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 2019
2019 has been a fantastic year for LGBT cinema from all over the world. This list features only six films from the UK and USA, while the rest come from a host of countries across four continents. In the mainstream, Queer Cinema also made ripples this year with five of the nine Best Picture nominees featuring prominent LGBT storylines, as well as three of the four acting awards going to actors playing LGBT roles. So what are the Top 20 LGBT Films of 2019? Let’s take a look at The Pink Lens’ rundown!
20. KNIFE + HEART (France)
Starring: Vanessa Paradis, Nicolas Maury, Kate Moran, Félix Maritaud, Khaled Alouach
Director: Yann Gonzalez
Anne is a lesbian producer of gay porn in Paris, 1975. In love with her editor, their relationship has turned stale and in an attempt to impress her, she starts being more creative in the scenarios she shoots in the hope that this newfound creativity will stimulate her lover in the editing suite. But when her actors begin to be murdered one by one, their priorities shift elsewhere as a leather-masked psychopath picks them off one by one. As the killer watches his victims from the shadows of darkened fetish clubs, looking like a sexualised Leatherface and killing his victims with a dildo switchblade, there are nods aplenty to Cruising and Scorpio Rising. With the victims all willowy actors in their pants, there is a delicacy about them that makes for perfect scream queens held at the mercy of the hyper-masculinised murderer in their midst. Killer and victim live at opposite ends of the same world, but both inhabit a trashy fetishised subculture that feels like a time capsule of the days of the gay underworld.
19. BENJAMIN (UK)
Starring: Colin Morgan, Anna Chancellor, Phénix Brossard, Joel Fry, Jack Rowan, Jessica Raine
Director: Simon Amstell
In the first feature film from British comedian Simon Amstell, Colin Morgan stars as a movie director in the process of releasing his second movie. Carrying the yoke of the critical success of his debut, his pretentious new piece is a reflection of his past relationship that went sour and is not proving a hit with critics. As he pursues validation from the industry he meets Noah a charming French musician with whom he falls in love and has to face up to his feelings of self-worth. This is indie-filmmaking at its best, American in style but very British in its execution. An angst-filled character piece anchored by a strong performance from Morgan, the dialogue is witty, dry and observational, depicting a version of London that Londoners will recognise. On the one hand ridiculing hipster-culture, on the other existing as painfully hipster in itself, this is a beautiful love story about millennials with feelings told on a delicate scale.
18. JUST FRIENDS (Netherlands)
Starring: Majid Mardo, Josha Stradowski, Jenny Arean, Tanja Jess
Director: Annemarie van de Mond
Joris lives with his mother. Theirs is a dysfunctional relationship, with both still grieving for the loss of his father. While his mother has dealt with it by spending as much of her inheritance as she can on a house, furnishings and plastic surgery, Joris has become reclusive, burning off his anger at the gym and only really able to have a relationship with his grandmother. But then along comes the handsome Yad, his grandmother’s new home help. A Syrian Jew whose family have made the Netherlands their home, he is instantly attracted to Joris and the pair fall swiftly in love. But with unresolved issues in both their families rearing their unwelcome heads, can the pair manage to stay together? Or would it be better if they were just friends? The film is luscious in its depiction of life in the Dutch countryside. The sun is always shining, the fields are golden and the sea looks beautifully cool. This is a halcyon depiction of romance, in which the backdrop is picturesque, the characters are wealthy and the leads are drop dead gorgeous. While fairly unattainable in its execution, there’s something aspirational about this romance that makes even Love, Simon look low-gloss. This is surely the first love that every gay man wants.
17. GIRL (Belgium)
Starring: Victor Polster, Arieh Worthelter, Oliver Bodart, Tijman Goevarts
Director: Lukas Dhont
Lara is a sixteen year old aspiring ballerina. She has been granted a place in one of the country’s top dance schools, but she knows that she has some catching up to do. Her classmates are aware that she’s trans and though seemingly unfazed by her presenting as a girl, their curiosity becomes more sinister as they try to understand her. Her father couldn’t be more supportive, but as Lara does everything she can to try and fit in, she moves further and further away from the rules they had set around her transition. A cis-gender actor was cast as Lara under the advice of doctors who advised that casting a trans-gender performer of that age would come at a very delicate time of their transition. Polster gives a tremendous performance, giving an intense stillness to Lara that masks her tumultuous feelings underneath. Aged fourteen at the time of shooting, there is quite a lot of full-frontal nudity – all shot with parental consent – which feels justified at times, but after a while does begin to feel a little gratuitous.
