TOP 20 OF 2023
2023 has been a difficult year both in the UK and around the world. With the Cost Of Living Crisis rumbling on, people everywhere have been struggling to make ends meet. The Ukraine War has continued, while Hamas’ barbaric terrorist attack in Israel on 7th October led to the war in Gaza that still rages now. Meanwhile, AI has arrived in the public consciousness, King Charles III was coronated, Twitter became X, the government’s incompetence was exposed in the Covid Inquiry and Sunak asked us to judge him on five targets he set himself… only to fail four of them.
In cinema, the summer was dominated by Barbenheimer; the peculiar decision to release the year’s two biggest movies (Barbie and Oppenheimer) on the same day. Franchises continued to prove box office magic, with Mission: Impossible and Marvel releasing some of the biggest hits of the year, as well successful reboots for Indiana Jones and The Hunger Games. Disney’s live action The Little Mermaid was a commercial success, but much less so with critics, while Ridley Scott’s Napoleon was panned for showing an Anglo-biased depiction of France’s greatest hero. But at least Wonka brought some sparkle to the end of the year.
The Oscars refreshingly saw last year’s Everything Everywhere All At Once triumph, winning seven awards including Best Picture, Director, Actress for Michelle Yeoh and awards in both Supporting categories. Meanwhile, Brandon Fraser won Best Actor for The Whale. At Cannes, French movie Anatomy Of A Fall won the Palme d’Or, while Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone Of Interest won the Grand Prix, both of which look to be big players for next year’s Oscars, alongside Scorsese’s Killers Of The Flower Moon and Oppenheimer.
In LGBT+ cinema, there were much fewer big movies released with prominent LGBT+ characters than last year. As a result, the strongest Queer movies of the year are independent films, many of which come from the UK. Femme, Blue Jean and Saltburn were all critical successes, showcasing some of the best of British talent. Ira Sachs’ Passages was a career-best movie, while Rotting In The Sun has introduced us to exciting young director Sebastián Silva. Meanwhile, Emma Seligman’s Bottoms became a sleeper hit with her second collaboration with Rachel Sennott.
So what were the 20 best LGBT+ movies of 2023? Keep reading to see my picks!
20. RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE
Starring: Taylor Zakhar Perez, Nicholas Galitzine, Uma Thurman, Stephen Fry
Director: Matthew López
UK Release: Amazon Prime
Alex is the son of the US President. He has a long-standing rivalry with the British Prince Henry, but when the two accidentally create a tabloid scandal at a royal wedding, the rivals are forced to pretend that they are best friends for the press in an attempt to smooth over the damage. Though they initially struggle to hide their animosity, they soon begin to realise that they have more in common than they initially thought and an unexpected attraction builds between them. This is the stuff of pure fan-fiction fantasy, but there is something genuinely compelling about the idea of both a gay prince and a gay First Son, with plenty of dramatic potential for exploring the consequences. As light romantic entertainment, this succeeds on many levels, but in representing the mechanisms of trans-Atlantic government it stumbles at the first hurdle. Romantic, frothy, sexy and fun, this is a delightfully saccharine diversion, but its only real substance comes from the connection between its picture-perfect heroes.
19. KNOCK AT THE CABIN
Starring: Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge, Dave Bautista, Rupert Grint, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Kristen Cui
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
UK Release: Universal Pictures
Couple Eric and Ben are staying at a cabin in the woods with their daughter. Their holiday is interrupted when a group of armed strangers, demand that they make a choice that could prevent the oncoming apocalypse. However the invaders are a disparate group of strangers; ordinary people brought together by mysterious visions about the upcoming end of the world. But can they convince this young family to make the ultimate sacrifice to save the world? This is pretty typical Shyamalan pulp fiction. An ambitious idea that doesn't quite deliver, you'll buy into its premise only to find holes that a stronger screenwriter could easily have plugged. And though its cast behave like they're in a better film, Knock At The Cabin isn't greater than the sum of its parts.
