9 LGBT characters used to make a point

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Topics: slideshow, the crying game, american beauty, Philadelphia, J. Edgar, Leonardo DiCaprio, tom hanks, boogie nights,

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    9 LGBT characters used to make a point

    Tom Hanks, "Philadelphia" (1993)

    “Philadelphia” is a well-made film about how a gay man teaches a homophobic lawyer about tolerance! (That gay man, played by Tom Hanks, also teaches that homophobic lawyer, played by Denzel Washington, about how AIDS is and is not transmitted … in 1993.) It’s probably a net good that this movie exists, but one hopes (and doesn’t expect) that the 2013 version might feature the gay man as its actual protagonist, and make his journey toward justice the film’s central one, rather than his existence as a vehicle to teach tolerance.

    9 LGBT characters used to make a point

    Matt Damon, “The Talented Mr. Ripley” (1999)

    “The Talented Mr. Ripley” is a gorgeous and compelling movie, centering on an evil queer creature who will kill the object of his affection if he can’t have him. It’s at once delirious fun and somewhat stomach-turning -- just how much is Ripley’s villainy tied up in his sexuality?

    9 LGBT characters used to make a point

    Leonardo DiCaprio, “J. Edgar” (2011)

    The same queasy queer-evil melange from “The Talented Mr. Ripley” is there in Leonardo DiCaprio’s Oscar-bait performance in “J. Edgar.” As the former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, DiCaprio puts on his late mother’s dress -- but he isn’t depicted as having a sexual relationship with his lifelong friend, weirdly ignoring long-standing rumors. The film lands in the sweet spot, depicting Hoover as at once de-sexed and completely weird.

    9 LGBT characters used to make a point

    Philip Seymour Hoffman, “Boogie Nights” (1998)

    “Boogie Nights” is one of the great humanist films of the past couple of decades, giving all of its characters rich inner lives and aspirations. But Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character is one of the only ones who fails to find fulfillment -- he spends his time on camera pining away after Mark Wahlberg’s Dirk Diggler and dealing with rejection. Sure, this is how a gay man on a straight porn set would act; it also dovetails nicely with the story of isolation and victimization Hollywood can’t stop telling.

    9 LGBT characters used to make a point

    Greg Kinnear, “As Good As It Gets” (1997)

    This gay man’s brutal beating puts into action a chain of events that teach Jack Nicholson’s character to be less misanthropic and accept the love of a good woman. Good for him for teaching straight people so many lessons even despite his obstacle of having no real personality; all the pain was worth it!

    9 LGBT characters used to make a point

    Ed Harris, “The Hours” (2002)

    The complexity of AIDS patient and poet Richard in Michael Cunningham’s novel got lost in translation along the way; a film that depicts female sexuality with sensitivity uses its AIDS-afflicted gay male character as a plot device to bring about other people’s epiphanies.

    9 LGBT characters used to make a point

    Colin Firth, “A Single Man” (2009)

    Being gay is about, in the period world of “A Single Man,” pursuing impossible love interests, existing in misery, planning for suicide and knowing no one will miss you. Sure, it’s true for the character, but the film’s obsessive indulgence in visual excess makes gay misery seem chic, a best-case scenario.

    9 LGBT characters used to make a point

    Jaye Davidson, “The Crying Game” (1992)

    This film’s shocking twist that the femme fatale is actually a former homme fatal is one thing; poor Dil’s descent, once the secret gets out, into heavy drinking and attempted suicide, requiring rescue from the straight male paramour who once threw up over Dil’s gender identity, is just a bummer.

    9 LGBT characters used to make a point

    Chris Cooper, “American Beauty” (1999)

    The obsessive, lovelorn gay character in “American Beauty” kills Kevin Spacey’s Lester Burnham out of thwarted desire; to be gay is necessarily to have a twisted, foreign mentality. Lester is kind and sympathetic toward his gay neighbor, making the whole thing even more unfortunate; his killing is entirely unjust, the cost of living around one of those put-upon gays.

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Daniel D'Addario is a staff reporter for Salon's entertainment section. Follow him on Twitter @DPD_

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