ten movies that tackled queerness in 2018
Once a breeding ground for stale stories we’d heard a thousand times before, 2018 proved that the movie theatre is being transformed into a beacon of hope for queer people everywhere.
Here we are, clutching desperately to the sweet, dwindling embers of a fiery 20GayTeen. It’s been a mad one: our favorite queer pop stars have made monumental comebacks, the LGBTQ+ community has come forward leaps and bounds in places we once never thought possible. And the movie theatre, once a breeding ground for stale stories we’d heard a thousand times before, is slowly being transformed into a beacon of hope for queer people everywhere.
After being hit with the critical success of Moonlight and Call Me By Your Name in 2017, this year, the kinds of queer stories making their way into our movie theaters widened their net. We left America and Europe and were transported to places like South Africa and Chile; the Academy Awards made history by celebrating a work of art with a trans lead. And the stories of queer women –– once overshadowed by those of queer men –– have been rightfully brought to the fore in a respectful way.
Nowadays, the nuances of sexuality are becoming a staple part of our cultural conversation, and 2018 was the year when we kept on pushing through the noise to get to the heart of what truly mattered when it came to representation. These ten films that graced our screens this past year prove that.
While the idea of being queer and in love sits at the forefront of many of the other movies on this list, it’s the creative genius that stems from being othered that courses through the veins of McQueen. Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui’s remarkable documentary about the life and work of Lee ‘Alexander’ McQueen, one of fashion’s truly pioneering talents, touched us all when it arrived earlier in the summer. To anybody who finds themselves reckoning with the realities of being in fashion in 2018, McQueen is a stark reminder that being a revolutionary is always possible, no matter your background. And that queerness, to those of us lucky enough to experience it, can always be a catalyst for earth-shifting art.
The Oscar-winning Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Lelio really went out of his way to earn his ‘queer ally’ card in 2018, releasing not one but two exemplary films about the LGBTQ+ community. Shot in North London, Disobedience tells the story of two Jewish women who are suddenly reunited after years spent apart, and the conflicted romance that ensues when they set eyes on each other once again. With Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams in the central roles, it might be seen as another example of two straight actors being cast to play queer roles over actual queer actors, but the passion and dedication involved from the duo makes this story of religion, love and the frayed line that’s drawn between the two makes this one of the most alluring films of 2018.
With the emotional wounds of Call Me By Your Name still raw, this major Hollywood story of a gay high-schooler exploring his identity while still in the closet swooped into cinemas at the start of the year, and prompted an unprecedented ‘queer cinema’ war. While the films existed on two opposite ends of the spectrum tonally, Love, Simon’s biggest success was the real emotional knockout it delivered to such a huge audience. Here was a major movie studio taking a chance on a gay protagonist –– a world first in 2018 (?!) –– that paid off immensely. Critics dug it. The gays dug it And box office figures proved that the moviegoers were willing to take a chance on a story of queerness that wasn’t hidden in the fringes of indie arthouse cinema.
Hearts Beat Loud
A sleeper hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, this feel good musical comedy stands out for a simple reason: it casts two queer women to play two queer characters on screen, and doesn’t use their relationship as a mindless plot device. Instead, this is a story of a father and daughter who make music together as a way of bonding after the loss of their mother; Sam, played by Kiersey Clemons, just happens to in a relationship with Rose, played by Sasha Lane. Of all of the ‘queer-themed’ films to hit cinemas in 2018, this one might be the most breezy and sweet, so if you (like the rest of us) are growing a little tired of LGBTQ+ cinema being so bloody bleak all the time, give this a try.
A Fantastic Woman
This masterful Chilean drama made history earlier in the year by becoming the first film with a trans lead to win Best Foreign Language Feature at the Oscars. Played by Daniela Vega, the eponymous ‘fantastic woman’ is Marina: a woman fiercely in love with her older, cisgender boyfriend whose safety net starts to disintegrate after he dies in tragic circumstances. Left out in the cold with no one to turn to –– not even her late boyfriend’s dismissive family –– this startling, special film unpacks the realities of existing as a trans woman in Chile, and the common experience of how we’re all moved by the death of someone we love.
