LGBTQ films: The Essential Collection

Last updated May 2020

For the LGBTQ community, film has long been a vehicle for challenging social oppression and isolation. While, in turn, furthering inclusion and understanding of the LGBTQ community’s vibrant place in history, art, and culture. This has led to a cinematic journey that not only reflects the history of the people at its heart. But also celebrates the role both individuals and communities have played in the fight for broader equality and representation.

As a result, cinema has assisted in building a wider public understanding of the lives of LGBTQ people. Exploring some of the most challenging and heart-breaking events in the communities global history. While also reflecting and representing a community that has often been kept silent and hidden. In turn helping to build individual and community confidence in sharing stories, coming out and expressing pride.

However, it is only recently in the history of cinema that confidence has grown, and even now studios often openly censor LGBTQ content to appease global markets. Therefore the journey of LGBTQ cinema is far over, in fact, it is only just finding confidence. The role of films alongside theatre and art remaining central to furthering inclusion. So join us in celebrating the films that made us laugh, cry and reflect on the LGBTQ journey. While in turn building bridges that further inclusion and equality.

And Then We Danced (2020)

I have often commented on the bravery of bringing LGBTQ stories to our screens from those countries where oppression is still rife. But when this bravery is coupled with a mission to break down the stereotypes and perceptions leading to segregation and discrimination. While exploring culture, identity and history that directly influences homophobic actions. Film can not only open doors to understanding, diversity and cultural change. But also enable wider discussion and reflection on the interface between a countries history and embedded discrimination. And that is exactly what is achieved through Swedish filmmaker Leven Akin’s film ‘And Then We Danced’.

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Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Brokeback Mountain could have easily become a melodrama in the wrong hands. However, with Ang Lee at the helm, it became a beautiful and profoundly moving story of hidden love, lost opportunities and escape. Set against the backdrop of rural Wyoming in 1960’s America. Ledger, Gyllenhaal and Williams offer performances that ring with sincerity, heartbreak and isolation. While the suffocation of hidden desire interfaces with the escape of rurality and separation. In a film that not only allowed the horror of homophobia into mainstream cinemas but also challenged toxic masculinity and isolation. As a result, opening the door to the cinema for many LGBTQ stories. While in turn, demonstrating the power of cinema in embracing change, and challenging the discrimination still prevalent in rural American communities.

Watching the final harrowing scenes you can’t help but be reminded of the horrific murder of Matthew Shepard in 1998. Only further Demonstrating the importance of Brokeback Mountain in challenging rural isolation, discrimination and acceptance.

Carol (2015)

Todd Haynes’s narcotic and delicious film Carol is in love with this kind of detail: the story of a forbidden love affair that makes no apology for always offering up exquisitely observed minutiae from the early 1950s. It is almost as if the transgression, secrecy and wrongness must paradoxically emerge in the well judged rightness and just-so-ness of all its period touches.

Peter Bradshaw – The Guardian

Elegant restraint is the film’s watchword – it seduces its audience as nimbly as it does Rooney Mara’s awestruck Therese. We’re reeled in by the exquisite dance of gestures exchanged over a crackling martini-fuelled lunch or an elaborately innocent upstate New York visit: darting eye meets, questioning glances, shared smiles. 

Kate Stables – Sight and Sound

Buddies (1985)

During the late summer of 1985, as AIDS ripped through the global gay community. A small budget, hastily made film was about to make its debut at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco. ‘Buddies’ was a film that was not only going to challenge the public debate on a disease still being labelled as the ‘the gay plague’. But also deliver a nuanced exploration of the lives at the centre of its destruction. Alongside a community that was forced to take over the role of government in supporting their fellow men and women through the darkest of times. Ultimately delivering a film that quietly and confidently challenged the world. In turn, providing us with one of the most powerful and influential gay films of the past 30 years.

Watching Buddies today is like watching a sublime piece of theatre. Its power equal to that of its debut in 1985. As you are swept away in a divine character study that not only continues to deliver emotional impact but also submerges you in the importance of the continuing fight for equality and change. Consequently providing one of the finest and most important pieces of LGBTQ cinema of the past 35 years.

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Love Simon (2018)

Love Simon has earned its place as a defining LGBTQ movie of a new generation. Not only taking the best-selling novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda into cinemas. But also, translating it with care, love and a delightfully light touch. To create a truly groundbreaking young adult LGBTQ rom-com. Where director Gregg Berlanti reflects the dynamic energy of John Hughes at his best. While also bringing this aesthetic bang up to date with a modern coming-out journey, full of humour, love and warmth.

However, where Love Simon really excels is in its ability to bring fresh and engaging gay romantic comedy to a young audience. With a 12A certificate ensuring its ability to reach a wide and diverse audience. Ultimately making Love Simon a game-changer in LGBTQ representation on screen for a whole new generation of young people. And we can’t wait to see how the new Hulu TV series continues the journey already begun.

