LGBTQ cinema have had plenty of brilliant years in the past – the difference now is that you don't have to look quite so hard to find stories of queer life. In recent years we’ve seen splashy success stories in films like Moonlight (which deserved all its accolades) and Call Me By Your Name (which, to my mind, didn’t), but the past six decades have been consistently rich with queer visual gems, from 1960s experiments to trailblazing 1990s movies and beyond.
Streaming has helped. This year, Netflix scooped up the charming lesbian romance Duck Butter and the made-for-a-hangover high school drama Alex Strangelove, while Love, Simon opened in a whopping 2,400 cinemas in the US. For what it’s worth, the anodyne Bohemian Rhapsody is now the highest-grossing LGBTQ movie of all time. Films that present more complex narratives of queerness and identity, like The Wound and Tranny Fag, aren’t quite being given the same space to shine, but they’re far from inaccessible.
Refreshingly, 2018's best LGBTQ movies don’t depict painful coming out narratives, but, in the main, feature characters living fully-fleshed queer lives. And – no spoilers – but some of these movies even have happy endings. Read on for a rundown of the best LGBTQ films released in UK cinemas this year. Honourable mentions go to Disobedience; Mario; Alex Strangelove; Studio 54; The Gospel According to André; and The Happy Prince.
10. Love, Simon
Thanks to "thank u, next" and Netflix's To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, high school movies are having their biggest year since Julia Stiles table-humped to Biggie in 10 Things I Hate about You. Love, Simon is a warm-and-fuzzy homage to the glossier side of the genre, down to the absence of acne and high schoolers who drive cars worth more than my annual salary. The sweetly compelling mystery at Love, Simon’s core revolves around which strapping Insta-famous lad has been sending out closeted protagonist love notes. It sucks that the hoodie-loving Simon’s lack of ease with his queerness extends to having nightmares about becoming a Musicals Queen ("Maybe not that gay," he reassures us after one such reverie), but Love, Simon is a fun and enjoyable movie, even if it isn’t perfect.
Alexander McQueen's life was a movie, and the fantastic documentary McQueen proves it, while showing his majestic creations through a fresh queer lens. His was "the language of fetish: latex and leather", as one ex-boyfriend puts it. Fashion docs can often feel like bland ads for their subjects, but McQueen doesn't handle its protagonist with kid gloves. It shows the designer’s traumas in close-up, from his uncomfortable coming out to his cab driver father to his addictions and struggle with depression. But the highlights are archive footage of the young McQueen dancing, laughing and chopping at couture like it’s an unruly hedge: a queer kid radiating joy.
8. A Fantastic Woman
In A Fantastic Woman, Maria Vidal (Daniela Vega) is at breaking point. She thumps a punching bag and climbs onto a car to pummel the metal roof with her feet – and for good reason: the Oscar-winning Chilean film centres on Maria's suffering as a trans woman grieving the loss of her lover and facing violence that’s both emotional (as she’s shut out by her lover’s family) as well as physical (with the taunts she endures from transphobic pigs). Vega’s performance is the real draw here; the film was built around her own experiences, and she weathers Maria’s wounds with heartbreaking resilience. Even so, this elegantly-shot movie’s focus on trauma begins to feel a little narrow. It leaves you wanting to see what this fantastic woman did next.
7. The Wild Boys
In the 1970s, William Burroughs’s planned to adapt his queercore-before-queercore novel The Wild Boys into a porn film. He never pulled it off – but 40 years on, this version is way more full-on. Director Bertrand Mandico animates Burroughs' novel into a feverish gender-skewing fantasia, as a group of unruly male teens are banished to a fantastical island where gender becomes amorphous and penises may drop off at a moment’s notice. With lush set-pieces bringing to mind 50s technicolor adventure flicks, there’s a composed lushness to The Wild Boys and a surprising heart to the most bizarre queer film of the year.
