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The 10 Greatest Bear Movies

by Steve Weinstein
Contributor
Thursday Sep 6, 2012
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Of necessity, this list has to be even more subjective than most such lists for the simple reason that bears haven’t been a popular subject for filmmakers.

That’s probably less because of any innate Hollywood prejudice against the heavy, the hirsute and the homo, and more because the whole bear movement is relatively young; and, as a subset of an already-small demographic (gay men), it’s a pretty tiny niche.

That said, there are plenty of movies that would appeal to bears and their admirers. Here is my utterly singular Top 10.

NOTE: I have included only fictional treatments of bear characters or characters with appeal to bears. Major characters who have bear features but aren’t part of the bear culture (e.g., Nathan Lane in "Birdcage;" Harvey Fierstein in "Torch Song Trilogy;" Robert Preston in "Victor, Victoria") were not considered. No porn - and boy, did that eliminate a lot of films!


Bear Cub

This charming Spanish comedy comes as close to The Great Bear Movie has we’re going to get, at least so far. The presentation of bear culture is as honest (recreational sex and drug use!) and whimsical as the plot - in which a happy-go-lucky bachelor’s life is thrown out of kilter when he ends up caring for his sister’s son - is affecting.


BearCity

This 2010 comedy of manners came with a pedigree: Screenwriter Lawrence Ferber has been long known as a New York cultural writer and a bear; and director Douglas Langway’s "Raising Heroes" presented gay criminals like, well, any other lawbreakers on the run. "BearCity" commits its major faux pas early and with unfortunate consequences for those who had hoped this would be the U.S.’ answer to "Bear Cub." The protagonist has a love-hate relationship with the ample-sized men to whom he is inevitably attracted. The plot isn’t helped by stereotypical characters like the hyper-queeny muscle bear.


Bear Shorts

This two-volume (so far) collection offers the usual mixed bag of such anthologies. Tales range widely, from literary takeoffs and a North Sea fisherman’s love story set to an old German drinking song, to young lust for a neighbor’s dad and even a religious allegory.


Another Gay Movie

This queer "American Pie"-style broad post-teenage humor would be relegated to the circle of Hell devoted to all-too-precious gay indies set among WeHo plucked-perfect gym bunnies were it not for the film’s larger message. Remember the "The Farmer and the Cowman Should Be Friends," from "Oklahoma!" (If not, you probably don’t spend enough time in piano bars.) In this, it’s "The Twinkie and the Bear Should Be Friends." The film’s centerpiece is a ball game between the Frisky Chickens and the Bad News Bears - who look and dress the part.


Play On

From here it’s a reach to find bear films - more a matter of finding bears in films. This truly international movie (produced Down Under about a Scotsman who travels to Middle America) makes the list because it concerns rugby, and rugby is to bears what gymnastics is to Chelsea Boys. Or bowling to lesbians. Admittedly, Adam Gray-Hayward, the dreamily beautiful star, looks about as bear-like as Zac Efron, but much of the supporting cast is beary hot. And it’s the only halfway decent dramatic film about rugby.


The Full Monty

Everyone knows this winning British domestic comedy about a group of unemployed mineworkers in depressed Northern England determined to improve their lives. Unlike that "other" uplifting unemployed mineworker film, "Billy Elliot," they don’t turn to ballet but another form of "La Danse": They become ecdysiasts - OK, they strip on stage. The reason the film works so well is because the men are not conventionally buff. These are far from Michelin Man-Chippendales types. Consider it the anti-"Magic Mike."


Jeremiah Johnson

Although he may lack the (for some, requisite) girth, Robert Redford comes as close to a bear beau ideal as anyone ever has in this classic Western about a solitary mountain man. With his lush long hair, full beard, animal-hide outfit and beefy demeanor, Redford may be portraying a man heroically battling the elements, but it’s hard to concentrate on the plot.


The Crying Game

Although you undoubtedly remember the "don’t reveal the secret" ad campaign, one of the most overhyped in Hollywood history (any queer in the audience immediately knew what the big "secret" was), this noir about intrigue in the Irish Republican Army featured a great performance by Forest Whitaker as a hostage with an unusual girlfriend.


A Dirty Shame

John Waters put his inimitable spin - equal parts vicious satire and loving tribute - on bear culture with a friendly bear family that lives in a neighborhood full of uptight blue-collar workers. When some magical healing turns everyone into sex maniacs, the bears get right in on the fun. Honorable Mention here must be made to "The Sarah Silverman Program," where Brian Posehn and Steve Agee play against type as a metalhead and gaming addict.


Le Placard (The Closet)

This sweet little French drawing-room comedy effectively satirizes how political correctness has altered contemporary attitudes about gay men. A nebbishy accountant plays gay to keep his job, only to find that everyone who disregarded him before - including his ex-wife, son and female co-workers - now find him fascinating and irresistible. What’s notable is the presence of the sexiest bear in the history of film, GĂ©rard Depardieu, whose hilarious turn as a rugby-playing homophobic boss who gets his comeuppance shows that the legendary French actor can do farce as well as anyone.


Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early ’80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).

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