Best LGBTQ films of 2022

  • by Brian Bromberger
  • Tuesday December 27, 2022
Share this Post:
'The Inspection,' 'Tar,' 'Keep the Cameras Rolling: <br>The Pedro Zamora Way' and 'Everything Everywhere All At Once'
'The Inspection,' 'Tar,' 'Keep the Cameras Rolling:
The Pedro Zamora Way' and 'Everything Everywhere All At Once'

2022 will be remembered as the year LGBTQ films went mainstream, meaning Hollywood studios were willing to make and market them at cineplexes. Unfortunately they were box office failures, especially "Bros," despite massive publicity and good critical notices, and "Spoiler Alert" with mixed reviews.

Audiences were primarily LGBTQ, not appealing to straight movie-goers, though with such low revenues these films lost money, few queer people patronized them.

The record on streaming channels is mixed. The heavily promoted "My Policeman," starring sexually ambiguous Harry Styles and nonbinary Emma Corrin, was critically drubbed (44% Rotten Tomatoes) and ignored on Amazon Prime.

However, "Fire Island" with a 94% Rotten Tomatoes rating was a huge hit this summer. Incidentally, while "Bros" was advertised as the first gay rom-com released by a Hollywood studio with an openly gay cast, "Fire Island" was made by Disney's Searchlight Pictures with mostly queer actors/crew, played in theaters for two weeks, then was streamed on Hulu two months prior to "Bros." Therefore, one could argue this "landmark" distinction belongs to the more successful "Fire Island," rather than "Bros."

Overall this year, audiences did return to theaters though nowhere near pre-pandemic levels, including older (meaning over 35) patrons who felt COVID-safe in multiplexes. The highest-grossing movies were action ("Top Gun: Maverick"), Marvel/Superhero ("Black Panther"), and scifi/fantasy ("Avatar").

Meanwhile highbrow critically praised films ("theatrical specialty market") such as "Tar," "She Said," and "The Fabelmans" struggled at the box office. The consensus is that audiences have grown comfortable streaming these kind of movies at home and don't want to pay to see them at theaters. Viewers appear to want entertainment and escape-type movies, not downbeat or introspective ones.

Considering the poor audience turnout and mixed critical reception of LGBTQ movies, it's likely Hollywood won't be making them unless there's a guarantee straight audiences will patronize them. The last mainstream queer film that crossed over to the straight crowd was "Call Me By Your Name," five years ago, aided by a breakout turn by straight newcomer Timothy Chalamet.

However, "The Whale" about a dying 600-pound gay man salvaging an estranged relationship with his daughter, is breaking box office records with a once-in-a-lifetime comeback performance by Brendan Fraser, a straight former matinee star. These movies are few and far between, meaning the majority of LGBTQ movies will be created for and shown on streaming platforms, with the occasional indie and foreign titles appearing in smaller theaters.

Despite the ambivalent news, it was an auspicious year for quality queer films, so much that we had to expand our Top 10 list to 15. If you haven't seen any of these movies, do watch one over the holiday break and imbibe the rich creative talent our community continues to offer.

1. Austria's entry for the Best International Film Oscar, "Great Freedom" is a stirring, captivating indictment of Paragraph 175, which made sex between men a crime, later expanded by the Nazis as a pretext to send queer people to concentration camps. After the war, West Germany kept the law till 1994. We follow Hans Hoffman, a gay Jewish man, rescued from a concentration camp, then sent to prison to serve the remainder of his sentence. Arrested repeatedly for 20 years, he falls in love with two inmates through the years. As Hans, actor Franz Rogowski has the role of a lifetime. This tender, empathetic masterpiece about perseverance, the longing for freedom, the need for nurturing love, plus the refusal to be destroyed by unjust institutions/laws, will steal your heart. Not only the best queer film of 2022, but perhaps the last half decade.

2. "The Blue Caftan," is Morocco's submission for this year's Best International Film Oscar and a highlight at this year's Arab Film Festival, with its tale about a married couple Halim and Mina who run a traditional caftan (the national garment) store. In order to keep up with more customer orders, they hire a 25-year-old apprentice Youssef, to whom Halim, a closeted homosexual, is attracted. Mina knows about Halim's secret sex life, but when she experiences a health crisis, she must reevaluate her relationship with him and callous attitude towards Youssef. Sensual, hypnotic, and contemplative, the film is more erotic than all the naked closeups in "Bros" and shrewdly argues for a modernizing of traditional (Muslim) attitudes towards LGBTQ folk. A stunning delectable concoction, it opens February in theaters and is not to be missed.

