Sydney’s 34th Mardi Gras festival comes to a glittering end with the parade down Sydney's iconic Oxford Street on March 3 (see it on SBS2 and at SBS On Demand).
The event also marks the end of the 21st outing of its spin-off Mardi Gras Film Festival, which this year showcased such hot and steamy highlights as German cop love flick Free Fall and Australian swimming drama Submerge, featuring a lesbian affair between Jordan (Lily Hall) and her history professor’s girlfriend Angie (Christina Hallet).
But that's just the beginning. Australia’s biggest and longest-serving LGBTI film celebration, the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, picks up the baton mid-march, with opening night film Any Day Now starring Alan Cumming. It also features the Australian debut of Sundance wunderkind Sophie Hyde’s year in the life of a gender-transitioning mum and her daughter 52 Tuesdays.
In honour of this embarrassment of riches, we round up 20 of our favourite queer movies worldwide, in no particular order... because that would be way too straight.
Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013)
Ignore the vitriol spewed between director Abdellatif Kechiche (Black Venus) and his breakthrough stars Adèle Exarchopolous and Léa Seydoux, Blue is the Warmest Colour is a powerhouse in intimately realised cinema as we follow Adèle’s sexual awakening. It’s a beautiful thing indeed, equal parts sweet and sexy, with a healthy dose of heartache too.
Before Looking, writer/director Andrew Haigh’s Weekend was a whirlwind romance between blokey blokes Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New) over the course of, yep, you guessed it, one weekend. With a grainy, English sensibility and a believable connection between two very real characters, Haigh’s follow up to Greek Pete left a lasting impression, even if their relationship never took off.
Read Weekend review
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)
The quintessentially queer Aussie story of two drag queens Mitzi (Hugo Weaving) and Felicia (Guy Pearce) and a transgender Bernadette (Terence Stamp) taking their glitter-filled bus on a no-holds barred tour of the outback is a modern day classic that spawned a blockbusting musical and turns 20 this year. The fractious bond between the trio and the unsuspecting bushmen is a hoot, but there’s emotional depth to be had on this alternative road trip too.
Pink Flamingos (1972)
We could have blown half the list with John Waters’ insanely bad taste black comedies, but as it is we’ve settled for the least PC of them all, Pink Flamingos. Waters’ muse, the sadly departed drag queen Divine, plays a crim on the run from the FBI who chows down on real dog poo in this perverse piece of zero-budget genius. It’s a cinematic experience you’ll never forget, even if you want to, and a sort of Warholian prophecy for America’s race to the bottom.
Mention the Wachowski siblings and most folks immediately think of The Matrix trilogy. Bring them up with your lesbian mates and they might just mention this sexy slice of neo-noir that turned the crime drama tropes on their head. Searingly funny and erotically charged, Violet (Jennifer Tilly) and Corky (Gina Gershon, of Showgirls infamy) make for an awesome Bonnie & Bonnie as they rip off gangsters with plenty of time left over for hanky panky.
Watch Bount review (The Movie Show)
The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros (2005)
With a remarkable central turn from Filipino Nathan Lopez as a young, über-effeminate cross dresser who single-handedly plays wife and mama to his widowed father and crook brothers, director Auraeus Solito’s debut dramatic feature portrays a street-level look at the slums of Manilla and one unique boy’s refusal to blend in. A complex unfolding relationship with rookie cop Victor (J.R. Valentin) treads intriguingly murky waters between the paternal and the sexual.
Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
Hilary Swank rightly scooped the Best Actress Oscar for her powerhouse performance as trans man Brandon Teena, born Teena Brandon, in writer/director Kimberley Peirce’s devastating true-life story. Masculine yet sensitive Brandon proved popular in small-town Nebraska, dating Chloe Sevigny's beautiful Lana Tisdel, before a final act revelation of Shakespearean tragedy delivers a killer blow that challenges audiences to think deeply about the true meaning of love and identity.
Beautiful Thing (1996)
An inordinately touching and often hilarious romance set in a South London council estate, director Hettie Macdonald, who helmed new Doctor Who’s best episode Blink, delivers a gorgeous coming out drama adapted by Jonathan Harvey from his own play. Scott Neal plays the silently stoic Ste, who cops regular beatings from his alcoholic father, and seeks solace by bunking down at his geeky mate Jamie’s (Glen Berry). The tender unfurling of their romance is magic, as is the fabulous Mamma Cass sound track.
My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)
Sticking with the London setting, My Beautiful Laundrette captures the British capital at the height of the ‘80s and explores the complex relationship between Omar (Gordon Warnecke) and his extended Pakistani immigrant family and also with his white sometime punk lover Johnny – Daniel Day-Lewis’ breakthrough role. Penned by author and screenplay maestro Hanif Kureishi and directed by Stephen Frears (The Queen, Philomena) it’s eccentric and brilliant.
Yossi and Jagger (2002)
Israeli director Etyan Fox is a master at crafting delicate yet affecting stories in short, sharp, yet devastatingly effective blasts. Bored soldiers Yossi (Ohad Knoller) and Jagger (Yehuda Levi) keep their secret love affair under wraps, with a stunning snowbound sex scene. Jagger desperately wants them to leave the army and live together, but Yossi tires to maintain his hyper-masculine image. Intense but understated performances make the also excellent 2012 sequel Yossi all the more poignant.
