Just so you don’t think we’re ungrateful before the upcoming 2018 Oscars — airing this Sunday, March 4, on ABC — we are following our piece on 10 LGBTQ films that were snubbed by the Academy Awards with a look at some of our favorite Oscar-winning queer films.
Yes, believe it or not, the Academy has honored greatness in queer film many times through the years.
Here are 10 Oscar-winning queer films, presented in chronological order:
1. Moonlight (2016)
It was the gaffe heard around the world, but when the dust finally cleared on last year’s fateful Oscars and this graceful indie was crowned Best Picture (with well-deserved awards for Mahershala Ali as Supporting Actor and Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney for Best Adapted Screenplay), instead of the front-runner La La Land, liberal Hollywood breathed a collective sigh of relief.
2. Milk (2008) / The Times of Harvey Milk (1984)
It’s impossible to mention the achievement of Gus Van Sant’s wrenching biopic about the life and death of the first openly gay man elected to public office, Harvey Milk, without nodding to Rob Epstein’s elegiac documentary. Back-to-back, these films are important pieces of our history.
The narrative of Milk anchored by Sean Penn’s transcendent Best Actor-winning performance and Dustin Lance Black’s authentic award-winning Best Original Screenplay deepens the more somber experience of the documentary. It’s an undeniable one-two punch.
3. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
The biggest and most wrong-headed upset in Oscar history wasn’t when Shakespeare in Love bested Saving Private Ryan for the Best Picture win, but when the multi-narrative Crash prevailed against Ang Lee’s beautifully rendered adaptation of Annie Proulx’s cowboy love story. Homophobia? Probably. But so it goes. Yet this mainstream commercial success won awards for Best Director (Lee), Best Adapted Screenplay (Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana) and Best Original Score (Gustavo Santaolalla). And it gave us the late Heath Ledger’s heartbreaking Ennis Del Mar whom — it tears us up just thinking about it — we just can’t quit.
4. The Hours (2002)
Nicole Kidman won her Best Actress award, well, by a nose for her portrayal of Virginia Woolf in Stephan Daldry’s multi-narrative adaptation of Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. For some, it was artsy twaddle straightjacketed by Philip Glass’s insistent score; for others, it was a prescient rumination on three generations of lesbian and/or bisexual women.
5. All About My Mother (1999)
The only Best Foreign Language Film winner on this list, this is but one of Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar’s many wonderful films, a passionate melodrama that tackles faith, being trans, AIDS and so much more through the lens of a grieving mother who follows her son’s heart on its way to a transplant in A Coruña, a municipality of Galicia. If you don’t know Almodóvar’s work, we can only ask you why?! and say that it’s nearly impossible to encapsulate his narratives in a short paragraph. His worldview is one of such inclusion and surprise that all we can do is suggest you binge watch his movies over one sure-to-be-enjoyable weekend.
6. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)
No list of Oscar-winning queer films could forget Priscilla! Best Costume Design went to this Australian drag queen road trip, and one look at the eye-popping sequins and drag couture the drapes that bodies of Mitzi (Hugo Weaving), Bernadette (Terence Stamp) and Felicia (Guy Pearce) and you’d wonder why any of the other nominees that year would have even showed up.
7. The Crying Game (1992)
Nominated for six Academy Awards, Neil Jordan’s IRA thriller walked away with one for him for Best Original Screenplay. No doubt we all remember our first time seeing it, it’s big first act reveal and the performances of Forest Whitaker as doomed solider Jody; Stephen Rea as Fergus, the IRA operative responsible for his doom; and the unknown Jaye Davidson as Jody’s girlfriend, with whom Fergus develops an unexpected and surprising romantic relationship.
8. Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985)
William Hurt walked away with the Best Actor award for Héctor Babenco’s adaption of Manuel Puig’s novel about an imprisoned homosexual and his cell mate, a political revolutionary. It was the first time a straight actor won for playing a gay man, though nine more straight actors/actresses have followed suit since then. How many gay men have won an Academy Award for acting, you ask? One, and that was Sir John Gielgud all the way back in 1982 for Arthur. Academy, you’ve got some work to do.
9. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Sidney Lumet’s crime drama fictionalized a basically true story about a man who attempts to rob a bank in order to pay for a sex change operation for his male lover. This was something else in 1975, and though Al Pacino did not win for his career-best performance as Sonny Wortzik, Frank Pierson did for his psychologically acute Best Original Screenplay, making Dog Day Afternoon one of several Oscar-winning queer films.
10. Cabaret (1972)
Though it lost Best Picture to The Godfather (fair enough), Bob Fosse’s movie musical holds the record for most Academy Awards won by a film that did not also win the big prize. Best Director for Fosse; Best Actress for Liza Minnelli; Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Original Song Score, Best Art Direction and Best Sound. Oh, and best of all, Joel Grey (openly gay now but not at the time of winning his Best Supporting Actor award) as that scary Master of Ceremonies who acts as the audience’s window into the twisted heart of the rise of Nazi-ism in Germany, and an observer/commenter to the bisexual threesome that gives the film its frisson.