3. "Tar" is an intense and relentless investigation concerning the fictional orchestral conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, Lydia Tar, occurring over three weeks. Despite having a patient wife Sharon, she's had a series of inappropriate romantic relationships with young women under her tutelage, one of whom has committed suicide, leading to the unraveling of Tar's stellar career. Can we separate an artist's personal failings from an appreciation of their creative work? As Tar, Cate Blanchett establishes herself, among the greatest transformational film actors ever and will likely win her third Academy Award. Despite a 2.5 hours runtime, it plays like a thriller and is absolutely mesmerizing even in the final murky twenty minutes. It's a probable Best Picture Oscar nominee.

4. The trials of being Black and queer are etched in "The Inspection" about homeless Ellis French, rejected by his mother for being gay, decides to enlist in the Marines in 2005 when Don't Ask, Don't Tell was still the military's policy. Based on gay filmmaker Elegance Bratton's fictionalized experiences of surviving Boot Camp trauma, French accidentally outs himself becoming a virtual pariah, but remains determined to persevere through graduation. Jeremy Pope as French is a stupendous, star-making triumph, the year's best queer performance, matched by Gaby Union's electrifying career-best as his disappointed, scornful mother. This thought-provoking, pro-troop, suspenseful, occasionally-painful-to-watch film is this year's biggest surprise.

5. "Everything Everywhere All At Once" centers on Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh), a weary, disillusioned Chinese laundromat-owning immigrant, being divorced by her husband (Ke Huy Kwan) and audited by the IRS (Jamie Lee Curtis). The absurdist plot resists description incorporating elements of science fiction, fantasy, martial arts, and animation as Evelyn connects with parallel universe versions of herself, but it's really about her trying to reconnect with her family, especially an ambivalent relationship with her lesbian daughter and her girlfriend. With its overwhelming gonzo energy the film invites you to enter into its flow via fun-filled action sequences. Yeoh gives a career-peak Oscar-caliber performance with Kwan and Curtis equally superb. Incredibly imaginative, visionary, and heartfelt, this movie must be seen to be believed and appreciated.

6. "All Man: The International Male Story" is a guilty pleasure charting the rise and fall of the monthly catalog that featured not only provocative trend-setting men's fashions but showcased gorgeous mostly (but not all) heterosexual models setting the standard for gay male physiques in the late 70s/80s. The catalog allowed gay men to indulge their sexual fantasies plus provided a bridge for men to come out and not feel so rejected, especially in non-urban areas. The film maintains it changed conservative notions of how men dressed, promoting a more carefree and confident lifestyle brand. This fun, lighthearted, breezy documentary gives the catalog the credit for redefining images of masculinity in popular culture, changing the way men looked at themselves and each other.

7. The terrific documentary "Keep the Cameras Rolling: The Pedro Zamora Way" charts how the charismatic and articulate HIV-positive Cuban-American Zamora with movie star looks, wound up a star on MTV's 1992 "The Real World (the first reality TV show). He educated viewers about living with HIV, then as one of TV's few openly gay people, married his boyfriend in the first televised gay wedding, decades before it became legal. Roommate Judd Winick and housemate Pam Ling later married, becoming HIV activists and preserving Pedro's legacy with their heartbreaking reminiscences. The documentary brings the affable, impassioned, brave Pedro back to life, helping us understand why he deserves to be remembered and cherished, after his 1994 death at age 22, hours after "Real World's" final episode aired.

8. 76-year-old writer/director Terence Davies' "Benediction" chronicles the life of Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967), a World War I military hero, and later one of England's finest poets, critiquing the war. He had ill-fated romances with composer/matinee idol Ivor Novello and dilettante/author Stephen Tennant among others, but so disillusioned he married a woman aware of his homosexuality. He became a cantankerous, conservative curmudgeon/Catholic convert. A study of emotional turmoil, Davis argues sadness, regret, and survivor's guilt hung over Sassoon's entire life, his poetry indicting the country's hypocrisy and redeeming martyred soldiers. This cutting-edge biopic reveals the subjective conflict between desire's fulfillment and convention's oppression. "Benediction" is a substantial masterwork in Davies' impressive canon.

