As the days get shorter, and Trump gets nearer, movie fans will need more than a few good titles to curl up with beside the fire. With awards season just around the corner, here’s a special look at ten excellent films that came out this year that fans of great cinema and all things LGBTQ will not want to miss.
Moonlight might just be the best LGBT-themed film since Brokeback Mountain. Writer-director Barry Jenkins crafts a film of both immense emotional power and technical prowess. The story of a young, gay, African-American boy named Chiron, Moonlight follows its protagonist at three distinctive stages in life with remarkable subtlety. The film confronts views of gay men within the African-American community, and in a larger sense, the ongoing struggle gay men face reconciling their masculinity with their sexual orientation. The film also features stunning turns by Trevante Rhodes as Chiron and Naomie Harris as his drug-addicted mother. Moonlight is a tremendous achievement, and just as it carries on the pedigree of Brokeback Mountain, watch for it to carry on the awards tradition as well.
2. X-Men: Apocalypse
Independence Day: Resurgence featured a happy gay couple amid an alien invasion. Star Trek Beyond featured a hug between an implied gay couple.
2016 featured a new visibility for gay people in summer blockbuster fare, even if the movies weren’t exactly entertaining to watch. One film did, however, continue on a franchise tradition of detailing the plight of the LGBTQ community, at least metaphorically. X-Men: Apocalypse may not be the best outing for the super powered mutants/metaphor for gays, but it sure is a fun one. It also takes said symbolism in some interesting directions. Much as the mutants have gained greater freedom and visibility, so have we. With all this new mutant-gay visibility, where does that put us? And how will we one day look back on the mistakes of our lives? Perhaps most tellingly, Apocalypse introduces a band of young mutants training under the veterans of the X-Men—a subtle reminder that just as our community had a responsibility to fight for each other, so do we have an obligation to pass on the wisdom of the fight to a new generation.
Loving might not feature gay characters, but the film nevertheless cinephiles might one day regard it as the first narrative film about the fight for marriage equality. The struggle has much deeper roots than the 2004 Gavin Newsom San Francisco marriages or Vermont Civil Unions.
The real fight for marriage equality began with miscegenation, and Loving recounts the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple and a court battle that led them all the way to the Supreme Court. Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton deliver profound performances in this dramatization directed by Jeff Nichols. The plight of the Lovings mirrors that of so many contemporary same-sex couples, reminding audiences that marriage equality isn’t just a triumph for the LGBT community—it’s a triumph for all of America.
4. Lazy Eye
Two middle-aged gay men rekindle a decades-old love in perhaps one of the most surprising romantic comedies of the year, Lazy Eye. Written and directed by Tim Kirkman. The film finds its protagonist, Dean, struggling to adapt to a new pair of glasses when an email from old flame Alex makes him nostalgic for his youth. The two spend a weekend together rekindling passions in a Joshua Tree cabin, and must face the choices that led them to this point in life.
Lazy Eye spurns the clichés of so many other romantic comedies, precisely by having Alex and Dean strip away at their own idealized notions of one another. Facing a past love doesn’t just mean confronting him at a different point in life—it means confronting yourself. The film also treats the sexuality of its main characters as incidental; Lazy Eye isn’t a movie about being gay; it’s about growing up.
5. Tab Hunter Confidential
First things first: Tab Hunter Confidential first played film festivals in 2015. It did not, however, get wide release until this year, when Netflix added it to their growing library of excellent first-run distribution.
The documentary spotlights former matinee idol Tab Hunter, a squeaky-clean hunk that charmed America with his good looks, crooning voice and appearances in over 40 movies. Hunter, however, had to hide his sexuality during most of his Hollywood days before changing tastes coupled with age thrust him into obscurity.
Tab Hunter Confidential suffers from loving its subject a bit too much. The film totally ignores Hunter’s vocal opposition to marriage equality in the 2000s and bashes Hunter’s ex-boyfriend and fellow closet case Anthony Perkins. That said, it does shed light on the era of closeted Hollywood, the fickleness of showbiz, and just how far LGBTQ has advanced.
