Rewind: Queer cinema of 2018

Rewind: Queer cinema of 2018

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It was a good year for LGBTQ films.

For starters, Hollywood released its first mainstream American film about a gay teen, “Love, Simon.” The film was a box-office hit, grossing $41 million on a $17 million budget and hopefully paving the way for more movies like it. The affable comedy-drama — about the title character (Nick Robinson), coming out after falling in love with an anonymous male student over the Internet — is charming and sensitive, with characters that feel authentic rather than stereotypical. It is available on iTunes, Amazon and On Demand.

Another queer teen film soon followed. Netflix released “Alex Strangelove,” a sweet if rather gawky coming-out-in-high-school comedy. The main character, Alex Truelove (Daniel Doheny), is dating Claire (Madeline Weinstein), but as he plans to lose his virginity to her, he develops feelings for the gay Elliot (Antonio Marziale). Like its predecessor of the same genre, the film is slightly preachy but satisfying. 

Another highlight was the Academy Awards recognizing “A Fantastic Woman,” a terrific Chilean film about a trans character (played by trans actress Daniela Vega), with an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

There was considerable, laudable trans visibility both on screen and behind the camera this year. “Assassination Nation” was a clever and killer action-comedy that featured trans actress Hari Nef as Bex, one of four female friends reacting to the aftermath of sinister computer hacks in their small town. It’s a darkly funny and thrilling film that just became available on video and streaming.

Other offerings included trans filmmaker Silas Howard’s compelling drama, “A Kid Like Jake,” available on iTunes and On Demand. This movie features a couple (Claire Danes and out gay actor Jim Parsons) grappling with their gender-nonconforming 4-year-old son (Leo James Davis).

“The Misandrists” is out gay director Bruce La Bruce’s outrageous erotic-comedy thriller that mocks radical politics and features both strong lesbian and trans heroines, as well as a graphic sex-change scene. Check it out on DVD or streaming services.

Transgender filmmaker Kimberly Reed wrote, produced and directed the gripping documentary, “Dark Money,” about the undisclosed corporate contributions that are used to influence elections. Reed’s film aired on PBS’s POV after its theatrical run and is now available for streaming on Amazon and iTunes.

Meanwhile, Rachel Weisz played a lesbian in not one but two films this year. She stars in “Disobedience” as a former Orthodox Jew who returns to her community and rekindles a relationship with the married Esti (Rachel McAdams). The film, directed by Sebastián Lelio (of “A Fantastic Woman” fame), is a well-intentioned adaptation of Naomi Alderman’s novel. However, despite a passionate love scene between the two women, “Disobedience” proved didactic and disappointing.

In contrast, Weisz is very funny as the bawdy and scheming Lady Sarah in “The Favourite” (still in theaters). Her very-close (read: sexual) relationship with Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman) is jeopardized when Lady Sarah’s cousin, Abigail (Emma Stone), arrives and curries the queen’s favor.

Another darkly funny queer film still in theaters is “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” with Melissa McCarthy as lesbian author Lee Israel, who forges famous letters with the help of her gay coconspirator, Jack (Richard E. Grant). Both performers are likely Oscar contenders.

Likewise, “Green Book,” about the unlikely friendship that develops between an earthy Italian (Viggo Mortensen) and the closeted African-American pianist (Mahershala Ali) through the American South in 1962, is generating Oscar buzz for its performances. The feel-good, albeit predictable, film, still in cinemas, confronts queer and racial discrimination.

“Boy Erased,” also is campaigning for Oscar love. While the film, still in theatrical release, is geared toward educating straight people about the horrors of conversion therapy, it makes its points in a heavy-handed fashion. 

A better take on gay conversion therapy is bisexual filmmaker Desiree Akhavan’s adaptation of Emily M. Danforth’s novel, “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” released earlier this year and now available on iTunes and Amazon. The title character (Chloë Grace Moretz) is sent to a conversion-therapy program to “cure” her of her same-sex attraction, only for Cameron to further assert her independence. The film draws its strength from Moretz’s strong performance as a young woman doubting herself despite there being nothing “wrong” with her. Openly bisexual actress Sasha Lane co-starred in “Cameron Post” as Jane Fonda, one of Cameron’s friends in the program.

