LGBTQ films – The Essential Collection

Last updated February 2020

For the LGBTQ community, film has long been a vehicle for challenging society’s pre-conceptions. While furthering inclusion and embracing a community rich in history, art and culture. As a result the film journey of the LGBTQ community reflects the history of its people. Not only providing a road map of discrimination and isolation, but also the fight for equality and representation.

Film has often assisted in building wider public understanding of the lives of LGBTQ people. While also exploring some of the most challenging and heart-breaking periods in the communities global history. Reflecting and representing a community that was once kept silent and hidden. In turn building individual and community confidence to tell important stories on screen. This journey has over time increased the confidence of filmmakers to challenge their audience with themes and stories that were once taboo. Bringing the rich diversity and creativity of LGBTQ culture and history to global communities.

However, it is only recently in the history of cinema that confidence has grown, and even now studios openly censor LGBTQ content to appease global markets where freedoms are still oppressed. Therefore the journey of LGBTQ cinema is not over, in fact its only just coming of age. Film still has a unique and important role to play, alongside theatre and art in challenging views, encouraging dialogue and furthering inclusion. Ensuring filmmakers bring more LGBTQ inspired stories and experiences into mainstream cinema. Reflecting the history, culture and pride of people who have fought for equality and representation.

So join us in celebrating the films that made us laugh, cry and feel proud of our history and culture. With our essential list of LGBTQ films.

And Then We Danced (2020)

Director: Leven Akin (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 embeded discrimination. And that is exactly what is achieved through Swedish filmmaker Leven Akin’s film ‘And Then We Danced’.

LGBTQ films that manage to achieve this are rare delights in sea of similarity. But when they do appear, they sear themselves into one’s memory, while equally challenging and changing audience perceptions. From the social isolation of LGBTQ Brazilian young people in Socrates. Through to the rural isolation and community fears of Gods Own Country. Or the power of belief, passion and love against a backdrop of mortality and discrimination in 120bpm.

These are LGBTQ stories that transcend the boundaries of their genre. Dovetailing sexuality and gender identity with wider themes of social and cultural change and belonging. And it is here that ‘And Then We Danced’ shines as brightly as many of its groundbreaking predecessors. Providing us with a journey that not only reflects the cultural and artistic landscape of Georgia. But layers it with a brave and bold journey of both personal and community acceptance. Where the barriers of institutionalised and internalised homophobia find voice in the life of two young dancers. As the power and energy of Georgian dance swirls around their brief but pivotal love affair.

Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Director: Ang Lee (2005)

Brokeback Mountain could have easily been a melodrama. However, in the hands of Ang Lee the result is a beautiful and deeply moving story of hidden love, lost opportunities and escape. Set against the backdrop of rural Wyoming in 60’s America. With Ledger, Gyllenhaal and Williams giving performances of nuanced beauty. While playing to the isolation, suffocation and danger of hidden desire in rural America. Brokeback Mountain not only took the effects of homophobia into mainstream cinemas, it also allowed the LGBTQ community a voice. As a result opening a door to mainstream cinema for LGBTQ stories. While challenging the discrimination still prevalent in rural American communities on its release.

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)

Director: Todd Haynes (2015)

Based on Patricia Highsmiths 1952 novel The Price of Salt. Carol offers an unforgettable journey into female sexuality, strength and love during societal repression. While exploring a 1950s construct where women were subject to male dominated communities and values. Haynes, expertly navigates the fragility and paranoia of secret love, alongside sublime performances and delicious cinematography. As a result providing us with film that shines in its ability to reflect the liberation of women. While also shining an uncomfortable light on the repression of female sexuality.

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

Buddies (1985)

Director: Arthur Bressan Jr (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. And the community that had took over the role of government in supporting their fellow men and women through the darkest of times. With a film that quietly and confidently challenged the world. Providing us with one of the most powerful and influential gay films of the past 30 years.