The Favourite (2018)

The Favourite might be the first genuinely upsetting Lanthimos film (it’s maybe too early to describe it as “moving”), and that is squarely down to Colman’s astonishingly fragile performance. Her Anne is a pitiful wretch, alone in her own private world and surrounded by toadies and schemers. Many profess to love her, but she knows that they do so for the immense power she wields. They would plunge the knife into her back in half a heartbeat.

David Jenkins – Little White Lies

The film is an act of revisionism in some ways. Gender is also turned on its head, the three women at the centre of the film shooting guns, gorging on food and plotting each other’s demise while the men serve as eye candy – absurd, air-headed fops dressed in slender period garb complete with chalky makeup and voluminous wigs.

Christopher Hooton – The Independant

Weekend (2011)

Andrew Haigh’s Weekend feels documentary-like in both its realism and focus, providing us with a film that challenges the very boundaries of LGBTQ storytelling. As it encapsulates the real-life experience of many gay men in finding love, belonging and partnership. Filmed on an extremely low budget in the city of Nottingham. Weekend centres on a one-night stand and the burgeoning reality that it may provide more than pure physical enjoyment for Russell and Glen. With sex moving on to the delicate confines of early conversation and connection. As Russell and Glen begin to stumble into the realms of a much deeper connection. One built on shared experience, fear of commitment and excitement.

There is something uniquely intimate in Haigh’s film a trait that would continue in both 45 Years and Lean on Pete. Providing a realism, intensity and journey that never hides the complexities, fun and fear of first meetings. While embracing the fleeting ability of sex to transition into love and belonging.

All About My Mother (1999)

There is irony as the film folds back on itself, because its opening scenes show Manuela, now a transplant coordinator but once an actress, performing in a video intended to promote organ transplants. In the film, grieving relatives are asked to allow the organs of their loved ones to be used; later Manuela plays the same scene for real, as she’s asked to donate her own son’s heart.

Roger Ebert 1999 Review

No film by Almodóvar shows the figure of the mother as lovingly as this one. It is his masterpiece of maternal desire and loss, a film of extraordinary sweetness.

Emma Wilson – the criterion collection

My Own Private Idaho (1991)

You may think that a film based on male prostitution would focus on sex. But Gus Van Sant’s 1991 picture does not wrap itself in stereotypical themes of prostitution and sexuality. My Own Private Idaho plays with Shakespeare’s Henry IV part I and II. While placing its central characters into the urban bustle and rural beauty of Portland, Oregon. Dovetailing the freedom of wide-open landscapes with a suffocating yet intoxicating cityscape. Scott (Keanu Reeves) and Mike (River Phoenix) care for each other, sharing their hopes and dreams in a nuanced mesh of male love and unrequited longing.

Idaho takes us on an unforgettable journey of love in the midst of hurt, companionship and a dream-like need for belonging and safety. As a result, creating one of the finest LGBTQ films of the past 30 years.

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Show Me Love (1998)

Lukas Moodyssons debut feature is both a touching and beautifully performed portrait of emerging sexuality. Focussing on a fledging love and companionship between two young girls in the small backwater Swedish town of Åmål. The challenges, excitement and restrictions of female sexuality in a town of limited potential and opportunity perfectly portrayed. Reflecting the feelings of all LGBTQ people who come of age in communities where freedom of expression and love are stifled by insular attitudes.

Calling “Show Me Love” a coming of age film is like calling “Star Wars” sci-fi: Yes it is, but it’s also much more. “Show Me Love” is about two very different girls — one a suicidal dyke-in-training and the other an angst-ridden straight girl — who find they have more in common than mutual animosity towards their small, home town, Åmål. What gives their personal drama such resonance is the nuanced backdrop Moodysson creates of high school life in the ’90s. Whether it’s the cliques, bullies, boredom or dreams of escape, the characters and situations are recognizably real.

Aaron kratch – indiewire

Tomboy (2011)

Celine Sciamma’s follow up to Water Lilies, beautifully explores gender identity, freedom of choice and coming of age without hidden agendas. Following 10-year-old Laure as she moves with her family to a new suburban neighbourhood in France. Her refusal to conform to the images of girlhood that surround her represented by a wish to dress as a boy. However, Laurie’s image and identity become more complicated in meeting a new friend Lisa, who believes she is a boy. With Laurie adopting the name Michael to confirm to Lisa’s pre-conceptions.

Tomboy is a beautiful exploration of innocence, identity and perception. Never seeking to define the outcome for Laurie or her creation of Michael. Instead, Tomboy simply asks the audience to accept the need for self-expression of identity during childhood, wherever that may lead in adolescence.

Boys Don’t Cry (1999)

At the most obvious level, “Boys Don’t Cry” tells a tender love story between two outcasts who are stuck in crude and stifling surroundings. It’s a tribute to the filmmakers’ intelligence that they don’t offer simplistic psychological explanations for the “bizarre and deviant” conduct of Brandon Teena. Nor do they mythologize her.