18. THE LOST BOYS
Starring: Khalil Ben Gharbia, Julien De Saint Jean, Eye Haidara
Director: Zeno Graton
UK Release: Peccadillo Pictures
Joe is living in a juvenile detention centre. Due for release very soon, his yearning for freedom is confused by the arrival of William, an earnest and darkly appealing young man with whom he shares an intense animal attraction. It isn’t long until Joe is bewildered about his future, knowing that he doesn’t want to remain imprisoned but similarly not wanting to be parted from this boy with whom he shares so much. Seeped in social commentary, this is a very sympathetic film to those trapped within the system. The entire group of boys is disenfranchised, frustrated and angry, but because they are so young, it feels much easier to look past their history and see a human face. Dark, gritty and filled with hopelessness, this is a tragic and sad coming-of-age movie that turns the genre on its head.
Starring: Gerhard Liebmann, Luka Dimic, Julia Koschitz
Director: David Wagner
UK Release: Peccadillo Pictures.
Sergeant Major Eismayer is a notoriously strict training officer in the Austrian military. Known for pushing recruits to their physical limits, he is detested and feared in equal measure having drilled thousands of young soldiers; making some but breaking others. However, he’s taken off-guard by Falak, an openly gay recruit who is completely unfazed when his comrades try to use his sexuality as a weapon against him. Eismayer is secretly gay too - with a wife and son - but he doesn’t know how to respond to this refreshingly strong and authentic young man. There is toxic masculinity plastered across the film, but it’s fascinating to see the soft underbelly of an iron behemoth as he reconciles his identity with his masculinity, especially as he clunkily attempts to seduce his handsome recruit. The story might be simple but the characters are expansive, with both of its leads delivering knock-out performances.
16. LIE WITH ME
Starring: Guillaume de Tonguédec, Victor Belmondo, Jérémy Gillet, Julien de Saint Jean
Director: Olivier Peyon
UK Release: Peccadillo Pictures
When famed writer Stéphane returns to Cognac, his home town, he meets Lucas who he soon realises is the son of his – now deceased – teenage love, Thomas. As the young man begins to learn the truth about his father, the older novelist is haunted by the memory of his first love, for whom great tragedy befell over the thirty-five years since they parted. Part French coming-of-age drama, part tragic-nostalgia, it delicately interweaves romance, tragedy, reflection, and longing. A moving gut-punch of lost love, this is an exceptionally sad – but life-affirming – reflection on the way life used to be.
Starring: Franz Rogowski, Ben Whishaw, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Erwan Kepoa Falé
Director: Ira Sachs
UK Release: MUBI
At the wrap party for his latest film, Tomas impulsively sleeps with Agathe, having never had sex with a woman before. He expects his husband, Martin, to be supportive of him exploring this newfound part of his sexuality, but in reality he is anything but. And as this experimentation turns into a full affair, the couple begin to separate. But Tomas is completely torn about what he wants, unable to choose between his husband and his girlfriend, leaving both deeply hurt and maddened by his continuing self-destruction. This is a narrative we have seen countless times from the opposite angle, but a film about a gay man having a “straight crisis” with a woman has to be a first. As such, this is a progressive and deeply moving character drama about the kind of problem that really doesn’t fit into a binary view of the world. This is a brilliantly acted and sparingly composed film that succeeds in bringing this extraordinary issue politely to the screen with real emotional intelligence. This is unquestionably Sachs’ best film to date.
14. THE FIVE DEVILS
Starring: Adèle Exarchopoulos, Swala Emati, Sally Dramé, Moustapha Mbenge
Director: Léa Mysius
UK Release: MUBI
Eight-year-old Vicky has a superhuman sense of smell, able to identify any scent and track a person using only her nose. She lives with her faded-athlete mother, Joanne, and emotionally distant father. The equilibrium of their home is upended by the return of her Aunt Julia, who hasn’t seen her brother in a decade and who had left their village in the French Alps in disgrace. Told through a dreamlike and fragmented narrative, we slowly learn of the true nature of Joanne and Julia’s prior relationship, and so does Vicky, whose powers do not stop just at the olfactory. This is a seriously tense film, with a dark and brooding sense of dread throughout. With a brilliant soundtrack and heightened score, the sparse script is complimented by bleak grey cinematography, with the characters dwarfed by the behemoth mountains above them.
