For many of us, with the holidays comes extended family time. Sometimes, depending on the family, with that extended time may come awkward silences and extended periods of snowbound downtime, with everyone grasping for something to talk about. It’s not that you don’t appreciate—nay, I say, enjoy—the fine craftsmanship of your father’s new lawnmower or the Psalms your young nieces have memorized to recite in Christmas-pageant fashion on a makeshift stage in front of the fireplace. It’s just that these things might not sustain a conversation for more than a few fleeting moments.
Here’s an idea: Let’s watch a movie!
If it works for second dates, it’ll work for family time, too. Watching a good movie together offers us a chance to be in close proximity of each other, co-concentrating on a shared concept that may later be discussed. With popcorn!
Given the right choice of film, the experience can form bonds and create new traditions, and maybe even educate the viewers a little. Plus, the classic cinematic choices here each contain a healthy representation of The Gay. And yes, they are all comedies, more or less. Hey, it’s the holidays; who needs tears?
• Finding Nemo (2003). With lessons about acceptance, self-confidence, and what it takes to make a family, Finding Nemo employs superbly stunning animation that not only captivates children, but is also intelligently sophisticated for adults. Plus, FN was my pet fish’s favorite movie before he went belly-up, may he rest in peace. Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) is a single father fish who crosses the ocean to find his young semi-handicapped son, Nemo (voiced by Alexander Gould), who has run away from home. Ellen DeGeneres delivers her most brilliant performance to date, bar none, voicing Dory. Yes, it even surpasses her tour de force with Bill Pullman in Mr. Wrong. Gayest moment (Marlin to Dory): “Don’t bounce on the tops!” Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich direct.
• Pillow Talk (1959). Doris Day was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her role as Jan Morrow, a virginal interior designer who, despite her disgust with his wanton ways, becomes romantically entangled with a playboy, Brad Allen (Rock Hudson). Along the way, a series of deceptions infers that Hudson’s character is gay—a particularly uproarious notion, knowing what we know now. Lore has it that Hudson said no to Pillow Talk three times, arguing that the script was “too risqué.” More likely, he feared that playing a character that even hinted at the possibility of being gay probably hit too close to home. Gayest moment (Jan to Brad): “At least my problems can be solved in one bedroom. You couldn’t solve yours in a thousand!” (Rock sure tried though, didn’t he?) Blacklisted director Michael Gordon is the grandfather of actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a name your Psalm-singing nieces are likely to recognize.
• Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964). It wasn’t all skinny ties and Beatlemania in the ’60s; Americans were scared out of their minds that China and its brawny neighbor, the Soviet Union, were going to bomb the U.S. into Afghanistani-like rubble. Lampooning the military’s decades-long fixation on its “precious bodily fluids” even before Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Strangelove is important because it addresses the very real sense of paranoia among U.S. citizens during the Cold War—a sense that lives on in the minds of ultra-conservatives. But instead of communism, their creeping enemy is now (gasp!) homosexuality. Peter Sellers plays multiple roles in this masterpiece, including Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, President Merkin Muffley, and the title character; George C. Scott gets a pre-Patton warm-up as General Buck Turgidson. Gayest moment (even gayer than the characters’ names): the closing image of Major King Kong (Slim Pickens) riding a missile like a nuclear phallus to the film’s inevitable climax. Stanley Kubrick (Spartacus, The Shining) directs his only comedy.
• Election (1999). They’re a special breed of bully, first emerging as innocent, eager-to-please children who gather blue ribbons and gold stars to decorate their homework and bedroom walls. Their attention dependence gestates in high school and, as they grow older if not up, they thrive on acquiring those awards and titles by any means necessary. Playing Tracy Flick, Reese Witherspoon hysterically personifies those who, long after graduation and the prom have passed, continue to wave the glitter dry on their campaign posters while the true unsung heroes around them do the heavy lifting. Election is a clever, insightful vehicle that reminds us—and our nieces, when they’re old enough to appreciate Election’s adult content—that everybody has those pesky little Flicks to contend with in life. Like Tracy, they usually peak in their teens. Gayest moment (Tracy): “You can’t interfere with destiny. That’s why it’s destiny.” Alexander Payne directs.
• The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. (1953). One of the most jaw-dropping, twisted films ever to come out of Hollywood is actually a children’s movie, innocently conceived as a musical fantasy by Dr. Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss. In it, the resplendent, superlatively queenly Dr. Terwillicker (Hans Conreid) is a music professor who dreams of inviting 500 little boys to his castle/compound to play his giant Seussian piano in unison. Think Busby Berkeley meets the Vatican. Gayest moment: Too many to isolate, but the big production number, set in a dungeon, takes the gay cake. Roy Rowland directs, with help from Stanley Kramer.
• The Judy Garland Christmas Special (1963). Judy Garland, her daughter Liza Minnelli, Judy’s other less-noticed children, and special guests toast the holidays. Literally. Gayest moment: turning this ultra-campy television show into a fundraiser for women in need. Want a preview? Join Kindred Spirits Foundation for the 4th Annual Judy Garland Christmas Show & Sing-Along. Sunday, December 4, 5 p.m., at Meteor Lounge. Ho ho ho!