The 5 truly great LGBTQ films of 2018
From a few criminally underseen gems to a Rachel Weisz double feature, the year's best of the queer best
Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens.
I was going to make a good old fashioned ranked top 10 list of the best LGBTQ films of 2018, in part just because of the pure novelty that we have an entered an era of such an excess of quality queer filmmaking that such a list would be pretty justified. A decade ago, it would be hard to even find 10 films to simply include. But not now. By this admittedly unscientific count, there were something around 75 feature films with primary LGBTQ characters or subjects released in some capacity this past year, of which I managed to see 46 (the missing 29 largely went unseen simply because they were nearly impossible to get access to).
Of those 46, there were a few I found incredibly problematic (or even dangerous: Bohemian Rhapsody and Girl — both of which I fear are headed to the Oscars), a few I found to be admirable disappointments but disappointments nonetheless (Boy Erased and Love, Simon) and literally dozens I would let fall in the perfectly acceptable spectrum of "good to very good" and absolutely recommend (Giant Little Ones, M/M, The Fruit Machine, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Colette, Splinters). But only five really, truly stood out to me as the great LGBTQ films of 2018 — a designation I do not offer easily. Last year, I would have offered it to what then felt like a staggering four films (BPM, Call Me By Your Name, God's Own Country and Princess Cyd). The two years prior, there would probably just be the one each (but what ones indeed: 2016's Moonlight and 2015's Carol).
So I figured instead of adhering to a traditional top 10 ranking (as fun as that might be, it can get a little reductive), I'd just send you straight to the queer greatness that are these films — some of which have gone woefully underseen, but are all equally worthy of your attention.
After premiering to rave reviews at SXSW in March and making its way across the LGBTQ film festival circuit (including the big Canadian trifecta of Montreal's Imagine+Nation, Toronto's Inside Out and the Vancouver Queer Film Festival), Yen Tan's extraordinary reinvention of the AIDS drama 1985 was released to, unfortunately, very little buzz this fall. Shot in black and white and set in its titular year, the intimate, deeply moving film follows as a closeted gay man (Cory Michael Smith) returning home to Texas to tell his family (including Virginia Madsen in an Oscar-worthy performance as his mother) that he's dying of AIDS. Writer and director Tan (who previously made 2013's wonderful Pit Stop) offers such a gentle touch to myriad of difficult issues the film tackles, giving us a great new addition to the all-too-sparse canon of great films dealing with HIV/AIDS.
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
I've already spent an entire edition of this column raving about why Can You Ever Forgive Me? is — queer or otherwise — one of the best films of 2018, and an incredibly rare (possibly unheard of?) narrative that focuses on the relationship between queer women and men. So you can read that here to save me from trying to paraphrase myself for no good reason. Though I will add that now that nearly two months have passed since the film's release: please go see it in theatres! It is such a wonderful gem of a movie and if we don't support it, we don't get more like it.
I know it can be a little problematic when one straight actress seems to be nabbing all the great queer roles, but if there's one person it's hard to complain about doing so, it's the glory that is Rachel Weisz. And the minting of Weisz as a new cinematic lesbian icon began in April when Disobedience, an adaptation of Naomi Alderman's novel by Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Lelio (who had just directed A Fantastic Woman, one of last year's great LGBTQ films). Starring Weisz as Ronit — a woman who returns to the strict Orthodox Jewish community for her father's funeral after living in New York for many years — the film centres on her renewed relationship with Esti (Rachel McAdams), a woman she had fallen in love with in her youth...except now Esti is married to their mutual childhood friend Dovid (Alessandro Nivola). It makes for a powerful, emotionally nuanced exploration of identity anchored by Weisz and McAdams, who both should have been on more than a few awards lists these last few weeks.
While Weisz might not be getting awards attention for Disobedience, she sure is for The Favourite, which is sadly the only one of these five films likely to end up with an Oscar nomination for best picture. Not to say it isn't deserving — on the contrary, The Favourite is probably the most brilliantly conceived and viciously hilarious film of the year, and while the previews might not suggest it, it's also queer as fuck. Directed by the always brilliant Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster), the film follows two women (Weisz and Emma Stone) vying for the attention (in all ways imaginable) of an unraveled Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) during her reign in the early 18th century. While it defeats the unranked purpose of this list to call it my 2018 favourite, it's hard to think of a more delicious queer cinematic treat than The Favourite.
We The Animals
I honestly had only been vaguely aware of this film's existence until it shocked everyone by leading the Independent Spirit Award nominations last month. And am I ever glad the award led me its way. A lyrical, dreamlike adaptation of Justin Torres' semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, We The Animals does something we almost never get to see done this well (save, of course, Moonlight): it explores masculinity through the mind of a queer child. Directed by Jeremiah Zagar — his first narrative feature after a decade of documentary work — the film follows three children growing up in upstate New York as their volatile parents struggle to make a life for themselves. It's a slow build to an ultimately beautiful and devastating climax for youngest child Jonah (Evan Rosado, who is truly astounding), and one more than worth the journey.