6. Hope and Anchor
If Mike Leigh made an LGBTQ movie, it might look something like this story about a scrappy lesbian couple living on a boat on east London waterways. It opens with a silly, real-feeling outdoor sex scene and never loses that sense of warmth, both carnal and otherwise. Kat and Eva are figuring out whether to have a baby with their male lodger’s sperm, and Hope and Anchor is fantastic on the minutiae of modern queer relationships, thanks to attuned non-acting acting from Game of Thrones alumni Oona Chaplin and Natalia Tena. The characters feel like mates you’re rooting for – but the film packs in dramatic tension too, with one indelible moment that comes close to matching Hereditary for the most intense dinner table scene of the year.
5. The Miseducation of Cameron Post
I’m one of the few who didn’t enjoy Desiree Akhavan’s clunky Channel 4 sitcom The Bisexual. But this year the Iranian-American director's indie The Miseducation of Cameron Post made up for it, with a more sharply observed take on queer self-discovery. In the high-stakes environment of a gay conversation camp, Akhavan finds warmth and wit – and an air-punch of a group singalong to 4 Non Blondes' "What’s Up" – with Chloë Grace Moretz giving her best on-screen turn to date as a Breeders and Desert Hearts fan sent by an aunt to "straighten out" and, heartwarmingly, finding a new kind of queer family.
4. Tranny Fag (Bixa Travesty)
"I am the daughter of Eve," proclaims trans Brazilian MC Linn Da Quebrada in this DIY-feeling gem of a documentary. Living in poverty in São Paulo, Linn is incendiary on stage, performing her punk poetry in a whirling dervish of chainmail and spikes, with lyrics like "step inside my anus / it’s as big as an apartment". The film is just as impactful in its quieter moments, as the camera traces the contours of her nude transfeminine body and shows homey moments of Linn cooking with her mum. Released just a few months before the country elected the homophobic Jair Bolsonaro as president, Tranny Fag joins Brazilian films like Waiting for B. – and outspoken artists like Pabllo Vittar and Jaloo – as a proud stand against LGBTQ erasure.
3. The Wound
Films at the crossroads of tradition and queerness can be lightning rods. And after the release of the stunning South African LGBTQ drama The Wound, its remarkable star Nakhane Touré faced death threats. Touré brings an enigmatic nuance to the film, as a young Xhosa man returning to his rural birthplace to "toughen up" a young boy as part of a circumcision ritual – yet the film morphs into a poignant search for the love that dare not speak its name in a hostile setting. "It's a space that denies that queerness exists at all," Touré has said of Xhosa communities. "I knew it was important that we queer that space."
2. The Favourite
In the 17th century court of Queen Anne, the monarch’s word is law. Even if her order is "fuck me", as she instructs her lady in waiting in one of The Favourite’s many hilariously meme-able moments. Director Yorgos Lanthimos proved he was the American mainstream’s most twisted new mind in his other recent mad movies, but The Favourite’s backstabbing power-plays, daft humour and unabashed Sontagian camp cements it as his greatest achievement yet, as Abigail arrives in court and weasels her way into the queen’s favour (and bed). The only problem is deciding which of the three outstanding leads (Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz) deserves the Best Actress Oscar.
The Favourite opens on the 26th of December
1. 120 BPM
120 BPM could be an angry movie: it's the late 1980s and queer people are dying in Paris, while ACT UP is raging, chain-smoking, throwing fake blood and welding cheerleader pom-poms in protest of criminally homophobic authorities. But Robin Campillo’s masterpiece is more like a love letter. A love letter to the queer community that does not shy away from the fact that violence and death are part of our collective legacy. I haven’t seen a film that blends righteous rage with love, passion and lust for life with this much even-handed, heartbreaking potency, with epic cinematography and vital-feeling performances to boot. 120 BPM reminds us that the fight is not over, but looks forward too, a testament to the truth that when we live in solidarity, queer is invincible.