Toronto
3 min

Best of queer culture

From films to flashbacks, venues to trends

FOR ME? The Adorable Emile Vallée plays young gay boy Zach in CRAZY, the best gay Canadian film of the year. Credit: Xtra files

Best film
The Quebec box-office smash CRAZY by Jean-Marc Vallée. “One of the best explorations of a father/queer son relationship ever, backed-up by a kick-ass soundtrack,” writes film writer and programmer Shane Smith. While the film falters in the last section, the first hour is some of the best Canadian filmmaking you’ll see. It’s Canada’s entry for the 2005 best foreign-language Oscar. (Still playing at the Carlton and available on DVD.)

Best music
Owen Pallett. Urban pretty. The Toronto-based musician’s solo project Final Fantasy finds two top-10 spots on music critic John Webster’s best-of list (see page 26). Pallett is also an arranger, vocalist and violinist with the ever-lovable The Hidden Cameras and Montreal’s on-fire Arcade Fire (whose debut release was just nominated for a Grammy).

Best theatre
Trey Anthony’s ‘Da Kink In My Hair. A hit with heart. Eight women divulge their inner struggles at a West Indian hair salon in Toronto: A mother grieves her son lost to gun violence, an old woman finds sex, a lesbian takes her first steps out of the closet, a little girl tells of horrors…. More than a metaphor, the salon and its proprietress (played by Anthony) are the physical and spiritual heart of a real community. This creative collaboration continued through the year with repeated extensions for the Mirvish run at the Princess Of Wales, a new production in San Diego and a published version from Playwrights Canada Press. A highlight from ‘Da Kink’s wonderful ensemble was d’bi young’s performance as a sexually abused child, a character who returned in young’s amazing one-woman show blood.claat. Both Toronto productions were directed by Weyni Mengesha.

Best novel
Anne Fleming’s Anomaly. “A companion piece in spirit to Jean-Marc Vallée’s film CRAZY, Anne Fleming’s novel tells the story of a pair of misfit sisters – one’s an albino and aspiring punk musician, the other’s a budding dyke – growing up in Toronto in the 1970s and 1980s,” observes arts writer Rachel Giese. “Rich in period detail, funny and big-hearted, the novel is also a love letter to the hometown of the now Vancouver-based Fleming.”

Best cityscape
Dionne Brand’s What We all Long For. A rondelle of hope and haunting: Four 20-something characters, each an immigrant in the largest sense of the term, inhabit a rare and fragile time and place – Toronto, here and now. Book critic Maureen Phillips used words like “uncompromising” “dense and poetic” when describing Brand’s third and most accessible novel.

Best flash back
The Best Of Secter And The Rest Of Secter. This documentary on queer pioneer David Secter (director of Winter Kept Us Warm) establishes his position at the forefront of Canadian filmmaking and sex radicalism. A funny, loving tribute by David’s nephew Joel Secter.

Best TV
Stephen Ouimette as the dead founder of a Shakespeare theatre fest on Slings And Arrows. His magnificent lampoon (could it be of Stratford’s Richard Monette?) is right on the money with its doe-eyed, fey petulance, mellifluous voice and swish mannerisms, in turns annoyingly cloying and heartwarmingly hammy. The Rhombus-produced series is in its third and final season.

Best art show
Making History, a huge three-floor survey in June curated by Peter Kingstone (who’s on the board of Pink Triangle Press, which publishes Xtra). “From upstarts Paige Gratland’s Tit Pins, Daryl Vocat’s gorgeous prints, Luis Jacobs’ glittering diamonds and Will Munro’s zany underwear to the artists who formed and continue to engage our community such as Stephen Andrews and Andy Fabo,” writes art critic Stephanie Rogerson, “the sheer breadth of the exhibit proved that Toronto has a massive and smart queer art scene.”

Best trend
Women playing men. Proof that masculinity is best done by women? Jimmy, Buddies’ recent presentation of Marie Brassard’s one-woman show. A fascinating, unearthly rumination on mortality and creativity from a “homosexual hairdresser” as dreamt by an actress. My Father Is 100 Years Old, a short film by honorary sister Guy Maddin where Isabella Rosellini plays numerous male roles including David O Selznick, Alfred Hitchcock, Federico Fellini and Charlie Chaplin. Writes film critic Jon Davies: “It’s an incredibly moving ode to Rosselini’s late father, Italian postwar filmmaker Roberto Rosselini, an artist who believed that, ‘Films will defeat ignorance in the world.'” To top off the year, there was the packed out International Drag King Extravaganza in Winnipeg in October.

Coolest venue
The Gladstone Hotel. Under the Zeidler family, the Queen West locale cements its position as a leader in creative urban design with its gorgeous renovations and artist-designed rooms, by championing sustainable neighbourhood development and with an endless parade of queer art events and parties, from R Kelly Clipperton’s photo exhibition and the Toronto Alternative Art Fair International to Hump Day Bump, Foxhole or drunken karaoke any Friday night you choose.