Lane also costars in another winning indie, “Hearts Beat Loud,” as the girlfriend of Sam (out actress Kiersey Clemons), a lesbian teen who makes music with her dad (Nick Offerman) before she leaves for college. This appealing film can be streamed on iTunes, Amazon and On Demand.

Speaking of music-themed films, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” about queer Queen frontman Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek), has been criticized for its questionable depiction of Mercury’s sexuality, but audiences don’t seem to mind: The movie has been a monster hit at the box office.

Other biopics didn’t fare as well. Out gay actor Rupert Everett plays the great gay wit Oscar Wilde in “The Happy Prince,” a film that marks his directorial debut, but this handsomely mounted period piece failed to find an audience.

Another misfire is “The Catcher Was a Spy,” which tells the true story of Moe Berg (Paul Rudd), a major-league baseball player who also worked for the Office of Strategic Services. The film barely got a release in Philadelphia, but the curious can check it out on iTunes and On Demand. While it’s not a great film, the story is fascinating: Berg not only led a double life professionally but, in his personal life, he often had secret assignations with men — unbeknownst to his girlfriend.

Even “Lizzie,” a revisionist and feminist biopic of the Lizzie Borden story, starring Chloë Sevigny in the title role, turned out to be a sluggish dud. It’s now available on iTunes. 

Yet “Colette” was a success, critically and commercially. Cowritten by Wash Westmoreland and his late husband, Richard Glatzer, the film stars Keira Knightley as the bisexual French writer who is empowered by her relationship with Missy (Denise Gough).

A number of documentaries featuring LGBT artists also screened in Philadelphia this year. “Antonio Lopez 1970” shines a spotlight on the fabulous gay artist and illustrator; “The Gospel According to André” showcases out gay fashion editor André Leon Talley; “McQueen” recounts the rollercoaster life and career of the late, great, gay designer; and “Love, Cecil” is an affectionate portrait of remarkable gay author, designer, painter and photographer Cecil Beaton. All of the above are available on iTunes, except “Lopez,” which is forthcoming.

In addition, “Studio 54” documents the heady times at the famous nightclub run by the gay Steve Rubell and the straight Ian Schrager — until they got arrested. And “Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood” recounts the life and experiences of Scott Bowers, who set up same-sex sexual encounters for closeted celebrities.

Celebrity also is a focus of “Gemini,” Aaron Katz’s fantastic mystery about an actress, Heather Anderson (Zoë Kravitz), who may be sexually involved with Tracy (Greta Lee). When a murder occurs, Heather’s personal assistant, Jill (Lola Kirke), investigates. This slinky film had a blink-and-you-missed-it theatrical run but is worth seeking out on iTunes or On Demand.

“Ideal Home,” by out gay writer-director Andrew Fleming, also played too briefly in theaters. This drolly amusing comedy has obnoxious TV star Erasmus Brumble (Steve Coogan) and his long-suffering partner Paul (Paul Rudd) unprepared to care for Erasmus’ grandson, Bill (Jack Gore), who shows up unexpectedly on their doorstep. Child-rearing causes this bitchy couple to bicker even more.

Two films with local connections were highlights this year. “Night Comes On,” shot in the city, centers on lesbian African-American teenager Angel (Dominique Fishback), who is released from a juvenile detention center and travels through Philly to first reconnect with her younger sister, Abby (Tatum Marilyn Hall), and then confront her father (John Jenks) about their past. It’s gritty and spellbinding.

“We the Animals,” by Philadelphia native Jeremiah Zagar, is the queer film of the year. An impressionistic view of the childhood of a young boy (Evan Rosado) who slowly discovers his sexuality, this adaptation of out gay writer Justin Torres’ novel is heartbreaking and sensational.

Both local films are available on video and streaming services and deserve to be seen. 

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