Brokeback Mountain raised the bar on just how far an LGBTQ-themed film can go way back in 2005. That the movie, which has since become a modern classic, lost Best Picture to Crash will echo throughout history as one of the biggest upsets–and serious mistakes–in the history of the Academy Awards.
This year, no Brokeback stands out from the pack of other movies vying for awards glory, though several queer-themed films have distinguished themselves. Some come from queer writers or directors, while others focus on the LGBTQ experience.
Either way, they make for a great time at the movies, and should play very well on date night.
We’ve already written a great deal about Moonlight, the most must-see queer film of 2016, and comparable to Brokeback as a cinematic breakthrough on a previously forbidden topic for the mainstream audience. At this point, it would be a bigger shock if the film didn’t score nominations for Best Picture and Best Director. Ditto a nod for Supporting Actor Mahershala Ali, who turns in one of the most spellbinding performances of the year as a crack dealer with paternal instinct. The movie belongs to Trevante Rhodes though, who’s performance as a gay African-American man coming to terms with his sexuality, and who also gives one of the best performances of the year.
2. Nocturnal Animals
Queer designer turned filmmaker Tom Ford makes a spectacular sophomore outing with his adaptation of Austin Wright’s book Nocturnal Animals. Ford already showed his potential with the queer-themed A Single Man back in 2009, from a novel by gay writer Christopher Isherwood.
Nocturnal Animals finds Ford in unfamiliar territory though. A movie that somehow manages to be a relationship drama, social commentary, and a white knuckle thriller, Ford gets two shattering performances from leads Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal. The film also features one of the most unique opening sequences ever, which must be seen to be believed. That Nocturnal Animals also features plenty of nudity from Gyllenhaal and Aaron Taylor-Johnson also provides an added bonus.
3. Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures
Leave it to queer filmmakers (and former Club Kids) Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato to raise cinematic hell over famed photographic hellraiser Robert Mapplethrope. Mapplethorpe, of course, became infamous for his homoerotic and sexually explicit photographic studies, and the massive backlash they incurred. Bailey and Barbato, who already covered the same kind of controversy and the way it shaped the culture with Inside Deep Throat, don’t quite achieve the same kind of impact here. Nevertheless, Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures has enough cinematic allure to make it engaging through its entire runtime.
While not exactly queer themed, the documentary Tickled features no shortage of homoeroticism thanks to its subject matter: tickling fetishism. If the subject sounds unusual, the plot of the film, which features director David Farrier trying to discover the origins of a series of tickling fetish videos, gets even wilder. Though said videos feature a number of hunky, near-naked college dudes wrestling and tickling one another, the director begins receiving intimidating communications insisting that the videos are, in no way, homoerotic. Right. What starts as a funny look at a fetish turns into a nightmarish descent into the deviant underground as Farrier begins meeting former participants who had their lives ruined by their on-camera actions.
5. I Am Not Your Negro
Samuel L. Jackson lends his voice as the gay writer James Baldwin in this documentary-narrative hybrid. Based on an unfinished work by Baldwin, I Am Not Your Negro explores the sorrow and rage that still hovers over a generation of murdered African-American leaders like Malcom X and Martin Luther King, Jr. It also assaults the liberal images (dubbed “lies” by Baldwin) of black and white reconciliation and unity in movies throughout the 1950s & 60s.
Though not explicitly LGBTQ themed, I Am Not Your Negro does come from a gay writer. Maybe that’s why the questions that preoccupy the film also loom before our community. Much as African Americans lost a generation of world-changing leaders, so did the gay community: Harvey Milk died from an assassin’s bullet, while AIDS decimated the population a short time later. Likewise, a generation raised on images of the Gay Best Friend or Tragic, Dying Gay in movies and television must too confront how those placations cloaked societal intolerance. Baldwin’s voice echoes with shattering power even 30 years after his death, and I Am Not Your Negro raises questions the LGBT community—and greater America—must face, even if they don’t have answers.