The 10 best films of 2013
Behind the Candelabra
Twas the week before Christmas, and all round the globe, film writers were speculating about the 2014 Oscars. One of the most hotly-contested categories looks set to be best actor. Will it be Dern or Ejiofor? Redford or Hanks?
Catherine ShoardWednesday 18 December 2013 17.00 GMT
It could have all been so different. Had assorted studio heads, about three years ago, not made the call that Steven Soderbergh's Liberace biopic would prove "too gay" for them to finance, this year's best actor race would have a done deal.
As it was, Behind the Candelabra's HBO debut means the best Michael Douglas could get in the US was an Emmy. And, duly, a month or two ago, he did.
Behind the Candelabra is dazzling from every angle, with a supporting cast to kill for (most strikingly, Rob Lowe's vampiric plastic surgeon, sucking blood as he nips and tucks) and a script dripping with zingers.
Behind the Candelabra
But it's that central casting that clinches it: a turn that's simultaneously transformative - literally, Douglas as you've never seen him before - and a nice sly commentary on his star cache. The baggage he brings to the part is what elevates it beyond showboat or impersonation into inhabitation.
As reviews at the time noted, Douglas's Liberace is more Martian emperor than musician, gliding through his own personal Versailles like a voracious, upholstered pussycat. The arena of Soderbergh's story, too, is out of this world, almost sci-fi. Yet as well as being wild entertainment, Behind the Candelabra works as commentary on fandom and family, love and longing. It took an outlandish affair - between the sex addict closeted super-diva and an apple pie dog handler (Matt Damon's Scott Thorson) - and it made it relatable.
The film ends with Liberace's clear-eyed tribute to his lover:
Why do I love you? I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I'm with you. I love you not only for what you have made of yourself, but for what you are making of me. I love you for ignoring the possibilities of the fool in me, and for accepting the possibilities of the good in me. Why do I love you? I love you for closing your eyes to the discords in me, and for adding to the music in me by worshipful listening.
Soderbergh's film sings from the same hymn sheet. It treats its characters, no matter how ludicrous, with dignity and compassion. It loves them because and in spite of their raging absurdity, and doesn't have a problem with the conjunction. Beneath the sequins, behind the lights, it's just lovely.