Humming with the electricity of repressed sexuality finally breaking free, Dee Rees’ (“Mudbound”) debut feature follows teenage Alike (Adepero Oduye) as she embraces her queerness and masculine gender expression. The camera practically aches as Alike changes out of her baseball hat and t-shirt on the train home to Brooklyn, donning a girly sweater in order to calm her parents’ suspicions (Kim Wayans and Charles Parnell). We melt alongside Alike as she lights up with the first tingles of love, seeing herself for the first time through the desiring eyes of Bina (Aasha Davis).
This New Queer Cinema classic from Gus Van Sant boasts the dynamic and swoon-worthy pairing of Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix. A riff on “Henry IV Part 1,” Phoenix’s Mike is a narcoleptic hustler in love with his best friend, Scott (Keanu Reeves), heir to a vast fortune. Tender and vulnerable, Phoenix’s performance is an enduring reminder of the enormous talent lost with his tragic death.
The harmful practice of gay conersion therapy spawned two excellent queer dramas this year, “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” and “Boy Erased,” but this 1999 comedy took on the subject with a lighter touch. Jamie Babbit’s campy satire stars Natasha Lyonne as cheerleader Megan, who is taken in by a sulking lothario named Graham (Clea Duvall). Although Megan takes a few detours on the road to embracing her lesbian identity, “But I’m a Cheerleader” ultimately celebrates living life out and proud.
There are so many layers to Barry Jenkins’ filmmaking that “Moonlight” merits as many revisits as your heart can take. Jenkins revisits his own Miami childhood through the lens of queerness, though he himself is straight. Perhaps his greatest achievement is how poignantly he renders Chiron’s struggle with identity as though it were his own — the diner scene with André Holland and Trevante Rhodes is a case study in seduction by jukebox.
Luca Guadagnino’s lush Italian romance is may not be a classic coming out story, but it follows Elio’s (Timothee Chalamet) frenzied self-realization with grace and candor. Guadagnino charts Elio’s sexual awakening in astonishingly specific vignettes: Reading lazily by a pool, huffing pheremones through boxers, and yes — masturbating with a peach. It’s a perfect Italian summer until reality sets in, and heartache is left to fester.
“Love, Simon” is a by-the-book, no surprises, cookie cutter teenage coming out movie. That doesn’t change the fact that it was the first major studio movie to tackle the subject, allowing a whole generation of young kids to buy a ticket and see a gay story on the big screen. Nick Robinson’s Simon is the perfect picture of a clean-cut American boy, making his gayness that much more palatable — and powerful — a message to send to the haters.
Set in the 1950’s and in Reno, Nevada, this lesbian follows English professor Vivian Bell (Helen Shaver) as she awaits a divorce and starts a new life. Buttoned up and fragile, Vivian is immediately drawn to firecracker Cay Rivvers (Patricia Charbonneau), a young sculptor who is not afraid to go after what she wants. “Desert Hearts” was the first lesbian movie that didn’t involve a love triangle with a man, or end in tragedy. With sweeping visuals and multiple complex female characters, the staying power of this historic film cannot be denied.
Stephen Cone’s delicate ensemble piece is set during a Christian teenager’s poolside birthday celebration. As Henry (Cole Doman) slowly awakens to his budding sexuality, his friends and family also face their own challenges. The film shifts focus throughout the party, giving equal time and importance to each of the 20 or so guests. Equal parts humorous and humanist, “Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party” is an intimate film with grand ambitions.
Controversy aside, Abdellatif Kechiche’s obessessive filmmaking led to one of the most revealing and intimate films about a young person reckoning with their sexual identity. Starring Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux, this 2013 Palme d’Or winner is a heartbreaking romance that puts its female characters front and center, even if the camera does linger on them a little too lasciviously.
Starring Christopher Plummer as a newly out gay man in his 70s and Ewan McGregor as the aimless son who mourns him, Mike Mills’ heartbreaking film is based on personal experiences with his own father. Told in segmented flashbacks, “Beginners” is a poignant love poem that asks universal questions that have plagued every generation, even as it offers no answers.
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