By Lawrence Ferber
The year 2016 contained some tragic twists and turns, but it’s also been a mighty fine year for LGBT cinema, with true diversity represented in subjects, themes, and the countries of origin. In fact, from new twists on gay coming of age dramas to winking lesbian mystery-comedies to uplifting documentaries, these films serve as a virtual travelogue traversing Europe, South America, Asia, and of course, North America. They also represent exciting new work by both familiar filmmaker names: (André Téchiné’s Being 17) and new breakout talents (Moonlight’s Barry Jenkins), and first-time feature directors (Andrew Ahn of Spa Night).
Here are 12 of 2016’s must-see LGBTQ films, which have screened at festivals, played at movie theaters, and/or appeared on digital streaming and on-demand services. Some films, of course, are still making the rounds while some have wider 2017 debuts scheduled (or are yet to be announced). To get a jump on the latter, we’ve included a handful of movies to watch for next year as well!
MOONLIGHT (www.moonlight-movie.com) U.S.A.
Nominated for five Golden Globes and adapted from Tarell McCraney’s play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, Barry Jenkins’ acclaimed drama comprises three episodes in the life of Chiron, a young gay black Floridian: childhood, adolescence, and mid-20s. Struggling with his drug addicted mother and attraction to a friend who will come to betray him, it’s an achingly emotional, gorgeously shot, superbly acted, and most of all restrained and intimate artwork. It’s been such a success and brought Jenkins so much “ones to watch” attention, that NYC’s Film Society of Lincoln Center has scheduled a 6-day series of films that inspired Jenkins titled Illuminating Moonlight (www.filmlinc.org), from January 4-9. Jenkins will also appear in person on January 5th for a conversation, scheduled between screenings of Moonlight and his 2008 feature debut, Medicine For Melancholy.
DON’T CALL ME SON (www.zeitgeistfilms.com) Brazil
The concept of gender fluidity is getting a lot of attention these days, especially among the younger generations, and 17-year-old Brazilian Pierre exemplifies it. Sexually adventurous and prone to cross-dressing, Pierre is tossed into a dramatic new situation when he learns that his mother had snatched him from a hospital while an infant and, after she’s arrested by authorities, he’s placed in the home of his comparatively uptight, bourgeoisie biological family. Chaos ensues! Subversive and sizzling, writer/director Anna Mylaert’s brisk and gripping queer drama features a wonderfully complex, fiery queer protagonist, placed into a setting that could and probably should ignite.
BEING 17 (www.strandreleasing.com) France
Cannes Film Festival award-winning director André Téchiné’s finest works have revolved around young queer men. Those include must-sees Wild Reeds (1994), The Witnesses (2007), and now Being 17. Co-written by Celine Sciamma, whose 2011 feature Tomboy and 2014 Girlhood also evinced a mastery in depicting youth and queerness, Being 17 charts the uneasy relations between two high school outcasts, Damien and Thomas. Routinely fighting, the pair is forced together when the former’s physician mother takes in the latter, a would-be veterinarian who savors nature and animals, when Thomas’ mother falls ill. An underlying sexual tension emerges, and so does unpredictability—this isn’t your cliché coming out flick, no sir.
THE INTERVENTION (www.facebook.com/theintervention) U.S.A.
Out actress Clea DuVall, known for her roles in 1999’s But I’m A Cheerleader and more recently on HBO’s Veep as the secret service agent lover of First Daughter Catherine Meyer, turned feature director with this The Big Chill-inspired dramedy about a deeply dysfunctional couple whose friends stage an intervention that goes awry. Delightfully, DuVall also reunites here onscreen with Cheerleader co-star Natasha Lyonne as a lesbian couple suffering their own hysterical relationship issues over a frisky bisexual interloper. Their vengeful “kissing war” sequence is one of the year’s funniest.
SPA NIGHT (www.strandreleasing.com) U.S.A.
Living in Los Angeles’ Koreatown, 18-year-old Korean-American, David, is torn between two worlds: his immigrant parents’ traditional culture, repressive Christian religion, and home (where Korean is the sole language spoken), and the English-speaking Western outside world and its personal freedoms and opportunities. When David, reluctantly going to school again, takes a part-time job at a rather cruisy Korean spa, his repressed sexuality finally bubbles up like a Jacuzzi, yet he’s so deeply repressed it’s tough to act on it. One scene, where David flirts with an older white man in a steam room yet jerks back defensively when the fellow reciprocates, says so much, and his aching is as palpable as the heat within. Writer/director Andrew Ahn’s deeply personal debut is at times static in its camera placement, yet urgently compelling as the family’s financial struggles (his parents are forced to shutter their floundering family restaurant in the first scenes), and his own aimlessness and confusion all come to a head at once.
SUITED (www.suiteddoc.com) U.S.A.
