35. “End of the Century”
Few films have captured the dual fleeting and enduring nature of intimate connection as poignantly as “End of the Century.” The film, an elegant three-hander that mostly revolves around two men who meet cute on a Barcelona balcony, leaves a lingering impression on the heart. Like a great poem, “End of the Century” gives voice to a seemingly indescribable feeling, one anyone who’s ever fallen in love will recognize from deep in their soul — as if bumping into an old friend you forgot how much you liked. Written and directed by Argentinian filmmaker Lucio Castro in his feature debut, “End of the Century” is the natural descendant of lush romances like “Weekend” and “Call Me By Your Name,” and will certainly endure as one of the most evocative gay films of the decade. —JD
34. “Fire Island”
Comedian Joel Kim Booster makes a splashy debut as both a formidable literary force and an appealing leading man in “Fire Island,” his first feature film as a screenwriter, and hopefully the first of many. Though the vision was all Booster’s, the love that went into “Fire Island” emanates from every player, which includes “Saturday Night Live” darling Bowen Yang in a wonderfully emotive performance and “Spa Night” filmmaker Andrew Ahn proving he can do more than evocative indie dramas.
A true ensemble piece, the movie is filled with the joy and camaraderie of that cheesiest of queer epithets — chosen family. But under the Day-Glo sheen of the car-less beach town filled with glistening shirtless queers, it all feels genuinely dreamy. (Or maybe it’s the Ketamine.) Arriving on Hulu to kick off Pride Month, “Fire Island” marries the promise of the queer comedy boom with the artistic arrival of Asian American cinema. Gorgeously intersectional, subtly political, and a damn good time — it’s a guaranteed instant classic. —JD
33. “Being 17”
When you see something like Céline Sciamma’s “Girlhood,” or André Téchiné’s “Wild Reeds” — French films, made 20 years apart, that both fearlessly confront the volatility of growing up — it becomes very difficult to go back to stories that have been told with the bumpers on. And when you see something like “Being 17,” which Sciamma and Téchiné co-wrote together (with the latter directing), it becomes virtually impossible. A slow, shaggy, hyper-naturalistic coming-of-age drama that constantly returns to the sheer violence of becoming a man, this is a movie that isn’t the least bit afraid to dwell on how hard it can be to become who you are. Or, in this case, how much harder it can be when you’re a boy who’s in love with his bully.
Not a gay story so much as a queer one (Sciamma’s extraordinary “Tomboy” illustrated her disinterest in strict definitions of sexuality), “Being 17” is shared between two teen boys growing up in the emotionally vivid mountains of the French Pyrenees. Damien (Kacey Mottet Klein) is white, reckless and vaguely punchable. Thomas (newcomer Corentin Fila) is bi-racial, reserved and reflexively violent. They don’t seem to like each other very much — Thomas trips Damien in the middle of class for no apparent reason — but their mutual animus is rooted in private self-doubts. —DE
32. “And Then We Danced”
In Swedish filmmaker Levan Akin’s intimate tour de force, a young man comes to terms with his sexuality amid the hyper-masculine world of traditional Georgian dance. Framing his gentle coming-of-age tale around such a traditional piece of Georgian culture, Akin has made an inherently political film, rendered in sensitive terms with a celebratory spirit. With distinctive features and a lithe physicality, lead actor Levan Gelbakhiani toggles effortlessly between child-like innocence, explosive anger, and wisdom beyond his years. His riveting performance is indisputably the heart and spine of the film. Because of the sensitive subject matter, Akin and his team had to use guerilla filmmaking tactics to shoot in the conservative country, giving the film a gorgeous cinema verite quality. The film has stoked protests in Tblisi, where it was shot, proving that queer filmmaking is still a political act. —JD
Making waves when it was initially banned in its home country, this tender queer romance pulses with bright colors and the electric butterflies of young love. “Rafiki” follows two teens, Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) and Ziki (Sheila Munyiva), who crush on each other despite their families’ political rivalry. When love blossoms between them, they must contend with small-town busybodies and the judgment of their conservative society. Boasting nuanced performances from the two charismatic newcomers, Wanuri Kahiu’s assured debut feature is an important reminder of the struggle many still face to live out and proud. The first Kenyan film to play Cannes, Kahiu won a landmark court case that earned the film an Oscar-qualifying theatrical run, chipping away at Kenyan anti-LGBT legislation in the process. “Rafiki” is political filmmaking at its most crucial. —JD