TOP 20 OF 2021

Remember New Year's Eve? When we are all saying "Well thank God 2020 is over?" Well the solution to the world's problems did not come in 2021. So maybe the vaccine programme meant that many countries were able to open up - at least partially - but the cloud of Covid-19 is still hanging low and its impact on the film industry has been felt all year.

 

We finally started seeing cinemas reopening with tentpole blockbusters reappearing in the summer, thanks to James Bond, Marvel and Dune and cinemagoers have returned, even if the way we consume films has changed forever. With consecutive cinema and pay-per-view streaming releases, it seems unlikely that we'll ever return to the traditional cinema-release model. But does it matter? Has the world of cinema become more accessible? Or are we losing that special accessibility of the cinema, only to be replaced by competing streaming services?

 

The Oscars was a dour affair, with minor independent cinema scooping nominations aplenty because there was nothing else eligible to be nominated. And did anyone actually like Nomadland? But as the year draws to a close, it looks like service may have resumed for next year's awards. Thanks God.

And as for LGBT+ cinema? Well, there have been better years. However, some brillant films were released in the UK from all over the world, so let's take a look at the cream of the crop. What were the top 20 LGBT+ movies of 2021? Take a look below...

20. BREAKING FAST

Starring: Haaz Sleiman, Michael Cassidy, Amin El Gamal, Patrick Sabongui

Director: Mike Mosallam

Country: USA

UK Release: Amazon Prime

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Mo is a Muslim doctor living in West Hollywood whose family are completely comfortable with him being gay. When he splits up with his boyfriend, who insists on remaining in the closet, he finds himself at a party where he meets Kal, a hunky actor who speaks Arabic. As it is the month of Ramadan, Mo is eager not to break his vows of abstinence during daylight hours, but Kal is completely understanding. Instead it is his best friend Sam, a non-practicing Muslim, that challenges Mo on how he can reconcile his faith with his sexuality. In its execution, this is a solid rom-com with a wealthy man falling in love in a high-gloss We-Ho world. Its discussions of Islam place it a cut above the usual romantic schmaltz, but it’s still fluffy happily-ever-after rose-tinted idealism. Which is lovely, right?

19. FEAR STREET, PART ONE: 1994

Starring: Kiana Madeira, Olivia Scott Welch, Benjamin Flores Jr., Julia Rehwald, Fred Herchinger

Director: Leigh Janiak

Country: USA

UK Release: Netflix

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In the first instalment of the Netflix film trilogy based on the books by RL Stein, a girl is brutally murdered in the local mall by a man in a skull mask; the latest in a series of murders going back generations. The media proclaim the town of Shadyside the “Murder Capital of the USA”, which the town’s teenagers are convinced is due to the influence of a witch that possesses people and forces them to kill. Soon they begin to realise that supernatural forces may be at play as the murderers of the past begin to haunt the present. This instalment is at its best when it unabashedly tips its hat to the genre conventions it is ascribing to. The skull-faced killer looks and moves exactly like Ghostface from the Scream franchise and its lingering in plain sight before maniacally hurtling towards its victim is the stuff of nightmares that have haunted moviegoers since the ‘90s. But with Skullface dead within minutes of the film’s opening, ghostly conventions replace the simplicity of what looked to be a teen slasher and it’s a shame that we hadn’t been allowed a murder or two more before we head into narrative complexity.

18. THE WORLD TO COME

Starring: Katherine Waterston, Vanessa Kirby, Casey Affleck, Christopher Abbott

Director: Mona Mastvold

Country: USA

UK Release: Bleecker Street

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Abigail lives with her husband in upstate New York in the mid-nineteenth century. Mourning the loss of their young daughter, their lives are monotonous, melancholy and uneventful. That is until the arrival of young couple Tallie and her angry husband, the former of whom Abigail finds herself inexplicably drawn. As their friendship deepens and they dare to cross the line into romance, the pair keep their affair hidden from their respective husbands, only to spark suspicion and resentment inside their homes. Unfortunately the process of getting to the plot past the well-crafted but over-egged atmosphere takes an absolute age. And though the film is a solid piece of period filmmaking that does an excellent job at capturing the essence of the era, the plot is slight and the characters little more than a vessel for massive feelings played out through narration and a few cursory glances and fleeting breathlessness. For fans of an understated romance, this will be like cryptonite. For fans of a jolly good plot, not so much.

