“Heterosexuality is not normal, it’s just common.” ― Dorothy Parker. Most, if not all, of us have perennially looked at cinema to define the crazy, all-encompassing, unfathomable thing called love. It is cinema that has taught us that love knows no limits, no boundaries. Yet it is saddening that, for ages, our most beloved visual medium treated a specific “abnormal” kind of love with chagrin and cruel stereotypes. Forget LGBT movies, films from the early 20th Century showed characters who were gay (even though the movies pretended not to know) either as the “sissies” or sadists, psychopaths, nefarious, anti-social villains.
The 1970s, saw films like ‘The Boys in the Band’, ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ and ‘Cabaret’ break ground, with a more honest portrayal of gay/trans characters. But the gradual improvement in the 70s was put to standstill in the 80s, with the emergence of the AIDS pandemic and the raving homophobia associated with it (It was a common myth in the 80s that being gay caused AIDS). The only silver lining of this lunacy were some cinematic gems based on the milieu, like ‘Parting Glances’ and ‘Philadelphia’. In the new millennium, Lesbian and gay characters are finally getting their due through a number of heart-wrenching yet intimate takes of filmmakers on love like never seen before on celluloid. I know there’s a long, long way to go, but till then, here’s the list of top LGBT movies ever honouring the most heartfelt depictions of the LGBT community in cinema.
12. Closet Monster (2015)
With striking visuals and a world in between reality and surrealism, “Closet Monster” presents a strong and captivating coming-of-age story about finding one’s identity in an oppressive surrounding that might make what should be easy, hard. Oscar’s parents divorce when he’s 8 years old. This makes him retreat into his own creative world where he sometimes feels the loneliness a teenager should never feel. With a unpleasing homophobic father and strange traumatic memories of the past, Oscar, now 18, deals with his confusing state of mind in which he isn’t certain of how he feels, especially when he meets another boy named Wilder, and “feels something in his stomach”. A beautiful, raw and at times dark voyage with three-dimensional characters that embody this story in a visually and emotionally grabbing and meaningful way.
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11. Laurence Anyways (2012)
Set during the late 1980s and early 1990s, this is a decade-long chronicle of doomed love between a woman named Fred (Frédérique) and a transgender woman named Laurence (then living as a man) who reveals her inner desire to become her true self; a woman. While the film’s pivotal focus is on Lawrence’s struggle to embrace her true self amidst the ridicule and disgust; a more thoughtful and unconventional angle is the generous focus on Fred, striving for breath and co-existence when her world is equally shattered by the decision made by the man she loves. A melancholy melodrama totally worth the slightly long runtime.
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10. The Boys in the Band (1969)
The film said to have started it all. ‘The Boys In The Band’ is one of the first mainstream films showing a normal (although a slightly self-deprecating) depiction of homosexuals. The film tells the story of a straight man is accidentally being a part of a gay party. The gay characters, although severely flawed, from self-loathing Michael, flaming Emory, butch acting Hank to bitchy Harold, are real, unlike the sissies and psychopaths shown before it. This pre-AIDS but post-Stonewall film is an accurate representation of the era it is set within. Although its image of gay men is slightly dated in our age, ‘The Boys…’ is a landmark achievement.
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9. Stranger By The Lake (2013)
A splendid lake surrounded by woods and hills, a glowing beach and company of a magnetic man named Michael. Franck is set to have the summer of his life, but things aren’t meant to go so smoothly, as Michael seems to be much more mysterious and lethal than he lets on. But Franck, enamoured by his lover, is ready to turn a blind eye. The events which follow in this thriller alternate between beautiful, long, panning shots of the breathtaking surroundings and graphic renditions of violence and sex. An unconventional (even by the standards of queer cinema) bold, stunningly shot affair, but not at all for the faint-hearted.
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8. Milk (2008)
‘Milk’ is a bold account of the of life of gay rights activist and politician Harvey Milk, who was the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California. It chronicles his life from his 40th birthday in 1970, through his foray into city politics, his romantic relationships and the various battles he waged against the world for gay rights, till his assassination by City Supervisor Dan White. Sean Penn is phenomenal as the titular Milk, channelling his nuances with winning grace. Movies like ‘Milk’ are relevant today because they serve as a reminder of how people once fought in order to create a better society for those living in today’s world. Appropriately, the film’s release coincided with Proposition 8, California’s referendum on same-sex marriages.
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7. American Beauty (1999)
This Kevin Spacey film is an absolute roller-coaster ride. There is so much that happens in this film, and yet it remains incredibly streamlined. The movie follows the story of a middle aged man, Lester, played by Spacey, who undergoes a midlife crisis when he starts to develop feelings for his daughter’s cheerleader friend, Angela. In the meantime, his wife is having an affair, and his encounters with his homophobic neighbor and his son, complicate things. The movie depicts sexual frustration and confused sexuality from a mid-life crisis angle, with some elements of homosexuality added in, and does it all wonderfully, marking it worthy of its Oscar for Best Picture win.
