9 queer films from last year to love (even if the Oscars didn’t)

“Barbie” this, “Oppenheimer” that—what about “Bottoms” and “All of Us Strangers”?

From mainstream blockbusters to international gems, 2023 was a jam-packed year for films by and about LGBTQ2S+ people. Many of these films entered awards season contention and some even made it to the big stage—five out of 10 Best Picture nominees at the Oscars explore queer themes in one way or another, and yes, I am counting the not-so-subtle queer subtexts in Barbie. But as always, not every film gets a fair shot at the spotlight. So while we rightfully celebrate Jodie Foster’s triumphant return and debate whether Lily Gladstone or Emma Stone deserves the trophy for Best Actress, here is an alternative watchlist of queer films that may not have caught the Oscar voters’ attention, but are well deserving of yours.

All of Us Strangers

It may be garnering buzz as the Andrew Scott and Paul Mescal gay romance, but writer-director Andrew Haigh’s latest feature offers much more than a steamy romp between two of the screen’s hottest hunks. Scott stars as Adam, a lonely screenwriter who strikes up a romance with his flirtatious neighbour, played by Mescal. At the same time, he is working on a screenplay and begins experiencing paranormal encounters with his long-dead parents (played by Jamie Bell and a phenomenal Claire Foy). The film offers a deeply intimate exploration of the inner life of a gay man in his 40s, lined with traces of trauma and regrets beautifully captured by Scott in a stunningly layered performance.

All of Us Strangers is currently playing in limited theatres

Eileen

For anyone who watched Carol and thought it needed more crimes, boy, do I have a film for you. Director William Oldroyd’s adaptation of Ottessa Moshfegh’s 2015 novel is a haunting Sapphic thriller. The titular Eileen (Thomasin McKenzie) is a young woman in Massachusetts working as a secretary, whose mundane life is disrupted by the arrival of Rebecca (Anne Hathaway), a glamorous, intelligent, mysterious psychologist who uses her hyper-femininity as a protective shield. Their budding romance is upended by a series of events that ought to change their life trajectory forever. The twisted coming-of-age story leaves too many loose ends untied, yet Eileen’s metamorphosis as Rebecca draws out her true self is riveting to watch.

 

Eileen is currently available for digital rent and streaming

Cassandro

In a crowded field of traditional biopics designed with the sole purpose of getting their performers to awards glory, Cassandro stands out thanks to its groundbreaking subject matter and a copious amount of eyeliner. Outside the ring, Saúl Armendáriz (Gael García Bernal) is unremarkable, only showing flashes of his personality around his mother. Once in the ring, he morphs into Cassandro: fiery, raunchy, a fearless superstar who will do anything to entertain. García Bernal beautifully portrays Saúl’s transformation and the journey of self-acceptance that comes along with it. And to those intrigued by one particular cast member, yes, he does make out with Bad Bunny.

Cassandro is currently streaming on Prime Video

Theater Camp

The breakout from last year’s Sundance Film Festival is a delightfully unhinged mockumentary which proves that no one makes fun of theatre kids better than theatre kids themselves. A veteran actress falls into a coma, and her “business influencer” son (a perfectly cast Jimmy Tatro) takes over running her theatre camp. He soon finds himself overwhelmed between the camp’s financial problems and its large ensemble of eccentric characters—highlights include co-director Molly Gordon as the New Age acting coach and Noah Galvin as a secretly talented stagehand. Tensions and full-blown theatrics fly as the camp tries to bring its big production across the finish line while dealing with the impending threat of closure. And the cherry on top: the resulting musical, Joan, Still, is actually full of bops!

Theater Camp is currently streaming on Disney+

Bottoms

Director and co-writer Emma Seligman’s sophomore feature takes on a seemingly impossible challenge: making Fight Club even gayer. She succeeds by putting a teen comedy twist on the premise and once again proving herself to be the singular cinematic voice for socially awkward lesbians. Newly minted Emmy winner Ayo Edebiri and Seligman’s co-writer Rachel Sennott play unpopular lesbian best friends who start a female self-defence club in the wake of a misunderstanding, hoping to court their cheerleader crushes. Boasting a one-liner-packed screenplay, it is the “be gay do crime” raunchy comedy everyone needed, while also offering a satirical look at the often gruelling experience of being a teenage outcast.

Bottoms is currently streaming on Prime Video

Monster

Director Hirokazu Kore-eda reunites with Shoplifters star Sakura Ando for another gut-wrenching drama. Taking inspiration from the 1950 classic Rashomon, what begins like a deeply sinister crime thriller peels off its layers as perspectives shift, finally revealing itself to be a tender love story. Yuji Sakamoto’s screenplay painstakingly depicts the difficulties of growing up as a queer person when there is no open dialogue about identity. It is a startling reminder that monsters are merely creations of our own views and biases.

Monster will be available on digital platforms on Feb. 27, 2024

Passages

The latest film from Ira Sachs depicts a triangle of love and resentment between a gay couple and a straight woman. At the centre of it all is Tomas, a talented filmmaker too self-involved to see the hurt he inflicts on people he claims to love. As their relationships unravel, he slowly loses the one thing he cares about most: people’s interest in him. Franz Rogowski plays Tomas like the absolute a-hole he is, but gives him just enough humanity to not become a caricature. Sachs crafts a bold and refreshingly modern take on relationships, and finally gives cinematic representation to queer people chronically incapable of making good decisions (it’s me, hi).

Passages is currently streaming on Mubi

Saltburn (only the parts with Rosamund Pike)

Emerald Fennell billed her follow-up to 2020’s Promising Young Woman as a “lick the rich” homoerotic thriller, but its class satire is uneven at best, and the moments of homoeroticism were played for shock value. However, even the most unforgiving critic of the movie will probably agree that Rosamund Pike’s performance as Elspeth, the matriarch of the titular manor, is nothing short of iconic. Pike plays the self-proclaimed ex-lesbian (“Men are so lovely and dry,” she says) like a walking iceberg, devoid of any real human emotions, dishing out one-liners ranging from dismissive to truly cruel with an unflinching, sharp delivery. She is the embodiment of upper-class detachment from reality, and she looks fabulous doing it.

Saltburn is currently streaming on Prime Video

May December

Unlike the other films on the list, May December did receive a lone Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay, but that does not even begin to do justice to the latest film from Todd Haynes, one of the greatest living queer filmmakers. A suburban couple’s seemingly normal life is put under the microscope when a Hollywood actress arrives in town to prepare for a movie about their scandalous relationship that rocked the nation. Natalie Portman and Haynes veteran Julianne Moore (the fifth collaboration between director and actress) play against one another in an intricate game of observation and imitation, while Riverdale actor Charles Melton pulls off a delicately restrained performance that serves as the film’s emotional core. Haynes’s subversion of genre tropes and carefully calibrated power dynamics of seduction soar to new heights in this masterwork of melodrama.

May December is currently streaming on Netflix

Johnny Lin (he/they) is a Toronto-based writer and content creator. He speaks English and Mandarin Chinese.

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