From Luca Guadagnino to Xavier Dolan: The 10 best LGBTQ+ films of all time
“And too much blood has flown from the wrists. Of the children shamed for those they chose to kiss.”
Why is it that we turn a blind eye to sexual offenders yet choose to intervene when we see two innocent same-sex partners kissing? Heteronormativity is ingrained in us and homophobia results in systemic violence against the people of the LGBTQ+ community. As we all know, atrocities and vicious attacks have been meted out to the community with absolutely no fault of their own. From state-sanctioned violence to religious outrage, the criminal activities find their motivation rooted in the general fear of being the Other. Macho culture and social oppression results in homophobia which has, subsequently, robbed many couples of a happy life together.
From violence perpetrated by right-wing propagandists to the Stonewall riots, finally, June had been declared the Pride month to celebrate love in all forms. All over the world, people can be seen marching on the streets peacefully, decked up in beautiful attire, rainbow flags and beautiful posters galore. However, due to the ongoing pandemic, June 2020 did not witness such a beautiful expression of the freedom to love whomever and however one wants to.
Hollywood is trying to keep up with international cinema in its acceptance and portrayal of homosexual relationships on-screen. From peppy teenage films like Love, Simon, to more nuanced and complicated ones like Portrait of a Lady on Fire, there is a wide range of films representing the LGBTQ+ community that you can watch. The history of Pride dates back ages, and it is never too late to start learning about it. While Brokeback Mountain changed the course of LGBTQ+ films in Hollywood, the Academy proved its radical homophobic nature by awarding the Best Picture to a far inferior film such as Crash.
However, there was one film that avenged this injustice, becoming the first-ever queer film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture. To know more, go through our list of 10 best LGBTQ+ films that will help you get a better understanding of how these films evolved over the years with the change in the system as well as society, which is trying to be a bit more accepting today.
“The Lord is my Shepherd and he knows I’m gay.” – Troy Perry
10 best LGBTQ+ films
10. Carol (Todd Haynes, 2015)
An aspiring photographer, Therese Belivet, is attracted to an older woman, the resplendent Carol Aird. However, Carol is going through a messy divorce where her husband Harge threatens to take complete custody of their daughter by exposing Carol’s latent homosexuality. This threatens the lovers from being together until Carol makes an unbelievable decision.
Adapted from a seminal semi-autobiographical novel, the two women in the film hail from two very different backgrounds but are haplessly in love with one another. Their helpless condition mirrors the society; the subsequent commission from the Academy Awards led Rebekah Allen to say, “there are those who simply do not want to see a lesbian love story on-screen”, which reflects current day orthodox and homophobic, heteronormative mentality. Their forbidden love and undeniable desire for one another ushers in defiance and resilience in their hearts amidst the hostile taboo society. While Carol’s competence as a mother is questioned by her vile husband, her homosexuality is used as a weapon against her which Carol later takes control of. Resonant and unforgettable performances by the cast, especially Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara complements the aesthetic atmosphere of the film.
“I don’t know what I want. How could I know what I want if I say yes to everything?”
9. Love, Simon (Greg Berlanti, 2018)
The film revolves around a closeted gay high school student Simon who uses the pseudonym Jacques to communicate with another closeted gay high schooler using the pseudonym Blue. However, their emails are discovered by Martin and subsequently the whole school, Simon is petrified of being an outcast, and his inhibitions affect his relationships, leading Blue to cease contact with him. However, the school carnival changes his life as well as Blue’s.
Tender and happy, this film has a feel-good factor with accepting friends and parents. It is rare to see such a supportive backdrop to a film. Love, Simon is adorable, warm and engaging, dealing with the fear of coming out with perfection and effortless ease. With an ongoing mystery regarding the identity of Blue, the wonderful performances by the cast make this coming-of-age film a delightful experience. As Colin Covert of Sun Times said, “If John Hughes had gone on to make a smart LGBT coming-of-age charmer, most likely it would resemble this.”
“Sometimes I feel like I’m stuck on a Ferris wheel. One minute I’m on top of the world. In the next, I’m in rock bottom.”