Sadly ‘Buddies’ was to be the final film from Arthur Bressan Jr, who lost his own battle with AIDS in 1987. With his film all but disappearing until being resurrected for public viewing by the Bressan Project in 2018.

But is ‘Buddies’ purely a time capsule of some of the darkest years in LGBTQ history? Or does it continue to carry relevance and insight for modern audiences?

In essence ‘Buddies’ offers both a time capsule and a commentary that is still relevant to life today. Cleverly enabling both to exist through a script that was nuanced in its exploration of AIDS, community, culture and experience. With themes of identity, belonging and place co-existing alongside the raw power and emotion of the AIDS epidemic. Asking its audience to reflect on their own role and power in achieving equality and change, while also reflecting the diversity of a LGBTQ community that is often labeled as one homogeneous group. Therefore, still providing important discussion and reflection for modern audiences.

The historical significance of ‘Buddies’ cannot be denied, in not only challenging the damaging social perceptions of AIDS, but also enabling the humanisation of the epidemic. Eight years before the film Philadelphia was hailed as a groundbreaking piece of cinema.

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.

Love Simon (2018)

Director: Greg Bertanti (2018)

It would be fair to say that Love Simon is one of the defining LGBTQ movies of the millennial generation. Not only taking the best-selling novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda into film. But also, translating it with care, love and attention into a truly groundbreaking young adult romcom. Allowing Gregg Berlanti to create the dynamic of a John Hughes production. 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. Making Love Simon a game changer in LGBTQ representation on screen for teenagers.

The Favourite (2018)

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos (2018)

Full of dark humour, passion, love, sexual politics and humanity. The Favourite is another game changing film in LGBTQ representation in mainstream cinema. From it’s beautiful cinematography to script. The Favourite delivers on every possible level while placing female sexuality front and centre. With men left in the shadows of a bittersweet tale of sexual power, conflict and desire for acceptance.

The Favourite is a stunning piece of film making that never needs to point out its place in LGBTQ film history. This is a female led, female empowered and sexually driven study of love, power and place. Wrapped up within a box of social commentary, humour and reflection.

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

Weekend (2011)

Director: Andrew Haigh (2011)

Andrew Haighs Weekend is one of the most grounded and real films ever made in its exploration of gay male relationships, belonging and identity. Filmed on a low budget in 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. As sex moves on to conversation and connection, Russell and Glen begin to stumble into the first steps of a deeper relationship.

There is something uniquely intimate in Haigh’s film. Providing a realism, intensity and journey that never hides the complexities, fun and fear of first meetings. While embracing the ability of sex to transition into love and belonging.

All About My Mother (1999)

Director: Pedro Almodovar (1999)

Playing homage to Tennessee Williams 1947 play Streetcar Named Desire and 1950’s All About Eve. Pedro Almodovars film mixes heartfelt humour, tragedy and soap opera to glorious effect. All within a story that embraces diversity, colour and love. While exploring the human need to re-create our dreams and aspirations. All About My Mother is funny, sad and beautifully filmed. Providing a multi-layered and gorgeous piece of modern filmmaking.

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

My Own Private Idaho (1991)

Director: Gus Van Sant (1991)

You may think that a film based around 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.

For both River and Keanu, ‘Idaho’ was a huge risk. After all this was a film centred around themes that were still taboo in early 90s America. Both men subverting their teen idol status in exploring street hustlers and sexuality. But for River this was also an opportunity to fully immerse himself in a character he could build. A character that could be shaped with a Director open to his creativity. 

This urge to build the character of Mike, led River to spend nights on Portlands city streets. Talking with rent boys while momentarily living their life and dabbling in their work. His mission to ensure his character accurately gave voice to men and boys without one. The end result being one of the finest onscreen performances ever committed to celluloid. An Oscar worthy lead performance that was simply too risky for Hollywood attention.

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.

Show Me Love (1998)

Directed by: Lukas Moodysson (1998)

Lukas Moodyssons debut feature is a touching and beautifully performed portrait of emerging sexuality. Focussing on first love between two young girls in the small backwater Swedish town of Amal. The challenges, excitement and restrictions of female sexuality in a town of limited potential and opportunity are perfectly portrayed.

