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The surge of LGBT cinema after the watershed decade of the 2000s has been real – while there haven’t been productions quite as large as Brokeback Mountain or Milk, we’ve seen pretty big successes, from coming-of-age dramas nabbing the Palme d’Or (Abdellatif Kechiche’s 2013 Blue Is the Warmest Color) to the Oscar for Best Picture (Barry Jenkins’s 2016 Moonlight), the 2010s have offered an array of perspectives unlike past decades. With the help and guidance of distributors like Strand Releasing, A24, and Magnolia Pictures (just to name three), the queer canon is slowly but surely growing. Seeing the birth of new visionaries like Dee Rees (director of the 2011 Spike Lee executive produced Pariah), as well as the refinement of New Queer Cinema auteurs like Todd Haynes (the 2015 Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara headlined Carol) and Bruce LaBruce (2013’s Gerontophilia) is both exciting and reassuring.

Also a part of the 90s queer cinema movement, Ira Sachs (1996’s The Delta) has gone on to direct two of the 2010s most lauded and personal gay films, Keep the Lights On (2012) and Love Is Strange (2014). While Keep the Lights On depicts the birth, struggle, and dissolution of a relationship, set to Arthur Russell’s devastatingly beautiful music, Love Is Strange charts the issues encountered by a long term gay couple after they get married. The former stars the less famous, but equally impressive Thure Lindhardt and Zachary Booth as the central couple, while the latter stars the phenomenal John Lithgow and Alfred Molina in what feels like a very lived in relationship.

Lesbian movies are hard to come by. The truth is, with the exception of a few riddled over the past few decades, they just aren’t as prevalent as those about gay men, nor ever usually as popular in the mainstream. However, two international arthouse offerings in the past few years have stood out as stretching genre and embodying a playful erotic sense rarely seen in cinema, gay or otherwise. Peter Strickland’s 2014 The Duke of Burgundy (above), his follow up to the excellent Berberian Sound Studio, and Park Chan-wook’s 2016 The Handmaiden (above) stand out as two of the most stunning and elegantly shot films of the decade. A period thriller taking place in Japan-occupied 1930s Korea, The Handmaiden is about a Japanese heiress and her new maid, recently recruited by a swindler to help him elope with her – that is, before the twists and turns begin. A gothic suspense and love story, Park’s compositions are painterly and evocative; the costumes and set design are delectable. With a soundtrack by Cat’s Eyes, The Duke of Burgundy is probably the most notable narrative film about BDSM from the past twenty years. Aesthetically reflective of the 60s and 70s Euro movies by Jess Franco, Jean Rollin, and Radley Metzger, the film is also about a maid and her master, but in a more performative sense. The performances by Sidse Babett Knudsen and Chiara D’Anna as the couple bring the love story to life, as well as Strickland’s attention to sound and experimental flares.

Gay documentaries since the start of the new decade have breached the spectrum of LGBT issues. Sitting atop as the preeminent historian of the community is journalist turned filmmaker David France. His first film, the Oscar nominated How to Survive a Plague, about the early years of the AIDS epidemic, was composed using nearly 700 hours of archival footage. It also contains some of the most emotionally compelling interviews committed to film. The doc spawned a book, of the same name, that is considered the definitive take on AIDS activism. I had the chance to check out his follow up, The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, at Tribeca this year, which functions as both a noirish search for what really happened to Marsha and a testament to her legacy, as well as fellow trans comrade-in-arms Sylvia Rivera, and our homegrown detective-guide Victoria Cruz’s activism. Recently acquired by Netflix, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for this essential piece of queer history. On the other hand, one of my favorite LGBT documentaries since the start of the decade comes in the form of a short – Tom Shrapnel’s Simply Rob, which I first saw at a Newfest shorts program a few years back. About a Bronx-based poet who is diagnosed with HIV in the 90s, it struck a deep emotional chord with me. I cannot watch it without tearing up and have recommended it to a countless amount of people.

Allowing for a wider range of identification, queer films over the past few years have offered a more diverse array of perspectives. While these are made on a smaller scale, one even shot on an iPhone (Tangerine), they have also been well received critically and by audiences alike. A hit at Sundance in 2015, Sean Baker’s Tangerine presents an honest portrayal of transgender sex workers of color in Los Angeles, that is never less than engaged and engaging, and narratively satisfying. The film also boasts star making turns by Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor, whose friendship is real and relatable. The whiteness of gay films, both commercial or otherwise, over the past few decades is an aspect that some filmmakers are shifting. This can be seen with Andrew Ahn’s 2016 debut, Spa Night, and Jay Dockendorf’s 2015 Naz & Maalik. The former is a coming of age drama about a Korean-American boy and his sexual awakening at the spa where he works to help his financially struggling immigrant parents. It’s a film that comes from a place of knowing – not so much always knowing yourself, but an understanding of the difference of identification and experience. Naz & Maalik might not be as successful narratively, but the central performances by Curtiss Cook Jr. and Kerwin Johnson Jr., as two closeted Muslim teens, elevate it to a film that shouldn’t be reduced to its sensational logline.

Two films that feature bodies of water, as well as the male body, but depict very different queer experiences, are Alain Guiraudie’s 2013 Stranger by the Lake and Eliza Hittman’s upcoming Beach Rats. Accomplished French auteur Guiraudie’s minimal setting and strategic framing allow him to explore ideas like the death drive via a story about gay male cruising gone awry – our main character sees the object of his desire drown someone in the titular lake. Gay desire has rarely been visualized so thoughtfully on screen. Hittman’s Beach Rats, which I caught at this year’s Montclair Film Festival and comes out in August (by NEON), features an incredible debut performance by British actor Harris Dickinson and feels like a singular vision, inflected with some highly regarded influences – I saw the French writer Jean Genet, New Queer Cinema auteur Todd Haynes, Claire Denis’ Beau travail, and Michael Cuesta’s 2001 baby Paul Dano-starring L.I.E.

To close – although I am sure I have missed a ton (always open to recommendations!) – I just wanted to give a shout out to those films that don’t get distribution here stateside (or even deserving festival play), as well as the arthouse cinemas that run queer film series deserving of your hard earned coins. One film that I came across while screening for festivals last year was Ka Bodyscapes, an Indian drama about a trio of friends trying to get by in a conservative society. I found it to be a fully realized vision of a world we rarely get a chance to see. While Metrograph had a Queer 90s series last year and Film Society of Lincoln Center had one titled, “A Queer Cinema Before Stonewall,” and both play queer films on a regular basis, two theaters in lower Manhattan have ongoing series that deserve mention. The recently re-opened Quad has a program called Quadrophilia which showcases LGBTQ films that have shown at the theater over the past four decades, while IFC Center hosts the monthly Queer/Art/Film, with after movie drinks and discussion usually happening around the corner at Julius (the oldest gay bar in NYC). To queer cinema past and present, although we have a ways to go with our liberation, we can now safely expect to see ourselves and our experiences reflected on screen. 

2 thoughts on “In Celebration of Pride: 2010s LGBT Cinema Leave a comment

  1. This was a great read, the whole series of LGBT films over the decades! On the 2010’s, a major, quiet highlight (for me) was Andrew Haigh’s “Weekend,” a gorgeous, subtle and emotionally moving piece that led to Haigh’s involvement in HBO’s “Looking” series. It is such an assured example of directing actors that foretold the subtle genius Haigh would use to make “45 Years.”

    • Hey Joshua! We completely agree about ‘Weekend.” Such a great pick! We’re really happy that you enjoyed the series. Definitely let us know if there’s anything else that you’d like to see on the blog!

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