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Every Year in Queer Cinema Should Start as Well as 2018

"The Strange Ones," "Saturday Church, and "Freak Show" began a strong year for LGBT movies and filmmakers.

“Saturday Church” and “The Strange Ones”

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As Timothée Chalamet fever sweeps the country, and “Call Me By Your Name” envelops audiences in the golden hue of Italian summer romance, the future of queer cinema looks bright indeed. Beyond our Adonis-adorned Oscar contender, 2017 delivered an array of satisfying gay storylines; including the breathtaking French epic “BPM (Beats Per Minute),” the underrated Billie Jean King biopic “Battle of the Sexes,” and Sebastian Lelio’s bittersweet romance “A Fantastic Woman.”

Gone are the days when queer cinephiles counted their lucky stars for one gay-related film a year, a trend that films like “Moonlight” and “Carol” seem to have nipped in the bud once and for all.

As 2018 begins with “Call Me By Your Name” braced to earn a few Oscar nominations, the month of January alone saw three queer-related indies open in theaters. Though all saw limited releases, these films garnered enough early praise on the festival circuit to secure a healthy streaming life. Bonus: Each of these films marks narrative feature debuts for directors at from various pockets of the industry.

Here are three queer indies that opened this month:

The Strange Ones

It’s not giving too much away about Lauren Wolkstein and Christopher Radcliff’s atmospheric thriller to put it on this list, but any elaboration would. The film opens with a pair of maybe siblings driving through a rural landscape, potentially on the run, though from what or whom remains a mystery. Their cover is a camping trip, but flashbacks of a house fire hint at darker motivations. The scruffy and brooding Nick (Alex Pettyfer) is at the wheel, with the younger Sam (James Freedson-Jackson) charging his every close-up with a disquieting vulnerability.

“The Strange Ones” premiered at SXSW to largely positive reviews, which praised its suspenseful ambience and starkly beautiful cinematography. IndieWire’s Eric Kohn compared the film to the work of Andrei Tarkovsky and Terence Malick. It also received one of the highest honors any film could hope for: A spot on John Waters’ top 10 movies of 2017.

Saturday Church

“Lady Bird” proved coming-of-age tales are far from passé, and there is one twist on the narrative that has yet to reach its saturation point: The transgender coming-of-age tale. “Saturday Church” represents an early and teen-friendly addition to the burgeoning genre, following a Bronx teen who prefers his mother’s high heels to his Sunday best. Finding kindred spirits in a church basement, a weekly program for homeless LGBTQ youth, Ulysses (Broadway’s Luka Kain) is taken with a trio trans-feminine mentors.

Director Damon Cardasis portrays the seldom-seen community that still exists around Christopher Street and its surrounding piers, a hangout for black and brown LGBTQ youth that perseveres despite the city’s pervasive clean-up efforts. Starring Indya Moore and MJ Rodriguez, two stars of FX’s upcoming “Pose” series from Ryan Murphy, “Saturday Church” is a dreamy fantasy that doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of life for transgender youth of color.

“Freak Show”

Notorious club kid James St. James was canonized in the 2003 film “Party Monster,” which saw an adult Macaulay Culkin play a drug-addled party promoter who becomes embroiled in a murder. Fifteen years later comes “Freak Show,” based on the eponymous novel by St. James, which offers a glimpse into his (albeit fictional) adolescent years. “Freak Show” takes a lighter approach to a similar character, although not one without his demons.

“The End of the F***ing World” star Alex Lawther gives a full-bodied performance as Billy Bloom, a gender-bending eccentric who runs for homecoming queen at a public high school in Connecticut. Featuring a lavish Bette Midler as Billy’s distant mother, John MacEnroe as an aggressive cocah, and a cameo from Laverne Cox, director Trudie Styler’s first narrative could have taken a few more risks, but is sure to resonate with young audiences raised on “Glee” and “Modern Family.”

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