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14 Films You Must Watch at Outfest 2014

14 Films You Must Watch at Outfest 2014

Outfest kicks off tonight in Los Angeles, and the city is in for a 11 day treat as pretty much every strong LGBT film from the past year’s festival circuit will be screening at the fest — not to mention a few potential discoveries. While we’re keeping our fingers crossed for the latter, we’ve got a few suggestions for you regarding the former.  Here’s 14 films we’d highly recommend you check out at the festival, which runs tonight through July 20th:

52 Tuesdays (directed by Sophie Hyde)

Winner of the best director award at Sundance (for World Cinema), this heartbreaking Australian drama follows sixteen-year-old Billie, whose path to independence is accelerated when her mother reveals plans for to transition to from female to male, and their time together becomes limited to Tuesdays. And this emotionally charged story isn’t just set over a year of those Tuesdays, but it was actually filmed over the course of a year—once a week, every week, only on Tuesdays. 

Appropriate Behavior (directed by Desiree Akhavan)

Desiree Akhavan’s debut feature offers up the story of a young woman (Akhavan herself) struggling to become a tall order of a trio: An ideal Persian daughter, a politically correct bisexual, and a hip, young Brooklynite.  While the film could have easily ventured into a sort of feature length version of “Girls” (if Lena Dunham was a bisexual and Persian, that is), it develops a true voice of its own in Sundance breakout Akhavan, who tackles an intersection of identity with a somehow charming mix of humor and desolation (give this woman whatever she wants for her follow-up!). 

The Circle (directed by Stefan Haupt)

The deserved winner of the Teddy Award for best documentary at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival, “The Circle” tackles the fascinating story behind one of the first gay liberation communities.  The film’s title translates to “Der Kreis,” the name of a gay magazine and organization founded in the early 1940s Germany that somehow managed to survive the Nazi regime, blossoming in the post-war years into a internationally renowned underground club. It was there when the love story between teacher Ernst Ostertag and drag star Robi Rapp began, which serves as the heart of “The Circle,” a truly remarkable documentary.

The Dog (directed by Alison Berg and Frank Keraudren)

John Wojtowicz was turned into something of an iconic figure when Al Pacino played him in 1975’s “Dog Day Afternoon.” In that film, Wojtowicz took a bank hostage in the hopes of raising money for his transsexual lover’s sex change operation, hardly exaggerated the actual 1972 event, but only captured one piece of a much larger story. That’s why its so great we have “The Dog,” Alison Berg and Frank Keraudren’s documentary about Wojtowicz in the years leading up to his death from cancer in 2006. A festival circuit hit since it debuted in Toronto last year, it’s definitely one to catch at Outfest if you haven’t seen it yet.

The Foxy Merkins (directed by Madeleine Olnek)

Madeleine Olnek continues the absurdist tone of 2011 Sundance highlight “Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same” with the “The Foxy Merkins” — a wacky tale of two lesbian prostitutes (Jackie Monahan and Lisa Haas, the latter of which so-wrote the film with Olnek) who work the streets of New York City. One is a down-on-her-luck newcomer to the scene; the other is a beautiful (and straight) grifter who’s got things down. Their adventures are bizarre and offbeat and probably not for everyone, but they sure did work for me: We found “Merkins” to be downright hilarious.

Jamie Marks is Dead (directed by Carter Smith)

Genre gets a queer bent at Outfest thanks to emerging director Carter Smith (who made the incredible short film “Bug Crush”) and his “Jamie Marks is Dead.” Adapted from Christopher Barzack’s young-adult novel “One for Sorrow,” it follows teenage Adam (a fantastic Cameron Monaghan), who takes an interest in the death of constantly bullied classmate Jamie Marks (Noah Silver) only to find his ghost emerge in his closet. Which I realize sounds exactly like the hokey “gay ghost movie” billing the film got going into Sundance (where it debuted), but “Jamie Marks Is Dead” goes well beyond that with its poetic, haunting meditation on queer longing and connection without ever going there in the ways you’d expect.

Lilting (directed by Hong Khaou)

Ben Whishaw stars in this devastating film about a young man who, in mourning the death of his boyfriend, decides to try and build a relationship with said boyfriend’s Chinese mother (a remarkable Pei-pei Cheng). Except she both doesn’t speak English and didn’t even (officially, at least) know that her son was gay. Continuing a trend in this year’s LGBT films in dealing with ideas of finding human connection and intimacy during moments of hardship (see “Love is Strange,” “The Skeleton Twins” and “Jamie Marks Is Dead” — all of which, like “Lilting,” premiered at Sundance), “Lilting” marks the extremely promising debut of UK-based director Hong Khaou, who will definitely leave your heart significantly melted with his first feature film.

