Who’s In It: Sean Penn, James Brolin, James Franco, Emile Hirsh,
Diego Luna, Lucas Grabeel, Joseph Cross
The Basics: Harvey Milk was the very first openly gay city council member in the United States. I know, now you’re thinking, “Is this going to be like that movie about the guy who invented the intermittent windshield wiper?” And the answer is no. This is history, too, but way more tragic. A violently anti-windshield-wiper person didn’t murder the windshield wiper guy. Milk, along with San Francisco mayor George Moscone, was shot to death by a colleague. It’s no Brokeback Mountain, though. This movie chooses not to dwell on tragedy. Instead it mines the inspiration Milk gave to hundreds, then thousands, then, posthumously, millions.
What’s The Deal: Let’s say you’re over 35 and gay. Then you don’t really need to see this movie. You’ll want to, of course, because you’ll have a good soul-stirring cry and all that. But you basically already know the debt you owe to this guy’s bravery and tenacity. But if history’s not your thing or maybe you’re not gay or just never heard the name Harvey Milk before other than in the context of that really cool band named after him, then director Gus Van Sant’s got a very strong, very moving story he’s like to tell you, one set in a time the gays refer to as the Bad Old Days, back when you could be thrown in jail (or worse) just for being a homosexual. No, really, that actually used to happen.
The Many Faces Of Gus Van Sant: This isn’t the slightly arty My Own Private Idaho Van Sant. And it’s definitely not the Van Sant who made Elephant or Paranoid Park, one about the murderous skater kid. This is the version your parents will like, the safe and sane and mainstream Good Will Hunting/Finding Forrester Van Sant whose heart is on his sleeve and whose directorial style resembles someone other than Bela Tarr. And if you know who that is then you’re probably another film critic.
Why It’ll Be Nominated For Oscars But Probably Not Win Any Of The Big Ones: Ernest Borgnine. Basically, that dude and all the other old Academy members who refused even to watch Brokeback Mountain a couple years back before voting that insipid Crash as Best Picture. And why am I picking on Mr. B, who starred in what’s basically my all-time favorite movie, The Poseidon Adventure? Because he had the unfiltered nerve to actually say it out loud at the time. Meanwhile, obviously, if you’re a cool old Academy member and aren’t a jerk, I have no beef with you. You’re doing your job. Give yourself a round of applause. Unless you give more awards to Roberto Benigni. Then it’s on.
See Also: The astoundingly great documentary The Mayor of Castro Street.