Starring: Rachel Sennott, Ayo Edebiri, Ruby Cruz, Havana Rosie Liu, Kaia Gerber, Nicholas Galitzine, Miles Fowler
Director: Emma Seligman
UK Release: MGM
Set in a typical US high school, PJ and Josie are derided as the outcast and uncool queer kids. In an attempt to ingratiate themselves with the cheerleaders that they want to sleep with, they set up a fight club to teach young women how to defend themselves. But they’re not expecting that their club will become an instant hit, or that their role as leaders will come under intense scrutiny too. On paper, this looks like a standard – albeit very Queer – high school comedy. But that wouldn’t take into account its extremely dry and observational script that’s placed counterpoint to an absurdist plot and hugely overblown characters. Its jokes are risqué, foul-mouthed and cultural, but if its one-liners are lost on some, its farcical scenarios are absolutely not. Because with the establishment of a fake fight club, it is of course inevitable that they will eventually be in a situation where they have to fight. The inevitable fulfilment of this impending disaster takes up the entire final act, with climactic ultraviolence that would make Tarantino proud. And it’s here that you’ve got to really buy into its style. Yes, this looks and smells and feels like an American high school, but this is absurdism first and foremost.
12. THE INSPECTION
Starring: Jeremy Pope, Gabrielle Union, Bookem Woodbine, Raúl Castillo, McCaul Lombardi
Director: Elegance Bratton
UK Release: A24
Ellis French is a 25 year-old who has been living in abject poverty since his mother kicked him out when he was 16 because of his sexuality. In 2005, a decade on, he decides to enlist in the marines, both to rescue himself from the streets and to seek reconciliation with his mother. With the US military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in full swing, he suffers rejection from his comrades as soon as they begin to suspect that he’s gay. With a bullying commanding officer and a toxic peer to deal with alongside the intense misery of bootcamp training, his only ally seems to be a kindly superior, with whom he appears to share a bond. Crisp cinematography and an unrelenting score, underpin this nuanced character piece that finds beauty in the mud, sweat and strain. It finds equilibrium between the military’s attractions and horrors, compiling a subtle narrative anchored by a rounded and painfully human protagonist.
Starring: Tim Roth, Jordan Oosterhof, Conan Hayes
Director: Welby Ings
Country: New Zealand
UK Release: Peccadillo Pictures
In rural New Zealand, young boxer Jim is preparing for his first professional fight. While out training, a gay Maori boy with whom he shares an instant connection. Even though they are from vastly different walks of life, Jim begins to realise that they have more in common than he thought as they spend their days in Whetu’s beach hut, avoiding Jim’s alcoholic father. Jim is the Gen Z Everyman within his isolated community. This is one where hypermasculine brutes drive their trucks to buy six-packs and crush the cans against their skulls. Jim should have been a part of that world, but what makes this film so pleasing is to see a young man - masculine, boyish and strong - opt for the softness he finds in a rustic hut, hidden from the harsh world outside. This contrast is what really makes this film. Drenched in the cold light of the seashore, these two opposites find themselves in each other. And alongside them, we fall in love with them both.
Starring: Eden Dambrine, Gustave De Waele, Émilie Dequenne, Léa Drucker
Director: Lukas Dhont
UK Release: MUBI
In the rural Belgian countryside, thirteen year-old boys Léo and Rémi have been best friends since infancy. They are exceptionally close, spending all their waking time together and sleeping at each other’s houses. On the first day of high school, the pair are placed in the same class, which initially seems like a blessing; except when their affectionate body language is witnessed by others, their classmates ask if they are a couple. Léo is uncomfortable with this scrutiny, pushing Rémi away and causing a string of arguments and fights. As this rejection turns to tragedy, Léo is left bereft by the consequences planted by this seed of suspicion. A hyper-real film that refrains from using music or any cinematic trickery, it relies instead on the acting of its young leads and Dhont’s skill at capturing organic moments of childhood pain.
Starring: Josh Lavery, Daniel Gabriel, Anni Finsterer, Ian Roberts
Director: Craig Boreham
UK Release: Peccadillo Pictures.