8. Different from the Others (Richard Oswald, 1919)
Paul Korner is a gay violinist who falls haplessly in love with Kurt Sievers, his protege. However, homosexuality is a taboo in 1919 German society and they when they are discover holding hands in public by a cruel extortionist Franz Bollek who threatens to expose Paul; he agrees to keep quiet in exchange of money. As his demands start becoming increasingly more impossible by the minute, Korner takes him to court and subsequently kills himself as it is the only “honourable” act a homosexual can engage in.
A sympathetic approach to homosexuals, this film is a protest against unjust Paragraph 175 in the German Book of law. With wonderful performances and fitting music, it is a film that was released in a relatively more tolerable post-World War I Germany. All prints but one were destroyed of this film in the 1920s by German censorship. It gives an intimate insight into the tragedy of separation and loss that shadows homosexuals and how the heteronormative society paves the way for subsequent suicide as an act of redemption.
“Respected ladies and gentlemen take heed. The time will come when such tragedies will be no more. For knowledge will conquer prejudice, truth will conquer lies, and love will triumph over hatred.”
7. Rafiki (Wanuri Kahiu, 2018)
Inspired by the Ugandan short story ‘Jambula Tree’, the film’s title Rafiki means ‘friend’ in Swahili. Such a title was chosen with a conscious intent of trying to put forward how same-sex couples tend to introduce each other as a friend to keep up with the homophobic society. With the social and political upheavals regarding LGBTQ+ rights in Kenya as its backdrop, the film was banned in Kenya “due to its homosexual theme and clear intent to promote lesbianism in Kenya contrary to the law”. The director refused to change the ending of the film. The Kenyan film board was opposed to it as it would instil hopes in the minds of same-sex partners. Incredibly heartbreaking, the film captures the true essence of undying love and desire triumphing the intense homophobia that plagues Kenyan communities. Stellar performances make the film Kahiu’s masterpiece.
The film revolves around Kena and Ziki who live in Nairobi. They run into each other as their fathers contest the election and soon are haplessly attracted to one another despite being aware of the implications their “forbidden” desires could have as well as the gossip it would fan. They keep finding ways to fall into each other’s arms, loving as fiercely as the society tries to tear them apart.
“You’re just a typical Kenyan girl.”
6. Blue is the Warmest Colour (Abdellatif Kechiche, 2013)
The film focuses on the life of a French teenager, Adele, who discovers desire, love and non-conformity when an aspiring painter, Emma, walks into her life. From her high school years to adult life and career-building stage, the story revolves around the development of a beautiful lesbian relationship coupled with love and loss.
Raw, feverish and honest, the film not only deals with themes of homosexuality but also the difference of class. Emma’s middle-class family is concerned with art and music and is aware of their lesbian relationship while Adele’s conservative working-class family believe them to be friends and discuss social and realistic problems. It is interesting to perceive the film from the perspective of a male directorial gaze. A powerful story laden with emotions, sexuality and the concept of ‘having loved and lost’, the narrative is shouldered forward by brilliant cast members as well as the omnipresent motifs of colour and food.
“I miss you. I miss not touching each other. Not seeing each other, not breathing in each other. I want you. All the time. No one else.”
5. Matthias and Maxime (Xavier Dolan, 2019)
Matthias and Maxime are childhood friends and are confident of their sexual orientation. However, as they kiss each other on-camera for a short film project by their friend Rivette’s sister, they are left confused and conflicted over their emotions as well as orientation. Their shared understanding of being attracted to women is shattered and the relationship further complicates with their growing undeniable attraction toward one another.
Xavier Dolan who directs as well as acts in the film brings in yet another complicated arthouse film where a kiss changes the dynamics of a friendship and subsequent interpersonal relationships. A saga of doubt and denial complemented by a passion for one another, Maxime stumbling upon a drawing of him and Matthias living in a farm is one of the many heart-rendering moments in the film. Well-framed and neatly crafted, the calculated silences in the film seem to creat the distance of a lifetime between the two. The culmination of a platonic friendship into a heartwrenching attraction of love and longing makes Dolan’s film a poignant yet enchanting treat for the eyes as well as the soul.
“What will you do there?”
