This year, 2013, was a queer year for film. Interestingly, and perhaps significantly, the most memorable films and performances did not feature gay men, as is usually the case. This year, queer-themed films showcased a heartbreaking turn by Jared Leto as a transsexual with HIV in “Dallas Buyers Club;” Lindsay Lohan engaging in some naughty bisexual misbehavior in “The Canyons;” and in the year’s most incredible film—the three-hour French lesbian romance, “Blue Is the Warmest Color” — a spectacular performance by Adéle Exarchopoulos as a young adult coming of age and to terms with her sexual identity.
While there were other trends—a pair of films about pairs of murderous lesbians, three films featuring the Beats, two documentaries about gay rights in Uganda, here is a rundown of ten memorable titles (and two not so memorable ones) this year in queer film.
Blue Is the Warmest Color
This intimate epic allows viewers to share the experience of a teenage girl’s first same-sex romance. Tender, poignant, and painful, this astonishing film captures all the bliss and heartbreak of first love thanks to miraculous performances by Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux. Smartly directed and co-written by Abdellatif Kechiche, the film eschews the standard coming out drama and instead focuses on the impact a relationship has on the lovers. And the famous, lengthy and explicit sex scenes are a plus.
Dallas Buyers Club
An impressive, comic, and heartfelt film about people with AIDS coordinating the distribution of illegal medical treatments—because hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and the FDA are slow to approve and provide necessary drugs to HIV-plus patients. This film, based on a true story, is the flip side of last year’s remarkable documentary, “How to Survive a Plague.” Matthew McConaughey gives an Oscar-worthy turn as a homophobe who reluctantly joins forces with a transsexual (Jared Leto, who provides the film with its heart). “Dallas Buyers Club” is an unexpectedly powerful drama, incredibly well directed by Jean-Marc Vallée.
I’m So Excited
Spanish bad-boy Pedro Almodovar returned to silly comedy produced one of the sunniest films of the year. On a Peninsula Airlines flight to Mexico, the three queer male flight attendants in first class have to deal with a handful of frantic passengers when it is confirmed that the landing gear has a problem. I’m “So Excited” is fueled with heavy doses of tequila — not unlike the crew — which is why it is such naughty fun.
While its (bad) reputation preceded its release, this sleek, modest drama—stylishly directed by Paul Schrader and shrewdly written by Bret Eaton Ellis—makes its simple love triangle fascinating because Schrader puts a glossy sheen on the various explicit (and occasionally same-sex) encounters. Despite all the sex and excess, “The Canyons” is really about wielding power in Hollywood. It’s nothing new, but it is alluring, especially given the performances by James Deen and Lindsay Lohan.
An outstanding character study, directed by Joshua Sanchez—who adapted Christopher Shin’s play—this wonderfully uncomfortable film depicts two couples that meet up for sex on the same Fourth of July. One pair consists of June (Emory Cohen), a shy, gay teen who arranges a hook up over the Internet with Joe (Wendell Pierce) a gregarious African American married man. Sanchez deftly captures the awkwardness and strained intimacy of their encounter, which is contrasted with Joe’s daughter Abigayle (Aja Naomi King) reluctantly meeting up with the smooth-talking Dexter (E.J. Bonilla). Not to be missed.
Breaking the Girls
Too few folks saw Jamie Babbit’s wild and provocative “Breaking the Girls”—a distaff take on “Strangers on a Train” — so check out this super-intense story of female friendship gone wrong. The twisty narrative prompts a recalibration of motives and events several times before the end credits, but this “keep-viewers-guessing” quality is what makes Babbit’s film so deliciously entertaining.
Writer/director Stacie Passion’s auspicious debut drama about Abby, (Robin Weigert), a suburban wife who “cheats” on her wife by working as a part-time prostitute, signals the arrival of an important new filmmaker. Her controlled film about a woman losing control after a head injury is a stylish and provocative drama.
Call Me Kuchu
An inspiring, powerful documentary about LGBT activists in Uganda, where homosexuality is illegal, “Call Me Kuchu” profiles David Kato and other brave, openly gay Africans, as they fight for gay rights, and wage legal battles, all in the name of social justice.
My Brother the Devil
This absorbing film about two Egyptian siblings in London intertwines familiar stories of gang war, Arab-English tradition, and a queer identity into one film, but this gritty drama benefits from its authenticity and the palpable bond between the brothers. “My Brother the Devil” teeters on melodrama as the plotlines about revenge, betrayal, and justice all converge, but the strong lead performance by the sexy James Floyd more than compensates.
The Out List
Although shown on HBO, this hour-long documentary featuring 16 prominent LGBTQ individuals talking in direct address about being queer, The Out List makes the list because the resilience on display still resonates. Lady Bunny has a smart speech about drag queens and self-expression while Larry Kramer passionately describes how his anger fueled ACT-UP. There is diversity in both topics and talking heads as the interviewees provide thoughtful reflections on being LGBTQ in America.
Side Effects Steven Soderbergh’s film starts out questioning medical ethics, but introduces a unethical third act queer twist that equates lesbian sexuality with villainy.
Kill My Darlings This ambitious period drama about the Beats features a miscast Daniel Radcliffe as Allen Ginsberg, who falls in love, if not under the spell of Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan). Unfortunately, that spell is not cast on viewers as director John Krokidas cudgels viewers in this clunky crime drama.