Emanuel levy – variety

Peirce moves from delicacy to devastation with uncanny skill, and Swank and Sevigny give performances that burn in the memory. Boys Don’t Cry means to shake you, and does.

Peter travers – rolling stone

Girl (2018)

In providing us with a groundbreaking transgender coming of age story, Lucas Dhont’s debut was not without controversy. Mainly centring on the choice of casting a young cis male actor in the main role. However, despite the debates that have ensued since its release on trans actors being given a voice. This is a film that offers us a truly immersive journey while taking a huge step forward in the representation of young transgender lives on screen. Proving that film carries a unique power in challenging public perception and understanding. While in turn offering a truly groundbreaking exploration of teenage gender identity that is both beautiful, heartbreaking and inspiring. With sexual awakening, peer groups and gender identity handled with care. Allowing the audience to develop their understanding of the challenges faced by transgender young people in a society of set gender boundaries.

Pride (2014)

Pride knows what it aims to be in providing us with a classic British comedy/drama that wears its heart on its sleeve. Ultimately taking the successful template of both The Full Monty and Billy Elliot into the realms of LGBTQ history. With the result being a film that meshes the important history of gay pride and a shared fight for equality with the joyous and comedic undertones of British comedy/drama.

Based on the real-life story of equality campaigner Mark Ashton and the support offered to striking miners from the LGB community. Pride wraps the audience in important messages of solidarity throughout. The only criticism coming from a slightly soft focus on the struggles the LGB community were undergoing during the early onset of AIDS. However, this aside Pride is a heartwarming and important exploration of pride in all its forms. Lifting both your spirits and belief in the ability of communities to come together for a greater good.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2020)

Forbidden love is a mainstay of LGBTQ cinema, with the urgent need to embrace another, even if briefly a theme pervading the genre. However, while this is indeed a founding pillar of Sciamma’s film. It is a theme that equally finds itself layered with a myriad of additional social discussion. Ranging from the hidden life of the female artist in 18th Century Europe. Through to the importance of sisterhood and support. A theme beautifully brought to life through the story of Sophie (Luàna Bajrami) the house Kitchenmaid. 

But, Sciamma’s film equally captures the same smouldering intensity and depth seen in Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name. As hidden love finds joy and promise in the beauty and seclusion of coastal Brittany. And just as Call Me By Your Name transcended the normal cliches of the secret love story. Portrait of a Lady of Fire equally sets itself apart from any other film within the genre, by layering its love story with mystery, sex, art and a desire for freedom. Its final scene paying homage to Elio’s fireside contemplation and hurt in Guadagnino’s film. While equally reflecting this pain from a different angle, as a memory that may or may not give the audience the full picture. 

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Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)

Released in 2001 Hedwig and the Angry Inch brought post-punk/glam rock back from the grave in a way not seen since Rocky Horror. Encapsulated in a film adaptation of a short-lived but truly unique 1990s Broadway Musical. From the outset, Hedwig has no intention of toning down or distilling its kaleidoscope of colour, humour and raucous energy. Helped by the writer, director and lead performer (John Cameron Mitchell). Bringing his own creation and vision to the film translation. As a result, never forgetting the Broadway showmanship. This creativity and bravery also encompassed by all the films songs being sung live. Equally creating a real sense of the Broadway spectacular of 1998 on-screen.

Victim (1961)

In a time-honoured tradition, Victim uses the framework of a thriller – and rather a good one – to investigate a social problem. The only innovation is the problem itself: for the first time, a British picture concerns itself largely with the lives and problems of homosexuals. Understandably its plot deals with blackmail; and the film unequivocally condemns the way this is encouraged by the present state of the law.

Terrence kelly – sight and sound

Beautiful Thing (1996)

Beautiful Thing is still one of the most tender, warm and relevant films exploring coming of age for young gay men ever produced. Covering serious issues alongside the first throws of love. This is a film that breaks down stereotypes, shows gay love positively, and embraces change. Beautiful Thing is not only an amazing gay film but also a statement of inclusion and diversity in a changing 90s Britain.

Through the film’s two other central characters, viewers also get an illuminating glimpse of gay love crosshatched with other forms of oppression rooted in identity—primarily class—as well as a broader, arguably fuller depiction of longing for, well, belonging. Aside from Jamie and Ste, one of the estate’s core residents is Sandra, Jamie’s serial-dating mother who ricochets between working long hours at a pub and dealing with a truant son who’s made a habit of cutting school to escape bullies. Sandra hopes to manage her own pub one day so that she and Jamie can get off their “bloody estate,” which is steeped in social turmoil and unemployment.

Brandon Tensley – The Atlantic

Death in Venice (1971)

Death in Venice probably divides opinion more than any other film on our essential list. With public and critic responses equally split between love and hate for the film based on Thomas Mann’s novella. However, in our opinion, Death in Venice is not only one of the most powerful pieces of 20th Century cinema. But also, a groundbreaking exploration of regret and unfulfilled sexuality. Creating a haunting and beautiful film of lost opportunity in a man nearing his final days. While mirroring physical decline with the fleeting vibrancy and beauty of youth.

