Interior. Leather Bar. I love this film. The conceit is clever, the execution is exquisite; it's funny without being knowing, it tricks you but isn't smug about it, and best of all it's about hard-core gay sex and its perception both within and without the gay community. But you know the thing I don't love about this film? James bloody Franco. I wasn't that suspicious of him before this, I just thought he was a potentially interesting guy who got lucky and was understandably riding that wave. We'd all be the same. He is, for example, a disastrous poet - truly abominable - but a press came calling so why shouldn't he publish? This felt different. This was beyond opportunism. His contribution to "Interior. Leather Bar" was patronizing, self-promoting and embarrassing. Worst of all, though, was that he didn't see it. He made a great piece of cinema a little worse, and that's a hard thing to forgive. He should have noticed this in the edit - he took a director's credit - and he should have insisted that his parts were cut down. That way he could have maintained his chosen role as Grand Queer Investigator without the attendant shambles of his tedious contributions.
Milk. Gone are the days when it was considered taboo for a straight heart throb to take on a gay role. As Harvey Milk’s partner Scott Smith, Franco was firmly in love interest territory, and firmly in “not as irritating as Diego Luna’s character” territory.
My Own Private River. After working with Van Sant on "Milk," Franco teamed up with the director again for a project related to Van Sant's queer classic "My Own Private Idaho." Franco said he's been obsessed with “Idaho” since he was a teenager, which led to “My Own Private River,” a remix of "Idaho" that puts a greater emphasis on the late River Phoenix’s performance and inserts a number of the actor's alternate takes and deleted scenes. It was an extraordinarily ambitious project that plays respectable homage to both Phoenix and "Idaho" -- and absolutely worth seeking out. Here's a Q&A with Franco about "River" from a 2012 event at New York's Film Society of Lincoln Center:
Sal. Franco chose to make one of his first directorial efforts a well-intentioned exploration of one of the very first Hollywood actors to come out publicly: Sal Mineo. Played in the film by Val Lauren (who would later start in "Interior. Leather Bar."), Mineo's homosexuality is explored through a chronicle of the final day of his life (he was stabbed to death at the age of 37). It was an early example of the meta-ness of Franco's work, given he portrayed Mineo's "Rebel Without a Cause" (more on the gay subtext of that film here) co-star James Dean in the 2001 TV biopic "James Dean" -- which, given Dean himself is a considerable gay icon -- probably warrants a spot on this list in itself.
This is the End. Last year's apocalypse-by-way-of-Hollywood-satire comedy "This Is The End" is sure to become a cult classic soon enough (it's the best comedy of last year, as far as we're concerned), and once again finds James Franco playing himself -- and poking fun at his sexuality (which he seems to do best when offering it through a comic lens). It plays up Franco as a narcissist who is in love with Seth Rogen (who co-directed the film and also stars as himself) and includes the following quotable care of Danny McBride as he refuses to believe the world is ending: “James Franco didn’t suck any dick last night? Now I know y’all are trippin’.” The film also was the beginning of a faux gay series of collaborations between Franco and Rogen. For one, they hilariously spoofed Kim and Kayne late last year by making a super gay shot-for-shot remake of their bizarro "Bound 2" video for no apparent reason other than to entertain us (and to lead to this).