The Five Best LGBT Films Released Since 2010
The Australian senate has passed the bill on marriage equality, and people have come together in celebration. Rainbows are strewn across social media platforms, parties erupted in the streets when the plebiscite was first met with a resounding yes, and parliament house experienced a rare moment of emotional embrace when the bill was made official.
If, for most of the year, you’ve been couched in dark rooms with oversize glowing screens, as is the common habitat of a film critic, you’ll have witnessed a shift in the output of movies from independent cinema. All over the world, more films are being released that depict the queer lifestyle and homosexual relationships in a positive, realistic, cinematic and artistic way. While Hollywood continues to put out franchise-based mega-blockbusters whose concerns in no way reflect the world we live in, these independent films have been causing ripples (and winning Oscars).
To complement your ongoing celebrations with some of the best cinema released in the 2010s, here’s a list of 5 modern queer films telling the stories that truly reflect our times.
- Moonlight (2016)
The ridiculous Academy Awards blunder that briefly stole the limelight from Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight in no way detracted from what a visual marvel this film is (and a debut from its director, nonetheless).
Telling three stories from the life of Chiron, played by Alex R Hibbert as a child, Ashton Sanders as a teenager and Trevante Rhodes as an adult, Jenkins’ tale of a man who never openly embraces his sexuality is as beautifully shot as its tale is devastating. There is a baptismal scene near the beginning of the film in which ‘Little’ is held aloft in the water by friend Juan (Mahershala Ali) that brings to mind tender directors like Wong Kar Wai, while a stellar performance from Naomi Harris as Chiron’s mother counters these softer moments. Full of grit, her remarkable facial expressions have the ability to slice wounds in the audience.
Critics raved about it, audiences flocked to see it and it won the Oscar for best picture. None of this is undeserved; Moonlight is a fantastic film.
- Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013)
Director Abdellatif Kechiche received a bit of flak for his 3 hour film, due to the graphic sex scenes between the two actresses Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos. Dissenters including Julie Maroh, the writer of the graphic novel that inspired the film, claimed they were gratuitous and unnecessarily long, but how many gratuitous heterosexual sex scenes have audiences sat through and applauded ever since censorship allowed for onscreen sex?
I believe this film is a revelatory masterpiece, one concerned with showing the brunt of sensuality. Depicting the consumption of flavourful foods in dinner scenes as erotically as it depicted the sex between the two fantastic actresses, the film rivals Julia Ducournau’s Raw in its ability to make the audience feel what they’re merely seeing. A coming of age film that tackles the trials of teenagehood and first love, Blue will do in a few hours for willing audiences what an exciting, emotionally draining real-life relationship can take years to do.
- God’s Own Country (2017)
Upon its release, Francis Lee’s debut film was regularly compared to Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, probably as a way to market the film to audiences who had never heard of it. The truth is, God’s Own Country is a better, braver film, one in which the character arc of its protagonist Johnny (Josh O’Connor) via his relationship with Polish farmhand Gheorghe Ionescu (Alec Secareanu) is entirely compelling.
Miserable in his picaresque-but-culturally-vacuous English countryside town, Johnny opts for binge-drinking and casual sex to while away the nights, working long hours on his father’s farm hungover. Things change when Gheorghe shows up to help out, and the two develop a relationship that Johnny initially aggressively resists, not to hide his sexuality but because he genuinely has feelings for the delicately handsome Gheorghe. Where Lee’s film sanitised most of the grime and dirt beneath the fingernails of Annie Proulx’s original short story, O’Connor doesn’t shy away from the uglier aspects of farm life, and takes time guiding its stubborn character through his arc, ultimately leaving the audience uplifted.
- Carol (2015)
One of the original rule-breakers at early Sundance Film Festivals for his frank depiction of queer lifestyles and sexuality, Todd Haynes brought a remarkable level of sophistication and elegance to his adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel, including two career-best performances from his lead actresses.
Rooney Mara plays Therese, a reserved and kind-mannered woman in an unfulfilling relationship with her husband. She works at a department store and meets Blanchett’s Carol, who saunters in all elegance and poise, ordering a trainset for a Christmas gift from the spellbound Therese, in one of the decade’s most subtle onscreen seductions. Their relationship takes off in secrecy and where the thrilling, somewhat potboiler (in the best possible sense) plot goes from there isn’t worth spoiling, but the film showcases Rooney Mara as one of the best actors of our time, a performer who would’ve been a superstar in the silent film era.
- Tangerine (2015)
Director Sean Baker had already completed a couple of films when Tangerine came out in 2015, but it was with this film that his reputation exploded and he became one of the most exciting filmmakers in the American indie scene.
A farcical comedy, the film is about two trans sex workers in downtown Los Angeles hunting down a disrespectful pimp. Baker shot using modified iPhone 5s on tripods, giving the film an intimate closeness that never took away from the artistry of his filmmaking. His two leads were non actors and trans women who saw something genuine in Baker’s script. Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez are magnetic screen presences, funny and charismatic and terrific actors when the story calls for it.
Baker again flouted conventions and relied on the talents on non-traditional actors with his latest film The Florida Project, another masterpiece with mostly kids in the lead roles, showing that finding true talent requires looking beyond the traditional Hollywood methods.
Marriage equality is a long overdue event with ripple effects far beyond Parliament House and the marriage courts. With films like these and the upcoming romance Call Me By Your Name (coming to Melbourne 26 December), it’s easy to see the far-reaching effect being had on the stories we tell and the art we consume. These films may be smaller in budget and their distributions independent, but they join the same rallying cry that has forced change all over the world.