We highlight the best queer films of 2023 -plus a TV mini-series.
We highlight LGBT+ films we saw during 2023; some of which were released in 2022, others are of recent crop. We include one mini-series that did make some waves, 'Fellow Travellers'; it overall looks like a fine and inclusive year for LGBT+ representation.
10. 'Of An Age' by Goran Stolevski (Australia, 2022)
Elias Anton (Kol) & Thom Green (Adam) shine as young one-day Australian lovers, while the expected narrative establishing (the main character Kol is a Serbian immigrant in Australia) won't take away from the sincerity and the intensity of the relationship. More of a gay road movie between a wannabe 18-year-old dancer and an older linguist (whose sister tends to jump on and off that relationship wagon), 'Of An Age' loses steam in its second half and chapter. But its closeups, the handling of the relationship, and the characters' dilemmas ring both real and poignant.
9. 'Nuovo Olimpo' by Ferzan Özpetek (Italy, 2023)
A gay Nuovo Cinema Paradiso that substitutes love for mentorship, Ferzan Özpetek's also personal story feels like a concoction of old long lost romances with a light Almodovorian touch. Not going into melodrama territory, it patiently and warmingly reconstructs a relationship between 2 men from the protesting 70s to the early 21st century Internet world. Both actors, Damiano Gavino, and Andrea Di Luigi, have an immediate screen rapport, and the cinematic nostalgia elevates the film from its sometimes hastily patched segments. Here's an old-fashioned romance to behold, with appropriate production qualities, in which the characters confront relationship breakups and disappearances without external torment -but they still feel the emotional need to connect.
8. 'Mutt' by Vuk Lungulov-Klotz (US, 2023)
We wrote in our film review: " 'Mutt' succeeds in being an insightful and cherished film about a trans character without seemingly really trying. It has a freshness and an openness that is both ordinary and novel. To be absorbed." It is a film that enriches our trans representation and, at the same time, makes its central character's trajectory a day-to-day effort -for survival and love. The newcomer Vuk Lungulov-Klotz's debut (and Berlin-awarded) film is here to stay.
7. 'Bottoms' by Emma Seligman (US, 2023)
Emma Seligman does it again. After the Jewish LGBTIQ+ family conundrum of 'Shiva Baby' (2020), Seligman -with the help of co-screenwriter and actress Rachel Sennott- makes a roaring American school comedy, in which being lesbian and a woman is something still to be debated -and fought for. A 'Fight Club' for girls who still feel the objects of attention -instead of the subjects of dating, 'Bottoms' is uproarious, satirical to the core, bombastic, and would have the 'Grease' main cast explode themselves. It sometimes makes too much fun for its good, yet it is vibrantly acted (Sennott - Ayo Edebiri) and makes its LGBTIQ+ characters desiring young persons, not human specimens.
6. 'Joyland' by Saim Sadiq (Pakistan, 2022)
In his film debut, Saim Sadiq dazzles with efficient characterization and provides daring choices to his characters in an otherwise patriarchal, homophobic environment that still looks natural to them. The story of Haider (Ali Junejo), his family, and the trans character Biba (Alina Khan) is shown via a network of tight relationship negotiations that unfold and destroy past ones like a pack of cards. More than the sexual awareness of a 'non-manly enough' male, 'Joyland' is the story of consequences. Toxic masculinity is the air that all family members breathe; when the door opens wide for some fresh air (moving outside, dancing), then everything changes. A brilliantly told film of sexual oppression and prejudice.
5. 'Monica' by Andrea Pallaoro (US/Italy, 2022)
Trace Lysette gives a profoundly mourning performance as the trans woman and child of the estranged but now terminally ill mother (Patricia Clarkson). Italian-born director Andrea Pallaoro makes another cinematic monograph (in restricted frame ratio) of a woman who needs to come to terms not with her identity, but with all the added burden of being now a provider (instead of a bearer) of love and affection. While the film sometimes takes its European existentialism in a too solemn path, it still communicates vividly the emotional life of people lost and found.
