In years past, LGBT cinephiles counted themselves lucky for one decent movie with a queer storyline. Looking at the depth and breadth of LGBT films to come out in 2017, it’s clear that “Moonlight” was just a harbinger of great things to come for queer cinema. With growing social acceptance comes increased funding for movies with queer themes, support for LGBT-identified filmmakers, and less stigma around straight actors playing gay. This year brought a breakthrough performance from transgender actress Daniela Vega, saw A-lister Emma Stone play lesbian icon Billie Jean King, and a strong Oscar contender in Luca Guadagnino’s sumptuous “Call Me By Your Name.”
If 2017 is any indication, queer cinema continues to thrive, even if the world isn’t following suit. As awards season progresses, it’s looking more and more likely that films from this list could be Oscar nominations for best documentary, best foreign language film, and best picture.
From the funny to the profound, the micro-budget to the wide release, here are the 10 best LGBTQ films of 2017:
10. “Beach Rats”
Gay audiences may have had their qualms with this enigmatic indie, but they still went out to see it in droves. Sundance regular Eliza Hittman centered her second feature around a teenager coming of age in Coney Island, chatting up older men online from the far reaches of New York’s hippest borough. Gay audiences were no doubt lured by newcomer Harris Dickinson, who plays Frankie with an eerie tranquility. Teenage rage lurks under the placid surface, as he spends his summer walking the world-famous boardwalk of his backyard, shirtless and waiting for something to happen. Mainstream gay audiences came for the shirtless part, but didn’t take to the unmitigated rage that eventually overtakes Frankie’s softer yearnings. Hittman deserves credit for taking on the character’s ambiguity, and gay audiences for taking the ride.
If a few gay sex scenes are enough to count a film as queer, then a few lesbian fights should suffice—and that’s not even counting the epic takedowns that give this wild ride its title. Delightfully subversive and alive with a distinctly contemporary absurdism, “Catfight” is about two women who hate each other. Giving Anne Heche and Sandra Oh the juiciest roles of their recent careers, Brooklyn-based filmmaker Onur Tukel managed to make a deeply pro-woman film that pissed off a lot of feminists with its title alone. Had they actually seen the movie, they would have recognized that “Catfight” is in fact quite the feminist work — it’s just the kind of feminism that sees women as just as flawed, broken, and disgusting as men. They’re out for blood and glory, and their desires have nothing to do with the opposite sex. Throw in a wry Alicia Silverstone as Heche’s disgruntled girlfriend, not to mention nary a gratuitous sex scene in sight, and “Catfight” sets the bar high for wildly entertaining, irreverently feminist, and queer-leaning films made by men.
8. “Battle of the Sexes”
“I have terrible taste,” tennis legend Billie Jean King recently told IndieWire as she rattled off her favorite TV shows (“NCIS,” “Blue Bloods,” and “Riverdale”). But the choice to place her life’s story, or its most defining chapter, in the hands of “Little Miss Sunshine” directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton would suggest otherwise. The term “sports biopic” conjures up images of tough-talking coaches, neglected wives, and heads hung in locker rooms. In “Battle of the Sexes,” we get a fast-talking Sarah Silverman doing her best impression of an old-school Hollywood agent, a husband and a girlfriend (both neglected but doting), and an emotional locker room scene that only arrives once victory has as well.
Somehow, the movie came and went with virtually no discussion about an A-lister like Emma Stone playing a lesbian icon without any fear of how it might affect her career; that it’s no longer news is news itself. Although the tennis took a backseat to the story of how King battled her inner demons to win equality for all women, the central love story between King and hairdresser Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) unfolds so tenderly and satisfyingly that it gives new meaning to the term “lesbian haircut.”
7. “Strong Island”
In the tradition of “My Architect” and “Stories We Tell,” filmmaker Yance Ford opens the wounds of his own family tragedy in “Strong Island,” a stunning magnum opus about the 1992 murder of his 24-year-old brother, William. Tracing his family’s journey from the Jim Crow South to the illusory safety of a predominantly black Long Island suburb, Ford attempts to make sense of his transformative loss. Through unembellished interviews with family and friends, we learn that no charges were ever brought for his brother’s murder, and that William and Ford never spoke about his evolving gender identity. Guided by the filmmaker’s narration, “Strong Island” follows Ford on a labyrinthine search for answers as he exposes his raw emotions in front of the camera. With unimaginable grace, Ford interrogates the painful history of race in America and its indelible hold on him and his family. “Strong Island” is as much about the search for truth as the impossibility of finding it.
6. “Women Who Kill”
This bone-dry lesbian murder mystery has a little something for everyone: Genre lovers, cinephiles, and — most importantly — lesbians, who too often find themselves underrepresented in the movies. The script, by writer-director Ingrid Jungermann, is one of the most impressive debuts in recent memory. Jungermann also stars as Morgan, who runs a Brooklyn-based podcast about female serial killers with her ex-girlfriend, Jean (Ann Carr). When Morgan meets the mysterious and alluring Simone (Sheila Vand), Jean suspects she may be in danger.
The movie amounts to a clever riff on the “kill your gays” trope. You can bet Jungermann knows exactly what she’s doing when she toys with the idea of lesbian sex as something potentially lethal. Innuendo does the trick — there are no sex scenes in the movie, just good old-fashioned storytelling and intrigue. “Women Who Kill” totally upends Hollywood’s idea of what a lesbian movie can be. It’s clear from watching it that Jungermann not only knows her queer cinema history, but celebrates it.
On the next page: The best queer film of 2017.