Show Me Love reflects the feelings of all LGBTQ people who come of age in communities where freedom of expression and love are stifled by insular attitudes.

Tomboy (2011)

Director: Celine Sciamma (2011)

Celine Sciamma’s follow up to Water Lilies, explores gender identity, freedom of choice and coming of age without any hidden agendas. Tomboy follows 10 year old Laure as she moves with her family to a new suburban neighbourhood in France. Laurie refuses to confirm to the images of girlhood that surround her. Dressing in clothes that challenge societies gender stereotypes. Laurie’s image and identity become more complicated on meeting a new friend Lisa, who believes she is a boy. As Laurie adopts the new name Michael to confirm to Lisa’s pre-conceptions. A long hot summer of self-expression, exploration of identity and friendship ensues.

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)

Director: Kimberly Peirce (1999)

Stark and foreboding, but ultimately compelling in its narrative. Boys Don’t Cry is a truly ground breaking slice of late of 90’s LGBTQ cinema. Loosely based on real events. Boys Don’t Cry takes us on a rollercoaster of danger and risk as Brandon Teena (Hillary Swank) plays a dangerous game in a small town of deep and dark secrets. As we watch, the town and its dark corners unravel consuming Brandon and the secrets he harbours. Nothing about Boys Don’t Cry is easy to watch, and it is certainly not for the faint hearted, but this is brave and stark film making with performances to match.

“Dear Lana, By the time you read this, I’ll be back home in Lincoln. I’m scared of what’s ahead, but when I think of you I know I’ll be able to go on. You were right. Memphis isn’t far at all. I’ll be making a trip out on the highway before too long. I’ll be waiting for ya. Love always and forever, Brandon.”

Brandon (Boys Don’t Cry)

Girl (2018)

Director: Lukas Dhont (2018)

Providing us with a transgender coming of age story Lucas Dhonts debut is not without its controversy. Especially in casting a young cis male actor in the main role. However, despite these debates. This is a film that offers us a truly immersive journey, and a huge step forward in transgender lives on screen. Film carries a unique power to change public perception and understanding, and Girl does that with beauty and engaging performances that offer true emotional resonance.

Victor Polster’s performance is exceptional, a nuanced and deeply emotional portrayal of a transitioning teen, showing a complexity of emotions and feelings alongside an urgent desire to lead a full new life. Within the performance we grow with Lara, feeling her pain, her joy and her urge to complete the transition already begun. Powerful teenage emotions are set to a backdrop of gruelling and beautiful ballet, the struggles of body conformity, change and dance interwoven into a breathtaking and urgent piece of intimate filmmaking.

Family life for Lara is full of love, support and warmth, never playing to dated stereotypes, but at the same time demonstrating the isolation of teenage emotions even in families of great support. Lara’s dad (Arieh Worthalter) is full of care and love for his daughter, while also feeling powerless to speed up her transition and ensure her happiness.

Sexual awakening, peer groups and gender identity are handled with care, while also allowing the audience to develop their understanding of the challenges faced by transgender young people in a society of set gender boundaries.

Pride (2014)

Directed by: Matthew Warchus (2014)

Pride knows what it aims to be, a classic British comedy/drama that wears its heart on its sleeve. For this reason is combines the comedy/drama blueprint of The Full Monty and Billy Elliot with a slice of LGBTQ history often forgotton. The result being a film that accomplishes its core purpose in spades, delivering a truly feel good film that is designed to have you cheering by the end.

Based on the real life story of equality campaigner Mark Ashton and the support of the LGB community for the miners strike of 1984/85. Pride delivers humour, warmth and messages of solidarity throughout.

While sometimes too soft in its portrayal of an LGB community striving for acceptance during a period of Thatcherism and AIDS. Pride lifts your spirits and belief in the ability of communities to come together for a greater good.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2020)

Director: Céline Sciamma (2019/20)

Forbidden love is 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 Kitchen maid. 

