32. Philadelphia

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Movie: Philadelphia

Release Date: December 22, 1993

Director: Jonathan Demme

Starring: Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Antonio Banderas, Jason Robards, Mary Steenburgen.

Tag Lines: “No one would take on his case… until one man was willing to take on the system.”

Relevance: We have reached a huge milestone on my list of most influential movies of all time. Drumroll, please. This is Tom Hanks fourteenth and final appearance, the most of any other actor to be a part of this blog and project. I always credit Jimmy Stewart as my favorite male actor, but I could arguably throw in Mr. Hanks right there next to him. Both of them are incredible talents and have given us so many memorable performances. I mean, just look at Mr. Hanks’ past thirteen films represented here alone: 314. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, 275. Apollo 13, 256. The Green Mile, 234. Saving Private Ryan, 224. Joe Versus the Volcano, 186. Toy Story, 167. Splash, 160. Bachelor Party, 145. Big, 101. The Money Pit, 63. Sleepless in Seattle, 43. Toy Story 2 and 35. A League of Their Own. Quite the list indeed. And I know what some of you out there are thinking, where’s Forrest? My simple retort would be, make your own damn list.

‘Philadelphia’ had a limited release over the holiday season in 1993. It received excellent reviews from critics, especially for the performances of both Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington. The film was a landmark movie being the first mainstream Hollywood project to acknowledge AIDS, homosexuality and homophobia. Despite some of the controversy it garnered from Christian groups, it was a significant financial success and was the number one film for two weeks in a row, eventually becoming the twelfth highest grossing film in the United States that year.

In January of 1994, I was finishing up my holiday break from my first semester of Graduate School. Before heading back for semester number two, I went to the movies with a group of friends. The movie we saw was ‘Philadelphia.’ Thanks to Tom Hanks’ popularity and the positive reviews of the movie including some already announced award nominations, the movie was sold out. There were between six and eight of us that went but due to the size of the crowd at the theater, we were not all allowed to sit together. We broke up into groups of twos and threes and scattered throughout the room. I knew the movie was going to be emotional so I wasn’t exactly thrilled about possibly bursting into tears in front of a large group of strangers. But that’s exactly what happened.

‘Philadelphia’ was a captivating, compassionate, compelling and emotionally devastating movie experience. I was riveted to the legal drama but I was easily sucked in to the beautiful human story that it was telling as well. Tom Hanks delivered a superb performance and he made tears trickle down my face throughout the entire movie. Many critics spoke about the “opera scene” as Mr. Hanks’ crowning achievement in the film and one that would hand him his Oscar. It is quite the scene. For me though, a very subtle moment made me realize how gifted he was as an actor. When his character leaves Denzel Washington’s office, there is a slow zoom on him as people are walking in front of him. His face, especially his eyes, tells the audience exactly what he is thinking. That was my first memorable “cry” moment in the film with a lot more to come.

For a sold out crowd, the theater was very still and quiet. You could tell that the audience was emotionally involved and possibly preparing themselves for the film’s finale. There is a moment in the film where Mr. Hanks’ character collapses and is taken away. The next shot is his empty chair in the courtroom. That simple shot resulted in an audible gasp from the audience. That’s good filmmaking. As the movie progressed to its not surprising but heartbreaking ending, the audience was starting to become a little more vocal. There was unmistakable crying throughout the audience. And as the camera showed home movies of Andrew Beckett as a young child with Neil Young’s “Philadelphia” playing behind it, I joined in on that crying.

All of my friends, after composing themselves, went on to enjoy a late night, “goodbye to me” dinner. The entire time we ate, I just kept thinking about the film. Soon after seeing it, the movie was nominated for five Academy Awards including one for Best Actor. It was Tom Hanks’ second nomination and eventually became his first deserved win. I recommended the movie to all of my family and friends and eventually bought the VHS as soon as it became available.

When I first saw ‘Philadelphia,’ I was a man living a straight lifestyle. Eventually coming to terms with my sexuality, I had to face the inevitable fears and questions from my mother that I think most gay men during that time faced. “I don’t want you to die from AIDS” was one of the first things my mom said to me after coming out. It was now the late 1990’s and although we had progressed somewhat as a society, there was still a lot of room for growth. Unfortunately, AIDS did enter my world as I lost many friends to the disease, yet thankfully I have emerged HIV negative. However I am a very loud and proud activist in the fight against AIDS and always will be.

