FROM INDIE QUEER CINEMA TO THE HOLLYWOOD MAINSTREAM, THE PINK LENS PUTS THE DEPICTION OF LGBT+ PEOPLE IN CINEMA IN THE UK UNDER THE MICROSCOPE.
TOP 20 OF 2020
WHAT A YEAR IT HAS BEEN! While the real consequences of the COVID-19 Crisis are yet to be seen on the movie industry, it has certainly been a year like no other for cinemas worldwide. As the world ground to a halt in March, so too did film production and release. Cinemas closed and remained so for most of the year, with only a few studios daring to risk a major release under these unprecendented conditions. With 2021's Oscars postponed until much later in the year, the usual scurry to release key dramas by December did not happen, nor did the usual summer season of blockbusters. But it hasn't been all doom and gloom. With some releases going straight to streaming services as Netflix and peers came into their own, new movies have become much easier to access and, in some cases, found a much wider audience. With tentpole bid-budget films postponed indefinitely, the public - many of whom were still confined to their homes - wanted new cinema and watched releases that they might never otherwise have seen. And so movies from all over the world found a massive international audience, many of which were LGBT+ releases. So let's take a look back on some of the best of them. Here are the Top 20 LGBT+ movies of 2020.
20. THE PROM (USA)
Starring: Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman, Andrew Rannells, Kerry Washington, Keegan-Michael Key, Jo Ellen Pellman, Ariana DeBose
Director: Ryan Murphy
Dee Dee Allen and Barry Glickman are Broadway actors whose new show has been savaged by critics and in an attempt to rehabilitate their image, they hunt for a worthy cause to publically support. They find the story of Emma, a lesbian high school student who has been banned from attending her prom with a girl. They head east and arrive at their school in a flurry of glitz and sequins, to find the prom being blocked by the head of the PTA, who is blissfully unaware that it’s her daughter Emma intends to take as her date. The all-star glitzy movie adaptation from Ryan Murphy of the Broadway show, if feels like High School Musical and Glee had a woke baby, made it watch makeup tutorials and asked it to assemble friends based on their diversity. It is fantastic family fun, with a belting soundtrack and a message that you’ll be happy any teenager will remember. It’s frothy, light and silly, but does a family film have to be so goddamn saccharine sweet?
19. MONSOON (UK)
Starring: Henry Golding, Parker Sawyers, David Tran, Molly Harris
Director: Hong Khaou
Kit remembers little of his early years in Vietnam. After the death of his parents, he has returned to Saigon with their ashes. As he waits for his brother to arrive, he explores the places he frequented as a child with an old friend who is cautious of his long-delayed return. He also meets for a hook-up with American resident Lewis, with whom a romance blossoms and they discuss their mixed feelings toward the country, both from the perspective of the child of a refugee and the child of a soldier from the Vietnam War. The Saigon we see is a concrete jungle of high-rise modern architecture, with wide tree-lined boulevards that feel anonymous and blank. Kit stares wistfully at small patches of undeveloped land crowded with ramshackle huts, seeing in them the country he remembers, but the city’s rebirth is a city arisen from the ashes, even if he can’t see it as such.
18. COCOON (Germany)
Starring: Lena Urzendowsky, Jella Haase, Lena Klenke, Elina Vildanova
Director: Leonie Krippendorff
Nora is fourteen, but spends all of her time with her older sister Jule, who is popular, slim and beautiful. Living in her shadow, she is often the tagalong when Jule goes to parties and hangs out with the street-smart boys of Berlin, floating between tower blocks in the scorching heat of the hottest summer on record. When Nora meets Romy, a free-spirited girl who attracts her attention at school, the romance is sweet because Romy is saving Nora, even if neither of them realise it. The real crux of the story, however – and by far its most compelling strand – is the relationship between the two sisters, bristling with animosity, love and the meaningless bickering that only goes to show how much they care for each other.
17. THE PRINCE (Chile)
Starring: Juan Carlos Maldonado, Alfredo Castro, Gastón Pauls
Director: Sebastián Muñoz Costa del Río
Set during the brutal 1970s regime of Allende in Chile, this is an erotic adventure behind the bars of a prison where who you know is more important than what you did. As Jaime reluctantly finds his feet in the prison, he is immediately monopolised by an older inmate, a powerful gangster known only as “The Stud”, through whom his status rises after he labels him “The Prince”. But when an Argentinian rival arrives, a vicious power struggle ensues between the criminals for his affection. Based on a pulp-fiction novel, the film see-saws between the gritty realism of Midnight Express and the eroticism of Genet’s Un Chant d’Amour. Sexuality is a weapon here, in which Jaime uses his looks as power, steadily growing in narcissism as his profile rises amongst the prisoners. And if this film is to be believed, there isn’t a straight inmate in the jail.