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 fire side 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. 

While Sciamma’s screenplay echoes the tragic myth of Orpheus and Eurydice; a reading of which sits centrally within the film. A myth that saw Orpheus nearly succeed in rescuing his true love from the underworld. But inadvetantly trapped her there forever, due to turning around and looking at her beauty one last time. The underworld here, being Héloïse’s lack of any control over her eventual destiny. Despite the strength of Marianne’s love. While Marianne embraces her role in ensuring Héloïse experiences a brief but powerful love before her subjedcation. Her portrait acting as the final image of her freedom and choice.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)

Director: John Cameron Mitchell (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 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.

Just sit back with a huge glass of your favourite drink and let Hedwig wash over you with its glorious visuals, humour, music and performances.

“Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Saviour?
No, but I… I love his work.”

Tommy and Hedwig (Hedwig and the Angry Inch)

Victim (1961)

Director: Basil Dearden (1961)

Cleverly using the thriller genre to explore social development and injustice is now a staple of modern cinema. With new directors such as Jordan Peele threading social themes into mainstream horror. Victim was the first major film to focus on the lives of gay men in a society where intolerance, legal threats and undercover investigations were still rife. This is a film that takes the archaic notions held within the Sexual Offences Act of the time Delicately unpicking the personal and community experience of damaging legislation on screen.

It is easy now to dismiss the effect Victim had on the gay rights movement, but I urge you to revisit this classic. As this was a film that helped change the landscape of representation and law in the United Kingdom.

Beautiful Thing (1996)

Director: Hettie MacDonald (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 it 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)

Director: Luchino Visconti (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 a 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. As a result creating a haunting and beautiful film of lost opportunity for a man nearing his final days. While also encapsulating the fleeting vibrancy, beauty and exploration of youth. With Dirk Bogarde giving the performance of his career, while never allowing his character too close to the audience. Capturing the awakening of Gustav’s long suppressed desires, and longing to be young again.

Many have commented that Death in Venice focusses too much on Gustav’s growing obsession with 14 year old Tadziu (Andresen). A beautiful enigma of a boy, holidaying with his mother and siblings. However, while this view may play to modern sensibilities, it does not reflect the direction of the film. While Gustav is obsessed with Tadziu’s beauty and freedom, this is never sexualised. Gustav sees in Tadziu what his life could have offered given different opportunities and personal courage.

Set to Gustav Mahlers 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 art work on screen.

A Fantastic Woman (2017)

Director: Sebastian Lelio (2017)

A Fantastic Woman is a truly remarkable exploration of the destructive power families can wield when a LGBTQ partner suddenly dies. Bereaved and alone, her security gone. Marina (Daniela Vega) must find her way through the now hostile world she inhabits. Her trans identity a barrier and perversion to the family of her dead partner and many others in her local community. This is a beautiful, often upsetting and heartfelt character study of isolation and discrimination in the face of sudden bereavement and change.

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)

Director: Robin Campillo (2017)

Bursting with a vibrant energy and youthful passion for change. 120 BPM is a truly stunning piece of LGBTQ cinema that changes the landscape of films devoted to HIV and AIDS. Following the Act Up movement in Paris, 120 BPM is not afraid to challenge the 80’s and 90’s onscreen story of AIDS. Placing LGBTQ people who fought to increase public awareness and push for government action centre stage. These were heroes to us all, whether you identify as LGBTQ or not.

Fizzing with the energy of life, equality and love in a way few films could. 120 BPM asks us all what we believe, and whether we would have stood up in society of judgement and fear to make our voices heard. This is a celebration of life in all its stages, that seizes your heart and soul in equal measure.

Maurice (1987)

Director: James Ivory (1987)

Offering everything you would expect from a British period drama. James Ivory’s adaptation of E.M Forster’s 1914 novel, not published until after his death in 1971, shines with British 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 a major film adaptation was released. Clearly demonstrating the journey taken in public acceptance. While highlighting the fear of authors to release material that could have led to personal controversy.

