Just as a movie doesn’t have to be gay to be good, not all good movies, even those with gay content, are “good gay movies.” A film might have a major gay character — say, Night School — but not treat that fact with the kind of sophistication or understanding to make it memorable as a gay film. Nor does a film need to wave a rainbow flag to pop with its LGBT content.
So this list is not just of good films with gays in them, but films where the gay content is so well-integrated, so thoughtful, that it becomes essential viewing for the queer community.
1985. Texas filmmaker Yen Tan’s black-and-white drama — a huge hit at SXSW — about a man (Cory Michael Smith) who visits his family in Fort Worth during Christmastime, tells its story of coming out, and coming to terms, with painfully acute sensitivity while hardly ever addressing sex or AIDS. It’s a powerhouse of quiet observation.
The Happy Prince, pictured. Rupert Everett’s biopic about the waning days of Oscar Wilde’s life puts the defining aspect of his personal life — imprisonment for practicing “the love that dare not speak its name” — in the context of today’s homophobia, and the tragedy or prejudice.
The Favourite. It seems unlikely Queen Anne and the Lay of Marlborough were, in reality, lovers, but the way sex is wielded in this delicious dark comedy of manners makes it seem plausible, romantic, comforting and manipulative. So, entirely realistic.
Bohemian Rhapsody. The gay aspects of Freddie Mercury’s life emerge about halfway through this Queen movie, but from there on becomes seamlessly integrated into his persona, and his relationships with his bandmates, fans, lovers, family and the public.
A Fantastic Woman. This Oscar winner for best foreign language film took the issue of trans relationships and turned it into a heartbreaker still filled with resolve.
Tom of Finland. A 2017 foreign film not released locally until early 2018, this story of the pioneering fetish artist — who almost single-handedly created the image of the leatherman in gay culture —is frank, illuminating and a cracking history of gay life through the middle of the century.
Mary Queen of Scots. This historical drama portrays one of the Scottish regent’s confidants as a prissy gay man, unfairly accused of adultery, but for whom the queen insists be true to his identity. Indeed, the integration of homosexuality is treated as such a yawn, you can’t help but feel the Middle Ages were more enlightened in some ways than today.
Boy Erased. Unlike another gay-conversion movie this year, Boy Erased avoids, as much as possible, the clichés of religious hypocrisy and melodrama, with a lovely, real performance by Lucas Hedges.
The Cakemaker. A gay German baker conducts an affair with a married but closeted Israeli businessman, and when the man is killed, finds himself compelled to seek out the family he could not know. Tender, unexpected, lovely.
The documentaries: McQueen, The Gospel According to Andre, TransMilitary. Each of these nonfiction films did an excellent job — focusing on a designer, a stylemaker and bold soldiers— of showing complex real people in their full paradoxes and glories.
— Arnold Wayne Jones