Sean Baker’s audacious farce following a day in the life of two trans girls working the streets of downtown Los Angeles is infinitely re-watchable, and required viewing if you somehow missed it in 2015. Baker earned major points for casting ACTUAL trans women in the lead, and it paid off. Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriquez saturate the film in such authentic flavor, it’s enough to make one swear off professional actors altogether.
Shot entirely on iPhone (with the help of an anamorphic adapter), “Tangerine” made waves when it premiered at Sundance in 2015. It looks great — but it’s the raw intimacy Baker captured on camera that made “Tangerine” an instant queer classic.
This year's queer indie success story was Andrew Ahn's "Spa Night," a lush coming-of-age drama about a young Korean-American man torn between his duty to his family and his burgeoning sexuality. Strand Releasing bought distribution rights to Ahn's debut feature out of Sundance, where Joe Seo won a Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Performance. "Spa Night" won over critics with its restrained sensuality, even garnering praise from notorious contrarian Armond White, whose "Moonlight" review was far less positive.
French director Alain Guiraudie’s sexy 2014 thriller turns a gay cruising beach into a site of danger. Though the daring metaphor rankled some viewers who were tired of the “gay sex equals death” trope, this elegantly crafted film transcends such criticism. The dreamy European cruising scene will surely draw covetous leers from American viewers, shown here in all its gritty glory. The real feat is the balance Giuraudie strikes as he breathes that languorous summer vibe into a concise erotic thriller.
Director Dee Rees is poised to break out when “Mudbound,” her latest film about familial and racial tensions in a post WWII South, plays Sundance this month, but it’s a wonder 2011’s “Pariah” didn’t get her here sooner. An intimate tale about a masculine-leaning teenager (Adepero Oduye) discovering her queerness in Brooklyn while navigating her less than thrilled family, “Pariah” was slightly ahead of its time. As Rees’ star continues to rise, it may finally get its due.
British director Peter Stickland explores a sadomasichistic romance between two women — under the guise of European sexploitation films from decades earlier — by exploring the peculiar nature of their attraction without turning it into a punchline. By the movie's end, the kinky antics are oddly heartwarming.
— Eric Kohn
A free-wheeling tour guide falls for a recently separated architect in Chilean filmmaker Claudio Marcone’s love letter to his hometown of Santiago. As Fer (Emilio Edwards) mashes avocado onto toast, he and Bruno (Francisco Celhay) dance around their percolating desires, debating whether sexuality is black and white or somewhere in between. The film won the prize for Best First Feature at San Francisco’s Frameline Festival for its subtle probe of sexual fluidity and its beautiful Chilean canvas.
This frisky unrated Spanish romp is set in one hotel room in a single night. “Sex and Lucia” director Julio Medem’s first English-language film applies his romantic humor to a same-sex love affair. Stars Elena Anaya (Almodovar’s “The Skin I Live In”) and Natasha Yarovenko have an easy chemistry, and Medem’s semi-fantastical touches elevate “Room in Rome” beyond the typical erotic fare.
Tom Ford’s lush directorial debut is like a moving painting of grief, driven by a masterful performance by Colin Firth, for which he received an Oscar nomination. Every frame is a feast for the eye, and not just when Mathew Goode and Nicholas Hoult are onscreen. With “Nocturnal Animals” vying for Oscar attention, it’s worth taking another look at Ford’s first film.
By the time Abdellatif Kechiche’s nearly three-hour romance played the New York Film Festival in 2013, Cannes audiences had famously walked out during an eight-minute long lesbian sex scene that took its nubile young protagonist through a lifetime of lesbian sex in one night. Kechiche’s leering male gaze guides every shot, and the camera lingers on star Adèle Exarchopoulos’s supple lips as she eats spaghetti, teaches, and showers. Kechiche famously filmed the young actress without her knowledge, so often that he had to change the character’s name to Adele.
In spite of all that, “Blue is the Warmest Color” has its insights, mainly when it lingers listlessly on the brutality of all-consuming love. It didn’t win the Palme d’Or for nothing.
