There was a lot of LGBTQ representation in film in 2018, whether front-and-center in the high school romcom Love, Simon or simply part of the background texture of the story being told, as in Can You Ever Forgive Me? But what a thrill to be able to pull together a list of 15 the year’s best LGBTQ films, each with some level of representation.
And it’s a list that could well be much longer if I had seen everything that’s out there right now. (Sorry, Collette and A Moment in the Reeds and 1985.)
Here are the 15 best LGBTQ films of the past year:
1. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
There are flashier films this year — see The Favourite, just below, or the juggernaut that is A Star Is Born — yet this low-key story about a literary letter forger and her irascible helper makes my top of list because the central performances — by Melissa McCarthy as the no-gruff biographer Lee Israel and Richard E. Grant as her drinking-buddy ne’er-do-well Jack Hock — were flawless, lived in and achieved the manner of symbiosis required for a lead and supporting role to sing.
Meaning the actors were as harmonious as the sly, beautifully observed script by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty. Not to mention the unobtrusive direction by Marielle Heller, which is not to say that the film was not guided by a strong hand and point of view — it is — only that, as subtly as she handles her actors, she arrives in that satisfying spot wherein you never notice the wizard behind the curtain pulling the strings, saying, look at what I can do.
You just respond to the story on the screen, at actors who seem as if they are doing absolutely nothing except — imagine that — living and breathing in character. It may not be the stuff that wins awards (though Grant really does have a shot), but it’s the kind of work that garners respect.
2. The Favourite
The most commercial of Yorgos Lanthimos’s films (which, after Dogtooth and The Killing of a Sacred Deer isn’t saying much), this nasty Sapphic All About Eve set in the court of Queen Anne aims to dismantle the “genteel period piece” from the inside. All the humbling tapestries and accoutrements and lavish parties are here in full regalia, while Olivia Colman (as a suffering, childish Queen Anne), Rachel Weisz (as her best friend and part-time lover Lady Sarah) and Emma Stone (as Abigail, Lady Sarah’s disgraced cousin looking for employ in the Queen’s court) roil and plot and backstab in increasingly delicious and bitchy ways.
Colman is a marvel in a complicated role (if there is any justice, she will win the Academy Award); and Weisz and Stone are steely competitors vying for the affection of the Queen, which they both receive, in turn.
3. The Cakemaker
Ofir Raul Grazier’s Berlin- and Jerusalem-set tragic love story is as simple and satisfying as a perfect pastry. Oren, a businessman who travels regularly to Berlin, meets Thomas, the pastry chef of a local café, and they enter into an ongoing relationship even though Thomas is aware of Oren’s wife and child at home. When Oren stops returning Thomas’s texts and calls, Thomas discovers that he was killed while in Jerusalem, and he relocates to Israel to discover more about Oren, his wife and their son.
Tim Kalkhof (Thomas) and Sarah Adlar (Anat, Oren’s wife) are heartbreaking as they circle each other; Thomas to know more about the man he loved, Anat as she comes to realize who this baker, whom she has come to employ in her café, was to her family.
4. Bohemian Rhapsody
I won’t rehash the factual inaccuracies and other items that have plagued this Queen biopic since long before its release, and I would suggest for all those scandalized by the lack of drug use and gay orgies depicted in this studio film to look elsewhere for it. Maybe someone could put together a stupendous, found footage documentary that will give us a warts-and-all portrait of the man known as Freddie Mercury.
While that’s happening, I will continue to enjoy the image of Rami Malek embodying an icon as if it was really no big thing; for bringing him back to life, if only for a moment, through the magic of the motion pictures; and to laud the filmmakers (whomever was responsible for whatever, as there were two directors here) for a rousing piece of pop culture entertainment.
5. Love, Simon
This film is high on our list of 2018’s best LGBTQ films not because it is a better movie than, say, Disobedience or Vice below, but because a same-sex romcom aimed at teens is a wonder by definition.
Oh, and it’s also a good one. Director Greg Berlanti knows his John Hughes, and the cast is uniformly excellent, from Simon’s parents played by Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel — both of whom get great post-coming out scenes with their son — all the way to the film’s lead, Nick Robinson, as normal as a teen anxious about his burgeoning sexuality can be.
Sebastián Lelio’s lesbian drama based within an Orthodox Jewish community may be the darkest film on our list of 2018’s best LGBTQ films, and I know plenty of people who absolutely hated it, but it lingered in the mind long after viewing. And you won’t find a better tortured love triangle this year than Rachel Weisz, the tormented and estranged Ronit, and Rachel McAdams as Esti, her former lover now married to their shared best friend, Dovid, who is anything but henpecked/cuckolded in the capable hands of Alessandro Nivola.
7. Anna and the Apocalypse
It’s a musical, a horror movie, a romcom and an instant camp classic. And in this telling of a zombie attack on a small town in England, director John McPhail gives us a heroic lesbian supporting character, played with vibrancy and an amazing set of pipes by Sarah Swire, who saves the main characters and walks away with the movie in her back pocket.