Dirk Bogarde once again accepted a role he knew would challenge social perceptions and boundaries of discrimination. Giving us a performance that never allows the audience too close to his character. As Gustav’s long-suppressed desires, and longing to be young again interface with age, doubt and insecurity.

Many have commented that Death in Venice focusses too much on Gustav’s growing obsession with 14-year-old Tadziu (Andresen). A beautiful enigma holidaying with his mother and siblings. However, while this view may play to modern sensibilities, it does not reflect the direction of the film. Where Gustav’s obsession with Tadziu focusses on both beauty and freedom, never becoming sexualised in construct. With Gustav seeing in Tadziu the life he could have had given different opportunities and personal courage.

Set to Gustav Mahler’s fifth symphony, with sublime cinematography. Visconti’s film is a nuanced and beautiful portrait of a life never lived to its full. In effect creating a film that is the closest, you can get to sublime artwork on screen.

A Fantastic Woman (2017)

Comparisons with Almodóvar are inevitable, although Lelio casts his net wider, citing Hitchcock and Louis Malle as influences alongside Buster Keaton and Busby Berkeley. Matthew Herbert’s spine-tingling score moves from Bernard Herrmann-esque romance to something closer to science-fiction, perfectly capturing the changing tones of the drama.

Mark kermode – the observer

The vibrant style and intelligent characterisation won’t come as a surprise to anyone who saw Gloria, Lelio’s delightful comedy about a divorcee hitting the singles scene. (The director is currently remaking it in the US, with Julianne Moore in the title role.) A Fantastic Woman has drawn comparisons with Almodóvar and not only for its subject matter: every detail is expressive in a way that calls to mind that Spanish master. The restaurant where Marina works is decorated with sprawling illustrations of pterodactyls and triceratops, and in a triumphant scene she becomes a ferocious dinosaur too, stomping on Bruno’s car in an impromptu replay of Jurassic Park. The scene is comic and oddly stirring, the message clear. She is woman. Hear her roar.

Ryan Gilbey – The New Statesmen 2018

120 Beats Per Minute (2017)

Bursting with vibrant energy and youthful passion for change, 120 BPM is a truly stunning piece of LGBTQ cinema. One that changes the landscape of films devoted to HIV and AIDS by dovetailing loss with a pure celebration of spirit and life. It’s narrative following the real-life campaign of the Act Up movement in Paris. A movement that was unafraid to challenge 80’s and 90’s perceptions of HIV & AIDS. While in turn using simple but effective tools to open the eyes of the world to the horror of the virus on their doorstep. Ultimately giving birth to a generation of sexual health and political campaigners unafraid of challenging governments.

Fizzing with the energy of life, equality and love in a manner few LGBTQ films have managed before or since. 120 BPM asks us all what we believe, and whether we would stand up for those beliefs no of matter the social cost. While equally celebrating life in all its stages, seizing your heart and soul in an unforgettable hug by the time the final credits roll.

Maurice (1987)

Offering everything you would expect from a British period drama. James Ivory’s adaptation of E.M Forster’s 1914 novel shines with charm. However, what makes Maurice a truly essential film in the history of gay cinema, sits within the novel at its heart. A novel that only found daylight 15 years before the film adaptation was released. The journey to the screen a symbol of the fear surrounding gay love right up to the 1960s.

As a film Maurice is assured in its approach, exploring the barriers of discrimination and oppression rife in Edwardian British society. But it is at its most fascinating when coupling these barriers with the British class system. Ultimately reflecting a social landscape where wealth could not open the doors to sexual freedom despite prosperity. While equally dissecting the true pain of unrequited love in friendship. Since its release, Maurice has become a classic of British gay cinema. A deserved accolade for a film that talked about gay love and belonging in an 80s society of Section 28 and AIDS based discrimination.

Gods Own Country (2017)

Often finding itself the subject of compassion to Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, Francis Lee’s Gods Own Country is far more than a mere British Brokeback. Delivering a highly personal and loving journey into male belonging and escape. While in turn offering us a positive and heartwarming ending; something rare in LGBTQ cinema. However, it is also clear why comparisons continue to be made to Brokeback. With isolation, repressed male emotions and fear surrounding the narrative. The isolation and freedom of the mountain landscapes in Brokeback replaced by the fields and moors of Yorkshire. The baron and hauntingly beautiful rurality encapsulating the barriers of emotional honesty and openness in men. While in turn embracing human contact, belonging and love far beyond that of Brokeback Mountain. Ultimately creating a love story that exceeds the narrative journey its American comparator in both depth and scope.

Francis Lee delves into his own experience of rural Yorkshire in creating what is undoubtedly a modern masterpiece. Transcending the boundaries of LGBTQ storytelling by embracing much broader themes of love, isolation and belonging. While in turn providing commentary on pre-Brexit Britain and the importance of connection and diversity in personal change. The end result is a being a film full of grit, emotion and life, as the shroud of loneliness is lifted from Josh O’Connors ‘Johnny Saxby’ by a visitor (Alec Secareau) who carries the key to his future happiness.