4. 'Kokomo City' by D. Smith (US, 2023)
D. Smith had to work homeless to make this shattering doc on black trans sex workers detailing their essentials. What ensues is a fight for survival (even though both the subjects and D. Smith's style make it look like a relaxed interview setting). We learn first-hand about hypocritical attitudes and the intimacy gap sex workers are here to fulfill -with a price. No holds barred, 'Kokomo City' is a doc that shines a bright light on our perceptions of the black trans sex workers' community. No wonder his Sundance Audience Next Award; the film speaks directly to the informed brain.
3. 'Rotting in the Sun' by Sebastián Silva (US/Mexico 2023)
Sebastián Silva (The Maid, Nasty Baby) brings the depressed gay man stereotype to its apogee in this breezy and too-steamy mockumentary 'Rotting in the Sun', in which a celebrated suicidal director (Silva) meets on a Mexican beach his happy alter ego, the Instagram influencer, and impressionist Jordan Firstman. The graphic, unsimulated beach sex gives way to an artistic Mexico City apartment run by a housekeeper (Catalina Saavedra, a magnificent presence) with a different sort of agenda. We expect unexpected narrative turns in Silva's films; these occur in the film's first half, with many bumpy consequences on the road. But this gay black comedy of characters with its frenetic rhythm and camera shake looks like a work-in-progress in the artistic life of any gay male artist; full of uncertitude, Zoom meetings that go nowhere, and perhaps some illegal drug pleasures standing by. It celebrates chance as the antidote to a well-planned (but ultimately miserable) life.
2. 'Passages' by Ira Sachs (France, 2023)
US indie filmmaker Ira Sachs (The Delta, Keep the Lights On) makes a nouvelle vague film on a threesome -without using Truffaut's silent era gimmicks in 'Jules & Jim'. But still, the story of a self-centered film director (a radiant Franz Rogowski) alternating between his lover (Ben Whishaw) and his new lover (Adèle Exarchopoulos) is more of a dramatic menage-a-trois. It is a re-negotiation of values and priorities that characters make based on sentiments and presumed truths that constantly change. Time itself hates stasis. And even though 'Passages' is mainly an intimate, behind-the-walls affair (with some naturalistically directed sex scenes), it serves as a valuable reminder that there's not a single moment of letting go. A thread of such moments makes 'Passages' the heartfelt queer work it is.
1. 'All of Us Strangers' by Andrew Haigh (UK, 2023)
Andrew Scott stars as Adam, a depressed writer who re-learns physical and emotional intimacy in the hands of casual encounters and London neighbor Harry (Paul Mescal). Yet this is not enough for director Andrew Haigh (Weekend), who adapts the 1987 Taichi Yamada 'Strangers' novel -and brings back to the present a father (Jamie Bell) and mother (Claire Foy) long killed in a car accident. As in all of Andrew Haigh's films, characters and their minutely constructed inner lives move the plot forward. Yet, in 'All of Us Strangers', the physicality slowly (but decidedly) builds up to an emotional tumult you cannot even breathe experiencing. More visceral than your ordinary gay drama, and more haunting than several equally sex-positive LGBT+ films, it offers a glaring night window to a person who has to collect his memories only to be left to his own devices. A ravishing film.
'Fellow Travelers', created by Ron Nyswaner (US, 2023, miniseries)
Matt Boomer and Jonathan Bailey might be the hot heartthrobs here, but they are also the perfect couple encapsulating the drama of a gay relationship in Washington, DC. during McCarthyism (its Lavender Scare) and beyond. Based on Thomas Mallon's 2007 novel, the 8-part miniseries is not just a series of tragedies; instead, it succeeds in being perceptive, continuous in its different era assessments (and the impossibility of the two characters to mingle in), and intimate -in a way that most TV mainstream series would abhor. Frank and warm in its production design, it tells the story of two men who cannot call themselves lovers.