When it comes to queer stories in cinema, people often forget about the importance of circumstance. South African drama The Wound is a film that’s been shaped, from the very beginning, by the way in which the LGBTQ+ community has been perceived by the traditional communities it viscerally takes us to the heart of. Set in the mountains of South Africa’s Eastern Cape, it tells the story of a young man whose forbidden queerness crosses paths with his own pivotal ‘coming of age’ ceremony; the moment at which his Xhosa tribe superiors welcome him into adulthood. Masculinity and homosexuality are seldom placed side by side in any culture, but it seems John Trengove’s film toyed with the boundaries of the two a little too much. Upon release in South Africa, the film was given an X18 certificate –– the same rating that pornography receives –– but some fervent campaigning from its effervescent lead star Nakhane saw the decision reversed.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post
2018 practically belonged to Desiree Akhavan, the majestic queer artist and filmmaker who’s currently gaining acclaim for her Channel 4 series, The Bisexual. But earlier in the summer, we were treated to her immaculately formed adaptation of the queer novel, The Miseducation of Cameron Post: the story of a teenage girl who’s sent off to conversion therapy camp after being caught kissing the prom queen by her date on the night. Featuring a career-best Chloe Grace Moretz in the titular role, alongside a startlingly great turn from i-D cover star Sasha Lane, it was a fascinatingly formed film about the brilliant ways young queer souls can rebel against the establishment, and find their way in the world being nothing more than their true selves.
If you still found yourself panging from the aftershocks of Call Me By Your Name, 2018 gave us the opportunity to revisit a film that undeniably shaped it, three decades after it first hit cinemas, with the rerelease of 1987's Maurice. A pivotal queer drama about two aristocratic young men in early 20th century England, was one of the first films to treat gay characters with empathy and understanding –– it’s no surprise that it was written and directed by the man who penned Call Me By Your Name’s screenplay, James Ivory. But while that peach-fucking masterpiece became notorious for its coyness, Maurice made its mark by purposely including sex, nudity and male-on-male kissing in its story. If Ivory gets his way with the inevitable Call Me By Your Name sequel, maybe the original’s blushing beauty will give way for the unambiguous love story we all need and want.
Touch Me Not
Some critics hated Touch Me Not. Like, really, really hated it. When it won the coveted Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year –- a prize previously given to Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away –– even those who found it fascinating were left shook by the jury’s pretty radical decision. After all, Touch Me Not is not for everyone. This debut feature from Romanian director Adina Pintilie is a part-reality-part-fiction story of three people exploring the nuances of sexuality, and what we gain and sacrifice when we sleep with other people. It might not be about queer love per se, but it looks at how the nuances of our bodies have been restricted by the social constructs we’re forced so desperately hard to adhere to. Touch Me Not breaks them down, lays them all on the table, and explores every option in fascinating, often uncomfortable, but truly enlightening detail.
Sitting in the cinema watching 120 BPM, you can hear the hearts of a hundred people breaking at once. This drama from French director Robin Campillo spent a long time on the festival circuit picking up awards left, right and centre for its defiant depiction of the work of the AIDS activism group ACT-UP in 1990s Paris. But when it came to the Oscars, the film criminally failed to reach the Best Foreign Feature longlist, leading people to ask whether or not there was a reductive ‘queer quota’ in place. Tangible success, though, doesn’t matter when it comes to films as vital as 120 BPM. No shiny gold statuette can replace the sheer beauty of a film that captures marginalized and persecuted people retaliating against a community that have demonized them for decades. Defiant, sexy, everything a narrative film about AIDS has failed to be so far, this was 2018’s unequivocal queer masterpiece.
This article originally appeared on i-D UK.