Produced by Lena Dunham and aired on HBO in June, director Jason Benjamin’s illuminating documentary revolves around Brooklyn’s Brindle & Keep, a custom tailor shop specializing in clothes for gender-bending individuals. Proprietors Rae Tutera and Daniel Friedman anchor the stories and experiences of six clients, ranging from Aidan, an Arizonan transgender teen seeking a suit for his upcoming Bar Mitzvah, to Jillian, a lawyer in need of a court-ready ensemble to wear for a transgender rights-related case. Sophisticated and sweet and that goes for both the clothing and the film.
CLOSET MONSTER (www.facebook.com/ClosetMonsterMovie) Canada
Handsome yet eccentric Canadian teenager Oscar boasts a vivid imagination, fondness for special effects makeup, and a talking pet hamster whose voice is provided by Isabella Rossellini. Having witnessed a gruesome gay bashing as a child, the 18-year-old has repressed his sexuality, but when he starts working a summer job alongside a beguiling and sexually ambiguous Montrealer, Wilder, that closet may finally unleash what waits within. A colorful and off-kilter twist on the coming out flick from first-time director, 27-year-old Stephen Dunn.
THE HANDMAIDEN (www.handmaidenmovie.com) South Korea
Oldboy director Park Chan-wook’s 1930s South Korea-set take on Sarah Water’s Victoria England-set novel Fingersmith (previously adapted as a 2005 BBC miniseries) sees a con man’s scheme to romance a woman for her riches go wonky when his female accomplice, Sookee, falls for her and the two women form a sexual bond. Stylish, sexy, and intrigue abounds. Pair this with Bound for a cross-cultural double-feature night!
THE PASS (www.youtube.com/watch?v=UdT4t1mRnB0) U.K.
Looking’s Russell Tovey is this indie feature’s big draw, playing a gay soccer player—and boy, does he show off his body here. He also begins a complicated relationship with another player (the equally sexy Arinze Kene), after they share a kiss. This adaptation of John Donnelly’s play opened this month in the U.K. (keep an eye out for its USA playdates in 2017).
WOMEN WHO KILL (www.wwkmovie.com) U.S.A.
Along with Spa Night’s Andrew Ahn, writer/director Ingrid Jungerman was nominated for the Kiehl’s Someone To Watch Award thanks to her delicious contemporary thriller-dramedy about a pair of Park Slope, Brooklyn ex-lovers, Morgan and Jean, who host a podcast series about female serial killers. When the supervisor of their neighborhood food co-op turns up dead, Morgan soon realizes they may be dealing with a serial killer in enigmatic co-op newcomer, Simone. Likened to Woody Allen’s Manhattan Murder Mystery, Jungerman’s debut feature (she previously created the web series F to 7th, which featured Amy Sedaris) is a droll queer romance with a killer twist!
VIVA (www.viva-movie.com) Cuba
Set in Havana, Cuba, Irish director Paddy Breathnach’s audience favorite sees a gay hairdresser, Jesus, supplement his income through prostitution while dreaming of nightclub stardom as a drag queen. When his long-missing ex-con father turns up and moves in, homophobia presents a challenge to the reunion, but their relationship brings gravitas and some rousing revelations, while the glimpses of drag performance prove lifting and colorful. Viva Cuba!
FROM AFAR (www.strandreleasing.com) Venezuela
Directed by Lorenzo Vigas, this Death In Venice-inspired drama snagged the Venice Film Festival’s coveted Golden Lion. In Caracas, 50-something dental prosthetist Armando is a voyeur who pays young men to come home and let him watch them. However, his interest in a rough, crime-prone teenager named Elder goes further than just visual, even after Elder beats and robs him. While ill-advised, Armando only becomes more drawn to the bad news youth, and after some pursuit and sharing, becomes an object of fascination for the young Elder, too.
Films to Watch In 2017
- Be sure to watch out for the latest film from directing team (and life partners) Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau,Theo & Hugo (www.theoandhugofilm.com), in which a pair of men meet at a sex club but grow close when a visit to the hospital follows.
- Uncle Howard (www.facebook.com/unclehowardfilm), a documentary about the short career of gay filmmaker Howard Brookner, who was lost to AIDS in 1989.
- Berlin’s Teddy Winning documentary about today’s LGBTQ youth and vogue ball scene, Kiki (www.kikimovie.com), a spiritual sequel to Paris Is Burning
- The latest gay movie starring James Franco, I Am Michael (www.facebook.com/IAmMichaelMovie), a biopic about XY Magazine’s Michael Glatze, who went from LGBT youth crusader to loathed ex-gay fundamentalist.
- Icelandic director Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson’s feature debut, Heartstone (www.heartstone-thefilm.com) is about a boy coming to grips with his attraction to a friend. This talented filmmaker evinces a supremely observant eye and ear for the pains and tumult of awkward adolescence sexual exploration, creating memorable, personality-driven characters against his country’s gorgeously atmospheric setting.