16. 2 COOL 2 BE 4GOTTEN (Philippines)
Starring: Khalil Ramos, Ethan Salvador, Jameson Blake, Ana Capri
Director: Petersen Vargas
Felix is an intelligent high school student in The Philippines who thinks he’s far superior to the rest of his classmates. When the Snyder brothers arrive at his school, he thinks he’s finally met people on his wavelength. Half-American, the brothers hate the school, the small town where they live and their mother, who used to work as a prostitute. Felix is completely enamoured with Magnus, but daunted by Max, whose dangerous behaviour and controversial ideas he finds both unnerving and magnetic. The film starts out feeling like a romance, but in reality, this is a thriller, in which the relationship between the three boys spirals out of control. As Max becomes more and more frantic in his attempts to convince his absent father to take him back to America, Felix’s desperation to deepen his friendship with Magnus becomes all the more fraught by just how much is at stake for them all. This is a strong but tragic coming-of-age thriller, with a trio of strong performances at its heart, even if its title makes it seem like an early 00s chatroom anecdote.
15. NO HARD FEELINGS (Germany)
Starring: Benny Radjaipour, Benafshe Hourmazdi, Eidin Jalali
Director: Faraz Shariat
Parvis is a Millennial living in Hannover, the son of Iranian parents. After being caught shoplifting, his sentence of community service takes him to a refugee shelter where he meets sibling Amon and Banafshe, who have recently arrived from Iran. The three quickly spark up a friendship, but when the two boys’ relationship develops into something deeper, outside events begin to threaten their newfound happiness together. This is a tremendously moving portrait about asylum, as well as a slick and modern contemplation on nationality and culture. With a booming electro soundtrack, a neon-drenched palate and chic urban costumes, this is not a naval-gazing film about self-pity and melancholic reflection on the past. These characters live firmly in their present, which embraces the opportunity of their new home, but holding firmly onto their origins.
14. SIBERIA AND HIM (Russia)
Starring: Ilya Shubochkin, Viatcheslav Kopturevskiy, Anastasia Voskresenskaya
Director: Viatcheslav Koptureskiy.
Billed as the Russian Brokeback Mountain, we follow two men from a small town as they cross Siberia together. Sasha is struggling with depression, feeling ostracised from society by his sexuality. He’s been having an affair with Dima, his brother-in-law, but feeling guilty for the sake of his sister and worthless for being forced to hide in the shadows. As the two men cross the wilderness together to visit his grandmother, their feelings are far outweighed by outside pressures as tensions mount and tragedy looms. The film is littered with stunning vistas filmed on location in Siberia. You’ll positively drink them as the camera slowly pans around the bleak but majestic landscape. These two souls wandering the vast frozen North seem insignificant in comparison, but are both wrestling with such enormous problems that their story seems utterly monumental. There is such an earnest solemnity about them that there’s no doubting the gravitas they carry.
13. PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE (France)
Starring: Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel, Luàna Bajrami, Valeria Golino
Director: Céline Sciamma
Marianne is a young painter employed by an Italian noblewoman to surreptitiously paint a portrait of her daughter Héloïse, which is to be sent to a Milanese suitor who had been poised to marry her now-deceased sister. The family is counting on his wealth to keep them afloat, but the benefactor will only agree to the match if he likes the portrait. Héloïse, however, refuses to sit for it, rebelling against her lack of choice over the matter. Marianne poses as a walking companion, who takes her to the beaches that surround the lofty house in Brittany, in order to study her and transfer what she sees onto canvas later in the day. But as the two begin to forge a deep bond, Marianne finds it very difficult to continue lying to the girl she is quickly falling for. The film’s most striking feature is its luscious cinematography, which beautifully captures the wildness of the North French Coast, as the wind-whipped sea crashes onto the rugged coastline against gloriously blue skies.
12. BITTER YEARS (Italy)
Starring: Nicolo Di Benedetto, Sandra Ceccarelli, Antonio Catania, Tobia De Angelis
Director: Andrea Adriatico
In this biopic about Mario Mieli, the man behind the Italian Revolutionary Homosexual United Front, a Quentin Crisp-type figure, whose androgyny and caustic wit means he can thrive in a world that is so antagonistic to gay men. Nicolo Di Benedetto gives a remarkable performance and looks uncannily similar to this controversial figure. An impressive biopic, this does well to inform a foreign audience ignorant of his fame as well as pay homage to a beloved - but often-maligned - figure. Above all, this is a movie about shame, instilled in Queer people before they know who they are.