16. MY BEST FRIEND (Argentina)
Starring: Angelo Mutti Spinelli, Lautaro Rodriguez, Guillermo Pfening, Mariana Anghileri
Director: Martin Dues
Lorenzo is a teenager at school in Patagonia. He knows that he doesn’t fit in, but doesn’t really understand why. His parents moved to the wilderness to escape the world of gangs in the big city, where his dad was friends with some unsavoury characters. When they hear that one of his old friends has gone into prison, he and his wife agree to take in his son Caíto. Tattooed, lazy, rebellious and independent, he couldn’t be more different from Lorenzo. But as his free-spirited ways begin to grate on his family, Lorenzo decides to do everything he can to turn his new friend’s life around, while discovering plenty about himself along the way too. Let’s address the elephant in the room first. Yes, this is a gay movie, but not in the way you might expect. Lorenzo is implicitly gay, but in the one moment when this is addressed head on, he side-steps by saying that he’s “not ready” to talk about his sexuality. And while it’s quite obvious that he has fallen for Caíto, their relationship is entirely innocent and based on their care for each other as friends. If you’re expecting to see Lorenzo and Caíto exploring together sexually, then alas you’re going to be disappointed. But while the hunky Lautaro Rodriguez will definitely be the reason many will watch this film, part of the point of the film is that while he has reached physical maturity, he certainly hasn’t reached it emotionally. He may have been hardened by his years on the streets, but they have also left him vulnerable.
15. HIDDEN KISSES (France)
Starring: Bèrenger Anceaux, Jules Houplain, Patrick Timsit, Barbara Schulz, Bruno Putzulu, Catherine Jacob. Director: Didier Bivel
What begins as a seemingly sweet gay coming-of-age drama turns quickly sour in this commentary on homophobia in rural France. Nathan is the new kid at school. At a party he is photographed kissing a boy, whose identity is concealed. When the photo appears online, the school reacts violently to his sexuality. Subjected to beatings and unprotected by staff, he is forced to find his own way, especially because the boy he kissed wants nothing to do with him. With the parents and teachers played by a host of famous French actors, this is a film about the culture around the boys, rather than just the boys themselves. Catherine Jacob’s closeted lesbian maths teacher makes for a compelling subplot as she wrestles with her conscience about setting a good example for her students, while Bruno Putzulu is recognisably vile as the overbearing parent who is forcing his son to box in an attempt to beat the gay out of him. At times it does wander into clichéd territory in its plotting, but the story hits all the right emotive notes to help overlook that.
14. PAIN AND GLORY (Spain)
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Penélope Cruz, Asier Etxeandia, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Nora Nevas
Director: Pedro Almódovar
Antonio Banderas stars as Salvador, a successful movie director with more than a passing resemblance to director Almódovar. Asked to appear at a retrospective screening of one of his greatest movies in Madrid, he reconnects with its star for the first time in thirty years with whom he had parted acrimoniously. He finds him just as he used to be; a heroin addict. But as an older man, he no longer condemns him and even tries the drug, on which he becomes quickly hooked and so the slide into addiction begins. Having previously struggled with a heroin-addicted partner, he feels hypocritical for his newfound vice but justifies it for its ability to cure the pain of his numerous health problems. But as his manager struggles to maintain his professional commitments, it becomes increasingly clear that there are issues in his past that he must come to terms with. Told through frequent extended flashbacks, we see his childhood, living with his mother in a village made of caves, where he teaches the locals to read and write. In a Best Actor winning performance at Cannes, Banderas is remarkable in this semi-autobiographical/auto-fiction from the world’s greatest LGBT Director.
13. RAFIKI (Kenya)
Starring: Samantha Mugatsia, Sheila Munyiva, Neville Misati, Nice Githinji
Director: Wanuri Kahui
Technically illegal in its native Kenya, Rafiki found its way to the Cannes last year and gained universal acclaim from its international audience. The Kenyan government was forced to allow theatrical release of the film to give it eligibility for submission to the Academy Awards’ Best Foreign Language Film category, and eventually allowed it to be screened for seven days to sold-out audiences. Kena runs a small convenience store with her father in Nairobi. When he campaigns for a local election she meets the daughter of her father’s political rival, Ziki, a free-spirited and colourfully exuberant girl with whom she has an instant connection. Their quick and intense friendship raises eyebrows within the community, especially as Kena rebukes her male suitors for no apparent reason. As they fall in love, the girls’ families begin to figure out the nature of their relationship and their reaction is one of censure and reproach.
