Pride Month may be over but that doesn’t mean that our recommendations for great LGBTQIA+ cinema are just going to stop right there. Here over at Cinema from the Spectrum, our team of writers has compiled a list of films you should be seeking out if you haven’t yet, if you still want to get caught up even after Pride Month. And without further ado, here are our Pride Month recommendations!
Some Like It Hot
Of course when talking about the greatest LGBT films of all time, one should not forget that back in the day, we knew classic Hollywood was discreet about the treatment of gay individuals and oftentimes people who wanted to tell stories that involved such people in major roles would code their portrayal and even kill them off. So when Billy Wilder came along to challenge that coding, he gave audiences Some Like It Hot, which still remains one of the funniest films ever to have been made. But among the reasons it still stands the test of time, it’s so simple – because even by today’s standards its means of challenging gender roles in society, being about a pair of men who dress themselves up as women only for the purpose of avoiding a mob hit. And yet they’re never found out in the way you would expect them to be, as a matter of fact the disguises ended up becoming a part of who they were and it’s also about celebrating a change in the way men function in society. Wilder broke the code back when this came out, and it still remains every bit as brilliant in the years since.
I remember watching Tropical Malady for my first time thinking to myself, “What did I just watch?” Although in the years since that very first viewing of mine, I kept thinking about it and everything just made more sense to me. Apichatpong Weerasethakul isn’t exactly a filmmaker who is so widely known unless you’re talking with the most dedicated of cinephiles, but among many reasons I love it every bit as much as I do would be the way in which it meditates about the concept of love – because in the eyes of Weerasethakul, we see love the way it is, difficult, awkward, and almost animalistic of an impulse. But above all, it still recognizes how these are all instincts that make us human beings – and in its moments of silence you recognize another power. It’s a film that shows you why it hasn’t always been easy for homosexuals to live normal lives, and in that silence you feel that pain. Surely enough, I don’t know if I can talk about how wonderful this movie is without the feeling I’m rambling, but perhaps that’s what makes it so great as is.
Call Me by Your Name
Now to go on to a more recent favourite, there’s always Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name, which I have not stopped thinking about ever since I first got my chance to watch it as soon as it came over to a theater right near my college campus (I go to Sheridan College’s Trafalgar campus, which is over in Oakville). From watching this I recalled my first experience with having fallen in love in the past, and how it feels to know that reality may not always be what I would expect. It feels heartbreaking, every bit like that memory, so much to the point that it stings. But you know what, from looking back at everything that makes Call Me by Your Name every bit as beautiful as it is, it just captures the very essence of living within a sheltered life, and it all feels so universal. This year’s winner of the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, written by the now 90-year-old James Ivory, feels every bit like a memory, because it plays out just like a recollection of the first experience of falling in love with all the happiness and the pains that come along the way, and to say the least, I love every moment of it.
Imagine Me & You
When Jaime first proposed doing a listicle (for want of a less demeaning term) of LGBTQ+ movies, this was the first one that sprung to my mind; a little seen British rom-com starring Piper Perabo as Rachel, a woman who marries her best friend Hector (Matthew Goode), only to fall in love at first sight with the wedding’s florist Luce (Lena Headey). I first saw it on cable back when I was still in college and thought it was a sweet little movie, so I was eager to revisit it…
…and, uh, funny story, turns out it hasn’t aged all that well. I don’t have a lot of room to get into it, but to sum up, writer/director Ol Parker really, really wishes he was Richard Curtis; he just doesn’t have the dramatic skillset that lets Curtis get away with his full-throated commitment to romanticism. Yet it maintains a certain charm, and still feels oddly significant and worth revisiting; coming hot on the heels of same-sex civil partnerships being legalized in the United Kingdom, the film exists around the point where public opinion on LGBT rights was starting to turn and people realized there were happy tales to tell about the community. The result is curious; the romance between Rachel and Luce is taken seriously and is lovely to behold, but the fringes of the movie has crap like Hector’s womanizing best friend Coop (Darren Boyd), who spends the first half of the movie trying to “turn” Luce without ever being fully rebuked. (You can imagine how well this plays post-Me Too.) It’s like Parker is saying “Of course we men don’t take lesbians seriously, but hear me out…what if we did?”
Now, this isn’t a landmark film by any means—as far as non-tragic lesbian romances go, this came out well after But I’m a Cheerleader and, obviously, Desert Hearts. But this was originally written as a heterosexual love story, and it shows; the film takes more of an interest in making sure the cute precocious kid that comes standard in post-Jerry Maguire rom-coms shows up early and often than in the weight of the lead character suddenly realizing she’s a member of a marginalized group. It’s not rooted in any of the history, and if you’ve lived some of that history, maybe it pisses you off a little. Maybe you see it as a cheap ploy to try and make you interested in an otherwise lazily written Curtis-esque British rom-com. Or maybe it’s just nice, especially in 2005-2006, to see a story about two women in love be treated more like Notting Hill and less like The Children’s Hour.