Orlando (1992)

Inspired by Virginia Woolf’s classic novel, Sally Potter’s film adaptation of Orlando joyously plays with novels timelines and structure. While keeping the beating heart of Woolf’s vision in a film that transcends the boundaries of gender and sexuality. By embracing both art and literature in a similar vein to the work of Derek Jarman.

With Aleksei Rodionov’s evocative cinematography creating a storybook feel, Potter’s swift navigation of eras feels at once epic and restrained. The vignette-based structure leads to a movie of moments rather than any sort of conventional narrative rhythm. Whereas David Fincher used CGI to make Brad Pitt age backwards in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and Todd Haynes turned Cate Blanchett into Bob Dylan in “I’m Not There,” Potter simply places Swinton as Swinton in a variety of contexts and lets the varying juxtapositions speak volumes about gender roles throughout history. The outcome is a radical anti-narrative that resists conventional emotional shortcuts.

Eric Kohn – IndieWire 2010

Call Me By Your Name (2017)

Faithfully adapted from the 2017 novel of the same name by Andre Aciman. Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name is not only one of the finest coming of age films of a generation. But also one of the most important LGBTQ films of the past twenty years. But how did a small budget film with a relatively unknown actor in the lead role so firmly embed itself in the public consciousness? The answer to this question is multi-layered, but in part sits within the ability of Call Me By Your Name to transcend genre boundaries. By dovetailing a rich portrait of young gay love, desire and infatuation with a more traditional coming of age picture. In a film that not only furthers the mainstream portrayal of gay relationships on film. But also, speaks to every viewer no matter of their sexual orientation or gender. 

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The Long Day Closes (1992)

Following the outstanding on from his outstanding film Distant Voices, Still Lives. Terence Davies returned with a deeply personal exploration of early adolescence. One that screams sincerity as it offers a tender, loving and haunting perspective on family life. While wrapping the individual in the wider social pressures of religion and emerging sexual orientation.

11-year-old Bud is wrapped in the warm and tender cocoon of a caring mother and supportive siblings. His father having passed away (Just as in Davies own childhood). However, despite his family support, Bud is essentially a lonely boy. His inner thoughts only increasing his loneliness as he struggles to accept his emerging sexuality in Catholic community construct.

Davies exploration of religious guilt and burgeoning sexuality is personal, nuanced in delivery. The result is a film that not only echos the challenges of coming of age, but also the challenges of navigating sexuality and religion.

Moffie (2020)

Political regimes built on segregation and hate are multi-faceted in their use of control, violence and indoctrination. Often forcing both internal and external segregation and oppression based on an ideology that fears any difference. In turn, using divide and conquer governance, in ensuring people who do not fit their idealised mould are targeted whether they be internal or external to the state. This has been the case throughout human history. From the persecution and murder of Germans daring to identify as LGBTQ during the Nazi regime through to the public hangings of young gay men in Iran. However, this internalised persecution and control is not always visible. Often lurking beneath the surface, without public scrutiny. And this was particularly the case in the experience of LGBTQ people during Apartheid in South Africa. With Oliver Hermanus’ Moffie reflecting this hidden costs of this oppression to stunning effect. 

Based on the 2006 novel by André Carl van der Merwe, Moffie is the Afrikaans word for “faggot”. A word that still instils strong feelings and emotions in all cultures. While also remaining largely unreclaimed by the LGBTQ community. Words can carry huge weight in individual persecution, and in South Africa, the label of “Moffie” was a tool for diminishing someones perceived masculinity. While equally labelling them as a deviant or pervert in a society built on toxic perceptions of masculinity. And it is within the use of this damaging and hateful word and the social implications of a singular label that Hermanus’ film provides a powerhouse of social commentary. While in turn reflecting the paranoia and oppression apartheid South Africa thrived upon in keeping its white population under its spell. 

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Moonlight (2016)

Barry Jenkin’s OSCAR award-winning film defies the boundaries of genre categorisation. Providing us with a beautiful symphony of love and friendship, in a society of cultural restrictions and poverty. Not only creating a film of visual beauty but also a groundbreaking piece of social commentary. Moonlight isn’t afraid to challenge its audience and the racial stereotypes born from media and news. Jenkin’s three age study is awash with pure poetry and reflection. Deserving every accolade it received in bringing a diversity of life and love to our screens.

Great drama doesn’t require the firing of a loaded gun. It can come just as effectively from a lone child bathing in washing-up liquid and stove-heated water, or the sharing of a seaside spliff, or the locked gaze of two men sat at a café table. A fired gun is just too easy, and Moonlight is anything but easy — in the most gorgeous and watchable way.

Dan Jolin – Empire Magazine

Bent (1997)

There are few films exploring the direct effect of Nazism on the LGBTQ community. Despite the community being subject to the concentration camps and the Holocaust of Hitlers Third Reich.