17. NOT KNOWING

Starring: Emir Ozden, Senan Kara, Yurdaer Okur, Lèvent Üzümcü

Director: Leyla Yilmaz

Country: Turkey

UK Release: TLA Releasing

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In an anonymous town in Turkey, Umut is committed to his waterpolo team, only to find them turn on him when a bully suspects he might be gay. Meanwhile his parents are too distracted by their marital problems to notice that their son is being torn apart by this betrayal by his friends. As he refuses to confirm or deny their suspicions, his teammates attempt to have him thrown off the team. In this nuanced and well-paced drama, what’s most refreshing is Umut’s insistence that the truth in their accusations are irrelevant. The team insist they have a right to know if he’s gay, but he realises quickly that their minds are already made up and he is object of a witch hunt. Subsequently the film hinges on the notion that it’s society’s notion of homosexuality that breeds homophobia, rather than its reality. As the simmering kettle of Umut’s life whistles to the boil, so too does the tension that is built without any music and hinges on the hyper-realism of its execution on screen. Though it restrains itself from revelling in the narrative’s real dramatic potential, it sits on the right side of a character study, with a good ladle of plot too.

16. CARMEN & LOLA

Starring: Zaira Romero, Rosy Rodríguez, Moreno Borja, Rafaela León

Director: Arantxa Echevarría

Country: Spain

UK Release: Peccadillo Pictures

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Carmen is a seventeen year-old Roma girl, who works for her father on their market stall. Like all the generations before her, she expects to marry young and raise a family within their community. But when she meets Lola, a relative of her intended, ideas of her future are thrown into disarray as she develops feelings for this girl, despite being convinced that lesbianism is wrong. As their relationship blossoms, so too does the dread of knowing how cataclysmic this revelation would be if exposed to their families. This is a sweet romance that places the innocence of their youthful spark counterpoint to generations of tradition. The Roma community are vibrant and full of life, depicted as a beguiling and welcoming society, as long as its members abide by its rules. With all the vim and passion of southern Europe, expect raised voices, Latin flair and a lot of earnest intensity.

15. SHIVA BABY

Starring: Rachel Sennott, Danny Deferrari, Fred Melamed, Polly Draper, Molly Gordon

Director: Emma Seligman

Country: Canada

UK Release: Utopia

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A Jewish family attend a shiva (a wake) of a family friend. Bisexual Danielle spends the afternoon truing not to argue with her parents, avoiding talking to her ex-girlfriend and avoiding bumping into her sugardaddy, who is unexpectedly present with his wife. As the event wears on, the pressure mounts as all of Danielle’s issues come to a head under the watchful eye of her community. With unities of time and place, this film is like a pressure cooker, observing the interactions of the shiva from Danielle’s perspective. A discordant score underpins the action, with unsettling strings signifying the mounting anxiety as she desperately tries to keep the balls of her private life juggling in the air. Even though this is a tried and tested narrative formula, it succeeds with aplomb, depicting both Danielle’s psychological episode and the tangled web of a twenty-first century Jewish community.

14. JUSTINE

Starring: Tallulah Haddon, Sophie Reid, Sian Reese-Williams, Xavien Russell

Director: Jamie Paterson

Country: UK

UK Release: Curzon

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Justine is a young alcoholic on probation with a very troubled past. Living in Brighton, she meets Rachel, a middle-class student who is in the process of trying to relocate to Barcelona to teach English abroad. Rachel is enamoured of Justine, wooed by her free-spirited egotism, but it isn’t long before she begins to realise that this attitude is symptomatic of her self-destructive behaviour. She shoplifts, carries vodka in a water bottle and reacts violently to any provocation she encounters. And though Justine receives therapy as part of her probation, her downward cycle of self-sabotage is a freight train that even Rachel can’t stop. An accomplished study of a dark and damaged young woman, this isn’t your happily-ever-after romance but instead a bleak rumination on addiction and the darkest recesses of habitual self-destruction.

