It’s not unreasonable to say that the moviegoing experience has lost some of its luster in recent years.
Stadium seating is a good idea, but the pressure of having to choose seats in advance takes the fun out of the hunt. People continue to talk during the movie; to each other, to themselves, to the characters on the screen. Texting during movies is at an all-time high, and Apple watches illuminating throughout the theater are a distraction.
Then came the COVID-19 pandemic.
Movie theater chains shuttered. While the idea of sitting in close proximity to other audience members caused us to shudder. Not that they could have predicted a health crisis of this magnitude, but forward-thinking streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Disney+ and HBO Max benefited in a big way from the pandemic. The following five 2020 movies represent the best in LGBTQ titles.
L - A queer 21st-century take on Cyrano de Bergerac, “The Half of It” (Netflix), lesbian writer/director Alice Wu’s first full-length feature film since 2004’s “Saving Face,” takes viewers to high school where extremely bright student Ellie (Leah Lewis), who makes bank writing term papers for her classmates, is enlisted to write love letters from Paul (Daniel Diemer) to Aster (Alexxis Lemire). The problem is that Ellie is also in love. To say more would give away an essential plot point, but it’s well worth watching the movie to see how it unfolds.
G – “Benjamin” (Artsploitation), from gay writer/director Simon Amstell (think of him as a gay male Hannah Gadsby), is easily one of the best 21st-century rom-coms, gay or straight, that you can find. The titular character, Benjamin (a fantastic Colin Morgan) is a socially awkward and insecure gay filmmaker who falls in love with musician Noah (Phénix Brossard), and systematically destroys both the relationship and his new movie. “Benjamin” is laugh-out-loud funny, tear-jerker sad and thoroughly enjoyable.
B - If you can overlook the confusing finale, James Sweeney’s queer rom-com “Straight Up” (Strand), about the severe sexual identity crisis gay millennial Todd (Sweeney) undergoes, is funny and touching, often in the same scene. Sweeney presents us with a marvelous version of one man’s personal sexual spectrum exploration and deserves to be commended for creating an admirable and entertaining feature-length debut at the same time.
T – In recent years, Sebastián Lelio’s Oscar-winning 2017 “A Fantastic Woman” and Sean Baker’s 2015 “Tangerine” have gone a long way in raising the bar when it comes to intelligent and powerful depictions of trans people on screen. The same can be said for gay filmmaker Flavio Alves’ “The Garden Left Behind” (Queens Pictures/Autonomous Pictures). The garden in the title refers to the one in Mexico that undocumented Tina (trans actress Carlie Guevara), who is in the process of her transition, and her Abuela Eliana (Miriam Cruz), left behind when they arrived in New York when Tina was a young child. Alves has found a way to balance the daily traumas of their lives with incredible moments of human connection.
Q – Queer filmmaker/performance artist Rachel Mason also got personal with her new documentary “Circus of Books” (Netflix/Future Clown). The daughter of Karen and Barry Mason, the straight, married couple who owned and operated the titular legendary XXX adult emporium in WeHo (shuttered in early 2018) and a short-lived Silverlake location, Rachel crafted a revelatory, warts-and-all family portrait that is equally emotional and informative.
Gregg Shapiro is SFGN’s movie reviewer. His weekly reviews can be found at SFGN.com/screensavor.