FROM THE VAULTS – Straight, but not narrow

mainstream films, gay news, Washington Blade
Gugu Mbatha-Raw in ‘Belle.’ (Photo by David Appleby for Fox)

While the Blade’s media coverage generally focuses on movies and television shows with LGBTQ content or creators, our Top Ten and Year in Review lists do include outstanding mainstream films. As fall nights start to get longer, here are some “straight but not narrow” movies to keep you busy while sheltering in place.

One of the most progressive and thought-provoking movies of 2014 was “Belle,” a beautifully filmed movie about a mixed-race heiress being raised by her aristocratic uncle in eighteenth-century England. Director Amma Asante and a knockout ensemble cast led by Gugu Mbatha-Raw tackled complex themes of race, class and gender and tell a moving story that combines intimate details and epic historical sweep.

In 2018, the delightful “Stan and Ollie” unfortunately got lost in the holiday release shuffle and did not get the box office or the reviews it deserved.In this heart-warming movie, the famous comedy duo of Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (John C. Reilly) are well past their prime but embark on a grueling tour of post-war England and environs while they wait for their Robin Hood movie to be greenlighted. The movie is a pitch-perfect portrait of two aging comedians and their exasperated but devoted wives (great performances by Nina Arianda and Shirley Henderson).

Writer/director Jordan Peele made the Top Ten Lists in both 2017 and 2019. Using the traditional elements of the classic horror movie in exciting new ways, “Get Out” is a searing indictment of American racism. Daniel Kaluuya gives a breakout performance as Chris Washington, a young Black photographer who goes to visit his white girlfriend’s parents for the weekend.

Peele won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for “Get Out;” he was the first African-American man to win in that category. The movie was also nominated for Best Picture and Peele was nominated for Best Director.

Peele’s next movie, “Us,” is a terrifying nightmare vision of the American Dream. Lupita Nyong’o stars as Adelaide Wilson. Despite haunting memories of a childhood visit to the boardwalk, Adelaide reluctantly takes her family on a Santa Cruz beach vacation. Her fears become reality when they encounter a mysterious family outside their house and are forced to fight for their lives.

Nyong’o turns in an amazing performance as Adelaide (and her nightmare double). Winston Duke adds some much-needed humor as her husband Gabe; Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex are terrific as their kids and Elisabeth Moss is haunting as Adelaide’s vain friend Kitty.

In 2015, Australian director Jocelyn Moorhouse topped the Year In Review list with “The Dressmaker,” her delightful feminist take on the spaghetti Western. Kate Winslet starred as Tilly Dunnage, a glamorous designer who returns to a small town in rural Australia to wreak revenge on the townspeople who abused her and her mother (Judy Davis). Liam Hemsworth plays the rugby star who helps Tilly figure out the family secret and Hugo Weaving plays a cross-dressing police sergeant with a flair for couture.

Finally, in “The Death of Stalin (2017),” writer/director Armando Iannucci (HBO’s “Vice”) turns his focus from contemporary Washington to Cold War-era Moscow in this biting satire about the pomp, pageantry and power plays following the death of the Soviet dictator. With caustic wit, Iannucci examines the humanity of his characters and the absurdity of their behavior with both passion and precision. 

Steve Buscemi is excellent as the scheming Nikita Khrushchev; he effortlessly combines a sardonic sense of humor, finely honed survival skills and an appreciation for both the theatricality of power and the power of theatricality. Simon Russell Beale is completely engaging as the gleeful and ruthless Beria, head of the secret police, and Jeffrey Tambor and Michael Palin are delightful as clueless members of the Council of Ministers with its ineffectual but deadly bureaucracy.

Andrea Riseborough brings a welcome sense of humanity to the proceedings as Stalin’s daughter Svetlana; over-the-top military preening is provided by Rupert Friend as Stalin’s ineffectual son and Jason Isaacs as Field Marshal Zhukov. 

Published at Fri, 11 Sep 2020 19:43:07 +0000