This year was one of the best years ever for LGBTQ films. In terms of quantity alone, dozens of productions were released as box-office blockbusters, independent darlings, and streaming hits that showcased and celebrated queer lives. It was difficult for The Advocate's editors to winnow the best from so many worthy possibilities. But here we are. See below for the 12 most impressive, surprising, and moving LGBTQ films of 2018.
The latest — and most accessible — film from Greek auteur Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) is a wild, queer romp through the 18th-century court of the sickly, often childlike Queen Anne of England. And it’s already landed several Golden Globe nominations as well as critics' prizes, positioning it as the first film about queer female love that may actually get some attention in the Oscars' Best Picture category (Carol was snubbed in that category in 2015).
The film reunites Lanthimos's Lobster stars Olivia Colman (Broadchurch, next up on The Crown) and Rachel Weisz (Disobedience) as Queen Anne and her confidante or “favourite,” Sarah, the Duchess of Marlborough. Anne and Sarah happily engage in wicked role-playing that borders on sadomasochism until Sarah’s cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) — a lady who's fallen from grace and will stop at nothing to regain her position— arrives at court. Soon the rivalry between Sarah and Abigail is in full bloom and the women play at politics, sexual and otherwise, to garner the queen’s attention in what has gone down as one of the queerest films about women of the year.
The Favourite is ultimately a love story between Anne and Sarah. But even the men — in their wigs and ruffled sleeves, with their powdered faces adorned with moles as they stomp around in chunky heels arguing over issues of state while the women barely notice them — lend an overall air of camp to the delicious satire that often employs a fish-eye type of lens to signal the audience that despite the costumes (by Carol’s Sandy Powell), The Favourite is not your mother’s period piece.
Boy Erased is more than just a movie. The film, inspired by the memoir of the same name by Garrard Conley, shines a spotlight on the dangers of conversion therapy, the discredited practice of trying to change a person's sexual orientation. At least 700,000 people have been subjected to conversion therapy in the U.S. alone, and only 15 states have banned the practice.
Boy Erased gives a face to this crisis in Jared (Lucas Hedges), a teenager who is sent to a conversion therapy camp after being raped by a male college student. Director Joel Edgerton — who also portrays the camp's chief therapist — captures revelatory performances from Hedges and his loving but misguided parents, portrayed by Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe. The heartbreaking end of one of the camp's victims as well as the moving evolution of Kidman's character's attitude toward the horror she led her son to will lead more families in the real world to reject this harmful treatment.
Bisexual director Desiree Akhavan (Appropriate Behavior) brought Emily M. Danforth’s beloved 2012 YA novel to the big screen with this adaptation released in a year when activists sought to put conversion therapy bans on the books in all 50 states. Chloë Grace Moretz stars as Cameron, whose evangelical aunt ships her off to God’s Promise, a conversion therapy camp run by Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle) and her brother/guinea pig for her therapy, the allegedly reformed Rev. Rick (John Gallagher Jr.) after Cameron’s caught having sex with a girl in her Bible study class.
Set in 1993 but totally of the moment thanks to the anti-LGBTQ Trump-Pence administration, the film is refreshingly frank in its depiction of queer female sexual desire. Out actress Sasha Lane, Emily Skeggs, and Forrest Goodluck costar as fellow "disciples" of God's Promise.
Moretz addressed Cameron Post's pedigree and impact in an interview with The Advocate earlier this year.
"This is made by queer people. This is directed by queer people. Everyone in the film is on a spectrum and connects to this on a personal level," Moretz said. "I think that’s really important is this story needs to be protected and told by queer people and put out so you can see it adequately depicted on screen."
Based on the best-selling book by Becky Albertalli, Love, Simon follows Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) as he navigates closeted life in high school, battling blackmail and searching for love in the process. Directed by Greg Berlanti, the film was groundbreaking because it was the first movie about a gay teen to be backed by a major studio, 20th Century Fox. It also became a critical as well as a commercial hit, garnering over $60 million at the box office worldwide. The film did receive some blowback for centering its story on a white, heteronormative teen. However, it is enriched by the out actors who make up its ensemble cast, among them Keiynan Lonsdale and Clark Moore. Both of their characters deserve sequels.
A Fantastic Woman director Sebastián Lelio helmed this sensual, thoughtful project that intersects female desire with Orthodox Judaism and grief that one of its stars, Rachel Weisz, shepherded to the big screen. Based on Naomi Alderman's 2006 novel, the film tells the story of Weisz’s Ronit, who's escaped the cloistered environment of her youth to return to the north London neighborhood where she grew up upon learning of the death of her father, the rabbi. There she rekindles a romance with her first love, Esti (Rachel McAdams), a lesbian who denied her true desire for her faith and married her and Ronit's childhood friend Dovid (Allesandro Nivola).
Much ado has been made about the culminating “liberating” sex scene between Weisz and McAdams that unfolds partway through the film. And while it’s quite something to behold, Disobedience is really a meditation on freedom, choice, and remaining true to one’s self.
“It was very important to me and to Sebastián that [desire] was at the center of the story,” Weisz told The Advocate in April. “After you’ve watched however many minutes of this quite repressed society where you can’t express your sexuality if you’re gay, when these women finally are alone together — it [the sex scene] is incredibly important.”
“[The scene] where Esti comes — probably for the first time — that orgasm, to me, is her liberation. It’s her kind of freedom. It doesn’t just mean sex. It means so much about her agency and her self-determination,” Weisz added.
