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Watch These Winter Movies To Make Your Yuletide Gay

November 25, 2020 by Tina Wargo
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There exists, in this wonky timeline within which we find ourselves trying to thrive, a specific sub-genre of movies that encompasses so many of our collective faves, but hasn’t had its colloquially coined cultural moment yet. This genre is vast and beloved, but is often over-looked, and is rarely called upon by name. It is made up of the kind of movie that is a full mood, in the truest sense of the word, and makes you feel some type of way, as the kids say. I’m talking about the ever-elusive but always-evocative Winter Movie.

Sometimes, it’s a holiday movie. Sometimes, it’s truly seasonally themed. But more often than not, it’s just one of those movies that came out within the winter months, was maybe released in theaters on Christmas Day, and compels you, year after year, to watch it the moment the calendar strikes December. And lucky for us theater kids, these films, intentionally or not, often have something in common: they’re gay.

This is not to say they solely tell LGBTQIA+ stories, though they frequently do. It’s to say that, much like the way you only know you’re watching A Winter Movie based on the way it makes you feel, Gay Movies are a state of mind. They’re their own vibe. They give us what we want without us having to ask for it, and sometimes, they give us what we do not want and would never ask for, but what we do get fuels us to the core.

This year, while we’re all staying inside to ensure the safe future of our industry, of our country, of the human race, I encourage you to take a deep-dive into the intersection of Winter Movies and Gay Movies with this specially curated, deeply thought-out over a lifetime, magnum opus of a list: my Make The Yuletide Gay lineup!

Carol

This 2015 film is the new gold standard for queer Christmas stories. While many casual viewers will think of the Todd Haynes movie as a poignant period drama, discerning movie-goers appreciate it for what it really is: a Christmas Carol. This is a winter movie, it’s a holiday movie, it’s decidedly a gay movie, AND there’s a scene where Cate Blanchett says “Waterloo.” The crossover event of the century! If that isn’t the reason for every season, I simply don’t know what is.

Happiest Season

The thing that will make me HAPPIEST this SEASON is a lesbian Christmas film directed by gay icon Clea DuVall and starring gay icons Kristen Stewart, Dany Levy, Victor Garber, Ana Gasteyer, and of course Mary Steenburgen who, whether she knows it or not, is the Christine Baranski of indie drama. Streaming on Hulu, this soon-to-be holigay classic is perfect to employ as a gateway drug for your family movie nights, so that by next year, you’ll be watching Call Me By Your Name on Easter and Blue Is The Warmest Color on Rosh Hashanah.

The Family Stone

This was one of the first outwardly queer holiday films I remember seeing, and while it doesn’t always deal delicately in the matters of representation (everyone collectively and preemptively let out the post-cringe sigh you always need to expel after the SJP/Diane Keaton dinnertime face-off), at least there are characters that feel like real, human people dealing with the breadth of real, human problems. It’s a lovely movie with very sweet, unforgettable moments of tenderness, heart, and the particular kind of hopeful Christmas melancholy that’s hard to show this earnestly.

Meet Me In St. Louis

It could be argued that this season-spanning picture is a movie for each and every holiday, but the heart-wrenching Christmas scenes are what make it canonically and iconically a holiday film. Show up to experience the introduction of the now-classic “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” stay seated for Judy belting her way through her family’s traumas and dramas. It’ll hit closer to home than you think; especially if you’re a Theater Kid™.

The Prom

This entry— much like Meryl Streep and her fictional counterpart Dee Dee Allen— needs no introduction and can stand on its own with very little explanation. It was the merry-and-brightest show on Broadway throughout its run. It reveled in being pretty, witty, AND gay. And now, it’s available in our homes, on our TV’s, right before the holiday season. In fact, its release lines up with the second day of Hanukkah! No one here will judge you if you watch it the following eight (or nine or ten) days in a row.

Frozen and Frozen 2

You came here for the tea, and now, you’re about to get it. Elsa is a gay icon. Periodt. Full stop. Her innate power and subsequent urge to suppress it to make herself smaller for the world around her is the American queer narrative, and her dramatic release that ends up literally saving the world (or, at least, her world) is the gay agenda. The songs all slap. The characters act more like real people than two-dimensional Disney princesses. And Elsa literally gets a girlfriend in Frozen 2. Wake up, sis. Let it GO!

