There's a long-running joke in Hollywood that one of the easiest ways to earn an Oscar is to either 'Ugly it up" or contract a disease. But, in recent years, one of the newer trends that can lead an actor to the podium is for them to take on a role where they play a person of same-sex orientation (a fact that has already become the stuff of satire). Over the past 10 years, plenty of actors have earned Oscars for playing gay roles, and the latest actor to join the club could be Matt Damon, who has signed to play Liberace's lover in Steven Soderbergh's biopic of the flamboyant musician.

So what's the big deal? Don't actors pretend to be different people all the time ... isn't that their job? Well, yes, but it's a little more complicated than that. Gay and lesbian political advocates have long lamented the sad state of affairs where straight actors are getting gay roles, instead of giving 'out' actors their chance to shine. So, while I question the idea that only gay actors could play a gay character, just as only straight actors can play straight characters, the sad fact is that Hollywood is still relatively puritanical when it comes to allowing their actors and actresses to be out and proud -- and that needs to change. But, that doesn't mean I think an actor (gay or straight) shouldn't play role any role they want ... just as long as they're good at it.

So on that note, I decided to give a little credit to five performances by straight actors in gay roles that transcended orientation and, ultimately, are just damn fine performances.

After the jump: my picks for the best of straight actors going gay for pay...