12. KANARIE (South Africa)
Starring: Schalk Bezuidenhout, Hannes Otto, Germandt Geldenhuys, Gérard Rudolf, Jacques Bessenger, Beer Adriaanse.
Director: Christiaan Olwagen
In this coming-of-age quasi-musical set during apartheid, we follow Johan, a young man discovering his burgeoning sexuality just as he is conscripted into the army. Carrying a picture of Boy George in his Bible, he joins a unit called the “Canaries”, a military choir tasked with performing religious songs to the families of conscripts up and down the country to bring them “hope” that their sons will return. Under the guidance of good cop/bad cop chaplains and a permanently furious corporal, Johan makes friends where he can and even finds a boy to fall in love with, but neither the army nor the church are his biggest obstacle. Above everything else, he cannot overcome the way he feels about himself.
11. TUCKED (UK)
Starring: Derren Nesbitt, Jordan Stephens, April Pearson, Steve Oram
Director: James Patterson
Drag veteran Jackie Collins is 80 years old but still performing his act. When he meets Faith, a 21 year old new queen set to perform at the same venue, the pair strike up an unlikely friendship. Faith is gender fluid, with little boundary between her stage persona and her reality, whereas Jackie (whose real name is indeed Jack Collins) lives by day as a man and identifies as heterosexual. Both are vastly interesting characters. Faith is living in her car but is proud that the way she presents herself is the one thing that she does have control over. As the bond between them deepens, she sees Jackie as her grandfather, with whom she has a shared history that breaches their generational gap. A character piece that puts generations alongside each other, this is a beautiful movie about finding the truth that unites us. With a strong debut from Stephens – a.k.a. Rizzle of Rizzle Kicks fame – Nesbitt absolutely stuns with this Terence Stamp of a performance.
10. THE SHINY SHRIMPS (France)
Starring: Nicolas Gob, Alban Lenoir, Michaël Abiteboul, David Baïot, Romain Lancry, Roland Menou, Geoffrey Couët, Romain Brau, Félix Martinez
Directors: Maxime Govare, Cédric Le Gallo
Matthias is a professional swimmer whose competition in international events is compromised by using a homophobic slur against a journalist on TV. The swimming council agree to let him continue to compete, but only if he volunteers with a LGBT sports team to prove that he is repentant for his actions. Cue his arrival as the new coach for the Shiny Shrimps, a LGBT water-polo team hoping to qualify for the Gay Games in Croatia. They are loud, crude and flamboyant and Matthias initially just allows them to continue their mischief, but when his young daughter meets and adores them and he realises that their captain Jean is dying of cancer, he becomes invested in their reaching and winning the championship. This is a campy, silly film based on a true story that relies heavily on the chemistry of its ensemble, which is luckily its biggest strength. The team is filled with hilarious characters, each with their own flaws and complex motivations, but when together create something far greater than just the sum of its parts.
9. ANNA (France)
Starring: Sasha Luss, Helen Mirren, Luke Evans, Cillian Murphy, Lera Abova
Director: Luc Besson
Anna is a model, discovered on the streets of Moscow but working in Paris. Climbing up the social ladder with her girlfriend Maud, they encounter men aplenty, including an arms dealer for whom Anna has particular designs: to assassinate him. Recruited into the KGB by Agent Tchenkov, she was taken under the wing of the ruthless Olga who assigns her targets in and around Paris. But at the same time, CIA boss Agent Miller has a vendetta against the Russians and is hot on the trail of Anna and her activities. This is Luc Besson at his best: all guns blazing action that delights in showing off France in a mainstream movie, all with a strong but beautiful European female lead. Some of the action sequences are sublime, using long tracking shots that weave around the fighting, exhibiting flawless fight choreography that makes it impossible to spot the stunts.
8. MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS (UK)
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Jack Lowden, Joe Alwyn, Guy Pearce, David Tennant
Director: Josie Rourke
Mary is widowed at age 19. Having grown up in France, she returns to Scotland where her half-brother has been ruling as regent. When she refuses to renounce her Catholicism and shows strength in taking the crown back from him, her nobles rise in revolt against her, led by the Protestant cleric John Knox, her brother and funded by the English Queen, Elizabeth I. When the revolt is put down, Mary is insistent that Elizabeth name her as heir to the English throne, seeing as her counterpart was stoically unmarried and without a child. In an attempt to placate her, she sends her own favourite Robert Dudley across the border as a suitor, but is enraged when Mary chooses an English subject (with Scottish blood and a legitimate claim for the English throne), Lord Darnley instead. Mary declares herself more powerful than Elizabeth, saying that she will do what Elizabeth cannot in producing an heir, but suddenly it becomes a lot more complicated when she realises that her husband is gay. Ronan is resplendent as the Scottish monarch. She is strong and powerful but avoids masculinising her to justify this strength. This works brilliantly in contrast with Margot Robbie’s Elizabeth, who says that she is now “mostly man” because of the duties of the throne. Her frailty, obsession with her looks and obsession with maintaining a masculine presence against her male advisors casts her not as the ironclad monarch we know of auld, but instead someone clinging onto power for power’s sake and burying her head in the sand about her lack of an heir.
7. CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? (USA)
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Dolly Wells
Director: Marielle Heller
In New York in 1991, Lee Israel is a biographer who writes about celebrities whose star has faded. With little market for her work and no celebrity attached to her name, her agent advises that it might be time to find a new career. But while researching Fanny Brice for a new book, Lee comes across an original letter from the star tucked into a book, which she steals and sells to a local book dealer, Anna. Amazed by the price the letter has fetched, she begins embellishing and then forging whole new letters from a host literary figures. As she gets bolder, the literary world wise up to her actions, so she enlists the assistance of her friend Jack to sell on her behalf. Melissa McCarthy is dynamite in this role. An antisocial, withdrawn and bitter harridan who doesn’t understand that being a writer has more to it than simply writing books, some of the film’s best sequences are when Jack opens the curtains on her life, revealing the squalor she’s been living in and uncovering just how reclusive she has become. She’s endearing, in a way, but for every quality that makes us like her, there are ten that make us see why others don’t. “I had a girlfriend,” she says “but she wanted more. Like me listening to her. And making an effort with her friends.”
6. JONATHAN AGASSI SAVED MY LIFE (Germany)
Director: Tomer Heymann
If you’re wondering where you might have heard the name Jonathan Agassi before, the answer is porn. The Israeli adult star is the subject of filmmaker Tomer Hermann’s new documentary, for which he followed Agassi for eight years, documenting both his personal and professional lives. We meet Agassi in Berlin at the height of his fame. He has appeared in dozens of movies, performs real sex on stage at nightclubs and is enjoying the celebrity he has found within the gay community. He travels regularly to visit his mother in Tel Aviv and she seems to be wholly supportive – if a little bewildered – by his choice of career. He confides about his past, he shares his personal life and begins to let us see his escorting, drug-taking and the party lifestyle that develops alongside his on-screen career. This is a remarkable documentary. A heart-breaking portrait of a man broken by the Porn Age, director Hermann has found in his subject a resounding truth that exposes the dark underbelly of the sex industry.
5. CONSEQUENCES (Slovenia)
Starring: Matej Zemljic, Timon Sturbej, Gasper Markun
Director: Darko Stante
Andrej is an angry young man. Sent to a young offenders’ institution for assaulting a girl because he was unable to have sex with her, he has to stand up for himself from the moment he arrives. The domineering Zele is a presence to be reckoned with. Strong, forceful and overbearing, Andrej finds himself drawn to this dangerous figure, who at first he wants to be like and then just wants to be with. Zele immediately recognises that Andrej’s admiration goes beyond just respect and lures him into a manipulative relationship where his loyalty is rewarded with sex. But Andrej’s sexuality is a well-guarded secret, which Zele uses to keep absolute control over him. This is a gritty urban drama that takes manipulation to its extremes. We’ve seen plenty of films in which a character is manipulated into committing a crime using sex, but doing this through two such masculinised men is something rarely seen on film. And this isn’t exaggerated masculinity; they’re not over-compensating or assuming a persona. This is masculinity that has lust for itself. And as the sexual manipulation reaches its zenith, the camera isn’t shy from showing what feels like the beginnings of a Triga film. It’s Triga with context.
4. SAUVAGE (France)
Starring: Félix Maritaud, Eric Bernard, Nicolas Dibla, Philippe Ohrel
Director: Camille Vidal-Nacquet
Léo is 22 years old and homeless, living on the streets of Strasbourg. To feed his drug addiction, he sells his body for cash, waiting for customers with the other hustlers amongst whom there is a certain camaraderie. There are agreed prices for their services and they warn each other of dangerous clients. When he meets Ahd (Bernard), another hustler with whom he assists with a disabled client, he immediately falls for him, even though Ahd is straight. But as his health deteriorates and he clings onto any human kindness he can, he struggles to find the balance between his need for love and his need for freedom. Maritaud is astonishing as Léo. He is enigmatic but vulnerable, compliant yet fierce with his eyes maintaining both stoicism and bashful immaturity. He has clearly been forced to grow up too quickly, but in the moments in which he can drop his stony façade, he is childlike and doe-eyed. The entire movie is a character portrait of the young man, but it deliberately makes no allusions toward his past. This is not the story of how a young man becomes a sex worker, but only his story on the streets.