Casey is a country boy from the outback, arriving in Sydney for the very first time. Homeless and unemployed, he is running from a scandal at home, hoping to start a new life by meeting people through hookup apps. One of his meets is Tib, a sweet but damaged boy who agrees to give him a sofa to sleep on and a part-time job to help pay his way. A wildly erotic and sexually charged film, the lens positively drinks the impossibly handsome Josh Lavery, who spends much of the film in stages of undress. Dark, dirty and proudly sexy, there is a breathless sensuality too, hidden beneath the cold composition of rampant sex. Lavery carries the film, but it’s pulled together by a self-assured director who knows exactly how to frame a muscular skinhead cowboy and make us all want to look after him.
8. IT IS IN US ALL
Starring: Cosmo Jarvis, Rhys Mannion, Claes Bang, Antonia Campbell-Hughes
Director: Antonia Campbell-Hughes
UK Release: Wolfe
Hamish is the supercilious heir to his father’s business empire. Following the death of his estranged aunt, he arrives in Ireland’s County Donegal to sell the house that she left to him, but en route is involved in a fatal car accident that kills a local boy. Seriously wounded, he discharges himself from hospital to find that everyone in the community knows who he is and what he did, but when seventeen year-old Evan - who was also involved in the accident – tries to befriend him, Hamish is torn between his current life and his roots. Played against the stark and bleak backdrop of the northern Irish coast, the landscape is dark and brooding against cloud-heavy skies. A melancholic squall of austerity, this film is less a storm of emotion, but more a long hard rain.
Director: Agniia Galdanova
UK Release: Dogwoof
A documentary that follows Russian performance artist Gena Marvin during a fascinating period. We meet her as she makes political statements with the aesthetic of peak Lady Gaga and the daring of Pussy Riot, but her life begins to crumble around her as a consequence. Expelled from university, she is forced to work in a fish factory with her bigoted grandfather, all the while suffering daily abuse on the streets of Russia from strangers and family alike. And it’s all caught on film. On the one hand, this is a documentary that proudly showcases a fearless politically focused artist. On the other, this is a compelling primary source on history coming from within a regime that really doesn’t want the world to see its truth. Together, these two strands form a remarkable film that weave empowerment with unsettling tension and artistry with pure barbarism.
6. ROTTING IN THE SUN
Starring: Sebastián Silva, Jordan Firstman, Catalina Saavedra
Director: Sebastián Silva
UK Release: MUBI
Director Sebastián Silva plays himself, as a suicidal filmmaker struggling to find inspiration in a world he feels disconnected from. At a sex party at a beach he encounters social media influencer Jordan Firstman (again playing himself) and he’s cajoled into committing to collaborate with him on a TV series. Although reluctant, he soon finds himself beguiled by the TikTok-er’s considerable charm, but as they tentatively begin a working relationship, Sebastián vanishes and Jordan is left to find out where he went. Talking to his maid, Vero, he soon realises that she knows much more than she is letting on. What’s probably most striking about this film is just how un-sexily explicit it is. You see more penises in the first fifteen minutes than you would normally on screen for several years. The film adeptly captures the desensitisation of gay men toward sex, drugs and scandal. This feels like a real watershed moment for Queer Cinema. We’ve become so used to high-spec filmmaking that this rough and raw indie curveball has gleefully smashed through our Everest window to draw our attention to this spicy, hot mess.
Starring: Ali Junejo, Alina Khan, Rasti Farooq, Salmaan Peerzada
Director: Saim Sadiq
UK Release: Studio Soho
In Lahore, Haider lives in a large home with his extended family. He has been unemployed for two years, but when he begins to get creative with the avenues he explores for work, he finds himself with a job as a back-up dancer at the local erotic theatre. Without any training, experience or talent, he is taken under the wing of Biba, a trans dancer to whom he finds himself enamoured. But as he lies about his new life, it is only a matter of time before his wife and family find out about his career and love affair. A tender story that feels like a novel in its minute detail, this is a film about self-discovery in a place where self-discovery can be dangerous. The Rana family is big, reticent and typical, so the rebirth of Haider within this makes for exceedingly compelling viewing.
