In a positive sign for queer cinema at the end of a very strong year, writer/director Barry Jenkins’ critically lauded and commercially successful Moonlight - which depicts three defining chapters in a young black man’s life - has scored six Golden Globe nominations, just behind La La Land’s seven.
Starring Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes, Moonlight also took home four trophies from the Gotham Independent Film Awards, including Best Feature and Best Screenplay. It’s already garnering Oscar buzz in what could be the year #OscarsSoWhite gets at least temporarily shelved.
While Australian audiences will have to wait until late January to get a look for themselves, we take a look back at 11 of the best queer movies to make it to our shores in 2016, from comic lesbian erotica to gay male orgies, family drama to teen romance.
Kicking off the year in style, Todd Haynes’ sublime adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s semi-autobiographical novel The Price of Salt, aka Carol, paired Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in an impeccably styled and nuanced take on queer love in 1950s New York. Scripted by Highsmith’s close friend Phyllis Nagy, it was nominated for six Oscars and five Golden Globes, though it was sadly deprived of all of them. It did score the Queer Palm and Best Actress for Mara at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, however. A restrained yet truly effervescent masterpiece.
It’s Only the End of the World (Juste la fin du Monde)
French-Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan’s latest divided critics (it’s fair to say SBS Movies’ Fiona Williams did not love it) and to date has only screened in Australia at the Sydney Film Festival, but this SBS Sexuality reporter was utterly floored. Adapted from the play by Jean-Luc Lagarce, Gaspard Ulliel is magnificent as the terminally ill Louis, returning to the claustrophobic bosom of his estranged and quite strange family after 12 years away. Also starring Nathalie Baye as his overbearing mother, Léa Seydoux as his deeply wounded younger sister and Marion Cotillard as the nervy wife of his abusive brother (Vincent Cassel), it’s a trademark Dolan window onto familial dysfunction.
Winning Best Feature at this year’s Melbourne Queer Film Festival (MQFF), Canadian writer-director Stephen Dunn’s kooky, glitter blasting, teen rom-com debut channels Xavier Dolan by way of Gregg Araki. American Crime’s Connor Jessup is brilliant as a teen scarred by a brutal act of homophobic violence glimpsed as a child that now haunts his sexual urges, with Cronenberg-like body horror visions. If that sounds full-on, this queer coming-of-age yarn dances from horror to comedy nimbly, all set to a pulsing score. It also features the vocal talents of Isabella Rossellini as a sarky pet hamster called Buffy. Need we say more?
Remembering the Man
A thoughtful companion piece to Neil Armfield’s heartfelt adaptation of Australia’s seminal queer memoir Holding the Man, Nickolas Bird and Eleanor Sharpe’s documentary Remembering the Man is hauntingly narrated by its author, Timothy Conigrave. The aspiring actor wasn’t shy of a camera, immortalising this unguarded look at his life and lover John Caleo’s life and their tight-knit group of friends as they face down the HIV/AIDS crisis. Hankies on stand-by.
Winter at Westbeth
Melbourne-based documentary filmmaker Rohan Spong followed his New York-set HIV/AIDS musical doco All the Way Through Evening (2011) with this year’s gorgeous Winter at Westbeth. Evoking the spirit of Advanced Style and Bill Cunningham: New York, he visits three residents of Westbeth’s artist-run residential space in the West Village, including queer elders African-American dancer Dudley Williams and second-wave feminist poet Ilsa Gilbert. A timely reminder that creativity has no expiration date.
After debuting at last year’s Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF), Grant Scicluna’s unforgettable debut feature Downriver - superbly shot by cinematographer László Baranyai - featured a mesmerising performance from Reef Ireland as a young man returning to the scene of a terrible crime, walking a fraught line towards redemption. Also starring a powerhouse turn from Kerry Fox as his loyal mother and Thom Green as an abusive former friend, the pair were garlanded at this year’s Iris Awards, the world's largest LGBTI film prize.
British filmmaker Jake Witzenfield travelled to Israeli city Tel Aviv to document the lives of three gay Palestinian men Khader Abu Seif, Fadi Daeem and Naeem Jiryes as they navigate love, friendship and identity politics against a backdrop of war. An impressive debut, Oriented refuses to make simple observations about a complex situation, touching on the universal truth that we are all complex creatures made of many intersecting and occasionally conflicted beliefs.
Indigenous American actor Lily Gladstone’s revelatory performance in Kelly Reichardt’s snow-bound triptych Certain Women saw her hold her own opposite no less than Kristen Stewart. An education in saying so much while hardly speaking at all, Gladstone staggeringly conveys a sexual awakening in the most subtle of ways as her ranch hand slips into the education law classes of Stewart’s oblivious out-of-town lawyer. A disconsolate driving scene is the year’s most beautifully crushing.
The Handmaiden (Ah-ga-ssi)
Park Chan-Wook’s deliriously saucy and whip-smart funny The Handmaiden adapts Sarah Waters’ historical drama Fingersmith, transplanting the action from Victorian London to 1930s Korea under Japanese occupation. Kim Tae Ri is brilliant as an orphan pickpocket given a new lease on life as the handmaiden to Kim Min-hee’s Japanese gentry, with secret plans to fleece her. The erotically charged S&M lesbian drama packs in multiple double-crosses before all’s said and done, keeping audiences on their toes.
Being 17 (Quand on a 17 ans)
Two pillars of queer French cinema joined forces for Being 17’s aching teen romance, broiling and brawling with confused masculinity. With André Téchiné in the director’s chair more than 20 years after his seminal Wild Reeds (Les Roseaux Sauvages), it’s co-scripted by Girlhood and Tomboy director Céline Sciamma. Even when they are bashing each other, electricity crackles between Kacey Mottet Klein’ Damien and newcomer Corentin Fila’s Thomas, with an excellent Sandrine Kiberlain caught in the middle as Damien’s unwitting mother.
Paris 05:59 (Théo et Hugo dans le Même Bateau)
Moving from the French Pyrenees-set Being 17 to the heart of Paris, there’s an element of Andrew Haigh’s off-the-cuff romance in Weekend to writer-directors Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Marineau’s Paris 05:59, starring François Nambot and Geoffrey Couët. A queer highlight of this year’s MIFF, there’s also an eye-opening extended orgy set to strobing lights to kick it off before a moment’s panic tilts the film into a layered exploration of sexual responsibility. Eye-opening in more ways than one.
Notable mentions: Chemsex, Departure, Grandma, Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party, Kiki, Scrum, Strike a Pose, Viva, Teenage Kicks