Gay filmmaking no longer has to “go mainstream” because, for the past few years, the best new movies have been gay movies. It’s a privilege to chronicle this advance of queer cinema that now dominates movie culture for the first time in film history.
But these twelve pioneering films are not the ones that got the most media attention. Anyone interested in gay experience or gay films already knows to distrust mainstream media’s efforts to exploit and categorize queerness by promoting gay movies as different, and each so-called advance as a breakthrough simply because it finally breaks into the media’s usual indifference.
As the Hollywood film industry goes through its biggest sexual panic since the 1920s, reflecting a breakdown in heterosexual relations, gay filmmakers who previously were swept to the margins by cowardly homophobic critics and gatekeepers, have steadily made the only movies concerned with what it means to be human among humans.
Each of these twelve superb films transcend Hollywood’s condescending approach to gay self-pity disguised as romance. Instead, they share a common idea that goes beyond social-climbing and narcissistic self-flattery: Know Thyself To Know Each Other.
1. A Quiet Passion is Terence Davies’ biography of poet Emily Dickinson starring Cynthia Nixon, Jennifer Ehle and Keith Carradine. It is sexually discreet but also stylistically bold enough so that Davies confesses the sensuality and spirituality of his own gay person’s creativity and experience.
2. Paris: 05:59: Theo & Hugo by Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau is the love story of the year for its PREP-era consciousness and focus on emotional intimacy enacted by Geoffrey Couet and Francois Nambot.
3. Four Days in France by Jerome Reybaud turns a romantic break-up into a rediscovery of personal, national, cultural unity—between two men (Pascal Cervo, Arthur Iqual) and the iconographic countrywomen (Marie France, Fabienne Babe, Nathalie Richard, Laetitia Dosch, Liliane Montevecchi) who share their experience.
4. Staying Vertical is Alain Guiraudie’s challenge to the hypocrisy of a society unprepared for a gay man (Damien Bonnard) who’s sought-after sexual identity includes the desire to be a parent.
5. My Life as a Zucchini is the year’s best animated film. Director Claude Barras and screenwriter Celine Sciamma (Girlhood) apply childlike purity to gay innocence and self-awareness—what you’ll never get from Pixar.
6. Frantz is Francois Ozon’s adaptation of Ernst Lubitsch’s The Man I Killed, turning a World War I memorial into powerful fraternal passion.
7. The Assignment is Walter Hill’s transgender crime movie in which mad scientist Sigourney Weaver turns a hitman into Michelle Rodriguez, Gender controversy becomes an existential enigma.
8. BPM is Robin Campillo’s epic parade of AIDS activism in ‘80s Paris. Its array of emotions, personalities and politics is tragic and euphoric.
9. Tom of Finland is Dome Karukoski’s instant-classic bio-pic about the icon of gay erotica (played by Pekka Strang) who made graphic reality of his sexual desire and permanently imprinted the imagination of gay men everywhere.
10. The Ornithologist is Joao Pedro Rodrigues’ exploration of gay spirituality as erotically embodied by Paul Hamy, a scientist on a surreal journey through metaphorical wilderness to religious revelation.
11. God’s Own Country is Francis Lee’s star-crossed romance between a Yorkshire shepherd and a Romanian immigrant (Josh O’Connor and Alec Secareaneau). It is the year’s second-best love story.
12. Dream Boat by Tristan Ferland Milewski turns a documentary about a gay pleasure cruise into an abstract, stylized and surprisingly sensitive meditation on gay male desire and its discontents.