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6. The Kids Are Alright (2012)
‘The Kids Are All Right’ centers on a lesbian marriage, but is not about one. It’s a film about marriage itself, an institution with challenges that are universal. While the other entries on this list understandably focus more on the hardships, trials and tribulations faced by the queer characters in them, ‘The Kids Are All Right’ has a refreshing, understated conventional feel to it, despite it being about an unconventional family. Nic and Jules (portrayed beautifully by Anette Benning and Julianne Moore) are a lesbian couple who have given birth to two children through artificial insemination, and the quest of their kids to find their biological father and bring him into their lives forms the core narrative of this comedy. It is a warm film making a statement about family values rather than the orientation of the mothers.
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5. Moonlight (2016)
When I saw the team of ‘La La Land’ go up on the Oscars stage to celebrate a fleeting moment of victory, it was a bittersweet feeling. Although, as an indulgent cinegoer, ‘La La Land’ was my favourite film of the year, I knew ‘Moonlight’ deserved the award. Thankfully the Academy did too. This film isn’t going to fade from memories like so many recent Best Picture winners anytime soon. ‘Moonlight’ tells a coming-of-age tale of 3 stages in the life of a gay black boy named Chiron, while painting a portrait of contemporary African American life and an intensely personal and poetic meditation on identity, family, friendship, and love. It made history by becoming the first LGBT-centric film to win an Oscar, cementing its place in history and on this list. In a world that is barely subtle about its failure to accept homosexuality as completely normal, it is exceptionally hard to find yourself while growing up. The film makes beautiful use of lighting, and color, and earned its well deserved Oscar award for being the best film of 2016, as well as the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, among other accolades, and goes down in history as one of the very best movies to touch upon the topic of confused sexuality.
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4. Philadelphia (1993)
The invasion AIDS pandemic in the 80s was a time of unsettling turmoil in America. People were scared, paranoid and thus willing to believe any myth which became rife about the loathed virus, some prominent ones stating that being homosexual made you HIV-positive or even casual contact with a patient made you HIV-positive. This almost sounds ludicrous in today’s time of general AIDS awareness, but it was all too real back then when homosexuals were callously shunned. How do I, a 20-year old Indian kid, know about all of this? A gutsy film called ‘Philadelphia’. The sad tale of Andrew Beckett, a closeted homosexual and HIV patient who is robbed of his job due to his condition touches upon the then taboo topics of homosexuality, AIDS and the resultant homophobia with hard-hitting realism. A career-defining performance by Tom Hanks as Bennett makes the film soar higher. A definitive film dealing with undue discrimination.
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3. Blue is The Warmest Colour (2013)
Like ‘Moonlight’, ‘Blue Is The Warmest Colour’ is a coming-of-age tale of Adele, an introverted high-school girl who discovers and explores her sexuality through Emma, an aspiring artist whose hair is the warmest shade of blue. But this film takes a more tender yet raw, passionate but not-too schmaltzy approach at telling its story. But it isn’t an indulgent film bringing only a unique gay relationship to light nor is it an ode to “coming out” with stockpiled clichés of “being different.” It shows how an interaction with a person, any person. can have a truly provocative impact. ‘Blue Is The Warmest Colour’ is a touching ode to blossoming love, fiery passion and lasting bonds.
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2. Carol (2015)
A ten-minute standing ovation at its Cannes. That barely does ‘Carol’ enough justice. The story of a forbidden affair between an aspiring female photographer Therese and an older woman named Carol going through a difficult divorce, ‘Carol’ is one of the greatest romantic films of this millennium. It is charming, subtle, heart-wrenching at times, but with a beautiful happy ending. Subtlety is the strength of ‘Carol’. The lingering frames and intense gazes evoke much more than words do. Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett give graceful, show-stopping performances individually, but it is the chemistry between then which makes ‘Carol’ linger in your thoughts for quite a while.
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1. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
If you are a movie nerd, chances are that you’ve already heard of this movie. A critically acclaimed film, ‘Brokeback Mountain’ tells the tale of two cowboys who fall in love with each other after, in the 1960s. Their forbidden relationship, the inability to accept it because of societal structures, and as a result, their scattered personal lives, all tell a saddening story of the lack of freedom of sexual curiosity, over a span of 20 years. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, and the late Heath Ledger, this movie is one of the first titles one hears in a discussion about movies about confused sexuality, and deserves to be on this list.
“I wish I knew how to quit you.” Oh, just this one line can get the waterworks flowing for anyone who has felt love and watched this heartbreaking Western saga of two Cowboys madly into each other, but not meant for each other. Heath Ledger as Ennis Del Mar and Jake Gylenhall as Jack Twist give mammoth performances, colluding at times and colliding at others, so much so that Ennis and Jack can be named in the same vein of Romeo-Juliet and Jack-Rose as star-crossed lovers. And Ang Lee paints this tragedy on a stunning Western canvas, using every moment of the film to convey an emotion. The feeling lingers. The images come back, not to haunt you but to reassure you. There is an unexplainable element of hope within the melancholic sadness of this masterpiece.
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