Either way, the film ends up being something of a bellwether for the queer tales we’d eventually be seeing as the public began to embrace LGBTQ+ rights. My other two entries are on the recent and VERY well-known side, owing partly to my shameful dearth of experience with LGBT cinema. But I thought it might be interesting to see how our thinking on telling LGBT tales has—and in some cases, hasn’t—evolved from this curious entry in the so-called canon.
Whereas Imagine did a queer spin on the British rom-com, Love, Simon does a queer spin on the teen movie. It’s shot like a teen movie—with a bright color palate, utopian set design, and no-nonsense, performance-driven direction from Greg Berlanti—and it eschews subtlety for easily-digestable broad comedy and melodrama. There are key differences, however: whereas Ol Parker made the second lead of Imagine a woman because the movie would’ve felt too stale otherwise, the queer nature of Simon is baked into its very concept; the titular Simon (Nick Robinson) has to deal with navigating a world full of microagressions that keep him in the closet, and how that world changes when he’s forcibly pulled out.
There’s a clear sense that Berlanti, himself a gay man, knows damn well how this works, so when he goes for his big sappy teen movie moments they’re backed up by an experiential verisimilitude that very few straight directors would’ve been able to pull off. Playing Simon’s mother, Jennifer Garner’s dramatic rumination on the phrase “you are still you” has been a highly celebrated monologue, and rightly so: Garner’s playing the platonic ideal of the parent to a gay child and in that moment, she damn well earns it. But who tends to get slept on is Josh Duhamel as Simon’s dad, whose blasé assumptions that Simon is straight come back to bite him when he comes out. Duhamel coming to terms with so thoroughly failing his son in that moment—and in so many moments before—leads to an absolute knockout of a scene in its own right.
There’s an interesting point where the film stumbles, though; the character of Martin, played by Logan Miller. Martin is the guy who finds out Simon’s in the closet, blackmails him in exchange for help with hooking up with his friend Abby, and outs him when his big plan fails. For this he gets righteously told off by Simon and, uh, not much else. Like, you’d think Simon’s friends would maybe be a little pissed that his sexual identity was being held hostage by a gigantic creep but they’re too pissed off at Simon for playing the game he was forced to play by said creep, which kind of makes them look like shitty friends. In the film’s defense, this probably reflects an aspect of the queer experience that the film might not have had room for otherwise: sometimes, straight assholes who don’t get it make life fucking unfair. And to its credit, the film tries really hard to make Martin into a misguided Duckie-esque character who’s likable in his own way. For some, those efforts might even pay off. (I find that the Waffle House scene is a good litmus test: if you think Martin’s being genuine with Abby there instead of trying to set himself up as a Nice Guy, you’re probably fine with how his arc ended up.) For me, though, it’s another case of the straight douchebag getting off easy, creating another fascinating parallel with Imagine Me & You.
Black Mirror: San Junipero
And so it’s come to this: Yet Another Take on Why “San Junipero” Is the Best Black Mirror Episode Ever. Scores of words have been written about it; I myself submitted over a couple of thousand of them to my old stomping grounds and will still take any excuse to tell you all about how it’s probably one of the best sci-fi stories of the decade. But it’s another story where the so called queerness of it isn’t the whole point; in fact, it’s a sort of middle ground between Imagine merely portraying homosexuality as a semi-abberant fact of life and Simon wholly integrating the experience into the plot.
Like Imagine, “San Junipero” is a lesbian romance written and directed by dudes. Like Imagine, it was originally conceived as a heterosexual love story and could easily exist as one. But when Charlie Brooker says he changed it for extra emotional resonance, I believe him. The tragic histories of Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis) and Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), two women who never got to fully explore their sexual identities for different reasons, and the way their relationship builds to its joyous climax, intersect neatly with the episode’s quasi-cyberpunk aesthetics; the world portrayed here seems far from dystopian, but leaving your limited body behind for a virtual life where you can be who you want whenever you want is definitely entering cyberpunk territory, and the exploration of non-heterosexual lifestyles arguably go hand in hand with such ideals. Also unlike Imagine, Yorkie and Kelly’s queer experiences are fully explored and strongly compliment the story’s greater thematic intentions. “San Junipero” may not be about being different the way Love, Simon is, but that difference still gives the story’s heavy philosophical questions of emotional healing, self-forgiveness, and the tangibility of reality an extra bit of oomph.
The last time I broke “San Junipero” down, I never really took the time to talk about just how well put together it is beyond its script. I probably should; an episode of a TV show is obviously an unorthodox pick for a list being written for a cinema site. So as for the “cinema” of it, I think Owen Harris did a spectacular job directing the episode, utterly nailing the cinematic vibe of 1987 and the various other eras the show travels to. (Incidentally, the blue-pink neon lighting of Tucker’s that sets the episode’s cinematic period aesthetics has the knock-on effect of visually coding Kelly’s bisexuality.) This is helped along by the various powerful needledrops scattered about, glued together by Clint Mansell’s excellent-as-usual incidental work.
