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Queer Film Highlights of 2018

This past year offered quality, diversity, and depth in LGBTQ themes

Melissa McCarthy in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
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2018 featured memorable films by LGBTQ filmmakers, for LGBTQ audiences, and about LGBTQ topics. This was a year where Hollywood achieved a few notable firsts: A major studio released its first teen comedy with a gay leading character, “Love, Simon.” The Chilean film, “A Fantastic Woman,” about a trans woman (Daniela Vega) grappling with the sudden death of her lover, won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, the first trans-themed film to be honored by the Academy. And “Crazy Rich Asians,” which featured an LGBTQ character in a supporting role, became the first Hollywood film in 25 years to have an all-Asian cast.

This year also had a dubious achievement: A scandal involving out gay filmmaker Bryan Singer being fired from the Freddie Mercury biopic, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” over “creative differences” with star Rami Malek just as the cavalcade of sexual misconduct charges against the director escalated. The film went on to do boffo box office.

Here is a look back on the highlights in queer cinema from 2018:

Best Debut: Sam Abbas for “The Wedding.” It just opened in New York, but Abbas’ film, in which he plays an engaged Egyptian man grappling with his sexuality, shows the promise in this 25-year-old filmmaker’s ability to tell impactful stories for the LGBTQ and Muslim communities. Bravo.

Runner Up: Dominic Cooke for “On Chesil Beach.” Cooke’s stunning adaptation of Ian McEwan’s eponymous novel showed the out gay filmmaker’s talent for directing actors, using exterior space to a claustrophobic degree, and generating considerable tension and emotion.

Best Film No One Saw: “Night Comes On.” Jordana Spiro wrote and directed this gem about a teenage lesbian (Dominique Fishback) released from juvenile detention and intent on reconnecting with her family.

Runner Up: “Good Manners.” This strange and wondrous Brazilian fantasy blends stinging social commentary, lesbianism, werewolves, motherhood, and a few musical numbers — and never misses a beat!

Best Adaptation of a Gay Novel: “If Beale Street Could Talk.” Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of gay writer James Baldwin’s novel was a beautiful and searing film about an African-American couple experiencing joys and hardships.

Runner Up: “We the Animals.” Jeremiah Zagar’s heartbreaking adaptation of Justin Torres’ book was an impressionistic masterpiece that captured the palpable emotions of its young hero, Jonah (Evan Rosado), as he realized he is “different” from his brothers.

Best Tearjerker: “1985.” Yen Tan’s poetic drama about a gay man (out gay actor Cory Michael Smith) hiding his sexuality and his HIV status was a simple, sensitive, and poignant drama that left a real lump in the throat.

Runner Up: “Lean on Pete.” Out gay filmmaker Andrew Haigh’s achingly beautiful drama about a boy (Charlie Plummer) and his horse does not leave a dry eye in the house.

Best Documentary: A tie. While it’s hard not to feel righteous outrage after seeing trans filmmaker Kimberly Reed’s “Dark Money” about campaign finance reform, it’s just as hard not to be charmed by Gail Freedman’s “Hot to Trot” about competitive same-sex ballroom dancing.

Best Lesbian Film: “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” Melissa McCarthy gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Lee Israel, a sad, lonely lesbian who commits forgery to keep herself out of debt and despair. A scene of her having a heart-to-heart with her ex, Elaine (Anna Deavere Smith), is painful and exceptional, and it counterbalances her darkly comic bad behavior with gay pal Jack (Richard E. Grant, also excellent).

Runner Up: “Gemini.” Aaron Katz’s sly mystery has Jill (Lola Kirke), the personal assistant to Heather (Zoë Kravitz), a possibly lesbian actress, investigating a murder only to discover the truth is not what it seems.

Naughtiest Lesbians: A tie. It’s tough to choose between Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone as rivals for Queen Anne’s (Olivia Colman) affections in “The Favourite.” They are both hilarious trying to one-up each other in this witty, bitchy period piece.

Runner Up: Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams in “Disobedien­ce.” Their hotel room tryst is sexy AF, but McAdams is miscast as an Orthodox Jew.

Best Trans Film: “The Misandrists.” Bruce LaBruce’s film is an absolutely hilarious and knowing take on radical feminist politics. It featured trans characters, outrageous gay porn, and — in a scene not for the squeamish — a graphic, unwanted sex change operation.

Runner Up: “Assassinat­ion Nation.” This film featured out trans actress Hari Nef as one of four girls who take matters into their own devious hands after their community’s data is dangerously hacked.

Worst Trans Film: “Anything.” Here, cis actor Matt Bomer is just plain awkward and unconvincing as a trans character.

Best Bisexual Performance: Keira Knightley gave a terrific performance as the title character “Colette” in Wash Westmoreland’s fabulous biopic, co-written with his late husband, Richard Glatzer. This handsomely mounted period piece showed how Colette’s relationships with various women helped her in her personal and professional relationship with her husband, Willy (Dominic West).

Runner Up: “The Catcher Was a Spy.” This film about Moe Berg (Paul Rudd) was mediocre, unfortunate given its intriguing true storyline about a pro baseball player who also worked as a spy — and had a girlfriend, but also slept with men.

Best Nudity: “Permission.” This film by out gay writer/ director Brian Crano, about two couples — one gay, one straight — had a blink-and-you-missed it run in theaters this year. No one who saw it wanted to blink when François Arnaud, lying naked in bed post-coitus, got up and walked around in the altogether. He gave viewers quite an eyeful.

Runner Up: “The Cakemaker.” Tim Kalkhof’s German baker proffered his hot cakes in this Israeli film about a queer love triangle.

Best Re-Release: “Buddies.” The brief re-release of Arthur J. Bressan, Jr.’s 1985 film — the first feature to depict AIDS — was a cause for celebration. Inspiring and moving, it was a reminder not only of how AIDS was stigmatized and denied 30 years ago, but also how great independent queer cinema was back in the day.

Updated 10:51 am, December 19, 2018
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