So much attention has been paid to the groundbreaking romance in Brokeback Mountain that a bigger story has been buried beneath the hype: More than any year in recent memory, 2005's holiday-movie cornucopia runneth over with characters of all sexual persuasions. Some are innovative; others merely update the hammy caricatures that have been Hollywood's traditional or, to some, offensive fallback for decades. (Progress is never quick, but at least the hoary lisp cliché seems to be a goner.) Here's a rundown:
THE GOOD The romantic conflict between Brokeback's male ranch hands is an eye-opener that upends everything we think we know about classic Hollywood love stories. In Capote, Philip Seymour Hoffman, channels the cunning writer Truman Capote, whose acute self-awareness (he was ostensibly an out, pre-Stonewall pioneer) seemed to embolden and stymie his literary talent. Transamerica's Felicity Huffman tackles the challenging story of Bree, a husky-voiced transgender woman who discovers that she once fathered a son (got that?) who's now a teenager hustling tricks with both sexes. Val Kilmer takes a subtle turn as Gay Perry, the detective whose sexuality is (mostly) beside the point in the smart noir Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, while gay Pop Idol champ Will Young makes his film debut as Bertie, the male ingenue and choreographer at the British theater where Mrs. Henderson Presents her nudie stage shows.
THE DRAG Cillian Murphy utilizes his ethereal appearance to maximum effect in director Neil Jordan's Breakfast on Pluto, which follows a coquettish performer living in Ireland and Britain during the Troubles. It's a full-circle kind of thing: Pluto works as a companion piece to Jordan's The Crying Game, which took gender-bending to a shocking new level 13 years ago. An HIV-positive drag queen is the heart of the multiculti Rent crew, which also includes her similarly afflicted boyfriend and an on-again/off-again lesbian couple. And Gary Beach reprises his Tony-winning role in The Producers as Roger DeBris, the outrageous, cross-dressing director whose garish behavior might seem insulting if it weren't so knowingly over-the-top.
THE UGLY And then there's weepy seriocomedy The Family Stone, which inexplicably saddles bleeding-heart son Thad Stone (Ty Giordano) with the holy trinity of pat on-screen ''afflictions'' that'll get 'em talking at the dinner table: He's gay, he's dating a black man, and he's deaf! At least ''talk to the hand'' still translates in sign language.