13. SEQUIN IN A BLUE ROOM

Starring: Conor Leach, Simon Croker, Jeremy Lindsay Taylor, Samuel Barrie, Damien De Montemas

Director: Samuel Van Grinsven

Country: Australia

UK Release: Peccadillo Pictures

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Sequin is the screen-name of a sixteen year-old boy, still at high school. Bored in his lessons, he doggedly trawls the apps, hunting for hook-ups. His online persona is one of mystery, arriving in a sequined crop-top that he doesn’t take off as he meets for sex with each and every stranger he meets online. He is invited to an anonymous sex party at a warehouse, where men are living out their fantasies in blue-lit cubicles. The rules are strict: No names. No rules. There, he meets a handsome stranger, as well as being pursued by an older man he has met before, whom he is perturbed to find knows a considerable amount about him, far more than he ever divulged online. What follows is an unsettling thriller, in which the naïve Sequin’s fantasy and real lives collide. This is an incredibly dark coming-of-age drama, which exposes just how easy it is for innocence to be corrupted in the online sphere.

12. THE POWER OF THE DOG

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Kodi Smit-McPhee

Director: Jane Campion

Country: USA

UK Release: Netflix

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Phil Burbank is a ranch owner crossing the Montana countryside with his brother George on a cattle drive. When they stop at a remote inn, their men overrun the property, much to the consternation of its widowed proprietress. Her son Peter endures their derision for his effeminacy, but when she and George are hurriedly wed, Phil begins to soften toward the younger man who harbours a very similar secret to his own. A restrained and subtle film by legendary filmmaker Jane Campion, the drama is all etched into the subtext, which layers rich characterisation over the top of this simple life anchored on a patch of wilderness. The sheer scale of the mountains around them dwarf these little people, with luscious cinematography capturing the grandeur of a vast and mysterious landscape. With a clutch of outstanding performances, it feels authentically harrowing, even though its plot is markedly unsensational. Though decidedly not a fun film, you’ll find yourself magnetised by these damaged and damaging country folk living grim lives in the shadow of vast but stunning mountains. It’s beautiful, for sure, but also incredibly grim.

11. LOLA AND THE SEA

Starring: Mya Bollaers, Benoît Maginel, Sami Outalbali

Director: Laurent Micheli

Country: Belgium

UK Release: Peccadillo Pictures

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Teenage Lola was kicked out of her home by her father because she is trans. Receiving news that her mother has died, she returns to the family home to confront her estranged father, furious that she missed the final days of her illness. When she realises that he intends to scatter the ashes at the coast, she forces herself in his car and refuses to leave. Together, albeit reluctantly, they travel across the country and slowly begin to heal the deep rift in their relationship. A moving portrait of a broken relationship, there is enough heartstring-plucking afoot to make you root for this disparate pair. This is a film about mutual understanding and familial reconciliation. It covers everything in the road trip genre like a checklist (wise strangers - check; spontaneous pitstops - check; claustrophobic arguments in the car - check and check again), but the film is executed flawlessly and rests on two dependably strong performances from its leads.

10. CHARLATAN

Starring: Ivan Trojan, Joraj Loj, Josef Trojan, Jaroslava Pokorná

Director: Agnieszka Holland

Country: Czechia

UK Release: AX1 Films

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Jan is a famed healer who has developed a highly effective form of urinary diagnosis, with which he can pretty accurately determine his patients’ ailments and diagnose them with his own herbal remedies. He relies heavily on his assistant František, with whom he is involved romantically. He learns his craft from the village healer but also develops a sadistic side, which begins to manifest in his dealings with patients, the authorities and his relationship. The director tries to create a rounded biopic of a controversial figure, but hero-worship of him doesn’t always sit well with attempts to show his dark side.

9. SUPERNOVA

Starring: Colin Firth, Stanley Tucci, Pippa Haywood, James Dreyfus

Director: Harry Macqueen

Country: UK

UK Release: BBC Films

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Tusker and Sam have been together for thirty years. When Tusker is diagnosed with dementia, they realise that their lives are going to change beyond recognition. They embark on what is likely to be their final holiday together, driving the British countryside in a campervan and dropping in on Sam’s sister along the way. But as the trip continues, Sam realises that his husband has been keeping a momentous secret from him. What could have been a grim story about a person losing control is instead an empowering and deeply moving film about a person rejecting this disease. Tucci gives a career-best performance as he refuses to give in, stoically presenting a brave face to the illness whose presence he will barely acknowledge. Opposite, Firth is equally magnetic, quietly strong in the face of adversity, doing his best to confidently confront the challenges they are already beginning to face. The narrative doesn’t do anything bold, but it confidently and self-assuredly tells this couple’s story assuming that we will fall in love with them as much as the director has. And we absolutely do.

