Spa Night was declared the winner of the U.S. Grand Jury Prize at the Outfest Los Angeles LGBT Film Festival — and with good reason. The drama is a thoughtful and nuanced portrait of a closeted teen in L.A.’s Koreatown, a terrain that has never been given its due screen time. But it’s about far more than the closet. Directed by Andrew Ahn, the Sundance favorite follows David (Joe Seo), an 18-year-old on an exploration of identity after he takes a job at a men’s spa in order to help his parents. It's a sexy and substantative look at one gay Korean-American life.
Moonlight is one of the year's best films, LGBT or otherwise. The story follows a gay black man, Chiron, through three stages of his early life, along with his struggles with self-acceptance, bullying, and his mother's addiction to crack cocaine. Black gay men rarely get this kind of screen portrayal — the kind that shows them with haunting and joyful complexity and receives glowing reviews from top critics. It may even find its way to the Academy Awards. In a time when so many of the topics addressed by the film — poverty, the school-to-prison pipeline, homophobia — remain real issues in vulnerable communities and in America, it is indeed a privilege to have a film like Moonlight.
Molly Shannon dies over the course of a year in the film Other People. This may seem like a strange premise for a comedy. But the film, written by Saturday Night Live's out head writer, Chris Kelly, reminds viewers that comedy and tragedy are two sides of the same coin. Inspired by Kelly's experience caring for his dying mother, Other People also stars Jesse Plemons as a gay son tasked to do the same, while figuring his own life out in the process. Gay comedic characters rarely, if ever, receive this level of humanity and nuance.
The lurid tale of Brent Corrigan's early porn career — and the murder of a producer instrumental to Corrigan's success — is the focus of King Cobra. Written and directed by Justin Kelly and starring Hairspray Live's Garrett Clayton as the twink poster boy, King Cobra garnered controversy after Corrigan refused to take part in the film, saying it stretched the truth on the 2007 killing of Bryan Kocis. Regardless, the film is a juicy piece of pulp fiction and costars James Franco and Christian Slater.
Director Céline Sciamma (Tomboy, Girlhood) is the master of coming-of-age films. She continues to impress in the French production Being 17, which portrays an interracial teen relationship where violence turns into passion and love. Ooh la la!
Zootopia may seem like kids' fare. But the animated Disney film is a timely allegory for how xenophobia — and in turn racism and homophobia — can be used for political gain. The different animal species in the world of Zootopia are clear stand-ins for real-life communities. Any person who has ever been demonized or stereotypes can relate to its subject matter; and all should learn its lessons of tolerance and acceptance.
Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie
LGBT fans welcomed Edina and Patsy — the glamorous heroines of the cult British comedy Absolutely Fabulous — back with open arms in their first feature film this summer. The movie was a nostalgic treat for longtime lovers of the duo, with many celebrity cameos to boot. Now in their 60s, Edina and Patsy continue to remind viewers and Hollywood that one can be fabulous at any age.
It's a tale as old as time: A young Cuban hairdresser to drag queens, Jesus (Héctor Medina), dreams of wearing his own wig onstage. Finally, he gets the opportunity to shine, but a reunion with his estranged father may force him to give up the limelight.
Don’t Call Me Son
Pierre is on several journeys of self-discovery in Don't Call Me Son. They are struggling with their gender identity and sexuality. They also learned they'd been abducted at birth, and a reunion with the long-lost family comes with perhaps unmeetable expectations. These conflicts present ripe opportunities for gender and class to clash in this intelligent Brazilian drama, which took home a Jury Prize at the Teddy Awards.
If you've ever dreamed of hearing a talking hamster with the voice of Isabella Rossellini, then don't miss Closet Monster. Rossellini voices Buffy, the furry spiritual guide to a closeted teen, Oscar (American Crime's Connor Jessup). However, the film is not as light as such a relationship would suggest. Oscar is struggling with real demons from both his past and present. The film's elements of magical realism provide powerful and unforgettable scenes illustrating the terror and sadness of feeling trapped.
First Girl I Loved
Young love is complicated, especially when you're queer. First Girl I Loved lays bare these complications through the eyes of Anne (Dylan Gelula), a 17-year-old who falls for a popular high school girl, Sasha (Brianna Hildebrand). She divulges her crush to her best friend, Clifton (Mateo Arias), who unbeknownst to Anne has been harboring his own crush for her. It's no Blue Is the Warmest Color. But it doesn't try to be, and the film succeeds at reimagining a straight-heavy genre with chemistry and intelligence.
Women Who Kill
Women Who Kill has been picking up film festival awards left and right for its funny and scary portrayal of a true-crime podcaster who thinks her girlfriend might be a murderer. Directed by Ingrid Jungermann, the thriller is also full of wry humor about Brooklyn, its denizens, and (of course) lesbians.