2014 WAS AN AMAZING year for queer film, possibly the best ever. To celebrate, here’s my countdown of the best of the best released last year. Make a New Year’s resolution to catch any that you missed!
The central relationships in most queer movies are romantic, so it’s refreshing to find a film that focuses on a different dynamic: the friendship between lesbian Sasha (Leighton Meester) and her straight best friend Paige (Gillian Jacobs). Their chemistry is natural and hilarious, and – thankfully – without a hint of sexual tension. The fantastic script combines the bawdy cleverness of Bridesmaids and the anxiety about growing up (and growing apart) of Frances Ha, resulting in one of the year’s sweetest, smartest comedies.
9 Hunted: The War Against Gays in Russia (dir. Ben Steele)
Though it’s less than an hour long, I couldn’t make this list without including Hunted, a brutal documentary that reveals queer Russians’ dire plight. It’s a tough watch, as we find ourselves right alongside the hunters who dupe sexual minorities into dangerous situations, where they are bullied, beaten and worse. While we make progress on our shores, it’s easy to forget that other countries are lagging behind. Hunted is a powerful reminder.
8 The Duke of Burgundy (dir. Peter Strickland)
There is a not a single man in The Duke of Burgundy, a delightfully gonzo period piece that defies easy description. Chiara D’Anna and Sidse Babett Knudsen play a couple with specific sexual proclivities, including roleplay, bondage, and watersports (which happens off-screen). The film is weird and wonderful, perhaps most of all because it makes lesbianism the status quo; our main characters’ sexuality is only notable because of the extremes they explore.
Now this is a curiosity. Writer-director Thorndike released Lyle, a slim lesbian spin on Rosemary’s Baby, for free online as a way to garner Kickstarter support for her next horror outing. Lyle is the best horror movie of the year, spinning classic generic tropes in fresh ways; it’s a prime example of how applying a queer sheen to familiar territory can yield exciting results. Thorndike wisely draws tension and drama from the fact that her protagonists (including Girls standout Gaby Hoffman) are a lesbian couple. There’s no token homosexuality here.
6 Stranger By the Lake (dir. Alain Guiraudie)
There are many reasons to love this French lakeside thriller. It’s a tautly-paced romance, tinged with intrigue and shadow. The performances are carefully piqued. There are lots and lots of penises on display, as one might expect from a movie about a man who meets a murderous new lover at a gay cruising spot. For its subject matter, Stranger By the Lake is surprisingly subtle, and the better for it.
5 Love is Strange (dir. Ira Sachs)
Alfred Molina and John Lithgow are stunning in this simple tale of a recently married couple forced to live apart after decades of living together. The drama is keyed low, allowing the characters to breathe and connect in a beautifully organic way. Somehow, Sachs has made a film that makes me wish to be old, deeply in love and set in a routine of everyday romance. It’s a magical achievement.
A tale of loss and human connection, Lilting is a powerful example of love being universal—something we all share in common regardless of how or who we love. Ben Whishaw is devastating as a man mourning the loss of his lover Kai (Andrew Leung), who then tries to form a relationship with Kai’s mother (an equally good Pei-pei Cheng) despite a language barrier and the looming secret of her son’s sexuality. It’s a heart-wrenching elegy to lost love.
3 The Case Against 8 (dir. Ben Cotner and Ryan White)
One of the most important legal battles for the queer community is thoroughly documented in Cotner and White’s film. Strategy meetings, personal interviews and media stops provide a stirring portrait of recent history and the groundbreaking bravery and tireless work that helped make it possible.
Brazil’s Oscar entry is as innocent and tender a gay romance as I’ve ever seen. Blind high school student Leonardo (Ghilherme Lobo) longs for independence and finds the most exciting potential outlet yet in dreamy new student Gabriel (Fabio Audi). Ribeiro’s film perfectly captures the ache and longing of new love and how scary those first tentative steps toward coming out can be. The Way He Looks aims for the heart and hits its target, hard. It’s a perfect cinematic high school romance.
1 PRIDE (dir. Matthew Warchus)
It’s rare for a feel-good movie to feel so good. Pride is a perfectly mixed cocktail. Romance, the AIDS epidemic, untold history, and a message of tolerance and love are all in the mix, and the result is one of the funniest and most emotional queer films ever made. The cast – full of British greats and newcomers – is phenomenal, the script is stellar, and the direction is strong. Pride never manipulates its audience, but it’s a massive tear-jerker all the same.