Whether a curse or a blessing, “May you live in interesting times” certainly applies to the LGBTQ community -- the past decade saw the legalization of same-sex marriages and the end of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, but every advancement has been met with pushback and threats to overturn equal protections under the law. Trans characters (played, for a change, by trans performers) got their largest public spotlight on television shows like “Pose” and “Transparent,” while at the same time they remain the targets of violence and of hysterical and reactionary lawmakers. Whatever triumphs and travails the community faced in day-to-day life, their lives and loves continued to be reflected on the big screen; here are some of the decade’s greatest examples, listed alphabetically.
Runners-Up: “1985,” “Appropriate Behavior,” “Booksmart,” “BPM,” “Cola de Mono,” “Drunktown’s Finest,” “Kiki,” “Love, Simon,” “Paris 05:59 Théo & Hugo,” “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”
Sony/The Weinstein Company
“Call Me by Your Name” and “Carol” (2017/2015) One was set in the relatively permissive 1980s and the other in the restrictive 1950s, but both films were gorgeous portraits of aching longing and rapturous passion among the wealthy and artistic. These were lush dramas that scratched an old-movie itch while taking a very contemporary look at same-sex relationships.
“Concussion” (2015) This unpredictable tale of a lesbian housewife shaking off the suburbs for sophisticated sex work had the erotic moxie of “Belle de Jour” and the knowing, arch qualities of “The Stepford Wives,” but it also represented the arrival of an important new voice -- writer-director Stacie Passon, making one of the decade’s most exciting debuts.
“The Handmaiden” (2016) Park Chan-wook transferred Sarah Waters’ novel “Fingersmith” from Victorian England to Japanese-occupied Korea, but the psychological gamesmanship and breathless lesbian eroticism remained intact. Boasting gorgeous production values and a script where characters are constantly gaining and losing the upper hand, this was a riveting thriller that took queer relationships as a given, even in what we think of as the buttoned-down olden times.
“How to Survive a Plague” (2012) David France’s incredibly vital piece of activist cinema documented the rise of ACT UP in New York City in the 1980s, and how the members of that group fought the system -- before, essentially, taking it over themselves -- as the U.S. government and pharmaceutical industry turned its back on people with HIV and AIDS. It’s one of the great “yes, you can fight city hall” documentaries ever made.
“Moonlight” (2016) The subtle ways in which children come to understand -- and are taught to be afraid of -- their true selves, and the obstacles for adults seeking to overcome a lifetime of negative messaging are just some of the threads that weave their way through this gorgeous tapestry of a life, as portrayed brilliantly by three actors and captured by writer Tarell Alvin McCraney and director Barry Jenkins.
“Pain and Glory” (2019) Legendary filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar offered some of his most tenderly romantic moments late in this autobiographical film, as director Salvador (Antonio Banderas) has an unexpected reunion, decades later, with his onetime lover. In just a few scenes, the two convey the depth and breadth of a relationship, from beginning to inevitable end, and it helps provide the full picture of Salvador, an artist whose past provides the possibility of unlocking his creative block.
“Take Me to the River” (2014) What starts out as a dark comedy about a gay California teenager forced to attend a family reunion in Nebraska unfurls into an unsettling thriller about family secrets and unresolved longings. Writer-director Matt Sobel subtly but inexorably tightens the vise, and it’s not until the closing credits roll that you allow yourself to exhale fully again.
“Tangerine” (2015) A Christmas Eve in the lives of two trans sex workers (played memorably by Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) provides a glimpse into both the grind of their day-to-day existence and their hopes and dreams. The leads consulted on the script, and the results are both quotidian and poetic.
“Weekend” (2011) Writer-director Andrew Haigh (“45 Years”) starts with a simple premise -- two guys meet and hit it off, just as one of them is about to leave the country -- and turns it into a riveting two-hander, with Tom Cullen and Chris New capturing those moments of connection and curiosity and chemistry that mark the beginning of every new relationship, even as we know this one will end before it can even really start.