Mysterious Skin (2004)
Prolific queer indie filmmaker Gregg Araki has made some cackers including The Living End, a violent, anarchic Thelma & Louise-style road trip with two HIV-positive men and the teen angst of Totally F***ed Up, but Mysterious Skin is arguably his strongest to date. Disturbing and beguiling in equal measure, it tackles the taboo topic of paedophilia from a survivor’s perspective. One victim, Brian (Brady Corbet) uses alien abduction to explain the hours he’s blocked out of memory when he was abused as an eight-year-old. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is incredible as a fellow victim turned rent.
Watch review and interview (The Movie Show)
Show Me Love (1998)
This lively Swedish coming of age comedy written and directed by poet Lukas Moodyson has a ring of truth to it. Teasing out a tender, bittersweet sort-of-love story between bored teenagers Elin (Alexandra Dahlstrom) and Agnes (Rebecca Liljeberg) stuck in small-town Amal. The course of love never runs smooth though, and soon enough Elin’s dating Johan (Mathias Rust) and Agnes isn’t happy. Avoiding labels, this is ultimately about the girls figuring out they are and who they want to be. Refreshingly, it claimed a bigger box office share than Titanic in its home country.
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Ang Lee’s adaptation of Annie Proulx short story has to be one of the biggest gay love stories in terms of box office clout, scooping Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Achievement in Music at the Oscars that year. It’s a shame that Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal weren’t awarded for their tissue box destroying turns as star-crossed cowboys, though that year’s Best Actor winner was also outstanding.
Watch Brokeback Mountain review (The Movie Show)
Philip Seymour Hoffman’s central turn as openly gay, flamboyant writer Truman Capote is mesmerising from the get go in this part social drama, part crime thriller mystery. Unpicking Capote’s ‘non-fiction novel’ In Cold Blood and writing him back into the story, Bennet Miller’s first dramatic feature is incredible, with monumental performances all round, particularly from an always-magnificent Catherine Keener as To Kill a Mockingbird author and Capote’s best friend Nelle Harper Lee. If anyone had to beat Heath to Best Actor, Hoffman’s award was deserved. How tragic to think we’ve now lost both immense talents.
Watch Capote review and interview (The Movie Show)
Writer/director John Cameron Mitchell’s pansexual smorgasbord Shortbus narrowly pips his rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, for inclusion here, largely for its inventive presentation of the United State’s anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner, to one character’s bum. Featuring a graphic male ejaculation following self-administered oral, this riotous affair is out there in a good way. Revolving around the sex club that shares its name with the title, all sexualities, persuasions and races join together for one big, happy ending.
Gods and Monsters (1998)
Adapted from the novel by Christopher Bram, Bill Condon takes on both writing and directing duties in this razor sharp turn for Ian McKellen as ageing sophisticate and film director James Whale, who has an eye for his young gardener played by Brendan Fraser. Nothing is quite what it seems, and the golden age of Hollywood is the perfect backdrop for this peek inside the celluloid closet.
Watch Gods and Monsters review and interview (The Movie Show)
Sean Penn was perfectly cast in Gus Van Sant’s ode to equality activist and California’s first openly gay elected official Harvey Milk. Penn’s every inch the charming leader who can make anything happen just by asking for it and rightfully won the Best Actor Oscar, while openly gay writer Dustin Lance Black took home Best Original Screenplay for this incredible realisation of a pivotal moment in queer history. Like Romeo and Juliet, you’ll be willing a different ending with every fibre of your body.
The persecution of homosexuals under Hitler’s regime is an oft overlooked part of holocaust history painfully explored in Sean Mathias’ Bent, which was recognised as Best Foreign Film at Cannes that year. Adapted by Martin Sherman from his own Broadway hit, this harrowing concentration camp-set piece features Clive Owen, Ian McKellen, Jude Law and Mick Jagger as drag queen club owner Greta. Watch out for Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau too.
Dutch actor and comedian Diederik Ebbinge’s directorial debut Matterhorn is an unpredictable slice of barmy humour bubbling around the edges of quirky drama. Ton Kas plays Fred, a lonely, religious man in his 50s who’s adjusting to life without his wife and son. When he takes in homeless man Theo (René van ’t Hof) out of a sense of duty, his regimented life is slowly but surely blown apart in increasingly unexpected ways. Ebbinge is one to watch.
My Own Private Idaho (1991)
Last but certainly not least, Gus Van Sant rates a second nod with his cult ‘90s flick My Own Private Idaho, starring River Phoenix as narcoleptic hustler Mike who hits the streets of Portland with his best friend and fellow sex worker Scott (Keanu Reeves). A subversive road movie (something of a theme in queer cinema) it draws on the lyrical poetry of Shakespeare, with Reeves as Prince Hal and William Richert’s Bob as Falstaff, but the film’s heart is in the fleeting romance Scott shares with Mike. All too tragic considering this was released two years before Phoenix’ untimely death.
Watch review (The Movie Show)