Nearly 900 movies have shown at the Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival over 20 years. Not all are worth seeing again, and pickings are slimmer as Hollywood makes gay and lesbian themes mainstream. • From a critic's perspective, these 20 films from past festivals show how the genre progressed from underground to popular entertainment:
I've Heard the Mermaids Singing (1987) — Patricia Rozema (Kit Kittredge: An American Girl) debuted with a comedy of mistaken artistic identity among lesbians.
Tongues Untied (1990) — African-American gay men came out of the "down-low" in Marlon Riggs' poetic documentary.
Poison (1991) — Director Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven) made an auspicious feature debut with a dark trilogy of sex and violence.
The Living End (1992) — A gay hustler and a film critic, both HIV-positive, take a hedonistic road trip in Gregg Araki's breakthrough.
Swoon (1992) — A graphic retelling of the Leopold and Loeb murder case in the 1920s, eclipsing 1959's Compulsion, starring Orson Welles.
Rock Hudson's Home Movies (1992) — A funny compilation of movie clips exposing classic Hollywood's gay tendencies. Not even John Wayne was spared.
The Wedding Banquet (1993) — This comedy about a gay man marrying a straight woman to please his parents sent Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain) on the path to international fame.
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) — Drag queens and a transsexual storm the Australian outback. An Oscar winner for costume design.
Go Fish (1994) — The dawn of gritty lesbian cinema, a spunky romance co-written by Rose Troche (TV's The L Word) and Guinevere Turner (American Psycho, The Notorious Bettie Page).
Everything Will Be Fine (1998) — Obsessive lesbian love urges an Afro-German woman into a whimsical mistaken-identity caper.
Gods and Monsters (1998) — Maybe the best movie ever to play at Tampa's festival, with an Oscar nominated performance by Ian McKellen and Brendan Fraser's best work.
Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss (1998) — Future Emmy winner Sean Hayes (Will & Grace) is hilarious as a lovesick photographer.
Better Than Chocolate (1999) — An uptight mother learns to love and respect her daughter's lesbian life and transgender friends.
Psycho Beach Party (2000) — Wild mashup of beach party and slasher flicks, written and starring the king/queen of all cross-dressers, Charles Busch.
Paragraph 175 (2000) — Fascinating documentary about Nazi Germany's persecution of homosexuals.
Shortbus (2006) — So sexually "out there" that Hollywood won't dare imitate it, which may be the best hope for sustaining gay cinema.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.