4. THE WHALE
Starring: Brandon Fraser, Sadie Sink, Hong Chau, Ty Simpkins, Samantha Morton
Director: Darren Aronofsky
UK Release: A24
In a career-best and Oscar-winning performance, Brendan Fraser stars as Charlie, a reclusive 600lb English professor who teaches online. Having gained weight following the death of his boyfriend, he is cared for by Liz, a nurse who is also his only friend. Refusing to go to hospital, he is at extreme risk of heart failure. Knowing that his time is limited, Charlie tries to reconnect with the teenage daughter that he abandoned when she was eight after he left her mother for a man. Over the course of five days, these four characters come and go in Charlie’s dingy and claustrophobic world, forcing him to confront all the loose ends of his tragic life. Fraser has been completely transformed with prosthetics, with suits weighing 300lbs. There is a real authenticity to his role; a kind-hearted but extremely damaged man whose Achilles heel has become his downfall. It might be the director’s most restrained film, but there’s beauty in its subtlety and horror in its nuance. Simply put; this is a feast of a film.
Starring: George MacKay, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Aaron Heffernan, John McCrea
Directors: Sam H. Freeman, Ng Choon Ping
UK Release: Signature Entertainment
Jules is a drag artist and following a performance one night, he enters a convenience store in drag. There he encounters brutish thug Preston and his friends, who subject him to a savage attack on the street, leaving him bleeding, naked and traumatised. Several months later, Jules is in a gay sauna and, to his shock, encounters Preston again. Not recognising him out of drag, Preston invites his victim home with him. Though scared, Jules begins to see the perfect way to enact his revenge, beginning a series of encounters that send the pair deeper down the rabbit hole of double-crossing, huge secrets and a whole bouquet of lies. Stewart-Jarrett is compelling as Jules, but George MacKay is nothing short of remarkable. The actor’s transformation into tattooed and bloodthirsty yob is utterly convincing. With all the swagger, fury and bravado of a volatile London gangster, he is a wildly intense and deeply unsettling character, delivered in a disquieting magnetic performance. This is a perfect genre movie, delivering every aspect of an erotic thriller with aplomb. Dark, sumptuous, chilling and sexy, this is a delectable watch and the kind of movie that is so rarely made nowadays.
2. BLUE JEAN
Starring: Rose McEwen, Kerrie Hayes, Lucy Halliday, Lydia Page
Director: Georgia Oakley
UK Release: Altitude
Jean is a young PE teacher at a school in Tyneside in the 1980s but ferociously maintains her privacy at work, where none of her colleagues know that she is now in a relationship with a woman. One weekend she bumps into one of her students in a gay bar, going immediately into preservation mode, assuming that her secret is soon to be revealed. And though she could easily protect the girl from the homophobia she suffers at school, Jean must decide whose interests to put first. A tense and atmospheric period piece, the film revolves around a remarkable performance from its star. Masterfully composed and richly executed, this is a cautionary smorgasbord of painful truths about Britain’s educational past.
Starring: Barry Keoghan, Jacob Elordi, Rosamund Pike, Richard E. Grant, Alison Oliver, Archie Madekwe, Carey Mulligan
Director: Emerald Fennell
UK Release: Amazon MGM
Oliver is a fresher at Oxford University on a scholarship and finds it difficult to mix with the phalanx of public school cronies, who look down on him as a distasteful charity case. However, when Oliver meets the handsome Felix, the latter allows him into his social circle. Oliver is then invited to stay with Felix over the summer at their vast palatial estate, Saltburn… What follows becomes an increasing web of deceit and manipulation, with Oliver trying to forge connections – personal and sexual – with the family that has the potential to change his life. Keoghan is utterly resplendent in this part, cast as the snake-like social climber. The sheer hedonism on display is a real treat too. With Gatsby levels of flashy excess, we see this mausoleum of a home transformed into twenty-first century decadence as these bright young things frolic and cavort with their friends. This luscious movie is reminiscent of Baz Luhrmann but manages a really shrewd commentary on the British class system while telling a gripping story too. With excellent acting, arresting visuals and art direction to die for, this is one of the most original movies to be released in years.