The Year in Queer Film
Highlights, surprises, and a few disappointments in 2020
BY GARY M. KRAMER
While the pandemic
the landscape this
year regarding how
fi lms were shown and consumed,
there still were some notable —
though also ignoble — LGBTQ dramas,
comedies, and documentaries
available on streaming services and
at that rare cinema that was open.
The shift to home viewing, however,
might for some have prompted sensory
overload given how many available
titles there were. Many fi lms
were likely to get lost in the shuffl e.
And while fi lm festivals adapted
to virtual platforms, the buzz that
usually accompanies such screenings
was quieter online.
Here are my personal favorites
— and a couple of dislikes — from
Best Documentary: “Disclosure,”
by out trans director Sam
Feder. This engaging, affi rming
fi lm evaluates how transgender
characters are presented and consumed
by both trans and cisgender
viewers, providing a critical awareness
about how we are defi ned by
what we watch.
Runner Up: “Born to Be,” Tania
Cypriano’s uplifting documentary
about Dr. Jess Ting,a compassionate
and pioneering surgeon who performs
gender-affi rming surgeries at
Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.
Honorable Mention: “The
Fight,” an inspiring portrait of the
important work being done by the
American Civil Liberties Union.
One of the case studies in the
fi lm — Stone v. Trump, about the
transgender ban on military personnel
— was argued by Joshua
Block and Chase Strangio.
Best Lesbian Film: “The Half
of It,” out lesbian fi lmmaker Alice
Wu’s charming rom-com. The fi lm
may have put a contemporary spin
on “Cyrano” as Paul (Daniel Diemer)
hires overachiever Ellie (Leah
Lewis) to pen a love letter to Aster
(Alexxis Lemire), who happens to
be Ellie’s crush, but this winning
Manolo Herrera and Enrique Salanic in Li Cheng’s “José.”
fi lm is faithful to its characters,
presenting their foibles while they
grapple with love and independence.
Runner Up: “La Leyenda Negra,”
Patricia Vidal Delgado’s gorgeous
black-and-white feature about
Aleteia (Monica Betancourt), an undocumented
teenager in Compton,
who captures the eye of her classmate
Rosarito (Kailei Lopez).
Dishonorable mention: “Kajillionaire,”
in which viewers have
to suffer through almost all of an
excruciating Miranda July fi lm to
get to the lesbian kiss. Gina Rodriguez
is the sole ray of light as a
lesbian who infi ltrates a con artist
family in this woefully unfunny
Best Gay Film: “José,” Li
Cheng’s excellent romantic drama
that has the title character (out
gay actor Enrique Salanic) falling
in love with Luis (Manolo Herrera)
but also worrying about leaving his
hardworking mother. Salanic gave
an indelible performance, and the
fi lm’s copious sex scenes portrayed
emotion as much as passion. Seek
this fi lm out. A gem.
Runner Up: “And Then We
Danced,” was the fi rst queer feature
from Georgia. Merab (Levan
Gelbakhiani) is a closeted dancer in
the Georgian national dance company
who falls for Irakli (Bachi Valishvili).
They soon initiate a clandestine
affair, but the lovers also become rivals
for a position in the main ensemble.
How things play out, in both
love and dance, forms the emotional
cores of this compelling fi lm.
Honorable Mention: “The Old
Guard,” a kickass, globetrotting
piece of escapism that is not a gay
fi lm per se, but included a samesex
couple that was greatly appreciated.
Charlize Theron swaggers and
fi ghts her way through this actionfantasy
with panache, but it was a
heartfelt speech by Joe (Marwan
Kenzari) — when he is teased by a
soldier about Nicky (Luca Marinelli),
his boyfriend of 900 years —
that delivered a sucker punch.
Best Gender-Fluid Film:
“Straight Up,” out queer writer/
director James Sweeney’s take on
sexual fl uidity that has heart and
mind as a gay man (Sweeney) gets
involved in a non-sexual romance
with Rory (Katie Findlay). The banter
is witty, and the insights about
love and relationships are wise.
Sweeney also employed inventive
visuals that add to the fun.
Honorable Mention: “Aviva,”
writer/ director Boaz Yakin’s wildly
original dance drama. The fi lm’s
bold, gender-bending conceit is
that the lovers, Aviva and Eden,
are each played by both a man and
woman. As such, over the course
of the story, all four actors end up
in same-sex situations. The dancing
is sensational, and the gorgeous
performers all look good naked.
Dishonorable Mention: “Lazy
Susan,” out gay actor Sean Hayes’
opportunity to wear a dress while
playing the title character, Susan
O’Connell, an adult woman who
acts like a teenager. She’s lazy.
She’s messy. She’s unmotivated.
So is the fi lm.
Best Directorial Debut: “Antebellum”
by Gerard Bush and
Christopher Renz. This fever-dream
mash-up of genres and overlapping
storylines deals with race and
empowerment so it was perfect for
2020. Featuring queer actresses
Janelle Monáe and Kiersey Clemons,
this knottily-plotted, keepyou
guessing thriller was a bit of a
mindfuck — it polarized folks — but
it is also an audacious and auspicious
debut by Bush and Renz, who
are a couple off-screen.
Most Disappointing Films:
“The Boys in the Band,” in its
small screen adaptation, failed to
capture the intensity of the stage
production, opting instead to include
fl ashbacks and gratuitous
nudity rather than forceful performances.
“Happiest Season,” a lesbian
holiday rom-com in which out actress
turned-director Clea DuVall
manages to force the queer lovers
back into the closet to teach the
straight folks a lesson. How is this
GayCityNews.com | December 31, 2020 - January 13, 2021 13