The year in film, 2018
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2018 has proved to be a banner year for LGBTQ-themed films, many screening locally at Bay Area film festivals such as Frameline and Berlin & Beyond. Below, find my picks, a baker's dozen of truly fine films.
1. "Bohemian Rhapsody" This outstanding bio-pic on openly gay British rocker Freddie Mercury, lead singer for UK rockers Queen, tops my second-week picks for Best Films of 2018. In this Bryan Singer production, we follow young Freddie (sublime Rami Malek), born in Zanzibar to Pakistani parents, as he carves out a career in the volatile early-70s world of UK bands known for flamboyant dress and hairstyles. This is a captivating mix of pop music history, upbeat immigrant story, high-wire coming out tale, and rousing London concert, Freddie and Queen a huge hit at the 1985 Live Aid concert.
2. "Cold War" Cannes award-winning director Pawel Pawlikowski celebrates the European Communist-era relationship of his composer dad and singer mom with this fractured fairy tale. This boy-never-quite-gets-girl tale is laced with sprightly numbers that deftly parody the Stalinist propaganda machine and its determination to bend every human element empire to deadly dull purpose.
3. "Boys Cry" This brutal little drama, shot by brothers Damiano & Fabio D'Innocenzo, focuses on the ambitions of two handsome pizza delivery boys. An accident propels these future waiter-bartenders from school to a precarious niche on a local crime don's hit-list. Matteo Olivetti and Andrea Carpenzano play the cocky Mirko and Manola, doomed youth trapped in a hood far tougher than they suspect.
4. "On the Basis of Sex" The improbable rise of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg is recalled in this nuanced narrative drama. Ginsberg (Felicity Jones) overcomes male privilege in the courtroom throughout her inspiring career.
Judge: "The word 'woman' does not appear even once in the US Constitution."
RBG: "Nor does the word 'freedom,' Your Honor."
5. "Buddies" 1985 gay treasure returns in a splendid new DVD/BluRay release. The first AIDS-themed drama was the inspiration of gay filmmaking pioneer Arthur J. Bressan, Jr.
6. "Shoplifters" Hirokazu Kore-eda ("Nobody Knows," 2004) returns with a Cannes award-winner. A boy and girl are informally adopted by a quirky clan who engage in petty crime to survive. The story hinges on a radical redefinition of the meaning of family and ties that really bind.
7. "Studio 54" Director Matt Tyrnauer zooms in on Studio 54's celebrity owners Steve Rubell (dead from AIDS, 1989) and Ian Schrager, who met at college and lived to showcase the exhilarating highs and deadly lows of the club scene. Celebs like Elton John and Grace Jones bumped up against common guys and gals lucky enough to get past the velvet rope.
8. "Conversations with Gay Elders" Veteran director David Weissman delivers a deceptively simple 70-minute chat with a gay everyman. The life of Kerby Lauderdale covers a host of moving moments: discovering his sexual identity at summer camp, a college romance, a lengthy hetero marriage, and finally, a 14-year relationship with an HIV+ male partner. Never maudlin, this is a frank discussion between two adults.
9. "If Beale Street Could Talk" "Moonlight" director Barry Jenkins adapts gay African-American novelist James Baldwin's novel. After a long lapse following his premature death, Baldwin's work has roared back into fashion.
10. "Postcards from London" When the handsome but shy redhead Jim (Harris Dickinson) leaves his provincial home for the bright lights of London's Soho, he falls in with a gang of male escorts who give him a crash course in the art world's dark side. Jim is a young stud paid by older men to breathe excitement back into canvasses that fetch princely sums at art auctions. Written and directed by Steve McLean, this is both a sexy art appreciation course and a primer on the influence of passionate homosexuality on the evolution of painting styles.
11. "Mr. Gay Syria" Director-writer Ayse Toprak offers a joyful plunge into the upside-down lives of LGBTQ refugees from the Muslim Middle East. The hero in war-torn Syria is a handsome 24-year-old barber. Husein has great fashion sense, along with an ex-wife, a young daughter, and the desire to live as an open gay man with a male partner. A chilling scene unfolds when one of Husein's pals overhears a family member threatening his life unless he "swear[s] on the Koran that you're not gay!"
12. "Dream Boat" Director Tristan Ferland Milewski blends the experiences, beauty tips and hissy-fits on a yearly cruise whose passenger list is limited to gay men from countries hostile to gays. The passengers include an Indian man fleeing an arranged marriage; a Palestinian escaping police persecution; a wheelchair-bound man remembering his able-bodied youth while enjoying shipboard solace with his male partner; an HIV+ Austrian who finds the cruise a hedonistic escape from life; and a Polish bodybuilder escaping loneliness amid the glitter and frenzied playtime.
13. "Welcome to Germany" In director-screenwriter Simon Verhoeven's frisky family-centered comedy/drama, Angelika invites a young African refugee to live in the basement of their Munich home, upsetting Angelika and Richard's adult children, and putting their marriage at risk.