This insanely inventive and funny biopic about Dick Cheney, the most uncharismatic man in the world, is here because it doesn’t fumble when looking at his relationship with his gay daughter Mary. That relationship humanizes the man, played unerringly by Christian Bale; exposes the power-hungry concerns of her mother Lynne (Amy Adams); and is used — with the approval, it seems, of the man himself — as a debating point against gay marriage by his other daughter while she runs for office in Wyoming.
This is a small part of Adam McKay’s brutally honest portrait of one our most notoriously unknown vice presidents, but it exposes the rifts that are still tearing at the seams of the GOP.
9. Hearts Beat Loud
Every year brings with it one independent film that appears out of thin air and warms the hearts of a gaggle of indie-loving filmgoers. For me, this year it was this unexpected gem, about a father and daughter struggling to connect (via music, mostly, as the father runs a failing record shop and bonds with the daughter, Sam, by jamming) in the summer before she will be leaving for college.
It’s complicated by Sam’s burgeoning relationship with Rose, the financial difficulties of the business and her father’s dalliance with the landlord, Leslie (a tart Toni Collette). Sam’s sexuality is of little concern to her hipster, record-store-owning father — played by a game, cuddly Nick Offerman — who just wants his daughter to be healthy and happy. Oh, and to rock out with him from time to time.
10. Boy Erased
Yes, it could be better. Sometimes it plays like a really good Lifetime movie about an Important Subject. And I wish I could have found a way into the film that caused an emotional reaction more akin to some of my fellow audience members who were ripped apart by the inhumanity of gay conversion therapy. Honestly, I needed the cry! But it was supplanted by anger, which should be the defining emotion for everyone else who sees this bracing exposé, including anyone of any religious persuasion brave enough to watch it.
And it stands as a reminder that, given the right role and director, Russell Crowe is still an actor of amazing prowess.
11. Green Book
Peter Farrelly’s two-hander about an Italian bigot (Viggo Mortensen) hired to drive a classically trained black musician (Mahershala Ali) through the Deep South in the 1960s has received all kinds of criticism regarding its soft-handling of racial issues, and they are absolutely valid.
Yes, Mahershala Ali’s Dr. Don Shirley is what some critics have noted is a “Magical Negro,” which is a black supporting character who comes to the aid of a white protagonist (usually, it seems, to better them). But that’s also a narrow lens through which to watch this film, as Dr. Shirley is not nearly as perfect or wise as he initially seems, and it doesn’t take into account the other issue the film skirts as well, which is Dr. Shirley’s sexual orientation.
The actors are fantastic. Is this the year Viggo Mortensen finally wins his long overdue trophy? Will Mahershala Ali go two-for-two? The film itself ends on a heartwarming note, so the answers could very well be ‘yes’ and ‘yes.’
12. Saturday Church
Not only does its plot share a bit with Ryan Murphy’s series Pose, it also shares its best actress, Mj Rodriguez, as the no-nonsense Ebony, one of a trio of trans “fairy godmothers,” so to speak, to school the young Ulysses (Luka Kain) in the ways of the world. Director Damon Cardasis doesn’t skimp on the hardships in front of us, but he keeps it as light as possible for this low-budget musical extravaganza.
13. We the Animals
Normally, if I read that a film is “poetic” I’m pretty certain it will not be for me. (I’m thinking of Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life and, yes, Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma.) Yet Jeremiah Zagar’s adaptation of Justin Torres’ slim novel works because of its depiction of family drama through the eyes of three sons, one of whom may be on the verge of struggling with his own budding sexuality. Everything is inferred here, nothing made blatant, except for the raw talent of Raúl Castillo (of Looking) as the volatile Paps.
There were many great documentaries this year about LGBTQ artists (also see The Gospel According to André), but this recreation of the life and work of fashion designer Lee Alexander McQueen was the most beautiful to watch while also delving deeply into his debilitating struggle with depression and, ultimately, his suicide.
15. Postcards from London
I tend to recoil as much from films described as “stylish” as I do those that are called “poetic.” (If I see both of those in a review, I run for the hills.) Steve McLean’s Postcards from London is nothing if not stylish, and I wish that it was just a bit better. Yet this story of a London newcomer, Jim (the mysteriously expressive Harris Dickinson of Beach Rats), who enters into service as a specialized type of escort, pays homage to much great historical gay art. (That seems to be its real subject.)
It’s theatrical — nothing seems realistic, as sets are sets, lighted for maximum drama — but it recalls the best of Derek Jarman, Todd Haynes, Fassbinder and a slew of other media artists such as Caravaggio and Francis Bacon. It’s artsy for sure, but just try to look away from Dickinson as he recreates the homoerotic paintings of Saint Sebastian or is a bit-player in one of Caravaggio’s works come to life. He’s an object of beauty worth lingering over for a brief 90-minute art and history lesson.