As a film Maurice is assured in its approach, exploring the barriers to long term love present in Edwardian British society. While also demonstrating how class and position played to public views of acceptable sexual behaviour. Maurice has become a classic of British gay cinema. A deserved accolade for a film that talked about love and belonging in a 1987 Britain of Section 28 and AIDS based discrimination.

Gods Own Country (2017)

Directed by: Francis Lee (2017)

Many commentators falsely describe Gods Own Country as the British Brokeback Mountain. Not giving credit or power to story that is truly unique and different to Brokeback in so many ways.

Gods Own Country is a love story that never seeks to explore the more political side of sexuality. Instead favouring a nuanced exploration of rural isolation, sexuality and xenophobia. While talking directly to 21st Century Brexit Britain. Exploring the loneliness and isolation that can lead people of all communities to discriminate.

At its heart Gods Own Country is a beautiful redemptive love story, demonstrating the power of unions between people in building happiness and breaking down cultural and national walls.

Orlando (1992)

Directed by: Sally Potter (1992)

Inspired by Virginia Woolf’s classic novel, Sally Potters film adaptation of Orlando joyously plays with novels timelines and structure. While keeping the beating heart of Woolf’s vision and style in a film that transcends the boundaries of gender and sexuality. While embracing art, literature and film, as it explores identity in all its forms.

Equally performances are truly stunning, as are some wonderful cameo appearances. Orlando is a true classic and visionary piece of literature meets that truly challenged its 1992 audience.

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)

Director: Luca Guadagnino (2017)

Adapted from the novel by Andre Aciman. Luca Guadagnino’s creates a rich exploration portrait of young love, hidden desire, burning want and sexuality. In a film that not only furthers the mainstream portrayal of gay relationships on film. But also, offers one of the finest coming of age films in a generation.

Set in Northern Italy during the early 1980’s. Call Me By Your Name is unafraid to show the complexity of feelings, actions and emotions surrounding sexual desire and discovery. While reflecting the intensity of teenage sexuality and burning want, jealously and vulnerability of early sex and love.

Timothee Chalamet gives a performance of layered emotion and emerging self confidence. Bringing Elio to life while sharing his inner most feelings and thoughts through a single look, gesture or action. Call Me By Your Name is one of the finest portrayals of teenage love, identity and belonging in a generation.

“We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to make yourself feel nothing so as not to feel anything – what a waste!”

Mr Perlman (Call Me By Your Name)

The Long Day Closes (1992)

Directed by: Terence Davies (1992)

Following the outstanding on from his outstanding film Distant Voices, Still Lives. Terence Davies returned with a film that oozes personal experience. Not only offering a tender and loving view of family life, but also the internal demons of religious belief 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 being a film that not only echos the challenges of coming of age, but also the challenges of navigating sexuality and religion.

Moonlight (2016)

Directed by: Barry Jenkins (2016)

Barry Jenkins 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 visual beautifully, 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. Jenkins 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)

Directed by: Sean Mathias (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 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)

Directed by: John Butler (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. Wrapped into a city where life can jump from energetic interaction to isolation and loneliness.

Bomer’s performance matches the multi layered approach of the films direction. Offering us a portrait of a good man on a path of emotional challenges. Sean is never as confident in his own abilities as he appears on the TV screen. Constantly questioning his emotions, motivations and place in his city, social circle and career; Bomer providing a beautiful performance of heart and emotional depth. While Patino offers a truly stunning portrayal of a man living on the edges of L.As wealthy society, working hard to secure his family in a city of income extremes. While never judging those who sit in alternate positions of financial power.

Butler never attempts to force social messages onto his audience. Allowing the viewer to grow their own understanding of the themes present within Papi Chulo; in respect of sexual orientation, class divides and social structures. While the urban landscape of L.A is beautifully used to full advantage throughout. The oppressive heat of the city reflecting Sean’s emotional state, interlaced with the symbolic emotional release of rain and recovery in a city of extremes.