Bent is an incredibly powerful, emotional and stark representation of a German society that embraced inclusion and diversity, falling into division, segregation and ultimately Holocaust. The story of the LGBTQ community during holocaust remains largely untold in film, theatre and literature. And while Bent is not a perfect film in delivery or performances it does the important job of reflecting the experience and horror of those identified by and forced to wear the pink triangle.

Papi Chulo (2018)

At its heart Papi Chulo is a buddy film, but in its soul it’s a multi layered character study of a gay man on the edge of an emotional breakdown. With Sean finding his own recovery through the company of a man culturally and emotionally different to himself. There is much to praise in the films effortless and nuanced interface between cultural divides in masculinity, friendship and belonging. The journey encapsulated by a city where life jumps from energetic interaction to isolation and loneliness in a heartbeat.

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Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

Forty minutes into Sidney Lumet’s outstanding piece of crime drama you may be forgiven for questioning why it sits on an essential list of LGBTQ films. After all while the set up is delicious, humorous and riveting, it doesn’t exactly shout LGBTQ. In fact, it plays more to the legacy of Vietnam while dissecting American politics and class. Even straying into themes of race as a freed black hostage is treated as criminal by trigger happy police. However, then like a bolt from the blue we discover the reason for our anti-hero Sonny’s (Al Pacino) actions. His only wish being to pay for a sex-change operation for his gay lover. A man he can’t bring himself to fully accept, their relationship one of anger, denial and control. But a man he equally cannot be without, his wife and children sitting in the wings.

What follows is nothing short of outstanding in both direction and performances. As Sonny’s motives are slowly unpicked in the sweltering heat of a bank under siege in the Brooklyn summer. Themes of isolation, equality and class threading through each every sentence of dialogue in creating a cutting dissection of the American dream. However, strangely Dog Day Afternoon remains in the shadows of LGBTQ film history. Its themes and social commentary held aloft in wider film circles but forgotten in LGBTQ communities. However, coming just five years after the Stonewall riots. Lumet seized the anger and hope of a dramatically changing American society in a manner many other films simply could not.

Maedchen in Uniform (1931)

Its almost hard to believe now that a film where female sexuality sat front and centre, came out of Germany just two years before Hitler was appointed Chancellor of the country. Maedchen in Uniform is not only a stunning piece of early female empowerment on film. But also achieved critical success around the world, a feat that was truly amazing in early 1930’s society.

When watching this film you can’t help but reflect on the devastation that was to come. Taking Germany’s role as a leader in equality and empowerment into some of the darkest regions of world history.

Pink Narcissus (1971)

Providing us with a courageous and joyous celebration of the male body. Pink Narcissus is where art meets film in an explosion of vibrant colour, dreams, and eroticism. Shot over seven years on 8mm film in his apartment using homemade props and sets. Pink Narcissus was a labour of love for James Bidgood. With a short and highly controversial cinema release that led to the film being edited by a distribution company. Bidgood chose to withdraw his film from public view.

Shrouded in mystery for many years and thought lost. Pink Narcissus was thankfully found and restored, a cult classic of early gay cinema finding its place in the history of LGBTQ film once more.

Midnight Cowboy (1969)

Whether Midnight Cowboy can truly be described as an LGBT film is an interesting question and one that still causes debate among critics. For me, this is a film that not only shines a light on a range of issues still taboo on its release in 1969. But also a film the bravely centres on male love and bonding.

The films core narrative lays in the relationship of Joe (Voight) and Ratso (Hoffman), a relationship that still endures in its onscreen chemistry. While elements now seem dated and the characterisations may appear conflicted within modern sensibilities. Midnight Cowboy is still a powerful exploration of masculinity and sexuality in a grim world of male prostitution. The first and only X rated movie to ever win an Oscar. Midnight Cowboy owes much to the creative vision of Schlesinger and the performances of Voight and Hoffman in its enduring ability to reach new audiences.

My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)

In mid-’80s British society where capitalism was in full swing and money was the new drug. AIDS was ravaging the gay community without discrimination or impunity. Therefore, Frears adaptation of Hanif Kureishi’s play offered a glimmer of hope to a community lacking positive representation. While also critiquing a dramatically changing British society. My Beautiful Laundrette not only took square aim at homophobia but also Britains racially divided society. Using a comic slant, alongside a complex cultural dissection of 80’s Britain. Laundrette remains a beautiful portrait, and a time capsule of a changing decade where race and sexuality dovetailed with politics, family and belonging.

My Beautiful Laundrette contains none of the uplifting buzz an audience might expect from the two sweethearts (the comedy comes from the peripheral oddballs). Rebellion is something implicit in their love, and is reluctantly accepted rather than shouted from the hilltops. Laundrette is utterly subdued in its admission of inconvenient love. 

