Motion Picture Academy adds (gay) members

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences released its list of new members this weekend, and the gays seem to be making inroads.

Membership in the Academy is by invitation only, and it’s sometimes surprised me to learn who is not already a member — especially when you know who is. (Would it surprise you to know Dakota Fanning has been a member for several years, but David Duchovny was just invited?) It normally helps if you get a nomination, which accounts for invitations this year to actors John Hawkes and Jennifer Lawrence (both nominated last year for Winter’s Bone), Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) and Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom). But what I notice in this year’s list isn’t so much the actors, but the directors. (Members are invited as parts of “branches,” meaning they get to select the nominees in that category for the Oscars each year.)

Of the eight invited directors this season, three are openly gay … and not only gay, but out-and-proud in their filmmaking.

• Lisa Cholodenko was nominated for an Oscar last year for her screenplay to The Kids Are All Right, about a lesbian couple (including Oscar nominee Annette Bening, pictured) raising their children. She was invited by writers and directors branches. Her films virtually always address gay themes, including High Art and her work on the TV series The L Word.

• Gregg Araki, the Asian-American gay filmmakers whose indie production confront serious issues of gay life, such as HIV status in The Living End. His other films include Totally Fucked Up and Mysterious Skin, his most acclaimed mainstream effort.

• John Cameron Mitchell has made only three films; his latest, Rabbit Hole, had a Hollywood star (Nicole Kidman, pictured with Mitchell) and mainstream cred. But his first two films — the transsexual rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch and the near-pornographic sexually frank indie Shortbus — pushed the limits of what you’d think the Academy would endorse.

Other nominees of interest include actors Gerard Butler (300) and Russell Brown, Jennifer Garner, Mila Kunis and Beyonce Knowles; director Tom Hooper (who just won an Oscar for The King’s Speech); documentarians Ami Bar-Lev (My Kid Could Paint That) and Sebastian Junger; and writer Aaron Sorkin (Oscar winner for The Social Network).

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Oscar noms: What’s gay about ‘em

The King’s Speech led the field with 12 Oscar nominations this morning, followed by True Grit, The Social Network and Inception. There weren’t all that many surprises. But here’s what gay audiences might be interested in:

The Kids Are All Right, by lesbian filmmaker Lisa Cholodenko, got four nominations, including one for Cholodenko’s screenplay, one for Annette Bening’s performance as a lesbian mom, as well as best picture.

• Several industry insiders were nominated for more than one award, but only gay producer Scott Rudin, pictured, is competing with himself for best picture: He was nominated for both The Social Network and True Grit. (One of the founders of Facebook is openly gay, though his character is given short shrift in the film.)

Black Swan received five nominations, including best picture, best director and for actress Natalie Portman, who plays what could be a lesbian … or maybe bisexual… or maybe just insane … dancer.

• Best foreign language film Dogtooth involves a lesbian subplot, which foreign language and best actor nominee Biutiful contains a same-sex kiss.

• Best costume nominee I Am Love stars Tilda Swinton as the mother of a lesbian daughter.

• And perhaps most surprising of all, Diane Warren, who just won a Golden Globe for her Cher song “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me” from Burlesque, was passed over for an Oscar nomination. So was the film for best picture. And in every other category. Go figure.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

A very gay night at the Golden Globes

The Golden Globes were about as gay as an awards ceremony can get Sunday night, with plenty of queer winners across the TV and film categories.

The Kids Are All Right, lesbian director Lisa Cholodenko’s family portrait of two gay women, won best picture/comedy or musical and best actress/comedy for Annette Bening. The Cher-sung song “You Haven’t Heard the Last of Me” from Burlesque, won best song. Scott Rudin, the gay producer whom screenwriter Aaron Sorkin declared the greatest living producer of film, won best picture/drama for The Social Network.

But TV was where the gays really succeeded. Glee, from gay creator Ryan Murphy, won best TV comedy series, as well as best supporting performers for the of the openly gay cast members, Chris Colfer and Jane Lynch. Lynch thanked her wife and kids, and Colfer, visibly surprised, gave a shout-out to fighting anti-gay bullying. Best actor in a TV comedy went to gay actor Jim Parsons for The Big Bang Theory, who mentioned his husband Todd without referring to him as his life partner.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Stephen Frears uses sexual politics as a metaphor for oppression

By Arnold Wayne Jones

Stephen Frears was sexy before sexy was cool.

Well, maybe not exactly. But over the British director’s long career in film, he’s often been at the forefront of frank sexual portrayals onscreen, often of the radical kind.

“You make me feel like a pervert!” Frears exclaims during a recent visit to Dallas.

That’s not the point, of course, but it’s also not something he denies. Frears first gained notice in the U.S. with My Beautiful Laundrette, a disarming story about an immigrant family living in London that expectedly injects a queer twist when the audience discovers the scion of the Pakistani clan is gay. His next film, Prick Up Your Ears, was a darker tale of gay life, chronicling the murder of playwright Joe Orton by his lover. (That was followed by Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, whose title alone got it banned from many multiplexes; in The Grifters, he kept Annette Bening naked most of the time.)

