Talking hamsters, lesbian grandmothers and trans actors heading the bill – come out of the closet for these seriously powerful LGBT films
“She’s back... and she’s going hard.” That was the line – delivered by a transexual actress in a donut shop in Tangerine – that summed up the year in LGBT film. While Caitlyn Jenner heading out to lunch or accepting awards captured mainstream attention, the independent film industry was busy lining up some breathtakingly important films. The good news is there was a lot of sass. It seemed this year favoured big characters and sharp, snappy dialogue as opposed to make-up free actors crying in shabby apartments over something horrible.
Not to say there wasn’t diversity. If anything, LGBT movies left no stone unturned this year. Trips to the abortion clinic with grandma, talking pet hamsters and an exquisite 1950s love affair are all part of the colourful cluster of films that make up our top ten. So, what’s the one thing they have in common? Defiance, pretty much. These films focus on characters that want to make the very best out of a not-so-good situation.
This LA comedy drama has more energy than a bag of speed and while the quick, natural wit of it’s two lead stars makes for hilarious viewing, it’s also incredibly moving. Director Sean Baker, known for casting Dree Hemingway as a porn star in 2014’s Starlet, shifted his focus to the world of transgender prostitutes. Lead actors Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor play Sin-Dee and Alexandra, respectively – two polar opposite young hookers who are reunited after Sin-Dee gets released from prison. What unravels is a fast-paced tale of strife that’s laced with a loud soundtrack and a connection between two characters so tight (and moving) you’d think you were watching a true story. Oh, did we mention its filmed entirely on an iPhone?
It’s not often in life we get to luxuriate in a film that features a talking hamster voiced by Isabella Rossellini, so thank the good Lord for Canadian director Stephen’s Dunn’s debut gem Closet Monster. It’s a coming-of-age story centred around Oscar (played wonderfully by Connor Jessup) who, through feeling totally isolated in the hometown he is desperate to leave, chooses to reside in his own fantasy world. Talking hamster included.
Quite possibly the enfant terrible of the list, this Chilean-American dreamedy was rejected by Toronto Film Festival and snubbed by many for its ending. It’s the kind of final act you’ll either love or hate and – luckily for director Sebastian Silva – many loved it. It even won an award at the Berlin Film Festival. The film centres around Freddy (played by Silva himself) and his fella Mo (played by TV On The Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe) who are trying to make a baby with their gal pal Polly (Kristen Wiig). Cue lots of unconventional twists and character traits and you have a very charged comedy that ventures full steam ahead into territory a lot of films haven’t this year.
Here’s a 1950s period drama that was always going to be geared up for a big release. It’s Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven, I’m Not There) on directorial duties with Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara playing two women engrossed in a love affair. It’s the kind of film made for an Academy Award campaign and deservedly so. Based on the Patricia Highsmith novel The Price of Salt, the story is based around Carol (Blanchett), a wealthy American woman going through a divorce who meets Therese (Mara) while out shopping for her daughter’s Christmas present.
The pair fall in love despite warnings from Carol’s husband over her inappropriate (and also illegal) shenanigans. What’s really interesting is the dynamic: watching Rooney Mara perfect her younger, impressionable character who longs to be just like Carol as well as be with her is a real reminder of the power of first love. Props to costume designer Sandy Powell too for some of the best styling seen on film this year.
Freeheld is based on the 2007, Academy Award-winning documentary of the same name that focuses on Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) a New Jersey police officer who is diagnosed with terminal cancer and, naturally, wants to leave her domestic pension to her partner Stacie (Ellen Page). It wouldn’t be a story if that act was so simple, so trouble ensues as New Jersey county officials refuse to let Hester do this. Legal trouble ensues and so does facing death and everything so heartbreaking that comes along with it. Especially saying goodbye to her love and life partner. Both Moore and Page give standout performances and weave a chemistry that’s totally believable. Oh, and Miley Cyrus did a track for the film.
THE DANISH GIRL
Not familiar with Danish lady Lili Elbe? You certainly will be after you’ve seen this Golden Globe and SAG-nominated drama starring British thesp Eddie Redmayne. The film is set in 1920s Copenhagen and tells the surprising story of Elbe, played by Redmayne. Originally born a boy named Einar, Lili was one of the first known recipients of gender reassignment surgery. Alicia Vikander plays Gerder, Elbe’s lover who supports the transition from Einar to Lili and even Lili’s initial curiosity and interactions with other men. Naturally, Redmayne and Vikander give comendable performances – the awards noms are already rolling in.
This Australian documentary focuses on four children: Gus, Ebony, Matt and Graham who come from homes where the parents are gay or lesbian. How has being a ‘gayby’ affected their lives? Do they even feel affected? Naturally, these are some of the rather serious questions that pop up through out the story. Directed by Maya Newell, Gayby Baby follows their lives as the international debates around same sex marriage and parenting go on around them.
Any movie with comedy veteran and openly gay actress Lily Tomlin is always worth a watch (she’s worked with everyone from Robert Altman to Jane Fonda) but Grandma is her finest work yet. It’s a simple story: teenage girl gets pregnant and goes to see her gay grandma to borrow money for an abortion. The pair end up on a city-wide road trip through LA to try and rustle up the funds for the termination visiting everyone from grandma’s ex-girlfriend to her old tattoo parlour mate Deathy (played brilliant by Orange is the New Black star Laverne Cox). Tomlin laces the film with a seemingly effortless, comic performance that steals the show in every way. Even from her co-stars Marcia Gay Harden and young actress Julia Garner.
DRESSED AS A GIRL
Dressed As A Girl is about East London’s radical drag and performance art scene. It chronicles the cities queer icons Jonny Woo, John Sizzle, Holestar and Scottee. If you’ve set foot in a gay bar in between Dalston and Old Street, you’ve probably bumped into them. In all seriousness, these are performers who get noticed. Both Jonny Woo and Scottee regularly have their work on show at galleries, exhibitions and uber high-brow events. And why wouldn’t they? This BTS extravaganza by Colin Rothbart shows you just how much they live and breathe their art.
A woman being left jobless and homeless after a painful breakup might sound like the premise for a Jennifer Aniston rom com (not that there’s anything wrong with those, right?) but the twist here is that the woman is a bisexual Persian-American living in New York. Another pull is that director Desiree Akhavan also plays the lead and wrote the screenplay. It’s one of those genius package films that helps put a rising talent on the map. Lena Dunham cast her in Girls after seeing the film.