I wish I had the time to watch all the queer movies that every year has to offer—the kind that feature explicitly LGBTQIA+ characters, the ones into which queerness can be read and especially the ones that play with notions of queerness as lived reality as much as queerness as a theoretical way of being. I missed a few, like A Moment in the Reeds and Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood, but there’s always more to explore in all corners of cinema. Every day, and every year.
Questions of “where did the queer in queer cinema go?” or comments like “this year wasn’t as good because last year we had Call Me By Your Name and God’s Own Country and BPM” always strike me as bizarre because a) Call Me By Your Name is terrible, please learn to love yourself, and b) they presume anyone has had the time or energy to ingest all the queer cinema or all the cinema that can be read as queer. These films will always be around, you just need to look for them.
2018’s queer cinema was as much refreshingly confrontational as it was an escape, with films that asked audiences to reconcile with the decay of western culture as well as those that featured Blake Lively in tuxedos. There were the hardened hearts Lady Sarah and Abigail and Lee Israel, and the raw exposure of mother of three Margo. Filmmakers like Bruce LaBruce and Sally Potter stared contemporary politics, and the successes or failures of radicalism, in the face, and Paddington Bear sought to find hope in trying times, both personal and political.
The glory of film is that there is always a feast; the beauty of queer cinema is that it’s a section of the buffet that we can have to ourselves. So here’s a glimpse at the year in queer cinema.
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Director: Marianne Heller
The chilly and grungy streets of New York are both of the 1990s and not quite. Through the eyes of Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) and Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant), New York retains the gritty luster of the 1970s, a time where the city still had a place for them. Marielle Heller and screenwriters Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty have an otherworldly skill at pinpointing the queer bitterness of these people’s lives, their willingness to keep living, and what may lurk beneath their armor. Like few other films, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, which charts the late life and crimes of Israel and Hock via literary forgery, seems tailor-made for me: It’s a film about the frustrating, often sad life of writers, the anxiety of being able to create, the uncertainty of whether you have a voice in your craft, the adoration for a time and its figures to whence you do not belong, the things queer people will do to fight off loneliness.
The Wild Boys
Director: Bertrand Mandico
In both black and white and lurid color, Bertrand Mandico’s The Wild Boys is what you would get if Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Guy Maddin, James Bidgood, Derek Jarman and Bruce LaBruce had an orgy. Mandico and his group of schoolboys, played by French actresses, posits genre and gender as fluid and unstable, sex as phantasmagoric nightmare and cinema as simultaneously Heaven and Hell.
Without completely spoiling the film, Tully is like Sondheim’s Follies, but for motherhood. Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody’s complicated, sometimes masochistic women have long appealed to queer men, but the two are at their tenderest here, as Marlo (Charlize Theron) becomes increasingly exhausted by her three children. A magical night nanny by the name of Tully (Mackenzie Davis) appears, and the work is done. But talking to Tully is, for Marlo, like finally excavating parts of herself she thought had died. Davis inflects every line with a kind of swoon-worthy breathiness, as if her presence there is to be understanding, a willing listener who has the best advice one could possibly imagine being offered. Theron, too, is doing magnificent work, unafraid not only of the caustic and sharp edges of her character, but the desperately raw ones as well. Plus the film features arguably the best use of “You Only Live Twice” since Mad Men.
Director: Bruce LaBruce
“The revolution will be postponed,” says a character in Bruce LaBruce’s latest narrative effort. In the late 1990s in Gerwomany, a separatist collective of radial lesbians have their political convictions tested when they discover a wounded male soldier on their grounds. Like a follow-up to LaBruce’s The Raspberry Reich, The Misandrists takes pleasure in taking the piss out of leftists, conservatives and centrists, but ultimately LaBruce’s allegiance is to queers. The film is acerbic in how it plays with tenets of feminist and queer political history, as well as their intersections with film history.
A Simple Favor
A Simple Favor features Blake Lively in a myriad of menswear, wearing it with the panache, sex appeal and danger as someone like Marlene Dietrich would. Anna Kendrick tries mommy chic as a video blogger. This movie is partially in quotation marks, which is to say, it is camp. It is artifice and yet artifice as comment on different kinds of artifice (femininity, motherhood, female friendship, suburbia, genre, comedy, psychodramas, noir). But most of all, A Simple Favor is about how everyone in Connecticut is insane.
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Sex is both political and personal in Lanthimos’s latest film, but striking is not only The Favourite’s keen understanding of those concepts, but its acute way of conveying how each character—Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail (Emma Stone)—negotiate their own feelings about delineating their motivations and how they use sex as political weapon. For Lanthimos, love is an object to be given, taken, manipulated, weaponized. It’s not gay, it’s queer.
Director: Ali Abbasi
With Tom Alfredson’s Let the Right One In and now Border, it’s honestly astonishing and exciting that the work of Swedish writer John Ajvide Lindqvist is being adapted to create a space within queer cinema for stories of intersex and genderqueer people. Border is Right One’s mirror image: a film about the discovery of one’s own otherness, and one’s own power. Though she has struggled to assimilate into the rest of Swedish society, particularly as a Border Patrol agent, Tina’s (Eva Melander) developing relationship with another one of her own kind, Vore (Eero Milonoff), becomes more complicated as he forces her to reconcile with the crimes that humans have wrought upon their people. She’s caught in a liminal space of wanting to belong but having no relationship with her own kind. Its commitment to taking Tina’s erotic and personal journey seriously is striking, as is its dialogue with Let the Right One In and the question of what place the marginalized have in society that tosses to them to the margins in the first place.
“Fast Slow Disco” by St. Vincent
Director: Zev Deans
“I’m so glad I came, but I can’t wait to leave,” Annie Clark sings in a cornucopia of men in leather gear, jostled left and right. In slow motion, she makes her way through the crowd, is carried by it on a wave of sweat and sex. Reworking her ballad “Slow Disco” off her 2017 album MASSEDUCTION, the song and accompanying music video reaches a zenith of pleasure and melancholy, and the molasses movements of the crowd suggest a desire, and a struggle, to live in this joyful, ecstatic moment. It’s a strange, hypnotic video, its orgiastic thrill counterbalanced with a sense of malcontentedness. It’s only Clark who looks into the camera, even when she’s carried by the crowd. Maybe it’s one of the best music videos about that unending moment of disassociation when, plagued with doubt or a broken heart, you try desperately to melt into the crowd, to be blinded by the lights. Sometimes you do. On and off, like the beat of a heart.