This drama of errors from Swedish director Alexandra-Therese Keining throws two women into a fraught romance when they meet at their parents’ engagement party. Not only that, but one of them is engaged to a man. Visually appealing and with an unexpectedly clever script, “Kiss Me” succeeds where most lesbian romances fail. Keining’s latest film, “Girls Lost,” was released by Wolfe Video in December.
Tel Aviv, with all of its political conflicts and conservative politicians, is the gayest city in the Middle East. British filmmaker Jake Witzenfeld embeds himself with three gay Palestinian men in this frank and eye-opening documentary. With very little editorializing, Witzenfeld lets his subjects speak for themselves as they try to resolve their queer identities with their religious and political beliefs. Witzenfeld and producer David Lambroso self distributed the film, and it has found a healthy audience.
A day-in-the-life look at the unique experience of being young, gay, black, and Muslim in Brooklyn, "Naz & Maalik" starts off with a relaxed, laid back approach, but sly moments of high-stakes drama and import imbue the otherwise chill vibe with a sense of creeping dread. Anchored by lead performances from newcomers Kerwin Johnson, Jr. and Curtiss Cook, Jr., writer-director Jay Dockendorf's film is intimate, authentic, and feels decidedly relevant in today's current context.
— Katie Walsh
Andrew Haigh’s debut feature heralded a fresh new voice in queer cinema, and landed him a deal at HBO to create “Looking.” The story of a one-night stand that turns into an all day stand, walk, and talk, Haigh’s small moment-to-moment romance pays off in a big way.
In Indian director Shonali Bose’s “Margarita,” which played Toronto in 2014, Laila, a fiery young Indian woman with cerebral palsy, leaves India to study at New York University, where she unexpectedly falls in love and begins a remarkable journey of self-discovery. It's a life-affirming and compassionate portrayal of a subject rarely seen on film, told with insight and humor.
— Inkoo Kang
French filmmaker Catherine Corsini's “Summertime” (“La Belle Saison”) finds a young, provincial woman falling for an older intellectual, while grappling with the means of expressing her identity, sexual or otherwise. The film mostly unfolds in 1971, against the backdrop of the burgeoning feminist movement, and achieves a fusion of sensuality, tenderness and soul-searching.
— Eric Kohn
Starring Christopher Plummer as a newly out gay man in his 70s and Ewan McGregor as the aimless son who mourns him, Mike Mills’ heartbreaking film is based on personal experiences with his own father. Told in segmented flashbacks, “Beginners” is a poignant love poem that asks universal questions that have plagued every generation, even as it offers no answers.
James Franco and Travis Mathews teamed up to remake the 40 minutes of explicit S&M material allegedly cut from William Friedkin’s controversial 1980 film “Cruising” to avoid an X-rating. The result is a discussion of representations of queer sex in both Hollywood and society in general. Say what you want about Mr. Franco, but try not to admire his attempt to utilize his celebrity to push certain boundaries.
— Peter Knegt
If you don't know Tab Hunter, a svelte Hollywood hunk who got his screen start in 1950s war pictures, no problem. Jeffrey Schwarz's latest documentary tribute un-closets Hunter for a new generation of fans. And god, was he gorgeous. The film chronicles his meteoric movie career and how he managed to remain (mostly) secretly gay the entire time, carrying on affairs with athletes and actors including the elusive Anthony Perkins, at whom the film takes a good long look, while maintaining ambiguous relationships with women such as Natalie Wood for the public eye.
— Ryan Lattanzio
The story of the explosive love affair between Pulitzer Prize winning poet Elizabeth Bishop (Mirnada Otto) and Brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Soares (Gloria Pires) in 1950s Brazil. The film takes you deep into the price and struggle of creativity, and gives an interesting look back at a woman whose life the public knows very little about. Miranda Otto embodies Bishop with ferocious intensity.
— Melissa Silverstein
Written and directed by Alanté Kavaïté, “The Summer of Sangaile” had the unique distinction of being the first-ever Lithuanian feature to be selected for the Sundance Film Festival's World Cinema Dramatic Competition. Inspired by the writer/director's own adolescence spent summering in Lithuania, the film tells the story of a young woman named Sangaile, whose fascination for stunt planes is matched only by her fear of heights. Sangaile finds a friend in Auste, a vivacious young woman who encourages Sangaile to take risks. As the two grow closer, love blossoms.