Humour threads through the film, never allowing it to dive too far into sadness. Maintaining a light and joy in the ability of humans to find those who can support and encourage without judgement.

Benjamin (2019)

Directed by: Simon Amstell (2019)

Simon Amstell is well known for his cutting satirical comedy. While weaving humour into ordinary situations that embody a love for his characters and their locations. With his debut feature film, Amstell takes these skills to the big screen with a film that does not disappoint. Not only providing us a rich romantic comedy but one that is full of tenderness and love.

Benjamin (Colin Morgan) is desperate to relive the success of his first independent film; his head full of ideas, creative impulses and frustration. While his life is a sea of deep anxiety and self created isolation. Consequently as he strives to finish his second film, he is filled with apprehension and insecurity. His frustrations and sense of imminent failure haunting him as the the films premiere grows ever closer.

However, even as his film bombs in spectacular style at Curzon Soho. Benjamins life finds new meaning on meeting French musician Noah (Phénix Brossard)

This is a film that shines in its realistic and tender exploration of love. Not only demonstrating the healing power of companionship. But also the diversity and vibrant creativity of London. While Amstell takes time in exploring the feelings of apprehension, fear, joy and awkwardness that come with early love. Both Morganand Brossard exploring male love and companionship with beauty it deserves. While never resorting to damaging stereotypes or cliches.

Benjamin is an assured romantic comedy that will leave you with a huge smile through its well crafted script, excellent performances and loving direction.

Maedchen in Uniform (1931)

Directed by: Leontine Sagan (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 Germanys role as a leader in equality and empowerment into some of the darkest regions of world history.

Pink Narcissus (1971)

Directed by: James Bidgood (1971)

An unflinching and joyous celebration of the male body. Pink Narcissus is were art meets film in an explosion of vibrant colour, day dreams and eroticism. Shot over seven years on 8mm film in his own 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)

Directed by: John Schlesinger (1969)

Whether Midnight Cowboy can truly be described as a 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.

“I gotta get outta here, gotta get outta here. Miami Beach, that’s where you could score. Anybody can score there, even you. In New York, no rich lady with any class at all buys that cowboy crap anymore. They’re laughin’ at you on the street.”

Ratso (Midnight Cowboy)

My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)

Directed by: Stephen Frears (1985)

In a mid 80’s 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 time capsule of 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)

Directed by: Jean Genet (1950)

The only film to be written and directed by French novelist and playwright Jean Genet. Un chant d’amour is 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 challenges societies concepts of sexual freedom versus control and oppression. With no dialogue two inmates in solitary confinement communicate their feelings and desires to each other through a small hole in the wall. Genet using photographic imagery to portray the control of the prison versus the freedom of love and sexual desire.

The power of this short film can not be understated, banned in the UK and USA for many years after its release, it still captures an artistic intensity that many feared.

L.I.E (2001)

Director: Michael Cuesta (2001)

Michael Cuesta’s film remains an outstanding exploration of gender, sexuality and isolation in adolescence. Packing a punch in its honest and powerful portrayal of vulnerability and desire in adolescence. While Paul Dano gives an exceptional debut performance that delicately explores the turbulence of sexuality and gender in youth. Equally reflecting the vulnerability of young love and friendship.

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.

“I think you are just like James Bond, except James Bond doesn’t go around blowing boys.”

Howie (L.I.E.)

Angels in America (2003)

Director: Mike Nichols (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.

“I have sex with men. But unlike nearly every other man of whom this is true, I bring the guy to the White House and President Reagan smiles at us and shakes his hand.”

Roy Cohen (Angels in America)

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.

Lelio creates a whole world that can be read eloquently and movingly on the faces of two superb actresses who give unstintingly to its creation. “May you live a long life,” are the words exchanged frequently in this insular community. But for Esti and Ronit, it’s ultimately the question of how you live a life that gives the film its soulful resonance. Their scenes together achieve a stabbing pathos that never crosses into sentimentality or sham.