‘Philadelphia,’ believe it or not, is even more upsetting to me when I watch it now as an out, gay man. I can’t really put into words why, it just is. I own the Anniversary DVD edition and although I do revisit the film from time to time, it is not a movie that I watch over and over again. It’s just too emotional. With that said, it is a very important movie for me and one that I hold in the utmost esteem.

Today’s Thoughts: “It’s that every now and again – not often, but occasionally – you get to be a part of justice being done. That really is quite a thrill when that happens.”

Before I even placed the DVD in the player, I grabbed a box of Kleenex and placed it next to me. I have never made it through ‘Philadelphia’ without sobbing and I didn’t think today was going to be an exception. It wasn’t.

‘Philadelphia’ remains a poignant, moving film and despite it now being a bit dated due to the progress we have made in society, it is a healthy reminder of where we could possibly end up again if we let hate rule our land. Watching this today made me realize why I may have come out a little later in life. The late 1980’s and early 1990’s were tough for the gay community. Kudos to those brave warriors that were able to come out back then and pave the way for so many other men and women. Some of the dialogue and slurs used in the film made me cringe, but they are necessary to hear to remind us of that difficult era.

AIDS is front and center in this film and almost acts as a silent character. This is such a difficult movie for me to get through. I pretty much teared up hearing Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia” during the opening credits and was full on sobbing by the end credits. Tom Hanks is of course superb, but Denzel Washington really is phenomenal in his role, as well as sexy and handsome. His character is so pivotal to the screenplay to give the perspective of the straight man and it is a brave performance knowing that his character would not be liked during the full arc of the piece. But what an arc he has and so well done by Mr. Washington.

In lighter news, ‘Philadelphia’ is the twenty-second movie to show full frontal male nudity on my list of most influential movies of all time. Yes, it makes my now infamous “penis” list. You may have to squint (and don’t blink) in the racquet ball club scene (the gayest straight racquet ball club I ever saw, by the way), but there are a few penises there for your viewing pleasure. Feel free to peruse through the other penis friendly films here: 39. Brokeback Mountain, 47. Fight Club, 92. An American Werewolf in London, 93. Angels in America, 105. American History X, 110. Shortbus, 112. A Clockwork Orange, 113. Weekend, 120. Sex and the City, 133. Porky’s, 139. Trainspotting, 144. Fargo, 183. Terminator 2: Judgement Day, 199. Six Degrees of Separation, 209. The Fisher King, 295. Being John Malkovich, 296. Wildcats, 332. The Crying Game, 335. Born on the Fourth of July343. Sideways and 357. Amadeus.

Ironically, tomorrow is World AIDS Day, as is every December 1st. So watching ‘Philadelphia’ seemed even more relevant and important than ever. Despite making huge strides in the fight against this terrible disease, there is still no cure for it and an estimated 690,000 people worldwide died from AIDS-related illnesses last year alone. It is still an important cause in my life and one that I will always advocate for. So, get tested, know your status, don’t be complacent and stay in the know.

Awards: Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, Tom Hanks (winner), Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song, “Streets of Philadelphia,” Bruce Springsteen (winner), Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, Ron Nyswaner (nomination), Academy Award for Best Makeup, Carl Fullerton, Alan D’Angerio (nomination), Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song, “Philadelphia,” Neil Young (nomination), Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama, Tom Hanks (winner), Golden Globe for Best Original Song – Motion Picture, “Streets of Philadelphia,” Bruce Springsteen (winner), Golden Globe for Best Screenplay – Motion Picture, Ron Nyswaner (nomination), BAFTA Award for Best Screenplay – Original, Ron Nyswaner (nomination), National Board of Review Award for Top Ten Films (winner), Writers Guild of America Award for Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, Ron Nyswaner (nomination).

Ways to Watch: Hulu, Sling TV, Starz, Amazon Prime, Vudu, YouTube, iTunes, Google Play, DVD Availability.

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