11. AND THEN WE DANCED (Georgia)
Starring: Derren Nesbitt, Jordan Stephens, April Pearson, Steve Oram
Director: James Patterson
Merab is a dancer in the National Georgian Ensemble. Taking tremendous amounts of self-discipline and control, those lacking in commitment are cast out, like Merab’s brother whose nightly partying and loose morals lead to his dismissal from the troupe. Despite this, Merab is riding high with his dance partner since childhood, Mary, who is also considered by everyone else his girlfriend. Cue the arrival of Irakli, a handsome newcomer to the troupe, whose talent leads to feelings of jealousy and maybe something even more intense that Merab doesn’t understand. As the two of them become close, we hear stories of other gay people whose lives have been destroyed by their sexuality, which casts a long shadow over his sexual awakening. And, of course, the tall dark stranger has his own secrets too, illustrating just how difficult it is to be gay in Georgia.
10. SOCRATES (Brazil)
Starring: Christian Malheiros, Tales Ordakji, Jayme Rodrigues, Vanessa Santana
Director: Alexandre Moratto
Socrates is fifteen years old and living on the breadline in a São Paulo suburb. After he discovers his mother’s corpse, Socrates decides not to tell anyone about his mother’s death and to try to cover for her at work and earn wages in her place. But as his landlady demands money and people from all angles take advantage of his youth, he is forced to go to extreme measures to survive. Director Alexandre Moratto formed a crew for his movie from 16-20 year-olds from impoverished neighbourhoods, as well as casting unknown actors as his leads. The result is a striking piece of neo-realism in which Socrates is forced to extreme lengths to sate his immediate needs, while also exploring his sexuality.
9. SUMMER OF '85 (France)
Starring: Félix Lefebvre, Benjamin Voisin, Philippine Velge, Valeria Bruni Tadeschi, Melvil Poupaud
Director: François Ozon
It is the summer of 1985 and sixteen year-old Alex capsizes his sailboat off the coast of Northern France. The handsome and charismatic David is nearby and rescues him from the water, taking him home to clean up. The boys’ relationship develops into something much deeper, with Alex becoming completely obsessed with the older boy. The early days of their relationship are heavenly, until a British au pair arrives and distracts David’s attention, planting a toxic seed of jealousy between them. From the outset, Ozon layers a foreboding voiceover onto the beautifully filtered sun-drenched vistas, warning of corpses, death and guilt to come. The narrative pendulums between past and present, where Alex has been arrested and social workers talk of the crime he has committed. It feels like we’re watching the prelude to a revenge thriller, with tension building around the seemingly blissful sun-drenched couple, stumbling unwittingly into their fate.
8. UNCLE FRANK (USA)
Starring: Paul Bettany, Sophia Lillis, Peter Macdissi, Steve Zahn, Judy Greer, Margo Martindale
Director: Alan Ball
Beth has grown up in South Carolina loving when her Uncle Frank visits from New York, who has always been the person who understood her most. She doesn’t understand why her grandfather is so cruel to him, but when she moves to New York she meets Wally, who she soon discovers is her uncle’s partner of ten years. It doesn’t take her long to accept Frank for who he is, but when there is a family bereavement, they all head back to their hometown, trying desperately to keep Frank’s secret concealed from the family matriarch. Bettany gives a career-best performance here, oozing with effortless charisma before regressing into a seething ball of neuroses. The film is a good balance of a character piece and a well-paced kitchen sink drama, with all the hall-marks of a master screenwright at its helm.
7. THE HALF OF IT (USA)
Starring: Leah Lewis, Daniel Diemer, Alexxis Lemire, Wolfgang Novogratz
Director: Alice Wu
Ellie is a high-achieving school geek who writes essays and assignments for her classmates for cash. When football jock Paul asks her to do a different type of assignment for him – to write love letters to Aster, the girl of his dreams – she is sceptical, feeling that she knows nothing about love. But when she begins to notice that Aster is actually far more than just a pretty face, she agrees and begins a correspondence with her that sparks her own romantic feelings. This is a classic narrative repackaged for a twenty-first century audience. This is also a teen movie that glorifies intelligence and wit. Narratively it doesn’t reinvent the wheel with this umpteenth retelling of the Cyrano de Bergerac story, but it is also absolutely one of the strongest teen movies released in recent years.