Peter Travers – Rollingstone Magazine

Patrik, Age 1.5 (2010)

Director: Ella Lemhagen (2010)

This highly underrated Swedish comedy is a gem of LGBTQ cinema, that is rarely reviewed or mentioned. Consequently, finding itself dismissed. However, its ability to dovetail comedy with an important analysis of family life is second to none.

Patrik delicately and humorously delivers a powerful message on the diversity of family. Consequently demonstrating that single sex families can play an important role in the lives and development of at risk young people seeking a home. Ultimately delivering a sweet, unassuming and engaging comedy. While also exploring the power of fostering and adoption in a heartfelt manner.

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 belong with its characters, during a truly unique road movie.

“My body may be a work- in- progress, but there is nothing wrong with my soul.”

Bree (TransAmerica)

Bad Education (2004)

Director: Pedro Almodóvar (2004)

Pedro Almodóvar’s Bad Education is perhaps one his 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. The script focussing on the abuse they suffered at the hands of school priest, and a revenge fantasy journey into both men’s memories.

Almodóvar weaves his story through a maze of Hitchcock like puzzles, never allowing the audience to rest on their laurels. Sexuality sitting front and centre as the roles both men play twist and turn, memories colliding and submerging the viewer in mystery, fantasy and reality.

A Single Man (2009)

Director: Tom Ford (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 partners death. A Single Man exquisitely takes on a journey into one mans exploration of his past and present life, moulding both into a symphony of human emotion and self reflection. The present offering hope and sexual adventure, while the past engulfs the inner most thoughts.

“For the first time in my life I can’t see my future. Every day goes by in a haze, but today I have decided will be different”

George – A Single Man (2009)

Tremors (2019)

Director: Jayro Bustamante (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 his latest film Tremors (Temblores) Bustamante delves into the world of gay conversation therapy, family and faith in a polarised Guatemalan community

Tremors exploration of the interface between sexuality, family, community and religion is both powerful and assured. Providing us with a film that understands how religion is given power and voice through the rules of the community it inhabits. While demonstrating how religion dovetails with community structure. With a focus on the wealth, status and social power it feeds from. 

This is a film where the hypocrisy of the Church, dovetails with charade of the community surrounding it. The division between rich and poor embedded in religious beliefs that only further increase the social divide. While both church and community live in a bubble of self-righteous power, justifying their actions with misguided belief.

Rialto (2019)

Director: Peter Mackie Burns (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 in 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.

Both men’s sexuality is less important than the need for male belonging and attention. The emotional openness of both men distilled into a financial transaction in its advancement.  

The result for both men being a confused relationship of mutual support at a price. Both Tom Vaughan-Lawlor and Tom Glynn-Carney embodying the fear, secrets and need for belonging inherent in the characters they portray. While the interface between Jay and Colm skirts the need for sexual release against the greater need for unconditional male companionship and love.

Matthias and Maxime (2019)

Director: Xavier Dolan (2019)

On a weekend away with longterm friends, Matthias (Gabriel D’Almeida Fritas) and Maxime (Xavier Dolan) loose a bet in a night of drinking, smoking and revelry. The bet involves their commitment to take part in a film being shot by the younger sister of one of their band of brothers. The scene they are asked to perform a sensual kiss; both men reluctantly agreeing while their friends stare through the window. 

This is not the first time the men have kissed, all of those present recalling a rendezvous at party as teenagers. And while Maxime remembers the kiss well, Matthias has pushed any memory firmly to the sidelines of his life. However, what starts as a simple kiss carries more power than either Matthias or Maxime expected. Awakening long suppressed desires and unrequited love as both men lives head in different directions.

Tucked (2019)

Directed by: Jamie Patterson (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 heart felt 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 or 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.