William Thomas – Empire Magazine

Un Chant d’Amour (1950)

The only film to be written and directed by French novelist and playwright Jean Genet. Un chant d’amour was a groundbreaking and important turning point in gay cinema. Shot on 35mm film in stark black and white. This 25 minute feature set in a French prison challenged societies concepts of sexual freedom versus control. Relying purely on image as it traversed the relationship between two inmates in solitary confinement. Each communicating their feelings and desires to the other through a small hole in the wall. Ultimately creating a picture of photographic intensity that still carries immense power. A power that found it banned in the UK and USA for many years after its release.

L.I.E (2001)

Michael Cuesta’s L.I.E is nothing short of an outstanding exploration of gender, sexuality and isolation in adolescence. Packing a mighty punch with its honest portrayal of vulnerability and desire in adolescence. With Paul Dano giving an exceptional and highly complex debut performance. One that delicately yet decisively explores the turbulence of sexuality and gender in youth. Including the complexities of love, friendship and family in early emotional development.

Controversial from the start to finish L.I.E is a nuanced exploration of adult grooming, control and belonging, this is a film that stays with you long after the credits roll. Highlighting not just the vulnerability inherent in young people as they explore their sexual orientation, but also the realities of their own control of those around them.

Angels in America (2003)

Despite Angels in America being a HBO mini-series, we simply could not ignore the power of HBOs TV adaptation of Tony Kushner’s outstanding play. Taking on the Reagan years of 1985 and 1986. While dovetailing themes of sexuality, love, discrimination, religion and societies fear of AIDS. This is a true masterclass in storytelling and character development. Unlike any other on-screen story surrounding the rise and destruction of HIV/ AIDS, Angels in America plays with a fantasia of themes. Making it essential viewing for anyone in or outside of the LGBTQ community.

Disobedience (2017)

Following on from his success with A Fantastic Woman. Sebastián Lelio’s English language debut offers a nuanced exploration of the interface between religion and sexual orientation. Focusing on the love of two women in the orthodox Jewish community of North London.

Adapted from the novel by Naomi Alderman. Disobedience expertly weaves a story of love and passion. While never forgetting the moral maze of religious beliefs that control community structures and rules. Disobedience never seeks to judge or dismiss religion but does raise questions about the interface between personal freedom and control. Never predictable, this is a film that challenges the audience to explore their own thoughts on the relationship between faith and sexual orientation.

Patrik, Age 1.5 (2010)

This highly underrated Swedish comedy is a gem of modern LGBTQ cinema. One that has found itself relegated to the verges of film commentary. However, this is a film that joyously dovetails comedy with a delicate exploration of family life, fostering and adoption. Ultimately delivering a humorous and powerful message on diversity. Where the role of gay men in fostering is celebrated and explored with sincerity. While the needs of teenagers excluded and forgotten by the state dovetails with the unconditional love single-sex couples can provide. Ultimately delivering a sweet, engaging and heartfelt family comedy.

Transamerica (2005)

TransAmerica is a beautifully nuanced comedy/drama that takes on big social issues. While never falling into the trap of embracing moralistic messages. With truly engaging performances from both Huffman and Zegers, TransAmerica embraces diversity in all its complicated attributes. Allowing the audience time to reflect, laugh and build a sense of belonging with its characters, during a truly unique road movie.

Stranger by the Lake (2013)

Rigorously crafted and beautifully shot, the film could be read as an Aids allegory (although the script warns us against such over-simplification) or as a more general disquisition on desire and death. However you read it, the film is compelling and audaciously candid in its erotic charge, while an ending that literally leaves us in the dark is one of the most haunting sign-offs in recent cinema.

Jonathan romney – the guardian

Stranger by the Lake is perhaps less of a head-scratcher than some of Guiraudie’s earlier work, in that there is no ambiguity about the characters’ location or identity. Yet it shimmers with that intoxicating sun-on-the-water allure that might make someone not quite themselves.

Ben walters – sight and sound

Bad Education (2004)

Bad Education is perhaps one of Pedro Almodóvar’s most personal films. Set in 80s Madrid, a young filmmaker (Fele Martínez) is searching for a story that could become his next film project. His world turned upside down when a man claiming to be his old school friend and first love, Ignacio (Gael García Bernal) walks into his office with a script. Ignacio’s script focussing on the abuse they suffered at the hands of school priest long ago. Something that our filmmaker had pushed into the deepest recesses of his mind. Ignacio’s script born of a revenge fantasy that delves into traumas and joy.

Almodóvar weaves his story through a maze of Hitchcock like puzzles, never allowing the audience to rest on their laurels. With both sexuality and sensuality dovetailing with hurt, pain and trauma. As memories collide and submerge both men into the fantasy and reality of childhood memory.

A Single Man (2009)

Based on the novel by Christopher Isherwood, Tom Fords 2009 film beautifully explores bereavement and repression of emotion and sexuality. Following George Falconer (Colin Firth), a teacher at a Los Angeles college, who is unable to come to terms with his partner’s death. A Single Man exquisitely takes us on a journey into one mans past and present. Moulding both into a symphony of emotion, isolation and reflection. With the present offering hope and sexual liberation, while the past haunts each and every tentative step in recovery.

