From sexy to heartbreaking to funny, LGBTQ lives showed up on 2023’s big screen
GREGG SHAPIRO | Screen Queen[email protected]
When it comes to looking back at LGBTQ movies (and characters) in 2023, it’s reassuring to know that representation still matters, and we are, in fact, everywhere onscreen. Here is a list of some of the best LGBTQ films of the year.
Passages (Mubi): Gay filmmakers Ira Sachs and co-screenwriters Mauricio Zacharias and Arlette Langmann have crafted a very emotional story, and one that is also quintessentially French. It’s as sexy as it is sorrowful. The three leads, especially Whishaw and Rogowski, are all more than up to the task at hand.
All of Us Strangers (Searchlight): Few gay filmmakers are as consistently brilliant as Andrew Haigh, and All of Us Strangers continues his winning streak. Out actor Andrew Scott plays Adam, who revisits his childhood for inspiration and also finds stimulation in a potential relationship with hot neighbor Harry (Paul Mescal). It’s the kind of movie that lingers long after the final credits roll.
Of An Age (Focus): At turns exhilarating, funny, sexy, touching and ultimately heartbreaking, Of An Age is one of those rare transformative gay coming-of-age stories. The combination of the acting (both Elias Anton as Kol and Thom Green as Adam are exceptional) and the writing and direction are effective.
Blue Jean (Magnolia): Set in 1988 England, during the Thatcher years, as the anti-gay Clause (or Section) 28 was being advanced, we see the impact on Jean (Rosy McEwan), a closeted queer secondary school P.E. teacher. Through it all, Jean struggles to find a balance, and, from what we can gauge from the open-ended conclusion, a kind of hard-won victory occurs. Once again, timing is everything, and the release of Blue Jean occurs as a reminder that while history may repeat, it’s possible for good to triumph over evil.
Kokomo City (Magnolia): Trans filmmaker D. Smith did something incredible with her first film, the documentary Kokomo City: She gave voice to Black trans sex workers, a segment of the population that has something to say after remaining silent for too long. Focusing on four individuals — Liyah Mitchell, Dominique Silver, Daniella Carter and the late Koko Da Doll (who was murdered in April 2023) — Smith offered us insight into both the trans and sex worker communities in equal measure.
Egoist (Strand): Director and co-screenwriter Daishi Matsunaga’s Egoist was one of the most original and moving gay movies of the year. As a mother and her son’s lover bond following a calamaity, Egoist finds the perfect balance between eroticism and emotion. The three lead actors give convincing and moving performances. Even with the heartbreaking elements of the story, Egoist is strongly recommended.
Cassandro (Amazon Studios): From the first time many of us saw Gael García Bernal onscreen, we knew he had something special — a little spark they used to call “star quality.” With his performance as “Cassandro,” a flamboyant “exotico” luchador, Bernal has the potential to receive his first Academy Award nomination in a lead role. Like the titular character, Cassandro is a triumph.
Shortcomings (Sony Pictures Classics): Adapted from the graphic novel by Adrian Tomine (who also wrote the screenplay), Shortcomings is actor Randall Park’s directorial debut. Queer actor Sherry Cola (who also stole the show in 2023’s Joyride), plays Alice, a funny and flirty lesbian lothario who’s earned herself a reputation in the Bay Area.
Afire (Sideshow/Janus Films): Writer/director Christian Petzold’s Afire is a lot to handle. Thoroughly unlikeable and completely self-absorbed lead character Leon is someone who might make some viewers give up on him less than halfway through the movie. But don’t do that. The main thing to know about Afire is that no one is as they appear. It takes a long time to ignite. Once it does, brace yourself.
Knock at the Cabin (Universal): Would the late, gay film historian and activist Vito Russo have been impressed by Shyamalan casting two gay actors (Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge) as gay dads who must shoulder the responsibility of saving the world from mass destruction in Knock at the Cabin? Yes and no. Not nearly as silly as or pointless as The Happening, The Lady in the Water or The Village, calling Knock at the Cabin a “comeback” for Shyamalan is kind of a stretch. At the very least, it’s not a complete waste of 100 minutes.