Giant Little Ones (2019)

Director Keith Behrman (2019)

Giant Little Ones defies the normal stereotyped themes of the high school coming out movie. Thus creating a film that understands the modern fluidity of sexuality and experimentation in youth. While never seeking to label its character, creating an aesthetic that feels fresh and different in a sea of similar films. Equally humour is interlaced with drama ensuring the audience feel both the intensity and fun of the teenage journey.

Giant Littles Ones is a film that dares to be different and creative, reflecting the modern journey of sexual discovery for young people in the 21st century. While never succumbing to stereotypes or cliches in the process.

Pariah (2011)

Director: Dee Rees (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)

Director: Nicholas Ray (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 construct, 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 embraces themes of male desire and unrequited love. Long before LGBTQ themes had entered mainstream cinema in America.

Catapulting James Dean to international stardom, while mirroring the eventual cause of his early death, Rebel has earned mythic status in the decades since its release. This is the film that provided a template for teenage filmmaking still in use today.

It’s a zoo. He always wants to be my pal, you know? But how can I give him anything? If he’s — well, I mean, I love him and all that type of stuff, and I-I mean, I don’t want to hurt him. But then, I don’t, I don’t — well, I don’t know what to do any more, except maybe die… If he had guts to knock Mom cold once, then maybe she’d be happy and then she’d stop pickin’ on him, because they make mush out of him, just mush! I’ll tell you one thing. I don’t ever want to be like him. How can a guy grow up in a circus like that?… Boy, if, if I had one day when, when I didn’t have to be all confused, and didn’t have to feel that I was ashamed of everything… if I felt that I belonged someplace, you know?

Jim – Rebel Without a Cause

Actors and Directors appearing in our essential collection include:

Jake Gyllenhaal also appears in The Sisters Brothers, Spider-Man: Far From Home and Wildlife

Jorge Lendeborg Jr. also appears in Spider-Man: Far From Home and Alita: Battle Angel

Katherine Langford also appears in Knives Out

Nicholas Hoult also appears in Tolkien, The Current War and X-Men: Dark Phoenix

Joe Alwyn also appears in Boy Erased

Andrew Haigh (Director) also appears in Coming of Age – The Essential Collection

River Phoenix also appears in Coming of Age – The Essential Collection and River Phoenix – The Essential Collection

Michael Pitt also appears in Coming of Age – The Essential Collection and Horror – The Essential Collection

Björn Andrésen also appears in Coming of Age – The Essential Collection and Horror – The Essential Collection

Félix Maritaud also appears in Sauvage and Knife and Heart

Tilda Swinton also appears in Avengers Endgame and The Souvenir

Timothée Chalamet also appears in Film Festivals, Coming of Age – The Essential Collection, The King and Beautiful Boy

Mahershala Ali also appears in Alita: Battle Angel

Ian McKellen also appears in All is True

Phénix Brossard also appears in Little Joe

Paul Dano also features in Coming of Age – The Essential Collection

Tom Glynn-Carney also features in The King and Tolkien

There are more to great LGBTQ films reviews here…

Further great LGBTQ films to explore…

  • Scorpio Rising (1963)
  • The Terence Davies Trilogy (1983)
  • Caravaggio (1986)
  • A Home at the End of the World (2004)
  • Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
  • C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005)
  • Bound (1996)
  • Mulholland Drive (2001)
  • Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013)
  • Get Real (1998)
  • Paris Is Burning (1990)
  • Paris Was a Woman (1996)
  • Gods and Monsters (1998)
  • Torch Song Trilogy (1988)
  • The Watermelon Woman (1996)
  • Portrait of Jason (1967)
  • But I’m a Cheerleader (1999)
  • Beach Rats (2017)
  • North Sea Texas (2011)
  • Milk (2008)
  • Edward II (1992)
  • I Am Michael (2017)
  • Love, Scott (2018)
  • The Killing of Sister George (1968)
  • Rafiki (2019)
  • Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971)
  • Tangerine (2015)
  • Lilting (2014)
  • Mysterious Skin (2004)
  • Tom of Finland (2017)
  • The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018)
  • The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)
  • The Happy Prince (2018)   

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