This article is part of the Mercury's 2020 all-digital Queer Week coverage.

My Own Private Idaho
My Own Private Idaho criterion

Gus Van Sant remains Portland’s best known cinematic son. While he doesn’t live in our fair city anymore, it was during his time here that he made some of his most celebrated work (Good Will Hunting, My Own Private Idaho, Elephant), and many of his features were made using Portland as a location and with locals filling out the cast list. (See if you can spot former furniture magnate Tom Peterson in Drugstore Cowboy.) Along the way, Van Sant has scored impressive accolades, including two Oscar nominations for Best Director (for Good Will Hunting and Milk). He remains one of only two filmmakers to land both the Palme d’Or and Best Director Award at the Cannes Film Festival (for Elephant).

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The quality of Van Sant’s work has varied wildly over the years. He followed up the massive success of Good Will Hunting with the failed experiment that was his shot-by-shot remake of Psycho and the treacly Finding Forrester, and he might never live down his shaggy adaptation of Tom Robbins’ Even Cowgirls Get The Blues. But even attempting to recreate a cinematic masterpiece or convincing Matt Damon to star in an existentialist, mostly dialogue-free mood piece following two friends lost in the desert (Gerry) and getting major film studios to release them is the kind of daring that is in short supply in modern American cinema. And when Van Sant has all the elements in place, he’s an unbeatable force behind the camera. You’ll see what we mean when you spend some time with his films this week.

Mala Noche (1985)
Van Sant’s debut feature, adapted from a Walt Curtis novel, was this aching tale of love and lust and how the lines between those two are often blurred. Available on Kanopy, Criterion Channel

Drugstore Cowboy (1989)
The first whiff that mainstream film fans got of Van Sant’s talent was courtesy of this wonderfully grubby tale of a crew of people experiencing addiction robbing pharmacies to get their fix, starring a never-better Matt Dillon. Available on demand through DirectTV

My Own Private Idaho (1991)
River Phoenix is at his heartbreaking best in this film as Mike, a gay hustler trying to find his estranged mother while also wrestling with his feelings for his best friend (played by Keanu Reeves). Available on Criterion Channel

To Die For (1995)
One of Van Sant’s most underseen works is this Buck Henry-penned black comedy that follows a mentally unstable wannabe newscaster (Nicole Kidman) who seduces a high school kid (Joaquin Phoenix) in hopes of getting the poor sap to murder her unsupportive husband. Available on the Roku Channel

Good Will Hunting (1997)
Matt Damon and Ben Affleck began their ascent to superstardom here, starring in and earning an Oscar for their script about a super genius finally accepting his brilliance with the help of romance and therapy. Van Sant earned his first Oscar nomination thanks to his thoughtful directorial work. Available on Hulu, HBO Max, and Showtime

Psycho (1998)
Van Sant showed some true daring by following up his biggest success to date with this strange cinematic experiment: a shot-for-shot remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece. The definition of a noble failure. Available on demand through Starz and DirectTV

Gerry (2002)
Inspired by the work of Hungarian director Béla Tarr, Van Sant made this quiet, harrowing work that tracks two friends (Damon, Casey Affleck) lost in the desert and slowly losing all sense of reality. Available on Hoopla

Elephant (2003)
Van Sant tackled the subject of school shootings with an artful gaze, evoking the hazy, dreamlike sensation of being overwhelmed with adrenaline and fear via floating camera movements and the use of mostly untrained actors. Available on demand through DirectTV

Last Days (2005)
The end of Van Sant’s supposed “Death Trilogy” was this haunting take on the final days of Kurt Cobain’s life, with Michael Pitt in the role of a tortured rock star hiding out in his home in the woods after escaping from rehab. Available on HBONow

Paranoid Park (2007)
Blake Nelson’s novel was the source material for this noir-ish story of a skate rat that accidentally kills a security guard and wrestles with both his guilt and a desire to avoid consequences for his actions. Available on Hulu

Milk (2008)
Van Sant netted his second Oscar nomination for his work on this pitch perfect biopic on the life and tragic death of Harvey Milk, the gay rights activist and member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors who was killed by one of his co-workers in 1978. Available on demand from Starz

Restless (2011)
The only serious flop of Van Sant’s career was this sweet yet strange romantic drama about a young man who falls in love with a woman with cancer. Available on Amazon Prime

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Promised Land (2012)
Working from a script by the film’s stars Damon and John Krasinski, Van Sant sought to draw attention to the environmental dangers of fracking with this story of an energy company butting heads with activists in the farmland of Pennsylvania. Available on Netflix

The Sea of Trees (2015)
The journey to enlightenment undertaken by two men (Matthew McConaughey and Ken Watanabe) both planning to kill themselves in Japan’s Aokigahara forest was a critical and commercial failure for Van Sant. Available on Kanopy, Hoopla, and Netflix

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot (2018)
Van Sant’s most recent film is a spirited adaptation of Portland cartoonist John Callahan’s memoir, featuring a marvelous lead performance from Joaquin Phoenix and even better supporting work from Jonah Hill, Kim Gordon, and Beth Ditto. Available on Amazon Prime