Paris is Burning remains one of the seminal films of early Queer Cinema, and a powerful artifact of late 80s New York. Amid the ravages of AIDS, gay culture began to seep into the mainstream, courtesy of a number of underground drag balls predominantly hosted by drag queens of color. Kiki picks up the subculture 25 years later, in a semi-sequel to the original film.
The new documentary finds the drag ball scene in full fabulousness, and highlights the evolution of LGBTQ equality, as well as where the culture has fallen short. Within poor communities of color, being gay still has its perils. Likewise, the trans community has only now begun to make the same kind of forward strides as their cis-gendered brothers and sisters. Just as Paris is Burning did so many years ago, Kiki takes on its subjects with unyielding starkness and startling intimacy. The film has its share of big laughs, and despite the frightening obstacles that people of color and the trans community face, Kiki still manages to find a sense of fun and hope—the same quality that has made Paris is Burning such an enduring classic.
7. The Intervention
Actress Clea DuVall makes a splendid debut as a writer-director with her comedy The Intervention. She also gives a fine performance in the film alongside Cobie Smulders, Melanie Lynskey, Jason Ritter and Natasha Lyonne. What starts as a weekend getaway for four couples turns into an all-out marriage referendum, for pairings both gay and straight. What follows is a very funny—and at times, moving—story with fine performances to boot.
The Intervention covers ground similar to that of The Big Chill or any number of other relationship comedies which find groups of friends frustrated by age and life. DuVall, however, imbues it with refreshingly modern characters (including a lesbian couple), witty dialogue and sincerity that always engages the audience. DuVall has given fine performances in films like Girl, Interrupted and The Slaughter Rule, though The Intervention suggests her greatest role might lay in front of her, and behind the camera.
8. King Cobra
In a post-Boogie Nights world, adult film actors have gained a new level of mystique as the embodiment of sex and glamour. The same goes for movies about performers, including King Cobra, a film smart enough to know that working in porn isn’t all sex and parties. Based on a real life murder case that entangled gay porn star Brett Corrigan, King Cobra removes many of the common illusions of the porn mystique, revealing it as an exploitive business that puts money before all else, including sanity. Newcomer Garett Clayton makes an unsurprisingly sexy (and appropriately gross) debut, though the real star turn goes to Christian Slater, a former heartthrob himself who emerges as a thoughtful and compelling character actor.
9. Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures
Cinematic hellraisers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato strike again. The duo behind Inside Deep Throat, Party Monster and The Eyes of Tammy Faye bring their polished and irreverent style to Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures. The documentary recounts the life and career of controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, whose erotic images shocked the world.
The film plays Mapplethorpe as a total publicity hound, if a talented one. The photog spent his days either chasing after celebrities or composing purposefully lurid and homoerotic content. His opportunism, ambition and sexual obsessions made Mapplethorpe into a difficult man, though not an uninteresting one. Bailey and Barbato, also known for salacious content and celebrity worship, no doubt find Mapplethorpe an inspiration. Fortunately, unlike their subject, the directors know how to craft a film for value beyond the provocative.
10. Other People
Molly Shannon makes a remarkable dramatic turn in Other People, the first feature from writer-director Chris Kelly. Shannon’s performance might get the accolades, and even awards consideration, though the movie belongs to Jesse Plemons. Plemons plays David, a struggling writer who returns to his Sacramento family home as his mother battles the final stages of cancer. Making matters all the more uncomfortable, his conservative, religious family disapproves of his being gay.
Though the premise might sound like the plot of an emotionally draining Lifetime movie—and in some ways it is—Other People has enough genuine heart and uproarious laughs to keep the tears well punctuated. An outstanding cast adds to the entertainment factor, and much like several of the other films mentioned here, David’s sexuality is more a passing thought than a focal point. Still, the movie doesn’t rob him of his sex drive or romantic prospects. Even if Other People is uneven at times, it more than makes up for it with some big laughs, and two exceptional performances from Pelmons and Shannon.