Queer cinema has long been relegated to the art-house spectrum. The multitude of stories never seems to achieve the same respect by the mainstream viewer until recently, where the likes of Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain and the Best Picture-winning Moonlight have finally begun to break down barriers of this particular genre. From nuanced romance to thrilling genre deconstruction, these are the best films in modern queer cinema.
This Canadian film directed by Bruce McDonald snuck past many people’s radar earlier this year, yet its kitsch, black and white feel is completely unique among its contemporaries. Set in the summer of 1976, we follow the closeted Kit as he road trips across Nova Scotia with his girlfriend Alice. The struggles of maintaining his friendship with Alice while attempting to understand his own sexuality make up the dramatic heft of the film that never strays too far from the imaginary Andy Warhol kept in its back pocket.
This film by Todd Haynes, based on Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt, tackles longing and the need for companionship in such a beautiful way that is only amplified by the likes of the stunning Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Both actresses are unmatched in emotion as their burgeoning love is explored without any judgement as they run the gamut of showing us the stakes present in attempting to live on their own terms. The direction and cinematography welcome the viewer with gorgeous, slow frames that display a tactful, caring depiction of its central romance.
Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight follows Chiron through three distinct phases of his life. We see his developing sexuality clash against the masculine borders created by his impoverished environment. Groundbreaking in its boundary-breaking relevancy and its almost as significant Academy Award win, the film is handled with a care and tenderness that expands on itself when presented with the hardened, stereotypical aspects of male African American expectations. Jenkins and writer Tarell Alvin McCraney crafted an immaculate and nuanced perspective of homosexuality that is a high standard for any cinema this decade.
Famously filmed exclusively on an iPhone 5S, the film by Sean Baker follows Sin-Deeh and Alexandra, two transgender women in Los Angeles, as they search for Sin-Deeh’s no-good, cheating boyfriend one Christmas Eve. The handheld nature of the film adds an electricity to the often comedic proceedings that never makes the gender politics the brunt of any joke. Instead, the relationships and situations become increasingly hilarious while providing an understanding and insight into the lives of these very dramatic characters.
Hitchcock meets homo-eroticism from this French thriller by Alain Guiraudie that looks to deconstruct the myth of the male form while creating a taut (and extremely explicit) morality play. We observe Franck as he attempts to romance the potentially dangerous Michel over the course of several sun-drenched days by the lake. Completely frank about its open sexuality and sex positivity, the film’s slow build creates an aura of tension that also comments on the nature of lust and envy.
Other films that should also not be missed include the Cannes Palme D’Or winner Blue Is the Warmest Colour, the dark and sensual Korean film The Handmaiden, and Andrew Haigh’s brutally uncompromising and intimate Weekend.