My Prairie Home (directed by Chelsea McMullan)

This gorgeous National Film Board of Canada musical documentary takes us on a journey through both the landscapes of the Canadian west and of the mind of marvellous transgender singer Rae Spoon. Director Chelsea McMullan uses endlessly stunning cinematography to interpret Spoon’s songs (which are really quite fantastic), intercut with raw and affecting interviews with Spoon as the singer recalls life growing up as a transgendered youth in a troubled, religious household. 

Salvation Army (directed by Abdellah Taïa)

A semi-autobiographical tale of a young Moroccan man navigating his sexuality (among many other things), “Salvation Army” is the directorial debut of Taïa, and is based on his own eponymous novel. Structured in a diptych, the first half of the film follows a teenaged Abdellah (Said Mrini) as he struggles with the social codes of Morocco. The second half, meanwhile, finds a young adult Abdellah (Karim Ait M’hand) on a scholarship in Switzerland, negotiating a whole new set of codes as a queer Moroccan man in Geneva. The two halves come together to create a subtly powerful (and gorgeously shot) film about both what it’s like to be a queer person in the Arab world, and to be a queer Arab person in the Western world. More here.

The Skeleton Twins (directed by Craig Johnson)

“The Skeleton Twins” gives us a very notable new queer voice in co-writer and director Craig Johnson. Starring Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader as estranged siblings who come together after Hader’s openly gay character tries to kill himself, “Twins” mixes melancholy and hilarity in its ode to family needing to stick together. And while Wiig is reliably great, Hader gives probably the most layered, moving performance we’ve seen all year. Between this and Stefon, Hader is quickly drifting into gay icon territory, as far as I’m concerned.

Something Must Break (directed by Ester Martin Bergsmark)

“Something Must Break,” the latest from Swedish filmmaker Ester Martin Bergsmark, centers in on the androgynous Sebastian (Saga Becker), whose painful transition into female alter-ego Ellie collides with a romantic interest in Andreas (Iggy Malmborg), a down-and-out punk who can’t resist Sebastian’s advances but assures he is “not gay”. The result is a gritty but heartfelt portrayal of chaotic love in modern day Stockholm. More here.

To Be Takei (directed by Jennifer Kroot)

At 76 years old, George Takei has managed an impressive transition from being known best for playing Sulu in the original “Star Trek” television series and movies to becoming a poster boy for LGBT rights and a considerable internet sensation (he has nearly 6 million Facebook followers) thanks to his very popular memes. And now, Takei has his very own documentary to highlight that journey (among other things) and continue to confirm how endearing a figure he really is. Jennifer Kroot’s “To Be Takei” follows Takei and his husband Brad as they navigate their lives together in Los Angeles, intermittently stepping back to discuss Takei being forced into Japanese-American internment camps as a child, his time on “Star Trek,” and how he challenged the status quo for Asian actors. More here.

Tom at the Farm (directed by Xavier Dolan)

Premiering last fall at the Venice Film Festival, “Tom at the Farm” marks Xavier Dolan’s first foray into genre filmmaking, and it finally reaches LA audiences at Outfest. The film takes a trip down the road into the secluded Quebec countryside where the grieving titular character (played by Dolan himself) must confront his recently deceased boyfriend’s mother Agathe (Lise Roy) and brother Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal), the latter whom will go to sadomasochistic lengths to keep Tom’s mouth shut and maintain the facade that his sibling was solely heterosexual. Tom’s visit develops into a case of Stockholm syndrome rampant with homoeroticism wherein he finds himself unable to leave the farm whose strands of wheat have seemed to become one with his golden locks. A definite must-see, whether as a Dolan fan or if this is your introduction.

The Way He Looks (directed by Daniel Ribeiro)

Brazilian director Daniel Ribeiro’s “The Way He Looks” is a thoughtful, optimistic and incredibly heartwarming coming of age drama. Following blind teenager Leonardo (Ghilherme Lobo) as he falls in love with Gabriel (Fabio Audi), the film is refreshingly more about Leonardo’s independence than his sexuality.  Which all makes for something very well observed and endlessly sweet, with Ribeiro essentially making it impossible not to root for the boys in his film.  Rightfully winning awards left and right (including the Teddy Award at the Berlinale), “The Way He Looks” is definitely a safe bet at Outfest.

Read through the guide to the festival below:

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