LGBTQ cinema has enjoyed a more noticeable presence over the past decade or so, working largely in concert with increased queer visibility and social acceptance. Make no mistake, this is a good thing, but there’s become a yearly ritual among cinephiles in determining any given year’s “gay movie.” You know what I’m talking about. There’s always one queer film that gets talked about, usually chosen in the festival circuit and championed come time for awards, that gets acclaim and recognition at the expense of all others, as if queer folks deserve only one movie a year while straight and cisgender people get—and let me just check my math here—everything else! I’m talking about The Imitation Game, Carol, Moonlight, and this year’s Call Me By Your Name, most of which are great movies in their own right, but the cultural conversation acts as if all the gays got together and decided these to be their sole representative at the movies. There are lots of great LGBTQ-centric films that you aren’t going to see at the Oscars this year, so let me tell you just five that might otherwise slip under your radar.
BPM (Beats Per Minute)
Films about the impact HIV and AIDS have had on the gay community are as old as the original epidemic, and yet they never quite lose their impact in demonstrating the fear and isolation that affected a subculture that world governments would rather have just let die off. BPM is a recreation of the French division of ACT UP’s guerrilla protest activities, starting with a macro perspective on their fight against a major pharmaceutical giant to release their research and collapsing down to a personal level as one member—played by Nahuel Pérez Biscayart in a role that puts some Best Actor frontrunners to shame—copes with the advanced stages of AIDS and his own mortality. BPM is the kind of movie where you pretty much know every beat going into it, but that doesn’t matter because the real pain on display is so potent and within many of our lifetimes.
God’s Own Country
Ask almost any queer person who grew up out in a rural environment, and we’ll tell you the same thing: it royally sucks. The sense of isolation, the conservative messaging that tells you to suppress anything perceived as challenging heteronormativity, the secrecy involved when you inevitably do; it’s all so oppressive. This is what God’s Own Country captures so effectively as it follows a perpetually angry and closeted young man forced to remain on his family farm because his father’s disability prevents them from making a living otherwise. However, when a migrant worker stays with them and the pair discover a mutual attraction, a tense pull between love and shame develops that can either bring two people together or tear them apart. If you like slow, subdued British drama, this is the pick for you.
Thelma is one of the more interesting entries on this list because it is the only one to deal in allegory and metaphor as its primary storytelling devices. Raised in a conservative Christian family, Thelma finds herself exposed to a plethora of new ideas in her first semester at university, including the notion that she is attracted to women. However, along with these burgeoning feelings comes a terrible psychic power that she is not entirely able to control. On the surface, this seems like a cautionary tale on the dangers of lesbianism, but what eventually unfolds is a tale of how a lifetime of repression and conditioning is the primary cause of harm to Thelma and to those around her. Though the allegory doesn’t stick the landing one-hundred percent, Thelma is a fascinating examination of how queer erasure is damaging on individual and social levels.
Beach Rats is one of the most explicit cinematic representations of the interaction between repressed homosexuality and toxic masculinity I’ve ever seen. Following the life of Brooklyn stoner Frankie, we see him hang out with his homophobic friends and pursue a girlfriend while also secretly perusing a gay hook-up site for sex. It’s clear that he sticks by his friends as an act of social preservation, and that his girlfriend is little more than a beard, but interestingly enough these things aren’t clear to Frankie himself, who can’t quite seem to ascribe the gay label to himself. This glimpse at internalized homophobia is absolutely worth seeing, particularly if you have any difficulty grasping the idea of coming out to yourself; it takes some of us a good long while, and the mental gymnastics involved are as impressive as they are sad.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
I’ve already written at length about how important Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is, but it bears repeating: this movie is pretty damn important! Not only is it one of the only explicit representations of casual bisexuality in a major studio film, but it is also perhaps the most affirming film ever made for the polyamorous community. This is a film crafted with love, revolutionary not for reinventing cinematic form but for using existing form to explore underrepresented queer spaces in a way that feels natural and uplifting. This is feel-good filmmaking at its finest, and it’s a travesty that Annapurna Pictures didn’t give this film the For Your Consideration campaign it deserved.
(BONUS) A Fantastic Woman
So, this entry is a bit of a cheat, because more likely than not you’re going to see A Fantastic Woman nominated for Best Foreign Language Film (and unlike other films on this list, I haven’t seen it yet), but considering that The Square is almost guaranteed to beat it, it bears mentioning. Following the trials of a trans woman after the death of her boyfriend, A Fantastic Woman is a look at the invalidation of transgender identity by people who claim to know better than the transgender person, as she is forbidden by her boyfriend’s family from attending funeral services and threatened with eviction from her home without her boyfriend’s protection. This is a film about transphobia justified (inaccurately) as homophobia, and it bears the unique distinction of being headlined by a transgender actress, something that more films claiming to represent transgender experience should take note of in permanent marker.
Obviously, this list isn’t all-inclusive, so if you think I’ve missed any big contenders, sound off in the comments below!