8. HATING PETER TATCHELL

Director: Christopher Amos

Country: Australia

UK Release: Netflix

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In this documentary, which is a stunning portrait of the man behind the headlines about his activism and controversial techniques, Sir Ian McKellan interviews Tatchell, who is able to relate his life in his own words. With contributions from other leading activists and even ex-Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, this is the definitive retrospective of an illustrious career that is still far from over. It is, of course, a sympathetic portrait, but it’s clear that Tatchell is a man whose life has borne a personal cost for the larger cause he serves. And this documentary is a fitting tribute and outstanding document of his longstanding commitment to the LGBT+ cause.

7. TWO OF US

Starring: Barbara Sukowa, Martine Chevallier, Léa Drucker, Muriel Bénazéraf

Director: Filippo Meneghetti

Country: France

UK Release: Peccadillo Pictures

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Madeleine split from her husband many years ago and lives alone in an apartment, visited often by her daughter, Anne. What the latter doesn’t know is that her mother actually isn’t alone, having been in a relationship with her next-door neighbour Nina for decades. Nina wants Madeleine to tell her family the truth, but before she has the opportunity to, she suffers from a debilitating stroke that leaves her unable to speak or look after herself. Helplessly, Nina watches as Anne struggles caring for her mother. Moving in a cold and unkind nurse to care for her, Anne begins to suspect that there’s something unusual about her mother’s friendship with her neighbour due to her constant presence and meddling in their affairs. There is something truly painful about this tragic love story. The barriers are wholly internal, but in Madeleine’s insistence on staying in the closet, it is her partner who is left to deal with the consequences and not her.

6. OPERATION HYACINTH

Starring: Thomasz Zietek, Hubert Milkowski, Marek Kalita, Adrianna Chlebicka

Director: Piotr Domalewski

Country: Poland

UK Release: Netflix

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Robert is in the Polish militia in the 1980s, where his father is pushing him to climb the ranks. When given the task of solving the murder of a gay man killed while cruising, he realises that his superiors don’t want the truth, just a conviction. But when the police decide that the case is closed, he continues to investigate with the help of Arek, a man he met undercover. His relationship with his fiancé begins to suffer as he plunges deeper down the rabbit hole of the case and his connection with Arek develops. Communist Warsaw is bleak and moody, with the long nights and snowy streets adding noir-esque tension to the smoke-filled rooms and brown-heavy palate. Though the film is a little slow at times, the stale nicotine-stained misery of the normalcy pedalled as “lawful” is bleak enough to make you root for the triumph of individuality. In whatever form that comes.

5. TICK, TICK... BOOM!

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Alexandra Shipp, Robin de Jesus, Vanessa Hudgens, Judith Light, MJ Rodriguez

Director: Lin Manuel Miranda

Country: USA

UK Release: Netflix

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Five years before Jonathan Larson achieved posthumous Broadway superstardom with his unconventional hit Rent, he was a down-and-out failed playwright receiving rejection after rejection. Following the failure of his musical Superbia, he wrote the autobiographical musical three-hander tick, tick… BOOM!, which has now been adapted for the screen by Lin Manual Miranda. For fans of Rent, this film is an absolute treat, filled with tasty Easter-eggs presenting a plethora of the play’s influences. Larson is basically Roger, writing rock ballads about the reality of his life, whose answerphone announces the now famous “Speeeeak!”. Grainy super-8 footage of his childhood is used to create montage, while his friendship with diverse and disparate artsy sorts feels like we’re seeing the real faces behind Mimi, Angel, Collins and the gang. The film looks, smells and feels exactly like a hyper-real version of Larson’s greatest work. Hyper-real, that is, if reality involves everyone breaking into song. Is the story as compelling as Rent’s? No. Are its musical numbers up to the same standard? Again, no, but it’s such an enriching companion piece that it opens up Larson’s style and oeuvre far more than Rent does on its own.

