, Executive Producer of Entertainment for the Advocate Channel. A media veteran, she writes about the intersections of LGBTQ+ equality and pop culture. Previously, she was the editor-in-chief of The Advocate and the first feminism editor for the 55-year-old brand. In 2017, she launched the company's first podcast, The Advocates. She is an experienced broadcast interviewer, panel moderator, and public speaker who has delivered her talk, "Pandora's Box to Pose: Game-changing Visibility in Film and TV," at universities throughout the country.

Tracy E. Gilchrist is the VP, Executive Producer of Entertainment for the Advocate Channel. A media veteran, she writes about the intersections of LGBTQ+ equality and pop culture. Previously, she was the editor-in-chief of The Advocate and the first feminism editor for the 55-year-old brand. In 2017, she launched the company's first podcast, The Advocates. She is an experienced broadcast interviewer, panel moderator, and public speaker who has delivered her talk, "Pandora's Box to Pose: Game-changing Visibility in Film and TV," at universities throughout the country.