3. BOY ERASED (USA)
Starring: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Joel Edgerton, Xavier Dolan, Troye Sivan
Director: Joel Edgerton
Garrard is gay and the son of a Evangelist. Known in the community for being upstanding citizens, the family is held up by their community as paradigms of Christian virtue and values. But when outed by a malicious classmate, his father is mortified when he discovers that his son might be gay. Under the advice of his pastor and community, he decides to send his son to Love In Action, a facility designed to “pray the gay away”, with its leader Victor masquerading as a psychologist. Staying in a hotel with his mother while undergoing treatment, Garrard must discover why he is really there and whether he wants to be converted in the first place. Based on the 2016 memoir by Garrard Conley of the same name, the film does a very good job at finding a clear and concise narrative, where the book does not. The book hinges around a string of small incidents that ramble through Conley’s time at LIA, but Edgerton’s script has compiled these as a coherent set of dominos that, despite Garrard’s short time at the institution, underline the increasing list of abuses that are piled on all of its victims.
2. ROCKETMAN (UK)
Starring: Taron Egerton, Richard Madden, Jamie Bell, Bryce Dallas Howard, Gemma Jones, Steven Mackintosh
Director: Dexter Fletcher
In the biopic of legendary singer Elton John, we meet him at an AA meeting in New York where he has arrived in full stage costume (orange angel wings, catsuit, Maleficent horns) to admit to all his addictions. There, he reflects on his life, recounting the relationship with his overbearing mother and emotionally distant father, from whom his only escape was music, for which he had a prodigy-like talent. As a young man and working for a record company, he’s given the lyrics of songwriter Bernie Taupin and what he creates is seen quickly by his employers to be something quite special. They rush out his music and send him on a promo tour of America, where he meets record mogul John Reid who becomes both his boyfriend and his manager. Except Reid is not as charming as he appears. And so begins Elton’s decline into alcohol, drugs and profound depression. This is a star-making turn from Taron Egerton. The Welsh Kingsman actor shows astonishing range within the part, submerged in a character that walks a difficult balance between introversion and extrovert showmanship. This is a musical. It’s not a “musical” in which the singer gets up on stage and performs all the hits; no, this is an actual MUSICAL that sees Elton’s back catalogue transformed into all-singing all-dancing showtunes, belted out by the entire cast, chorus and at times, every extra on set. It has all the pizzazz of Fosse but the snappy editing and choreography of The Greatest Showman, bundled together to create the make even the biggest Elton critic smile.
1. THE FAVOURITE (UK)
Starring: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, Mark Gatiss, Joe Alwyn
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
It is late in the reign of Queen Anne. She has lost seventeen children (all of whom she has replaced with a caged rabbit) and remains without an heir. Her favourite, Lady Sarah of Marlborough, is essentially in control of the country, acting on her behalf in affairs of state as the Queen languishes in a permanent state of grief and misery. Abigail is ex-aristocracy whose family has fallen from grace. When she arrives at court to ask for a job from her cousin Lady Sarah, she witnesses a sexual encounter between the Queen and her favourite and begins to hatch for her own social ascendency. Beginning to flatter and flirt with the Queen, she attempts to usurp and replace her cousin, all the while allying herself with powerful political allies and finding a titled young man to marry and cement her status. This is All About Eve with powdered wigs. The battle between Abigail and Lady Sarah is bitter and vicious, while the Queen’s simplistic view of the world shrouds her from seeing the truth of the dire situation in her court. Lady Marlborough is a realist and while she has absolutely capitalised on her favour, what she does is arguably in the country’s interest. She flatters the Queen to keep level the balance of power. Abigail is a completely different matter, however. Her meteoric rise is entirely self-serving, designed only to give her wealth, power and status. Beside a hedonistic life, Abigail wants very little more, but is willing to fight dirty to get it. And the feud gets really dirty, really quickly. Rachel Weisz cements her status as the Yorgos Lanthimos poster-girl with her eloquent dead-pan delivery, while Emma Stone is resplendent as the Machiavellian dynamite who blows apart the court’s equilibrium. The real star, however, is Olivia Colman, whose performance as Queen Anne is nothing short of filmic genius.