“I don’t know. Start over.”
4. Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005)
The film is set in a fictitious yet picturesque location, Brokeback Mountain, chronicling the lives of two cowboys Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist who are hired by Joe Aguirre in 1963 for sheep-herding. Slowly the men develop a close, intimate relationship, but the values instilled in them by the heteronormative society prevents them from embracing their true feelings. They part from one another with heavy hearts, only to meet again, four years later. However, the elephant in the room remains unaddressed and Ennis lives to regret his indecisiveness and orthodox nature when Jack meets his fateful ending.
Typecasting Brokeback Mountain as a “gay cowboy movie” is brutal and unjust to the sheer beauty and vulnerability of the film, as well as the dance of denial and subsequent loss. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal’s electrifying chemistry is complemented and supported by able actors who manage to exemplify the beauty of the film. Beautiful and epic, profound and intimate, the atmospheric melancholy is heightened by the character’s repressed desires, tragic denial and the incessant longing to be with one another. It is one of Ang Lee’s finest curations, a moving and compelling masterpiece that changed the course of cinema, paving the way for LGBTQ+ films to establish their legacy with pride.
“I wish I knew how to quit you.”
3. Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino, 2017)
In a picturesque northern Italy, the nerdy and beautiful 17-year-old Elio meets the handsome and charming 24-year-old Oliver who is a student assistant to Elio’s father, a professor of archaeology. As the days go by, they start to get to know each other, and Elio grows increasingly attracted to Oliver, often losing control of his emotions. Although love blossoms and they share frenzied nights of passionate fervour, they are eventually confronted by the reality of uncertainty and longing.
Beautiful and symbolic, and shot in peachy and vintage tones, the film boasts of splendid on-screen chemistry shared by Timothee Chalamet as Eliot and Arie Hammer as Oliver. They deliver their dialogues with unbelievable depth and passion. Despite the lack of nudity in the film; the beauty lies in the idea of desire, love, longing and eventual separation. Their summer tryst ends when Oliver says, “I remember everything” while informing Elio of his engagement. It is a story of every first love ever, with a twist; a perfect blend of melancholy, nature, love, heartbreak and touching performances, Call Me By Your Name is a work of art.
“You’re too smart not to know how rare, how special what you two had was.”
2. Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, 2016)
The film revolves around the stages of growth in the lives of Chiron- childhood, adolescence and adulthood. As the African-American boy tries to survive in the world, grappling with issues including sexuality, identity, abuse etc., the advice of drug-dealer Juan functions as a guiding force and helps him get by.
Mellow and compassionate in its handling of the crisis of identity and sexuality in a lonely world, Moonlight is a fluid and seductive take on the intersection of blackness, queerness, vulnerability and masculinity. Somehow the experiences of Juan and Chiron find a common ground in being a black vulnerable man trying to seek his place in the world. The duality of existence, the possibility of being different from what one is perceived to be, is continuously highlighted in this raw and emotionally charged film. Moonlight avenged Brokeback Mountain’s surprising loss at the Academy Awards by being the first queer film to win an Oscar for Best Picture in 2017.
“In moonlight, black boys look blue.”
1. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Celine Sciamma, 2019)
In the 18th century France, a painter named Marianne is commissioned to paint a portrait of an aristocratic woman named Heloise who is betrothed to a Milanese nobleman. As the women spend time together, they develop a bonding which culminates into a forbidden love affair and subsequent separation.
Well-timed and masterfully crafted, this film is poetry in its truest sense. While analysing the culmination of desire and yearning, the film stresses the sanctity of forbidden love. Breathtaking performances coupled with the melancholy mood complement the film. Intellectually stirring yet unsettling, it is an erotic examination of the danger of desire and passion within the realm of a taboo relationship. The jarring music at the end of the film with a closeup of Heloise’s face reflects the emotional rollercoaster. It is Sciamma’s masterpiece; finally, a film that looks at a lesbian relationship via a woman’s eyes, and is definitely one that shall haunt the viewers long after the credits roll with its sheer beauty and excellence.
“You were right. I am scared. Do all lovers feel they’re inventing something? I know the gestures. I imagined it all, waiting for you.”