It seems like an embarrassment of riches, but queer cinema has steadily grown to become one of the leading forces in film over the last five years. To have a brazenly queer film in the awards conversation four years running would have been unheard of ten years ago, even after “Brokeback Mountain.” The wave started in 2015 with “Carol,” which led to a historic Best Picture win for “Moonlight” in 2016, followed up by last year’s “Call Me by Your Name.” This year, Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Favourite” is already dominating the conversation, with its three leads in the running for acting nominations.
In years past, the one standout queer film ends up eclipsing every other very good one. Not so this year: Marielle Heller’s “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” is also in the running for awards. As more filmmakers approach queer narratives, the message that representation behind the camera is just as important as the stories being told is slowly being received. Queer cinephiles are ready to reap the rewards.
The films below all had a theatrical release in the U.S. this year, letting audiences in on the LGBTQ experience in ways both artful and political. Here are the top 10 queer films of 2018.
10. “A Kid Like Jake”
A milestone in queer film passed quietly when Silas Howard became the first openly trans filmmaker to direct a film about a gender creative child. Daniel Pearle adapted his own hit play, which used the fourth wall to address the audience as Jake, a five-year-old who prefers dresses and princesses to cars and wrestling. Unlike the play, the film casts Jake (the also gender creative Leo James Davis), but his scenes are relatively few, and Howard is deliberately sparing with his close-ups. The real story here is the parents’ (Claire Danes and Jim Parsons) anxieties around Jake’s gender expression; its effect on their marriage and what it reveals about their own ideas of heteronormative gender roles.
Octavia Spencer, lit from within in any role, is equal parts warm and assertive as a lesbian guidance counselor urging the parents to encourage Jake’s gender expression. It’s immeasurably refreshing to see her in a contemporary role for once — and not wearing a maid’s outfit. Howard, an outsider in other ways, felt the same way. Representation behind the camera leads to progress in front of the camera.
9. “The Miseducation of Cameron Post”
While this critic had reservations about a gay conversion therapy drama from one of queer cinema’s precious few comedic filmmakers, Desiree Akhavan’s light touch proved just the ticket to saving her sophomore effort from sinking under the weight of its heavy subject matter. (Not so for the similarly-positioned “Boy Erased.”) Jennifer Ehle is chilling as the director of “God’s Promise,” a conversion therapy program; she seems to ripen with age, growing richer and more layered with each cliché-defying role. As Cameron Post, the ever-watchable Chloë Grace Moretz plays the character’s queer awakening from a gentle remove, opaquely absorbing her situation. When her staunchly pro-therapy roommate wakes her up for a fevered quickie, she attempts to return the favor, but it’s over before it began. Even with all the hot air about praying the gay away sucking the oxygen out of the place, Akhavan finds ways to let her characters breathe.
8. “Anchor and Hope”
If you’ve ever walked London’s Regent’s Canal path, (Victoria Park to Camden Town is a jolly good jaunt), you’ve likely peeked through circular windows wondering what kind of lives are lived on the city’s famous houseboats. Named after a local pub, Carlos Marques-Marcet’s light-hearted romance is set on one such boat, where the endlessly adorable Kat (Natalia Tena) and Eva (Oona Chaplin) are living the lesbian dream — until Eva wants a baby. Written by Marques-Marcet with Jules Nurrish, who is a queer woman, the film eschews clichés for natural, lived in characters who are as long on charm as they are on flaws.
Tena, who was underused as Tonks in the “Harry Potter” franchise but is a nonetheless indelible part of the canon, dons Kat’s masculine swagger as comfortably as the leather jacket and shaggy bob she sports. Her androgyny doesn’t feel put on — Tena has never been the ingenue, she’s far too interesting an actor for that. Chaplin, whose family tree includes Eugene O’Neill and Charlie Chaplin, (her mother, Geraldine Chaplin, also appears in the film), is about to become a huge star with a part in all four “Avatar” sequels. As the one who wants to abandon canal life for domestic life, Chaplin has the more challenging role, but her cool soulfulness ameliorates the risk of appearing conventional. Marques-Marcet likes to leave the camera lingering uncomfortably too long, but with characters this magnetic — you’ll want to stay.
A slow-burn thriller with Sapphic undertones and overtones, “Gemini” slipped under the radar as coolly and assuredly as Lola Kirke’s Jill drives around the hills of Silver Lake. Jill is assistant and best friend to self-absorbed starlet Heather Anderson (Zoë Kravitz), whom she finds murdered in her house after a tense interaction with a fan. Jill becomes suspect number one to the detective (John Cho) pursuing the case, and is soon slinking around in a blonde wig in order to prove her innocence. The more she searches, the more something seems amiss. Was Heather tired of having to hide her relationship with Tracy (inveterate scene-stealer Greta Lee)? Kravitz, who is openly bisexual and grew up in the spotlight, no doubt knows what it’s like to hide in plain sight of prying eyes. A stalker-ish love letter to Hollywood, filmmaker Aaron Katz’s neo-noir owes as much to “All About Eve” as it does to “The Maltese Falcon,” with a sultry 2018 identity crisis all its own.
6. “The Gospel According to André”
“He was so many things he wasn’t supposed to be,” says Whoopi Goldberg of André Leon Talley, the longtime Vogue editor who has been an almost mythical figure of the fashion world for over four decades. As Kate Novack’s excellent documentary shows, André stuck out in the 1970s Paris fashion world where he began his career as a columnist for Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine. Black, gay, and enormously tall, he speaks impeccable French and lives life by the tenet that “fashion should have more joie de vivre.” When André declares, “you can be aristocratic without having been born into an aristocratic family,” you don’t just believe him because he’s wearing a red silk caftan with a bowtie; once you see this film, it’s hard to imagine elegance and sophistication looking any other way. There’s no question why, as Fran Lebowitz tells it, her mother thought he was an African prince. The documentary genre is overstuffed with rote biopics, but André is the rare subject whose infectious life force justifies — nay, demands — the cinematic treatment.