But Frears, who is straight, says that gay storylines have interested him because outsider stories of all kinds spark his artistic curiosity.

“I couldn’t give you a moment when I was asked to do a racy film or a family film,” he says. “There was only one film I didn’t do, where I said, ‘No — I’ve got kids.’ But I think in my own head, it has all to do with being in opposition, as a way of attacking Mrs. Thatcher. [I see] women and gays and immigrants as a metaphor for being oppressed.”

His newest, Tamara Drewe — now playing at the Angelika Film Center — has limited gay content but is nonetheless casual with its sexual free-spiritedness.  A small English village is a haven for artistic types, including a famous novelist and his patient wife. When a former local, Tamara, moves back to town (complete with a nose job and makeover), she sets off a series of escapades that are dramatic, comic, even tragic. The film, though, feels softer than some of his earlier films.

“You make me ashamed that I have gotten tamer,” he says. “But we don’t live in very radical times.”

Frears’ left-leaning politics have often emerged in his films, including The Queen, which netted his a second Oscar nomination. ” [Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair] was a very, very complicated figure. This absurd business of leading countries into war really changed the Labour Party. I’m not a monarchist, but in the end I think you could call me a ‘queenist’ — she reminds me of my mother.”

A queenist? He’s a man after my own heart.

Tamara Drewe is now playing at the Angelika Film Center — Mockingbird Station.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Movie night: ‘The Kids Are All Right’ playing in theaters

A summer film that isn’t about fantasy? That is unusual. And definitely All Right

Lisa Cholodenko’s new comedy The Kids Are Right is an unlikely summer film for only one reason: The central premise is of a same-sex couple Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic ( Annette Bening) having family issues related to Paul (Mark Ruffalo), the father of their children. Drama and heartfelt humanity ensues.

Obviously, it’s the “same-sex” part that makes it unusual for mainstream school’s-out entertainment, and while that bit is essential, it’s also almost incidental: The issues faced by Nic and Jules — child-rearing, career, respect within the relationship, infidelity — are universal. It could just as well have been called, It’s Complicated For Gays, Too.

For Arnold Wayne Jones’ complete review, click here.

DEETS: The Magnolia, 3699 McKinney Ave. Check theater for times. LandmarkTheatres.com. Also showing at Angelika Film Center Plano and Cinemark Legacy and XD.

—  Rich Lopez

Modern. Family.

Julianne Moore and out director Lisa Cholodenko talk about the summer’s coolest ‘family’ film

LAWRENCE FERBER  | Contributing Writer lawrencewferber@hotmail.com

JONI AND LASER HAVE TWO MOMMIES | Lesbian parents (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) cope with meeting a sperm donor in the summer’s most off-handed gay movie, ‘The Kids Are All Right.’ Moore worked for years with writer-director Lisa Cholodenko to bring the film to the screen.

The Kids Are Alright
Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Mark Ruffalo. Rated R. 100 mins. Opens Friday at Landmark’s
Magnolia Theatre. To read
Arnold Wayne Jones’ review, visit
DallasVoice.com/Screen.

To help Julianne Moore prepare for her role as a lesbian parent in The Kids Are All Right, out director/co-writer Lisa Cholodenko gave her some critical materials to study: Gay porn.

“Yeah!” Moore laughs, discussing the film in Manhattan’s Waldorf Astoria weeks before the film rolled out.

Moore and Annette Bening play Jules and Nic, a middle-aged lesbian couple who spice up their sex life by watching gay male porn — which their 15-year-old son, Laser (Josh Hutchinson), discovers and has a very awkward discussion with them about.

“That stuff is really funny,” Moore admits regarding the scenes. “I love the honesty with which they explain it [to him]. It’s really adorable.”

This is but one raucously funny sequence in the High Art director’s third feature, which she co-wrote with straight screenwriter Stuart Blumberg (Keeping the Faith, The Girl Next Door).

Debuting to acclaim and ecstatic reviews at 2010’s Sundance and Berlin Film Festivals, The Kids begins when Laser and his 18-year-old sister Joni (Mia Wasikowska), who were conceived via artificial insemination from an anonymous donor, track down their biological father, laid-back restaurateur Paul (Mark Ruffalo). Paul is intrigued by his sudden “father” status, and slowly ingratiates himself. Uptight Nic isn’t enthralled with this development, but Jules, in the midst of an identity crisis, develops a rapport with Paul, which leads to explosive complications.

Comedic and sharply drawn, The Kids represents Cholodenko’s first screenplay collaboration. While ultimately symbiotic — Blumberg gets credit for insisting they include the deliciously funny gay porn bit, which was borne from a random writing break conversation — Cholodenko admits the scripting process, which commenced following the release of her 2002 feature Laurel Canyon and endured for the better part of a decade, was fraught with tension and disagreement.

