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Take 'Pride' in gay cinema

In honor of one of the most victorious Pride Months on record, check out this list of the best movies with LGBTQ themes.

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Tom Cullen and Chris New play lovers in the 2011 British film "Weekend." (Sundance Selects)

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court declared a key part of DOMA unconstitutional, and also struck down Prop 8 to allow full marriage rights to gay couples in the state of California.

To celebrate this momentous victory (and gear up for the 44th Annual Chicago Pride Parade on Sunday, June 30), why not have a movie marathon of the greatest LGBTQ films of all time?

Here’s my top 15:

15. Beautiful Darling

A captivating documentary about the colorful and ultimately tragic life of Andy Warhol superstar (and one of the most beautiful transgender women to emerge from any era) Candy Darling.

14. Angels in America

Though technically a television miniseries, this filmed adaptation of a Pulitzer-Prize winning play earns a spot on this list because of the exceptional acting (especially Al Pacino as the fiercely closeted, AIDS-stricken attorney Ray Cohn) and a powerful story about the shifting social and political climate of the 1980s that still resonates today.

13. Boys Don’t Cry

Hilary Swank gives a stunning, Oscar-winning performance as Brandon Teena, a real-life transgender teen who was raped and murdered in 1993 rural Nebraska after a group of men discovered his secret.

12. Weekend

This 2011 British drama about two men who meet and begin a sexual relationship the week before one of them plans to leave the country is reminiscent of Before Sunrise: a smart and perceptive take on star-crossed lovers that feels achingly, intimately real.

11. The Celluloid Closet

If you are intrigued by the depiction of homosexuals on film—from the heavily-censored Golden Age of Hollywood through the renaissance of the early 1990s— then this documentary (featuring interviews with Tony Curtis, Shirley Maclaine, Tom Hanks and Harvey Fierstein) is a must-see.

10. A Single Man

Directed by fashion designer Tom Ford, this artful and exquisite film tells the story of a college professor (Colin Firth) secretly grieving the death of his male partner in 1960s Los Angeles.

9. Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Writer/director/star James Cameron Mitchell is a lightning rod of camp and innovation, turning his groundbreaking off-Broadway musical about an angry transgender rock star into a movie that both satisfies the show’s cult following and invites a new audience into Hedwig’s irresistably bizzaro world.

8. The Kids Are All Right

Some people hate this movie; I love it. The family dynamic, especially the committed yet complex relationship between long term partners Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore), is a breath of fresh air in modern filmmaking: a remarkable story that portrays gay parents and their children like any other “normal” (loving, devoted and slightly dysfunctional) family on the block.

7. Bad Education

Pedro Almódovar is one of my favorite directors, and this film is one of his most ingenious masterpieces to date. The effect of religious schooling and sexual abuse on the lives of two men—estranged friends who grow up with a wealth of secrets and lies between them—is told with eye-popping color, frenzied edits and a story so full of shocking twists and turns that it must be seen to be believed.

6. Milk

Sean Penn’s Oscar-winning performance as gay rights hero Harvey Milk is a triumph, and director Gus Van Sant also does a fine job in bringing Milk’s inspiring true story to richly cinematic life.

5. Brokeback Mountain

In 2005, this beautiful and heartwrenching film about the forbidden love between two cowboys (played by A-listers Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger) not only changed the way that typically conservative audiences perceived gay romances onscreen, but also broke down the barriers for films featuring homosexual love interests to enjoy mainstream success.

4. Ma Vie en Rose

As another film that changed the dialogue about LGBTQ issues in the U.S. and around the world, 1997’s Ma Vie En Rose (“My Life in Pink”) should be required viewing for every parent or peer of a transgendered child. The story of a little boy named Ludovic who dresses like a princess and dreams of becoming a girl was revolutionary at the time, and continues to ring true for any family learning to accept their child for who they are.

3. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

This 1985 Australian comedy was a huge hit overseas, and it’s not difficult to see why. Two drag queens and a transsexual (an endlessly delightful trio played by Guy Pierce, Hugo Weaving and Terrance Stamp) put on a cabaret in the middle of the desert. Hilarity ensues.

2. My Own Private Idaho

Take the perfect casting of River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves as gay hustlers, combine with the surrealist direction of Gus Van Sant and add a non-linear storyline set against the backdrop of early ‘90s Portland for a film that re-defined “indie” for a new generation.

1. Paris is Burning

In my opinion, this chronicle of New York City’s drag scene in the late 1980s (including the vivacious, voguing performers who dream of becoming something more) is one of the most important and influential documentaries ever made. Do yourself a favor and see it—because if your experience watching this film is anything like mine, then it will change your life forever.

Honorable Mentions (not so much because I love them, but because they are beloved): Desert Hearts (1985), Bound (1996), Pink Flamingos (1972), But I’m a Cheerleader (1999) and The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975).

What are your favorite LGBTQ films?

Leah writes about popular culture for WBEZ. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr.

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