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Why I took them off the list: To celebrate Pride Month, I decided to compile a list of some of the best LGBTQ+ Films I’ve seen that I felt have flown under the radar. I’ve excluded queer movies that started out as series, like Rūrangi (2020), and TV shows, such as its follow-up, Rūrangi: Rising Lights (2023).
So, without further ado, let’s dig in!
There’s no doubt about it, this Calatan-language, queer coming-of-age story owes a lot of debt to Donnie Darko. The troubled teenager who has a talking animal as an imaginary friend, the small mountain town and high-school settings, a rebellious soundtrack, and an ominous sense of impending doom: all present and correct.
But although it feels familiar, Animals is beautifully shot by ace cinematographer Eduard Grau (A Single Man) and generally well-acted (including by Martin Freeman in a surprise cameo). Also, the awesomely punky soundtrack is worth seeking out on its own.
Although the many subplots converge into a somewhat convoluted mess, the throughline of the main story is solid and the ending, although quite sad, is ultimately quite satisfying.
Hypochondriac is another queer thriller with significant Donnie Darko influence. Although in this case, it’s more in terms of imagery than story, as the troubled protagonist here is haunted by a wolf costume that bears more than just a passing resemblance to Frank the bunny.
Like Richard Kelly’s debut film, it also centers around a young man who’s rapidly losing his grasp on reality and features a barrage of startling, and often disturbing imagery. Underneath that, though, it’s an affecting narrative about coming to terms with past traumas and finding a way to let go and move on.
Watch the trailer and read more in our full review of Hypochondriac!
Boy Erased (2018)
A film about a young man forced into harrowing gay conversion therapy by his strict religious parents is never going to be fun. And Boy Erased, on the surface, looked like a glossy treatment of the subject that was aiming more for an Oscar than a serious exploration of the subject.
Both of these reasons are perhaps why I put off watching it upon its release. But I’m glad I did, although the showy supporting performances by Nicole Kidman, Russel Crowe, and director Joel Edgerton can sometimes be a bit distracting.
But they ultimately take a back seat to the touching central turn of Lucas Hedges, who conveys all the fear, confusion, rage, and uncertainty you would expect in this situation. In the end, it’s a worthy treatment of this issue that’s brimming with complex characters and empathy.
Dry Wind (2020)
Incredibly well-shot with stylish lighting and camera moves, this Hitchcockian gay thriller from Brazil has a bit of sleight of hand going on. There is a Stranger by the Lake -esque build-up of ambiguous morality and palpable, dangerous tension throughout most of the film.
But Dry Wind ultimately has more on its mind and unfolds as a fascinating exploration of the consequences of repression and the freedom of liberation. Check out our full review of Dry Wind to learn more and watch the trailer!
Eastern Boys (2013)
As a big fan of spooky French series Les Revenants (2012-2015), I recently decided to check out the film that it was based on, They Came Back (2004). This led me to this 2013 drama by the same writer/director, Robin Campillo.
Similar to Mysterious Skin (2004), Eastern Boys takes an unconventional approach to a subject that could turn into something lurid in less empathetic hands. Impressively, it ultimately manages to tackle a range of difficult issues with uncommon sensitivity.
What starts as a disturbing thriller soon unexpectedly turns into an unconventional love story that’s quite touching despite some uncomfortable edges. It also manages to powerfully explore the effects of untreated PTSD and the impossible lose-lose situation many immigrants find themselves in.
The third act, although a little chaotic, is also tense and thought-provoking. And the risky introduction of a major character late in the game works due to their complete badassery.
The ending is also commendably realistic and bittersweet, suggesting there are no easy solutions for the people involved in this story, but also some glimmers of hope.
Fin de Siglo (2019)
Fin de Siglo is similar in many ways to seminal gay romance Weekend (2011), although with a time-jump twist. This Barcelona-set film follows two men who meet up for a random hookup, only to realize they did exactly the same thing 20 years earlier.
It’s a thoughtful, gentle film that benefits from a cute central pairing and gets more philosophical than you might expect. Read more and watch the trailer in our full review of Fin de Siglo!
Guaranteed to have even the most hardened souls reaching for their box of tissues, this low-budget British indie is incredibly small-scale and resolves almost exclusively around the conflict between 2 main characters. But it nonetheless packs a big emotional punch, fueled by some fantastic acting.
Ben Wishaw, playing what feels a bit like an extension of his character from Cloud Atlas (2012), is heartbreaking as a grieving man who suddenly finds himself having to explain a relationship his late partner’s mother knew nothing about. Plus, she doesn’t speak any English.
It sounds like it could be gimmicky and contrived. But believe me when I say that the unusual relationship that develops is both devastating and heartwarming in equal measure.
The breakout feature of writer-director Sean Baker (The Florida Project, Red Rocket), Tangerine is a scrappy, obviously low-budget flick populated by unprofessional actors.
It’s also kinetic, funny, engaging, endearing, beautifully shot, and wonderfully performed. A true gem of do-it-yourself cinema that seriously pushes the boundaries of both indie film-making and queer storytelling.
If you only ever see one coming-of-age film about a black inner-city teenager’s struggle to come out as a lesbian (admittedly, there are sadly few of them), then I’d firmly recommend the excellent Pariah.
Although it’s beautifully shot and told with great empathy, the entire film belongs to lead actor Adepero Odoye, who’s gone on to appear in 12 Years a Slave and Monsterland. She’s utterly remarkable as a girl who’s been forced to grow up tough but barely struggling to hide her fear and vulnerability.
In a just world, she would’ve been nominated for, or even won, all the acting awards that came her way.
We Were Here (2011)
An absolutely unforgettable documentary that still haunts me years after I first saw it, We Were Here is a devastating portrait of the gay community in San Francisco before, during, and after the AIDs crisis of the 1980s.
Mostly told through archive footage and the heartbreaking testimonies of the few survivors who lost so much, it’s unbearably sad but an important story that needs to be seen.
For a fictional, but no less impactful, retelling of this story from a UK perspective, check out the excellent series It’s a Sin (2021).
Feel like I missed an underrated classic of queer cinema? Let me know in the comments!