Swedish director Sara Jordenö shares writing credit with Twiggy Pucci Garçon, one of the subjects of this inside look at New York’s ballroom and voguing culture, also known as the “Kiki” scene. The film follows its vibrant subjects over four years of fabulous looks, dance moves that defy belief, and celebratory gender transformations. “Kiki” is 2016’s much needed answer to 1991’s “Paris Is Burning,” for which filmmaker Jennie Livingston (who is white) was accused of cultural voyeurism. With Garçon at the helm, “Kiki” sizzles with all the fabulousness of “Paris,” but has the added benefit of authenticity.
Park Chan-Wook’s adaptation of Sarah Waters’ novel “Fingersmith” was one of the most visually stunning and titillating films of the year. Between the gorgeous music, costumes, sets, and cinematography, watching it on the big screen is like immersing your senses in a warm bubble bath massage, happy ending included. Despite its twisted tale, “The Handmaiden” has moments of devilish levity — such as a sight gag involving a hanging — that Chan-Wook weaves seamlessly into the mystery. With a scissoring shot so absurd it rivals the one in “Blue Is The Warmest Color,” Chan-Wook proves himself a master of high camp.
Ingrid Jungermann's whip-smart satire offers a wry snapshot of self-involved New York lesbians that's both enjoyably smarmy and unsettling in equal doses. A giant step up from "The Slope" and "F to the 7th," the popular web series Jungermann created prior to this feature-length debut, "Women Who Kill" follows straight-faced podcasters Morgan (Jungermann) and Jean (Ann Carr), a former couple whose popular digital show finds them profiling the eponymous murderers.
— Eric Kohn
Say hello to your new obsession: A spellbinding homage to old pulp paperbacks and the Technicolor melodramas of the 1960s, Anna Biller's "The Love Witch" is a throwback that's told with a degree of perverse conviction and studied expertise that would make Quentin Tarantino blush. Shot in velvety 35mm and seen through the lens of a playfully violent female gaze, the film follows a beautiful, narcissistic young sorceress named Elaine (Samantha Robinson, unforgettable in a demented breakthrough performance) as she blows into a coastal Californian town in desperate search of a replacement for her recently murdered husband. Sex, death, Satanic rituals, God-level costume design, and cinema's greatest tampon joke ensue, as Biller spins an archly funny — but also hyper-sincere — story about the true price of the patriarchy. There hasn't been anything quite like it in decades.
— David Ehrlich
Queer icon Clea Duvall outs herself as a more than capable director in her debut feature, a clever riff on “The Big Chill.” When eight friends convene at a gorgeous summer home for the weekend in the hopes of convincing two friends to get divorced, they end up learning more about their own relationships in the process. Real life best friends Duvall and Melanie Lynskey have an easy onscreen chemistry, and Duvall as director keeps the pace lively throughout. Fans of Jamie Babbit’s “But I’m a Cheerleader” (whom Duvall cites as an influence) will delight in seeing Duvall, Lynskey, and Natasha Lyonne reunited in this rollicking film.
Ira Sachs' smallest film in more ways than one, "Little Men" is a crushingly beautiful coming-of-age story that suggests the director only grows sharper as he narrows his gaze. Following the shattering "Keep the Lights On" and the bittersweet "Love Is Strange," Sachs' third consecutive movie about life in the margins of the metropolis further solidifies his status as one of New York City's most insightful ambassadors, delicately marrying the displacement that defined his previous work with a newfound sense of possibility. A nuanced portrait of a city in flux (or decline) that uses the impressionableness of adolescence to shake our own understanding of gentrification and its residual effects, "Little Men" is that rarest of beasts: a truly hopeful heartbreaker.
— David Ehrlich
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.
“One of the lessons of adulthood is disappointment,” says a bleary-eyed Abigail Pogrebin as she muses on her time in the original Broadway production of “Merrily We Roll Along,” Stephen Sondheim and Hal Prince’s notorious flop that ended their decades-long collaborative friendship and the subject of Lonny Price’s nostalgic documentary. Price, (whom “Dirty Dancing” fans may recognize as the guy who put Baby in the corner), was part of the original cast of the musical. Peppered with recordings of Sondheim’s now beloved score, “Best Worst Thing” would not rise to the heights it does without the archival footage from an un-aired documentary that Price received two years into shooting. In its most poignant moments, “Best Worst Thing” examines the thrill of dreams coming true, and the inevitable letdown after the curtain falls.
Amy Seimetz and Lodge Kerrigan’s sinfully addictive erotic thriller is a rare and honest window into the life of high-end escort Christine, played with calculating sumptuousness by Riley Keough in a career-defining performance. With executive producer Steven Soderbergh, the series follows in the footsteps of “Sex, Lies, and Videotape,” offering a titillating commentary on the voyeuristic nature of cinema. By telling the story of a sex worker in full possession of her body and mind from her own (albeit slightly removed) perspective, “The Girlfriend Experience” might just be the most radical show on television.
"Take My Wife" is the fictionalized story of Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher, two lady-identified comics who love each other in real life. Much like in their stand-up, the duo are not afraid of an awkward silence, so the series plays less like a laugh-out-loud network comedy and more like a quirky show about comedians that earns its laughs organically. But that is not the only line it walks; "Take My Wife" is a show with two lesbian main characters, but it is not a "lesbian show." It features no flamboyant caricatures, exploitative sex scenes, or dramatic coming out stories. They talk about being gay and they talk about being women. They also talk about jackets. A lot.
In their highly-anticipated HBO debut, co-creators Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld successfully translated their uncanny ability to tell human stories that are equal parts funny, sad, and entirely unexpected. Two of the show’s most memorable characters are gay men, as different from each other as they are from the caricatures one finds on primetime television. Max (Max Jenkins) is the callous narcissist whose softer side is revealed during a tragically thwarted attempt to escape the co-dependent clutches of his equally awful straight best friend. The show is partly responsible for launching the career of Michael Cyril Creighton (“Spotlight”), who plays Patrick, an agoraphobe nursing an unrequited crush on The Guy (Sinclair). Max and Patrick’s prominent placement in the first and last episodes indicates just how integral these complex gay men are to the success of “High Maintenance.”
Clockwise from top left: “Kiki,” “Moonlight,” “The Handmaiden,” and “The Girlfriend Experience.”