9. "Fire Island" is a gay multi-cultural (mostly Asian-American) riff/update on Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" transferred to Long Island's famous queer enclave. It's the tale of Noah (Joel Kim Booster) and his BFF Howie's (Bowen Yang) search for romantic entanglements during a week of non-stop partying (drugs/underwear/karoke) and hook-ups with hot men, but ultimately prizes friendship and community above sex. Bawdy and raucous with witty, biting repartee featuring a likable ensemble cast, and cleverer with less preachiness than "Bros," it's the perfect LGBTQ summer beach movie, the gay "Gidget." The film propels stand-up comic/scriptwriter/actor Booster to stardom and cements "SNL's" Yang as a major talent.

10. "Jimmy in Saigon," another Frameline gem, is a spellbinding detective story, that explores the mysterious death, countercultural life, and forbidden romance of a 24-year-old Vietnam veteran who died in Saigon in 1972. Director Peter McDowell, Jimmy's younger brother, begins a ten-year search, using Jimmy's letters and interviews with family members/friends, to uncover the truth behind Jimmy's sexual orientation and drug use, as well as discovering exactly how and why Jimmy died. It's a heart-wrenching journey that will exert a personal impact on Peter, who's also gay.

11. "Nelly & Nadine," which played Frameline, is perhaps the best lesbian documentary of the year. Opera singer/spy Nelly and literary/resistance fighter Nadine meet in Ravensbruck concentration camp as political prisoners and fall in love, though it will take almost two years after the war before they reunite. They'll move to Venezuela, living together for decades as a secret couple. Sylvie, Nelly's granddaughter, pieces together all the clues in a box left to her containing photographs, Super 8 footage, tapes, and diaries. A heartbreaking and thrilling Holocaust love story with a deserved happy ending, it's playing now in theaters.

12. The beguiling offbeat charmer, "Compartment No. 6," a road movie from Finland, profiles two lonely, lost-soul riders who meet on a train. Laura, a Finnish lesbian student, has more or less split from her professor girlfriend and is traveling to see the 6000-year-old Kanozero Petroglyph rock carvings. Lyokha, a boorish Russian drunken lout, on his way to work as a coal miner, tries to pick her up. Both attracted and repelled, they slowly open up to each other. A beautifully-etched cross-cultural exercise and platonic love story that urges us to go beyond surfaces and assumptions we make about one another and be vulnerable to the moment.

13. If you need cheering up, look no further than the exhilarating documentary "The Unabridged Mrs. Vera's Daybook," about two brilliant San Franciscan artists, photographer Michael Johnstone and costumer David Faulk, both long-term AIDS survivors, who became a couple in the early 1990s. Through Faulk's campy drag persona, Mrs. Vera, they invent incredible art out of immeasurable loss, celebrating the creativity of those who died in the HIV pandemic. "Ambassadors of good cheer" at Pride parades, they urge those living with HIV to get back into the world and have fun. A magical delight, the explosive, extravagant colors almost jump off the screen in this enchanting, joyful celebration of life.

14. "Black As U R" serves as a kind of update to the themes first explored in Marlon Rigg's classic "Tongues Untied" with the depressing realization little has changed in 35 years. The film focuses on homo/transphobia within the Black community, where writer/director Micheal Rice asks how African-Americans having experienced society's cruelty can reenact it against their own most vulnerable members. Devastating scenes in a Black barbershop where male customers seem proud of their prejudices, Rice's message of loving yourself unapologetically and without fear rings loud and clear in this gripping, horrifying, and inspirational warning to the queer community. It won Frameline's Out in Silence award.

15. "Uyra: The Rising Forest," stars Uyra, a Brazilian nonbinary trans indigenous artist, the alter-ego of Emerson, a biologist and art educator trying to save the Manaus Rainforest in the Amazon from deforestation. Uyra makes the connection that the destruction of the ecosystem is the same violence perpetrated against LGBTQ people. Using musical videos with choreographed dances and drag costuming, we literally hear the Amazon speak for itself. This enchanting gorgeously filmed one hour video blurs the lines between documentary and fiction, resulting in the year's most innovative queer feature. It won the Audience award for Best Documentary at Frameline.

Honorable Mention: "The Whale" more for Fraser's tour de force, likely Oscar-winning performance than the film which has been (over) harshly lambasted as fatphobic and voyeuristic with an overwrought, at times ponderous screenplay, penned by gay stage dramatist Samuel Hunter.

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.

Featured Local Savings