To celebrate Pride month, what better way than to look back at some of the best films that represent the LGBTQ+ community? Right off the bat I’d like to say this was one of the harder lists to compile and naturally there may be some reader’s favourites absent. There is, contrary to popular belief, much more to LGBTQ+ cinema than just Brokeback Mountain (2005). So, without further ado, here are the 10 best LGBTQ+ films of all time.
10. The Children’s Hour
The Children’s Hour (1961) is a drama starring Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine and is based on the play of the same name, by Lillian Hellman. Directed by William Wyler, the film centres on two school teachers whose livelihood is ruined by libel and slander as one of the pupils tells their grandmother that the two teachers are lovers. What ensues afterwards is heartbreaking and although the lesbian content is sparse to say the least, the subject drives the narrative forward and illustrates well how a situation like this at the time, could ruin lives.
9. Call Me by Your Name
A coming of age romantic drama, Call Me By Your Name (2017) completed Luca Guadagnino’s thematic ‘Desire’ trilogy after his two films I Am Love (2009) and A Bigger Splash (2015). In 1980s northern Italy, the film explores the relationship between the younger Elio (Timothée Chalamet), and Oliver (Armie Hammer) an older, student assistant to Elio’s father. The film is based on the novel of the same name, written by André Aciman. Call Me By Your Name looks amazing, it keeps you entranced on the setting as you’re constantly longing to be there in northern Italy with these characters. Nominated for four Academy awards, winning for Best Adapted screenplay and receiving a standing ovation at the Sundance Film Festival, it was undoubtedly one of the best films of 2017.
Céline Sciamma’s second film, Tomboy (2011) is a moving tale which follows 10 year old Laure, a gender non-conforming child who uses her family moving to a new neighbourhood as a chance to change her gender presentation, adopting the new name, Mikäel. With one of the greatest child performances of recent years, Zoé Héran in the lead role, the film delicately conveys what it is like for a transexual person growing up. Sciamma commented:
“I made it with several layers, so that a transexual person can say ‘that was my childhood’ and so that a heterosexual woman can also say it.”
7. The Watermelon Woman
The first film ever directed by a black lesbian, a milestone, a landmark in cinema. As part of the New Queer Cinema movement in the 90s, The Watermelon Woman (1996) is written, directed and edited by Cheryl Dunye. An extraordinary first outing for Dunye as she explores the history of black actors in the 1930s and 40s. Dunye discovers that many of the black actresses were not credited and soon becomes particularly interested in an actress credited simply as ‘The Watermelon Woman’. The film is extremely unique and boasts a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
6. 120 BPM (Beats Per Minute)
120 Beat Per Minute (2017) is a gritty, real story of a group of HIV/AIDS activists in 1990s Paris, as their organisation ACT UP battles against censorship by the government of the disease. The film covers not just the political aspect, which is done exceptionally well showing the disagreements, the fallout of protesting and fighting for the same cause, but also it grows the relationship between Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart) and Nathan (Arnaud Valois). One huge success of Robin Campillo’s film is it’s tendency to not shy away from showing explicitly sexual scenes between two male characters. Something which other films on the list have been criticised for doing.
5. Brokeback Mountain
A cliché, the obvious choice, but what doesn’t get mentioned enough is, Brokeback Mountain is a great movie. A classic story of two star crossed lovers with emphasis on the characters. It’s not a film interested in the history of the LGBTQ+ community and gay couple’s rights, it’s simply a love story of a same-sex relationship. Two brilliant performances from Jake Gyllenhaal as Jack Twist and Heath Ledger as Ennis Del Mar, with Ang Lee directing, this was certainly a risk for all involved. A certified tearjerker, a powerful exploration of sexuality and a genuine success in every way.
Pride (2014), winner of the Queer Palm award at the Cannes Film Festival, is a British historical comedy/drama directed by Matthew Warchus. This compelling story takes place in the early to mid 80s and portrays the founding of the ‘Lesbians and Gays Support The Miners’ activist group. It captures the resilience of two differing, yet similar groups who have been equally marginalised by Thatcherism. There are some real stand out performances by George Mackay, Imelda Staunton and Bill Nighy in particular. With such bleak subject matter, it’s astounding that the film is so funny and so extremely uplifting. Although, remember to keep a box of tissues close by.
Another coming of age drama, this time Barry Jenkin’s eventual Oscar Best Picture winner, Moonlight (2016). Split into three stages, the film covers Chiron Harris’s (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes) youth, adolescence and early adulthood. Exploring important issues of identity, race and of course, his sexuality. Distributed by A24, the film won award after award including the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture, Mahershala Ali won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and Jenkins and McCraney took home an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. In winning the Best Picture Oscar, it became the first film with an all black cast, and the first film with LGBTQ+ content, to do so. Moonlight in so many different ways, made history that Oscars night.
Narrowly missing out on the top spot, is Todd Haynes’s gem, Carol (2015). Based on the romantic novel, The Price of Salt written by Patricia Highsmith, Carol follows an affair between an aspiring photographer and an older woman whose going through a divorce. Cate Blanchett and Haynes working together yet again creates magic. Rooney Mara also gives an understated, superb performance as Therese. The original score by Carter Burwell is a real high point of the movie with some beautiful pieces to match such a beautiful film. The movie received a 10 minute standing ovation at its Cannes international press screening and premiere.
1. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
In first place, of course, a film which I don’t think I will ever stop talking about, Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019). Céline Sciamma has some amazing movies, one of which has already been on his list, but Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a genuine, modern classic. At the end of the 18th century, a painter named Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is hired to paint a portrait of a young woman, Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) as she is to be married to a Milanese nobleman. However, Marianne has to paint her in secret as she pretends to be her companion for daily walks. In the review I wrote for the film, I labelled it as ‘a manifesto on the female gaze’. Although it is certainly that, it really is so much more. A film with so much depth, great performances and again, a film which won the Queer Palm at Cannes, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is my number one pick.
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