4. THE MAN WITH THE ANSWERS

Starring: Vasilis Magouliotis, Anton Weil

Director: Stelios Kammitsis

Country: Cyprus

UK Release: Peccadillo Pictures

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Viktoras is a competitive diver in Greece, whose career has passed its prime without fulfilling its promise. After the death of his grandmother, he spontaneously decides to leave everything behind and drive to Germany and on the ferry across to Italy, he meets Mathias, a free-spirited German traveller who promises to guide him north if he receives a lift in return. Reluctantly, Viktor agrees, initially finding this talkative stranger an imposition on his solitude. But as they travel the Italian countryside, Viktor begins to feel an attraction to the man who is slowly making him feel at ease with himself, at last. Like all good road trip movies, both men learn much about themselves along the way. The point is not the destination, but instead the journey, and this journey is absolutely stunning, drenched in beauty from both its picture-perfect scenes in Puglia and the Alps and also from its leads, neither of whom are exactly ugly. This is a film selling glorious idealism; hunks falling in love against a picturesque landscape – Brokeback Mountain established that winning formula and if it ain’t broke…

3. I CARE A LOT

Starring: Rosamund Pike, Peter Dinklage, Eiza González, Dianne Wiest, Chris Messina

Director: J Blakeson

Country: USA

UK Release: Amazon Prime

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Rosamund Pike stars as Marla Grayson, a conwoman who gains legal guardianship over wealthy senior citizens. She and her girlfriend gain legal power of attorney over elderly people, convincing a judge that they are no longer able to look after themselves and essentially incarcerate them in a nursing home. They select their victims based on their lack of descendants and think they have found perfect prey in Jennifer Patterson, a retired financier with a large home and no children. But it’s only once their dastardly plan has been enacted and she is firmly confined within the walls of their assisted living facility that they discover she does indeed have a son, who is also a dangerous criminal working with the Russian mafia. And he will stop at nothing to liberate his mother. What follows is a pulse-racing battle of wits between a crime lord and a psychotic control freak, that goes from subtle manipulation to guns drawn in less than twenty minutes. After the film’s sickening first act, it then wanders into fairly standard crime thriller territory, with tit for tat one-upmanship between the two sides. While the craft of this film isn’t necessarily much to write home about, its central theme certainly is and Pike achieves something quite remarkable too. Marla is utterly detestable, but her sexuality wholly incidental. It’s barely even a footnote. Which is great! Even if she’s a really nasty piece of work.

2. EVERYBODY'S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE

Starring: Max Harwood, Sarah Lancashire, Richard E. Grant, Sharon Horgan, Lauren Patel

Director: Jonathan Butterell

Country: UK

UK Release: Amazon Prime

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The movie adaptation of the hugely successful West End musical, Jamie is sixteen and in the final weeks of school before his GCSEs. Despite rejection from his father, peers and teachers too, his best friend talks him into attending their prom in drag. Heading to a local drag store, he meets Hugo, aka. ‘Loco Chanel’, who teaches him the craft of drag and coaxes the name Mimi Me from him. All the theatrical fabulousness that made the stage show such a success is present in the film. With a considerable budget, the musical numbers come alive with lights, sequins, SFX and the result is sumptuous, juxtaposed against the grim normalcy of the terraced houses of Sheffield. Its narrative may be simple, but when all its cogs are turning at full throttle, this is a hurtling freight-train of crowd-pleasing fun with a great big beating heart.

1. SWEETHEART

Starring: Nell Barlow, Jo Hartley, Ella-Rae Smith, Sophia Di Martino, Samuel Anderson

Director: Marley Morrison

Country: UK

UK Release: Peccadillo Pictures

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Seventeen year-old AJ is reluctantly on holiday with her “normal” family. Her father left recently, so her mother is trying to regroup her children again. Her sister is pregnant and doing everything she can to avoid stress, but her husband understands that not everything is easy for the younger sibling, who has recently come out as a lesbian. Shy, retiring and bearing the weight of the world on her shoulders, AJ is insistent that she won’t have a good time on this vacation. That is until she meets Isla, a free-spirited camp employee who slowly coaxes the younger girl out of her shell. A coming-of-age story that sees AJ transform from an abrasive know-it-all to a tender and open young adult, this holiday proves to be far more significant than she could have bargained for. Barlow is magnificent as AJ, hiding behind her long fringe, bucket hat and technicolour aviators. AJ’s story is compelling, moving and full of heart as she transforms from a cold, hard lump of wood into an absolute sweetheart. This is the best British film you’ll see this year.