Cats

If you’re still in the “Cats is unwatchable” camp (pun INTENDED), I’m really sorry that I have to be the one to tell you something: you’re missing out on so much potential queer theater-y joy. It’s a perfect movie to watch during cold winter months when you just need to feel something again. It has redefined camp. It’s entertaining enough that you can actually pay attention without it feeling like a slog, but it’s completely plotless and unhinged enough that if you never once learn a single lyric or pay attention to any number, you’ll still get it as much as any human being is capable of getting it. Cats is our Adam Sandler, love-it-cuz-it’s-so-dumb comedy. Cats is our “I just watched it last week, but I also just opened a bottle of wine. Put it on!”

Cats is our Jellicle choice.

[*Looks directly into camera for some reason*]

Dear little choice.

Little Women

Another entry from the came-out-on-Christmas-Day category, Little Women is innately theater-adjacent, both because of its beloved musical adaptation AND because us theater kids notoriously go hard for even one strong female character, let alone an entire family of them. It’s a mostly quiet, extremely human story about a family of girls who just love each other (and being little/women) so much, a plot simply appears.

Their relationships with each other are the shot; the way Greta Gerwig has made each of them into fully developed people with goals, dreams, loves, losses, and quirks of their own is the chaser. It’s the perfect movie to put on when the holiday madness begins to lull, and you and your family need to all stare at something beautiful, painful, and utterly timeless. Something besides your family holiday card photos of yore.

Last Christmas

This movie is essentially a Hallmark holiday movie, only written by an Oscar-winning screenwriter. That screenwriter? Emma THEE Thompson. It has everything: a young woman who complicates her own life with bad decisions, a pair of wacky parents, life-threatening stakes, a twist you saw coming if you saw even one second of the trailer, George Michael music, and a B plot featuring a lesbian couple! All the trimmings for a perfect holiday feast. And Emma Thompson hive? We are eating.

Mary Poppins Returns

The first time I saw this movie in theaters in the days following the Christmas holiday, I wept, openly and loudly and sometimes joyously, at the true and pure magic of this half reboot, half sequel. It serves up everything we loved about the classic musical, plus Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda giving us their all AND Meryl Streep as a cousin of the titular character, who is named Topsy.

If you’re wondering why this movie is on my list and trying to figure where it fits upon the Kinsey scale, go back and read that last part again. Meryl. Streep. Cousin. Topsy.

Rent

Writing a single word about this adaptation feels like explaining to Patti LuPone what belting is, but it’s on the list, so I’ll do my best.

Rent is a quintessential winter film. It is a quintessential queer film. The word “Christmas” is sung several times, and everyone is always chilly, and everyone is always gay. If you’re ever going to spend what feels like 3.5 hours but is probably around 120 minutes re-watching Rent, do it on December 24th. Preferably around 9pm, but I’m not in charge of you.

Lady Bird

This is the second Greta Gerwig joint on the list, and for good reason: she writes for theater kids, because she is a theater kid. While there’s only one holiday-adjacent scene in this perfect film, it does star the out queer Broadway and silver screen darling Beanie Feldstein, and gives us one of the most painfully accurate and dreadfully nostalgic high school theater plotlines in cinematic history. Come for Saoirse Ronan singing “Everybody Says Don’t,” stay for Laurie Metcalf doing…everything she does.

Christmas On The Square

There is almost nothing about the very existence of this movie that doesn’t absolutely embody the spirit of this list. This movie is my list’s ghost of Christmas present, past, AND future. This movie invented gay Christmas, even though it came out, like, three days ago. It is written by Dolly Parton and directed by Debbie Allen. It stars its multi-talented writer, alongside Jenifer Lewis and Christine Baranski. It’s a musical. It’s on Netflix. It’s rated PG.

In short, it is the Yuletide Gay’s Avengers.

So if you have the time (you do), and you have the streaming capabilities (one of your friends does), you’ll find no better way to spend the next month and a half than with this stereotypical-queer-best-friend-character of a list for a companion. It’s there for you, but only insomuch as it being keen to highlight its own agenda, though ultimately it’s undeniable: you feel way better after having spent time with it.

Happy streaming, and have a queer New Year!