Fans of queer movies are pretty spoiled nowadays. Between mainstream hits, indie offerings and a steady stream of new additions to Netflix, the choice of what to watch can be pretty overwhelming. Let’s not forget, however, the trailblazing movies that came before, paving the way for quality queer cinema. GCN has hand-picked ten of the best unmissable must-sees to save you searching for your film fix. You’re welcome!
1. Far From Heaven (2002)
Written and directed by Todd Haynes, who gave us the Oscar-nominated Carol in 2015, this film, released in 2002, features Julianne Moore as a wife and mother doing her best to adhere to conventions of 1950s American suburbia, who discovers her husband (Denis Quaid) is gay. Heavily influenced by the 1950s melodramas of Douglas Sirk (All That Heaven Allows, Imitation of Life), it’s a lush experience that cannot fail to move. Haynes’ representations of the city’s gay underworld have a sickening undertone, reminiscent of health warnings about the evils of homosexuality from the era. As queer movies go, it’s magnificent.
2. Law of Desire (1987)
There is any number of Pedro Almodóvar’s queer movies we could have picked, and his entire cannon is worth seeing, but this one is possibly the queerest romp of the lot. Featuring a young Antonio Banderas as a constantly horny gay guy who is obsessed with a famous film director, it’s a high-octane trip with a cast of neurotic, unapologetic lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender characters, not many of whom were around in the cinema in 1987 when this film was released.
3. Prick Up Your Ears (1987)
British director, Stephen Frears followed up the gay romance My Beautiful Laundrette (also well worth seeing) in 1987 with one of the first LGBTQ+ biopics, that of the playwright Joe Orton, who was murdered by his lover Kenneth Halliwell in 1967. The film opens with the murder and then traces back through Orton’s fast and furious life as he rose to fame and fortune in London society, and lived a life of insatiable promiscuity on the side. The complexities of his relationship with Halliwell are astutely drawn, and the brutal ending will leave you speechless.
4. Laurence Anyways (2012)
Is gender what we love about another person? That’s the question posed by writer, director Xavier Dolan in this story of a couple dealing with the revelation that one of them is trans. It opens as Laurence tells girlfriend Fred that he is a woman trapped in a man’s body. Fred is attracted to men, but she decides to stay with Laurence, who becomes committed to her transition. It’s one of those queer movies that takes its time to tell a complex story and one that we don’t often see on the screen.
5. Desert Hearts (1985)
Based on Jane Rule’s novel, Desert of the Heart, this was the lesbian film of the moment in 1985 and has continued to hold cult status with some lovers of queer movies. Set in 1959, it’s the story of a recently divorced, slightly older woman who, to her great surprise, finds herself falling for a young female rancher. As we watch her slowly succumb to her desires, while battling with growing self-hatred, this film explores attitudes to homosexuality at the time, recalling the films of Douglas Sirk. We love it because it dares to have a gloriously happy ending, something unheard of in films about lesbian desire at the time.
6. Tomboy (2011)
An intimate portrait of a ten year-old girl who wants to be a boy, Céline Sciamma’s film explores sex and gender from a child’s point of view that will appeal to any queer viewer who knew they were different as children. At the beginning of the film, Laure lies to a new girl on the street, telling her that she’s a boy called Mikael. The film then traces how Laure must deal with the lie and the issues that arise for her and her family. Despite dealing with the complexities of growing up trans, it’s a wonderful romp through a world populated by children at play, with a great lead performance.
7. Kiss Of The Spiderwoman (1985)
Based on a novel by Manuel Puig, this film is about two diametrically opposed individuals sharing a prison cell in an unnamed Latin American country: Valentin Arregui, who is imprisoned (and has been tortured) due to his activities on behalf of a leftist revolutionary group, and Luis Molina, a transgender woman in prison for having sex with an underage boy. Molina tells Valentin the plot of a Nazi propaganda film, which she sees as an impossible romance, and it winds through the film as the two find love in a most unlikely place. William Hurt won an Oscar for his performance as Molina, but it was widely criticised by queer people for stereotyping. It’s a performance that’s improved with time, and queer movies don’t get as heartbreaking as this.
8. Heavenly Creatures (1994)
This masterly film from director Peter Jackson brought newcomer Kate Winslett to international attention. It tells the true story of Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme, two teenage girls in 1950s New Zealand who formed an obsessive relationship which spiralled scarily out of control, culminating in the murder of one of their mothers. It’s never made clear whether the pair are in a lesbian relationship, although they steel kisses and swoon over each other, while the adults begin to worry about the girls’ intimacy – making it a very queer watch indeed. Winslet is a joy to watch, and for the most part, it’s a wild, joyful ride into fantasy and romance, but prepare yourself for a brutal ending.
9. My Own Private Idaho (1990)
Gus Van Sant’s 1990 film is a heartbreaking road movie about two male hustlers (River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves) on the fringes of American society. Phoenix, a narcoleptic from a broken home, is essentially looking for a family, while Reeves, whose father is mayor of Portland, is mainly fleeing his. Phoenix was never better, and Reeves does his best with a part that’s heavy on Shakespeare’s Henry IV, and the whole thing is an expiremental, lyrical exploration of friendship, unrequited love, and the nature of not home and belonging. As we said, it’s heartbreaking, but it’s got plenty of fun in it too.
10. Before Night Falls (2000)
This journey into the life and imagination of the writer, Reinaldo Arenas, who was imprisoned in Cuba and tortured for being gay, was written and directed by painter/sculptor Julian Schnabel. It could have been an arty mess, but Schnabel not only brings Arenas (Javier Bardem, brilliant in his first English language role) and his writing to vivid, compelling life but also evokes the culture and streets of Havana in all their vibrancy. It’s a film with tragedy and oppression at its heart, that at the same time celebrates the human spirit through creativity. If you haven’t seen it, do.
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