Tremors (2019)

In 2015 Guatemalan Director Jayro Bustamante received an Oscar nomination for his debut feature Ixcanul. While also winning the Alfred Bauer Prize at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival for the same feature. With Tremors (Temblores) Bustamante delves into the world of gay conversion therapy, family and faith in a polarised Guatemalan community. Ultimately offering a commentary on the interface between sexuality, family, community and religion. One that is tough, relentless and complex, offering no easy answers. This is a film that understands the power and influence religion and family can have on the individual. While never shying away from the challenges of moving beyond the cultural boundaries placed before you.

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Rialto (2019)

Peter Mackie Burns (Daphne) brings us a stunning and nuanced journey into emotional containment, belonging and identity. While creating an unlikely safe space in the relationship between a teenage rent boy, and a father whose life is spiralling out of control.

Based on his stage play ‘Trade’ Mark O’Halloran’s screenplay delivers an intimate character study of a man on the verge of emotional and social collapse. His family and work-life colliding with the suppressed needs of a life lived in the shadow of others. His need for escape and emotional connection finally finding a voice with a teenage hustler.

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Tucked (2019)

Tucked is somewhat of a rare gem in modern LGBTQ cinema. Both directly challenging themes of mortality and age in the LGBTQ community. While equally exploring the importance of intergenerational friendship and belonging. Its narrative soaring through heartfelt performances and direction. 

Made across just 10 days in Brighton. Tucked delivers both a funny and deeply emotional character study. While never seeking to play to stereotypes and clichés. In essence providing us with a two-man play exploring two men divided by generational change in gender, sexuality and culture. Both finding each other through a rapidly changing LGBTQ cabaret culture and scene. With their friendship ultimately challenging the ageism and divides of the LGBTQ community.

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Pariah (2011)

Buzzing with repressed sexuality breaking free of all it’s socially imposed shackles. Pariah follows teenager Alike (Adepero Oduye) as she embraces her queer identity. While providing us with a visually stunning exploration of identity and sexuality finally flying free of constraints. Equally sharing the exhilaration and tingles of first love as Alike meets Bina (Aasha Davis). In a film that pulsates with energy, humanity and love. While never downplaying the bravery and cost of being who you want to be.

Pariah is probably too loaded a word to be the title of this film. Alike lives in a world where homosexuality is far from unknown, and her problems will grow smaller in a few years as she moves away from home. This story, so tellingly written and acted, is about the painful awkwardness of that process. What makes it worse is that there’s repressed hostility between her parents, and Alike’s sexuality becomes the occasion for tension with deeper sources.

Roger Ebert 2012 Review

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

Based on the 1944 book of the same name by Robert Lindner, Rebel Without a Cause is far more complex than a mere critique of the emerging American fear of juvenile delinquency.

This is a stunning and nuanced study of youth, family, identity and love, that still speaks to our modern society. Challenging the 1950’s American family ideals, while also exploring themes of masculinity, sexuality and love. Making Rebel one of the finest examples of the coming of age genre every produced. While also embracing themes of male desire and unrequited love long before LGBTQ was acceptable in mainstream cinema in America. Ultimately catapulting James Dean to international stardom. While equally mirroring the eventual cause of his early death. Rebel has earned mythic status in the decades since its release while continuing to provide the template for teenage filmmaking.

Monsoon (2020)

Hong Khaou’s second film ‘Monsoon‘ follows on from the themes of grief, cultural identity and belonging of his first feature ‘Lilting‘. While also charting a very different path as he explores the death of a parent. Alongside the need for second-generation children to discover the cultural identity and heritage of lost family ties. The director’s trademark sensitivity and storytelling, matched with sublime cinematography and nuanced performances. Creating a film that feels almost autobiographical construct, with an air of documentary-like realism sitting at its heart. 

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I Killed My Mother (2009)

In 2009 Xavier Dolan burst into the public consciousness as one of the most exciting young writers and directors of a generation with I Killed My Mother. Providing us with a film the echoes with the anger, frustration and hurt of teenager life. While equally providing a dance of conflict, unspoken love and pettiness. 

Dolan wrote the film aged 16, with the intensity and dynamism of the teenage mind embodied in his script. Themes of family breakdown and sexuality dovetailing with the need to escape the maternal bonds of fractured parental relationship. All wrapped up in a film that understands the complexities of the teenage/parent relationship and anger of youth.

Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013)

Based on the 2010 graphic novel of the same name by Julie Maroh. Blue is the Warmest Colour has earned its well-deserved place as a classic of modern LGBTQ cinema. Delivering a beautiful snapshot of first love in all its complexity, while dovetailing this with the emotional rollercoaster of ‘coming out’. However, this is also a film that embraces female sexuality, while being unafraid to explore the interface between sex and love. While equally exploring themes of public acceptance and belonging in the arms of another. With the changes of growing maturity and social confidence impacting the long-term feelings of love and sex on the journey to womanhood. 

Discover more great LGBTQ films here


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