Ten best LGBTQ movies of 2023

  • by Gregg Shapiro
  • Tuesday January 2, 2024
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'Egoist,' 'Cassandro'<br> and 'Blue Jean'
'Egoist,' 'Cassandro'
 and 'Blue Jean'

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.

"Passages" (Mubi)

Gay filmmakers rule this list, beginning with Ira Sachs. 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 (watch for the Martin and Tomas sex scene!) 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)  

"All of Us Strangers" (Searchlight)
Few gay filmmakers are as consistently brilliant as Andrew Haigh, and "All of Us Strangers" continues his winning streak. In this intimate and imaginative portrait of the inner workings of a writer's mind, 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). As absorbing as it is haunting, it's the kind of movie that lingers long after the final credits roll. (Read Brian Bromberger's full review in this week's issue.)

"Of An Age" (Focus)
As I predicted when I interviewed writer/director Goran Stolevski in early 2023, his second movie, "Of An Age," would end up on my "Best of" list when the time came. 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. Just wait until you see his new movie, "Housekeeping For Beginners," out in early 2024.

"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 of the pressure 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 has given 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 calamity, "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 in "Amores Perros" or "Y Tu Mama Tambien," we knew he had something special, a little spark they used to call "star quality." In Almodóvar's "Bad Education," Iñárritu's "Babel," and more recently, Larraín's "Ema," Bernal was never anything less than riveting. 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. A kind of Asian-American "Annie Hall" in the way it looks at modern love and artistic snobbery, it's also reminiscent of "Barbie" in the way it takes well-deserved jabs at masculinity. 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. He doesn't necessarily become easier to take, but there is something of a payoff if you stick with him. The main thing to know about "Afire" is that no one is as they appear, beginning with Felix and Devid, who begin a sweet and affectionate sexual relationship. "Afire" takes a long time to ignite. Once it does, brace yourself.

"Knock at the Cabin" (Universal)
What would the late, gay film historian and activist Vito Russo think of mainstream director M. Night Shyamalan's movie "Knock At The Cabin"? Would he 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? What about GLAAD's Vito Russo Test (glaad.org/sri/2021/vito-russo-test)? Yes, to parts of it, no to others. Not nearly as silly as or pointless as his other films, calling "Knock at the Cabin," a comeback for Shymalan is kind of a stretch. At the very least, it's not a complete waste of 100 minutes.

Two honorable mentions:
"American Fiction" (MGM/Orion) gets a nod for its honest depiction of "gay adolescence," as portrayed in a supporting role by Sterling K. Brown in as Cliff, a man who comes out late in life and gets busy making up for lost time.

"Barbie" (Warner Brothers), because no end of the year list would be complete without this commercial and critical success story. As for its queerness, as Weird Barbie, out actor/comedian Kate McKinnon, steals every scene in which she appears. And we can't forget about Michael Cera's "sensitive" Allan and the recurring sound of Indigo Girls' "Closer to Fine"!

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