“There were times we wanted to throttle each other and quit,” she says. “It was protracted and painstaking and [there were] differences of opinion, but ultimately we defaulted to where we began. I liked that he was bringing a comedic and commercial sensibility and he liked I was bringing a more auteur sensibility and we each wanted a little something of what the other had or could do well.”

The script also reflected some personal events in Cholodenko’s and Blumberg’s own lives. She and long-term partner Wendy Melvoin (of Wendy & Lisa fame) were attempting to get pregnant (they succeeded in 2006); Blumberg had been a sperm donor while in college.

Luckily, they also had Moore attached early on. Moore, who played queer and sexually fluid characters in films including The Hours and Chloe, says she had been determined to work with Cholodenko even before they met at a Women In Film luncheon a few years after the 1998 release of High Art.

“We said we’d like to work together,” Moore recalls, “so we had a meeting and later she sent me [an early draft of The Kids]. I probably would have done anything. For me, it’s an examination of a long-term relationship and middle age marriage and that’s really interesting and unusual.”

The script went through numerous drafts, with major shifts in both its tone and scope. “There was originally a river rafting trip that all the big drama happened on,” Cholodenko says. “Once that went away because we realized we weren’t going to get $15 million to make the film, we really just focused in on the characters [because] that was the material that was going to make or break this film. But the biggest shift was the comedy and pushing that out front and center more than it had been in earlier passes.”

Playing the rudderless Jules proved an irresistible, meaty prospect for Moore. “She’s caught in a moment in time when she’s so uncertain, she doesn’t know what her next move is. She doesn’t even understand why she feels the way she does. You’ve been taking care of the kids for 18 years and suddenly are like, wow, I’ve got to get it together because they’re going [away]. So I like that and her swipes at change. It’s messy, interesting and compelling.”

As for the aspect of Jules she liked the least? “That she cheats,” Moore responds. “It’s not admirable what she does, it’s really tough. It’s not intentional and it’s hurtful. It was a challenge to play. How do you rebound from something like that?”

A womanizer and cuckold on one hand yet sensitive male who listens to Joni Mitchell on the other,  the complex character of Paul (of whom even Ruffalo admits, “what the guy does is pretty fucked-up”) represented one of the film’s greatest creative successes, says Cholodenko. “That was some real brain surgery for us,” she admits. “We kept pushing until he was the right balance of sympathetic and schmucky.”

To Moore, that Jules has sex with a man doesn’t say anything about the character’s lesbian identity.

“It’s very important that when Nic says to her, ‘Are you straight now?’ she says no. It’s authentic — that’s the last thing on her mind. This guy was just someone who validated her. She needed to be seen as other than what she was within that family.”

Although Moore remained attached during the lengthy writing and pre-production process, finding an actor to play Nic waited until late in the game. “By the time they finally had the script and kinetic tone they wanted, Lisa had a short list of people and said, ‘What do you think of Annette? She’s the one I really see in this,’” Moore says. “I was like, ‘That sounds great.

I don’t know Annette but I’ll e-mail her.’ So I did. It’s a way to cut through. Things can take months if you [go through] an agent, but you can generally get a response from a peer pretty quickly.”

The lesbian component has so far received applause from straight and LGBT audiences alike. But what does it bring to the story?

“I don’t know,” Moore replies after a pause. “Everything and nothing, really. It’s a portrait of middle-aged marriage and a family in transition. In terms of them being lesbians, the most interesting thing is … I think films, rather than influence popular culture I think they reflect popular culture. So the fact we can have a movie like this means this is an ordinary American family.”

For their part, Cholodenko and Blumberg wanted Nic and Jules’ sexuality to be “offhand and incidental,” and they focused on keeping things universal.

“I think it was really just the focus on the inner life of those characters,” she explains, “and being clear about their dilemmas and giving them all an arc, a place to begin and journey to go through. That’s not always an easy thing to do with five characters, and to have them woven in a way there’s a lot of cause and effect. If anything I’m really proud we pulled that off.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 16, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

See an advance screening of the summer’s most promising gay film, ‘The Kids Are All Right’

Two fairly mainstream feature films with strong gay content were set to open soon: Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right and I Love You Phillp Morris with Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor. The latter’s release date has been pushed back to October, which leaves the  former — which stars Julianne Moore and Annette Bening as a lesbian couple whose children were conceived via a sperm donor — as the big gay film of the summer.

And we got yer ticket for it.

On Wednesday, Dallas Voice is sponsoring a screening of the film, which also stars Mark Ruffalo. The screening will be at Landmark’s Magnolia Theater in the West Village starting at 7:30 p.m.

You can pick up a free pass at the Whole Foods on Lomo Alto starting Saturday, June 26.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones