Hollywood Reporter Film Critics: 10 Great Overlooked LGBTQ Movies

6:10 AM 6/5/2020

by David Rooney, Sheri Linden , and Jon Frosch

Pride 2020 is a good time to seek out these underappreciated gems of the queer canon — from the sensual to the sinister, proud affirmations to affecting identity struggles.

'Being 17', 'Princess Cyd' and 'End of the Century'
'Being 17', 'Princess Cyd' and 'End of the Century'
Courtesy of Luc Roux; Wolfe Releasing; Film Society of Lincoln Center

We all know titles like Call Me by Your Name, Brokeback Mountain, CarolMoonlight and Boys Don't Cry. But there's a wealth of terrific LGBTQ movies out there that were either under-appreciated at the time of their release or too quickly forgotten, sometimes even with a big-league festival imprimatur and strong reviews behind them.

There are inconsistencies in the exposure even of the work of celebrated filmmakers. For instance, Robin Campillo's pulsing chronicle of AIDS activism in early-'90s Paris, BPM (Beats Per Minute), was a critical success three years ago, while comparatively few people saw the same writer-director's riveting 2015 drama, Eastern Boys, about the unexpected relationship between a middle-class Frenchman and a Ukrainian hustler.

To mark Pride 2020, The Hollywood Reporter's film critics chose 10 standout LGBTQ-themed movies that have largely fallen through the cracks and seem ripe for wider discovery.

Those slots could easily have been filled by documentaries alone, given how much excellent nonfiction filmmaking there's been on queer subject matter, going back decades. For every classic — The Times of Harvey Milk, Paris Is Burning, etc. — there are innumerable others that young LGBTQ audiences may never have encountered. 

Anyone looking for a crash course in queer history would do well to queue up Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's searing account of the Third Reich's pink-triangle persecution campaign, Paragraph 175; Greta Schiller and Robert Rosenberg's lively recap of the early gay rights movement, Before Stonewall; Marlon Riggs' experimental investigation into black gay experience, Tongues Untied; Richard Schmiechen's close look at the American psychologist whose studies led to homosexuality being declassified as a mental illness, Changing Our Minds: The Story of Dr. Evelyn Hooker; Arthur Dong's moving survey of military experience for gay World War II veterans, Coming Out Under Fire; and Jeffrey Schwarz's Vito, an impassioned tribute to the life and activism of Vito Russo, author of The Celluloid Closet, which itself became the subject of a more widely seen documentary.

Since that list could go on and on, we stuck with just one recent nonfiction entry that came and went too fast in theaters, plus nine narrative features that merit a fresh look. 

— DAVID ROONEY

  • 'Being 17' (2016)

    Amazon Prime

    Courtesy of Luc Roux

    In his most personal film, 1994’s Wild Reeds, André Téchiné explored adolescent turbulence and sexual discovery in a rural setting ruptured by a distant war. He returns to similar territory 22 years later, collaborating on his screenplay with one of the most distinctive voices from the younger generation of queer French cinema, Céline Sciamma. Set in the Pyrenees, this beautifully acted, achingly moving drama navigates the agonizing distances and the sometimes raw, sometimes delicate connections among a teenage loner, his mother and the biracial adopted son of a farmer as they grapple with loneliness, fear, desire and grief. — D.R.

  • 'The D Train' (2015)

    Amazon Prime

    Hilary Bronwyn Gayle

    Distributors and audiences didn’t know what to make of this oddity (it was a box office embarrassment), which teases us with the trappings of a mainstream bro-com only to shapeshift into a queasily funny study of one massive man-crush. Centering on a schlubby 40-year-old try-hard (Jack Black) who reconnects with the class stud from high-school (James Marsden, in an inspired wink of a performance), The D Train excavates the homoeroticism of masculine hero worship, becoming the rare American film to portray male sexuality as — gasp! — fluid. It also features, in Marsden’s character, one of the most unusual of onscreen unicorns: a blithely unbothered bisexual man. — JON FROSCH

  • 'The Delta' (1996)

    DVD

    Strand Releasing/Photofest

    Ira Sachs bled documentary authenticity into loose narrative structure in this languid and sensual 1996 debut, which conjures an evocative sense of place in the writer-director’s native Memphis and uses nonprofessional actors to create the illusion of lives unfolding spontaneously, with all the messy uncertainties that implies. Following the halting relationship of a rich white Southerner with a biracial stranger (Vietnamese mother, African American G.I. father) he meets in a porn arcade, the haunting film brings refreshing candor, as well as a contemplative stillness, to its observation of the push-pull bond between two characters drawn together by their sexuality but kept apart by issues of race, class and privilege. — D.R.

  • 'End of the Century' (2019)

    Vudu

    Film Society of Lincoln Center

    Argentinian filmmaker Lucio Castro’s haunting feature debut chronicles a casual hook-up in Barcelona with shades of Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy and Andrew Haigh’s Weekend — then takes a series of quietly mind-bending turns starting around the 30-minute mark. It’s a film that feels tiny at first, but expands exhilaratingly in scope and implication, building to a melancholic wallop of a conclusion. The central pair (Juan Barberini and Ramon Pujol) dancing to Flock of Seagulls’ "Space Age Love Song" — drunk on white Russians, sudden lust and the giddy promise of the present moment — made for one of last year’s swooniest scenes. — J.F.

  • 'Kiki' (2016)

    Hulu, Amazon Prime

    Courtesy of Sundance Institute

    A quarter-century after Paris Is Burning celebrated the drag scene and voguing balls of 1980s New York, Sara Jordeno’s uplifting documentary revisited that underground harbor for at-risk LGBTQ youth-of-color at a time when Black Lives Matter had only recently become a national movement and trans rights were making belated inroads into the political conversation. Aside from isolated indie hits like Tangerine, trans representation on film lags behind television, where Transparent, Orange Is the New Black and Pose have broken ground drawing nuanced characters. But the subjects of this immersive portrait demand visibility and respect as they turn flamboyant self-expression into activism. — D.R.

  • 'Lovesong' (2017)

    Netflix

    Courtesy of Sundance Institute

    So Yong Kim’s minutely observed film about the complicated, ambiguous love between two former college besties (a superbly matched Riley Keough and Jena Malone, registering each flickering shift in their characters’ dynamic) digs beneath the clichés and formulas of familiar subgenres — female friendship movie, road movie, lesbian romance — and emerges with something specific, nuanced and insightful. It’s a quiet drama, modest in scale, subdued in tone, but as raw and painful as a fresh wound. — J.F.

  • 'My Friend Dahmer' (2017)

    Amazon Prime, Hulu

    Courtesy of Fantasia Festival

    Writer-director Marc Meyers' adaptation of a graphic novel by Derf Backderf, who knew serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer before he embarked on his path of gruesome crime, is an exceptionally moving horror story, delving into the anguish of family dysfunction, high school bullying and a fracturing mind. In the late-'70s suburban Ohio milieu, where coming out isn't an option, Dahmer's shame over his attraction to men compounds his self-loathing, rage and sense of isolation. Former Disney Channel star Ross Lynch brings this ultimate outsider's percolating stew of compulsions to abhorrent yet heartbreaking life. An astute contemplation of tormented teendom, the film is an experience not easily shaken, its horror fueled by jolts of dark humor and deepened by compassion and a soul-crushing sadness. — SHERI LINDEN

  • 'Princess Cyd' (2017)

    Amazon Prime

    Courtesy of Wolfe Releasing

    Infused with an optimistic light, Chicago filmmaker Stephen Cone's most recent indie is a coming-out coming-of-age drama. Its central duo are not romantic partners but virtual strangers getting acquainted: teenage athlete Cyd (Jessie Pinnick) and her novelist aunt, Miranda (Rebecca Spence). They provoke and inspire each other, and, in different ways, their hearts open. For Miranda, that means stepping outside her joyful but circumscribed life of the mind. For the adventurous Cyd, who can be as tactless as she is vivacious, that means standing still long enough to appreciate the unexpected — not least her attraction to a mohawked barista named Katie (Malic White). Framing the generational differences not as a clash but as a rewarding mutual inquiry, Cone celebrates community, acceptance and, above all, his characters' stumbling grace. — S.L.

  • 'Spa Night' (2016)

    Amazon Prime

    Courtesy of Sundance Institute

    The defining restraint of Andrew Ahn’s debut feature leaves you unprepared for the cumulative emotional impact of this narratively spare study of a closeted young man in Los Angeles’ Koreatown, caught in an awkward limbo between accepting his sexual identity and bowing to stifling family expectations. Played by Joe Seo with a subtlety that reveals his gnawing shame by infinitesimal degrees, the 18-year-old David is observed in his job at a men-only bathhouse, where the furtive cruising of late-night customers stirs both his fascination and his fear. The film quietly probes the conflict of the dutiful Asian son and brings equal sensitivity to the struggles of the immigrant parents who have mapped out a conventional path for him. — D.R.

  • 'Women Who Kill' (2016)

    Amazon Prime

    Courtesy of Outfest

    Women kill, kvetch, couple and podcast in Ingrid Jungermann’s nimble horror-tinged comedy, which nabbed screenplay honors at Tribeca and Outfest in 2016. Skewering all things lesbian, the wryly parodic Brooklyn-set debut feature also aims its sly glances at food co-ops, creative-class pretensions, true-crime obsessions and wedding-tradition conformity. Jungermann deploys deadpan delivery and sharp comic timing as Morgan, who still lives with her ex, Jean (Ann Carr). When they aren't channeling their fascination with female serial killers into a podcast, they're plunging into the boundless convolutions of passive-aggressive woman-vs.-woman arguments. A mysterious femme fatale (Sheila Vand, of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) and an insufferable snob of a convicted killer (Annette O'Toole) up the ante in this fine blend of keen observations and low-key absurdity. — S.L.