Even beyond mere “vibe,” however, it’s just so beautifully lensed. Look, I’m not crazy enough to compare “San Junipero” to Wong Kar-Wai / Chris Doyle-esque God-tier cinema, but I’d happily and passionately argue that this episode would still look damn good projected on a big screen, one or two full-CG shots aside. Harris doesn’t shoot “big” per se, but he and his usual DP, Gustav Danielsson, demonstrate a strong eye for composition and knack for visual storytelling. Consider the sequence of Yorkie’s first day as a full-timer; not necessarily complicated, but certainly effective, and making great use of the rare daytime setting to shoot the scene through with a dreamy haze that brilliantly reflects Yorkie’s state of mind. And of course, the timing of Kelly going full-time to the power chord that kicks off “Heaven is a Place on Earth” is a capital-M Moment.
Such direction stands in stark contrast to the other two films on my list, but arguably, such direction is only essential for the kind of tale “San Junipero” is. Which is part of my point: these are three films (or two films and a TV anthology episode) that normalize LBGTQ+ identities. The first one stumbles in doing so, but it still quietly paves the way for the other two to do it better later on. And yet there’s still room to grow: Having a director who can deeply relate to the lead character of Love, Simon gives the film a feeling of integration that’s missing from Imagine and perhaps “San Junipero,” and yet somehow, “San Junipero” doesn’t have anything nearly as problematic as Coop in Imagine or Martin’s arc in Simon.(*) Curious shortfalls indeed, but either way, the suggestion is that queer cinema in 2028 is going to be even more fascinating.
(*Writing for Cosmopolitan, Amelia Perrin argues that the episode, particularly its use of “bisexual lighting,” indirectly reinforces harmful stereotypes of bisexuality, specifically the idea of it being an experimental phase. Her whole piece makes some interesting points, but I’d nitpick that Kelly only treats her bisexuality as a phase out of misplaced sense of duty towards her departed family; a big part of the story being told is Kelly coming to terms with the validity of her sexual identity, so it’s hard to argue that the bisexual lighting here has the same context as a Demi Lovato video.)
I concede the three films I’m choosing to write on for Pride month are the safest ones I could choose. I’m guilty of not seeing nearly enough LGBTQIA+ films. That’s a big mistake on my part. The three films I’m writing on are the three that have broken through, if not to the mainstream then to a larger audience, in the last 15 years.
Here is a true tragedy. Brokeback Mountain is a sobering study of how repression destroys people and not just those holding back. The secret relationship at the core of the film shatters the women the men marry and the children they have. It makes you angry at a society that forces people to hold back who they truly are. Ang Lee can be incredibly uneven but working here from a genius script by Larry McMurty and Diana Ossana, he spins gold. Of course what really sets the film apart is the acting. Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams, and Anne Hathaway all deliver career peak turns in this poetic, painful film.
I’ll admit that initially I found this film a bit cold. I’m glad I didn’t write that down because I was wrong. So much of the power of Carol comes in the way director Todd Haynes creates a film of moments that only pretend to be cold but actually contain powerful amounts of passion only barely restrained. This is a film that claws into your brain and doesn’t let loose. Every image gets seared in.
Arguably the most deserving Best Picture winner since The Hurt Locker. What I love about Moonlight is how precise it is. There’s no more or less to the film than is absolutely needed to make a powerful impact. The film is profoundly relatable, a real feat since it deals with material that couldn’t be further from my life. But watching Moonlight, I identified with everything that happened in it.
I am extremely fussy when it comes to LGBT films, however, I find no faults at all with Matthew Warchus’ Pride. It is hilariously fun and yet still manages to be heartbreakingly truthful. I can’t help but enjoy every single moment of it.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope always sticks out to me as a brilliant LGBT film because it is so laid-back in its presentation. In the 1940s, they didn’t really have a choice, but watching it now it is so casual in its blatant gay male leads it’s fascinating to watch. There’s no attention drawn to the fact they are gay, the film isn’t about their sexuality at all, it just happens to be present, and, as said by the screenwriter, “Today, it’s still one of the most sophisticated movies ever made on that subject (homosexuality). It probably treats them more as people than anything else has.”
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
While LGBT representation has definitely come much, much farther than 1975, and this film in particular, this still has a place in my favourites because of how fun and outrageous it is. I just adore musicals, and this is definitely one you can enjoy watching, because it’s an LGBT film you don’t have to take as seriously.
The voices of LGBTQIA+ people are incredibly important because they’re stories that are nowhere near as prominent as they should be. Even beyond Pride Month, which has of course been helpful in getting more people to pay mind to our perspectives – we still remain proud of the sort of people that we are because we know as a matter of fact that it will always be a part of us no matter what day of the year it is. But we will always have stories to tell, and we deserve to be heard – for we will not be silenced.
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