6. GIANT LITTLE ONES (Canada)
Starring: Josh Wiggins, Darren Mann, Taylor Hickson, Maria Bello, Kyle MacLachlan
Director: Keith Behrman
Franky and Ballas have been best friends since childhood. Members of the same swim-team, they do everything together and physical contact is a normal part of their daily lives. Then, after a lot of alcohol at Franky’s seventeenth Birthday party, their friendship turns sexual, albeit only briefly. As both try to come to terms with what’s happened, both begin to lash out in entirely different ways. An attractive film that glorifies life in the suburbs like a good John Hughes movie, its early scenes revel in the teen experience with a thumping soundtrack and party scenes that make Skins look tame. Its editing is also daring in jump-cutting to after an event happens, enjoying its aftermath rather than the act itself. As a result, this is a rather unusual film about teenage sexuality because it doesn’t feel any need to show it whatsoever. Which in 2020, is unusual.
5. THE BOYS IN THE BAND (USA)
Starring: Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer, Andrew Rannells, Charlie Carver, Robin de Jesús, Brian Hutchison, Michael Benjamin Washington, Tuc Watkins
Director: Joe Mantello
In the 2020 remake of the classic movie and play, producer Ryan Murphy has reassembled the all-star cast of its 2018 Broadway revival for its fiftieth anniversary. Michael, a recovering alcoholic, is hosting a Birthday party for his bitter friend Harold. His friends have all come, where they dance, sing and celebrate, but the mood is spoiled by the arrival of Michael’s college roommate who doesn’t know that he’s gay. Set in 1968, the group initially try to hide who they are, as tempers fray and cracks appear in their friendships. The acting fully redeems a flawed script, but it also looks absolutely gorgeous. Michael is genuinely complex and Parsons is mesmerising as our protagonist who crumbles beneath his internalised shame. The film’s flaw comes from the same flaw that belittles the play. The entire latter half revolves around a cruel party game, initiated by Michael, that feels like a crude narrative device aimed to make these men all have their moment to weep on-stage. It’s an ensemble drama that unfortunately feels like emotion-by-numbers.
4. LITTLE GIRL (France)
Director: Sébastien Lifshitz
In this French documentary we meet 7 year-old Sasha, who has always known that she’s a little girl, even though she was born a boy. It’s the summer holidays, but as she prepares to go back to school, her doting mother is fraught with worry about how the world will react when she returns presenting as female. We observe this family through this painful and tumultuous period as decisions are made that will affect Sasha for the rest of her life. Director Lifshitz has developed a remarkable amount of trust with his subjects, capturing the reality of their lives so adeptly that if it wasn’t for the direct to-camera interviews, you would question whether this is a documentary at all.
3. MOFFIE (South Africa)
Starring: Kai Luke Brummer, Ryan de Villiers, Matthew Vey, Stefan Vermaak, Hilton Pelser
Director: Oliver Hermanus
Nicholas is a white teenager in 1980s South Africa. War has broken out with Angola and all young men over the age of sixteen have to be conscripted to serve in the South African Defence Force for two years by law to defend the apartheid government. Immediately after his sixteenth birthday he is sent to train, where he is overwhelmed by the machismo world of dog-eat-dog showmanship as well as the extraordinarily explicit contempt for both people of colour and gays. While the other recruits revel in their membership of the dominant hegemony, Nicholas is aware that his compliance is pretence, knowing that he too is an “other”. This is a perfectly judged film, with its narrative drenched in conflict, prejudice and endurance, underpinned by a gloriously understated performance from Brummer, in which we see a steely determination to survive, whatever the costs.
2. DISCLOSURE (USA)
Director: Sam Feder.
This documentary looks back on the cinematic cannon to unpick how on-screen depictions of trans people has reflected their real-life experience and vice versa. And I cannot understate how important a movie this really is. Giving us a linear narrative from the earliest gender non-conforming characters on film right until the present day, it’s the commentary from trans people alongside it that rings the truest, because you see the dots joined for the very first time about how the lack of positive representation on screen has directly impacted their lives. The film has done its research and carefully plotted cause and effect, securing input from the most eminent voices on the topic in the industry. It is the complete compendium of how we got to where we are today and it’s fascinating to see cinema through this lens for the very first time.
1. MAKE UP (UK)
Starring: Molly Windsor, Joseph Quinn, Stefanie Martini
Director: Claire Oakley
Ruth has left home to live with her boyfriend at the caravan park where he works in Cornwall. The couple are vying to to stay over-winter as the deserted park’s caretakers, but she soon begins to suspect him of having an affair with a friendly and charismatic coworker. Her suspicions turn to obsession as her quest for the truth turns into a voyage of self-discovery as she is reluctantly drawn to the person she wants to hate. This story of distrust becomes much more about the awakening of her own feelings, manifest through a multitude of horror-sequence trickery; jump scares, body mutilation woven alongside elongated sequences of painfully rising tension. Director Oakley is a name to watch, because this is clearly the debut of a true auteur. You simply have to watch this film.