5. Holding The Man
From Our Review: Holding The Man does a great job of managing to mix sadness and happiness, as well as including a surprising amount of humour. It consciously avoids too much maudlin sentiment, while ensuring it doesn’t avoid the emotion inherent in its story… These are gay guys who do gay things and the film brings that to the fore. While at one point Tim’s drama teacher reminds him he is more than just his sexuality, this is a movie that wants to show that statements like that can just be a way to try and get people to hide the breadth of their sexuality, from those who rather wouldn’t see.
4. How To Win At Checkers (Every Time)
Synopsis: In Thailand, Oat is an orphan, being looked after by his older brother and (to some extent) his aunt. Oat’s brother, Ek, is doing his best to ensure they have enough money to survive, but their lives are slightly precarious. Ek is also dating the much wealthier Jai. Their lives are thrown into turmoil when Ek & Jai get letters from the military telling them that it’s their turn to go into the lottery for the draft. While Jai manoeuvres to bribe his way out of the draft, Oat has ideas of his own on how to stop his brother having to go, but they may just cause more trouble.
From Our Review: The movie uses the characters’ sexuality to explore what it is to be a social outsider not because you like people of the same gender, but because if you don’t have money, you have to make some difficult choices, and you won’t have the same opportunities. The film works so well because it invests heavily in the characters, so that despite their problems, there’s a real bond between Ek and Oat, where it really does feel like they’re brothers, and that Ek is doing his best to bring Oat up as well as he can. It ensures that the film can really build empathy and tension.
3. The Pass
Synopsis: The Pass consists of three vignettes set across just under a decade. The film opens in a Romanian hotel room, where two young, British soccer players, Jason (Russell Tovey) and Ade (Arinzé Kene) joke around before a big match, which slowly moves towards something more intimate. The action then jumps forward a few years, to an evening when Jason brings a female pole dancer back to his house for a one-night stand, but things may not be as they appear. Finally, we rejoin Jason at the end of his career and a reunion with Ade. Jason has lived out his footballing dreams, but is emotionally crushed from a high-pressure life in the closet, but may not be able to leave his manipulative, secretive nature behind.
From Our Review: Films about people deep in the closet aren’t exactly new, but The Pass works thanks to smart direction and some great acting. It’s a truly phenomenal tour-de-force from Russell Tovey, who’s on-screen for the entire running time and does a tremendous job as a character who, in less assured hands, could have come across as pretty unpleasant… A man who achieves all his dreams, only to destroy himself emotionally in the process isn’t exactly new (and to be fair, Jason isn’t totally destroyed), but The Pass gives it real shot in the arm. Even within its contained setup – or perhaps thanks to it – the film offers a fascinating character study.
2. Theo and Hugo
Synopsis: After meeting in a sex club, Theo and Hugo feel a connection and decide to leave together. However, their flirtation seems to come to a swift end when Theo admits he didn’t use a condom. Unsurprisingly, the HIV+ Hugo is far from impressed. After Hugo arranges for Theo to go to the hospital to arrange tests and post-exposure prophylaxis, it seems like that will be it for them, but over the course of 12 hours they find themselves increasingly drawn to one another.
From Our Review: This is an explicit film, which starts out with on-screen erections, sucking, fucking and general cavorting. The first 15 minutes has no dialogue at all, it’s just men screwing. However, after that, the film evolves into something else. It is a romance, and often a rather sweet, sincere and charming one. The film speaks to modern gay life, for good or bad, in a way few other films have, while retaining a uniquely Gallic sense of romance, which nods at fantasy while never actually going there.
Synopsis: After being locked up in a youth detention centre for his involvement in the death of another child, James heads back to the secluded area where the crime took place, hoping to get some answers, not least what happened after he had an epileptic fit and the body went missing. His return brings him back into the sphere of the unpleasant Anthony, who it appears may also have been involved in the boy’s death but escaped punishment. With James’ mother (Kerry Fox) pretending she’s his aunt, and James’ quest taking ever darker turns, he begins to understand that even more disturbing things may have been going on than solely the drowning of an innocent child.
From Our Review: It’s the sort of film that could have easily seemed nasty and exploitative, but thanks to an excellent central performance from Reef Ireland and a plot that keeps the viewer hooked – even as it takes ever more disturbing turns – it works brilliantly. Sustained by a tense and macabre tone, Downriver is a massive step above most other gay-themed fare – indeed, there aren’t many other dark thrillers like this that have included gay content and didn’t seem to be doing it for shock value or for other negative reasons.