Colette, about the trailblazing writer Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, who engaged in relationships with men, women, and trans-masculine-identifying people circa the Belle Époque, is queer to its core. Directed by Wash Westmoreland, who is gay, Keira Knightley embodies the pansexual bohemian feminist who stepped out of her husband’s shadow to become the most famous female French author in the world.
The film chronicles Colette’s rise to fame as she leaves behind her country upbringing to become the toast of Paris along with her husband, Willy (Dominic West), who spurs her to chronicle her life for his literary factory where only his moniker appears on everything that’s published.
Bracing in its frank depiction of sexual freedom, in the film, Colette and Willy begin an open relationship in which they end up bedding the same American socialite before Colette falls for the trans-masculine Missy (Denise Gough). If Colette’s unapologetic queerness weren’t enough, transgender actors Rebecca Root and Jake Graf play a cisgender couple who flirt with her in a parlor scene.
Colette’s “was a voice that I wanted to hear. It was a voice that I wanted to speak,” Knightley told The Advocate about being drawn to the role. “I particularly want women, but I want men as well to kind of go, 'Yes, I have a right to be myself, to explore my identity and my gender and to do it without shame and unapologetically.'"
Beyond the fact that it's a tender, gorgeously-rendered coming-of-age story about two young women in love, Rafiki, directed by a Kenyan woman, Wanuri Kahiu, has forever changed the landscape for LGBTQ cinema there.
A modern-day Romeo and Juliet (but with a less tragic ending), Rafiki tells the story of Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) and Ziki (Sheila Munyiva), young women who fall in love despite their fathers being rival politicians.
While the storytelling alone is groundbreaking for Kenya, the events that ensued once it was released were just as impactful.
Originally banned by the homophobic head of Kenya’s Film Classification Board, Ezekiel Mutua, because he alleged it would “promote lesbianism,” the film enjoyed massive audiences when the ban was lifted for a brief time in order to make it eligible for the foreign-language Academy Award. But the lift of the ban came only because of Kahiu’s fierce determination in the face of discrimination. She took the Film Classification Board to court and won a seven-day reprieve from the ban. The board chose to submit a different film, but Rafiki, with its sold-out audiences, still won.
"For many Kenyans, viewing Rafiki may be the first step toward building more empathy and acceptance of LGBT people. That will ultimately benefit all Kenyans – apart from those who seek to instrumentalize homophobia to gain political relevance," Neela Ghoshal, a senior LGBTQ rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, wrote in The Advocate.
Based on the memoir of the same name by the late Lee Israel, Can You Ever Forgive Me? details how Israel, a notable biographer of figures like Katharine Hepburn and Tallulah Bankhead who published books throughout the 1970s and ’80s, had fallen on hard times during the ’90s. Opportunities had dried up, and she turned to forgeries as well as the stealing of archival materials from libraries as a means of generating income. The film is a fascinating portrait of New York City in this time period; one of its primary settings is Julius', a historic gay bar where Israel planned her infamous schemes. But Can You Ever Forgive Me? also features stellar performances from Melissa McCarthy as Israel and Richard E. Grant as Jack, who show the world what is so rarely seen in media: a friendship between a gay man and a lesbian.
Based on the beloved queer novel by Justin Torres, We the Animals is a moving coming-of-age story directed by Jeremiah Zagar. It centers on Jonah, who turns 10 at the film's onset, and his tumultuous journey coming to terms with his sexuality and masculinity in a mixed white and Puerto Rican household in upstate New York. It is loosely inspired by events experienced by Torres and his family. In an interview with The Advocate earlier this year, Torres discussed how the film, released seven years after his book, has gained renewed relevance in an era when the president of the United States refers to marginalized people as "animals." However, "I wasn't surprised either because I did grow up in this," he said. "It's all there. Those resentments and that racism, that was all nascent where I grew up. It's not like everybody was a monster where I grew up, but there were enough." Both fantastical and all too real, We the Animals is a must-see film.
What happens if you live out an entire relationship in 24 hours is the central conceit of Duck Butter, directed by Miguel Arteta (Beatriz at Dinner, The Good Girl) and with a script from Arteta and one of its stars, out actress Alia Shawkat (Search Party, Transparent). Shawkat plays Naima, a struggling actress whose inability to be truly honest helps her blow a chance to work on a Duplass brothers film. She meets the free-spirited Sergio, played by Spanish actress Laia Costa (Victoria), at a club and there is instant chemistry.
Following an initial brief encounter, the women embark on a 24-hour experiment of living out the highs and lows of a relationship in a single day that includes a pact to have sex once every hour. A thoughtful meditation on authenticity in relationships, the 24-hour experiment was shot in 25 hours where the actors and part of the crew stayed awake the entire time.
The film is also very ahead of the times in its refusal to examine and discuss their identities in favor of just being.
“Not to make it sound blasé. It is obviously about lesbians, but it’s not about their coming-out story. It’s not about how the world relates to them differently, to them being gay, or to any struggles they’ve had to go through being gay, which was important for me to show,” Shawkat told The Advocate this spring.
“Obviously those are important stories. In my life and in my generation I haven’t seen a lot of stories where we don’t reference it at all. In a way I find that to be as powerful,” she added.
Amazingly, just weeks after Love, Simon's release, another queer teen’s journey of self-discovery made it to the big screen this year. It arrived in an unlikely package: Blockers, a Seth Rogen-produced sex comedy about three parents trying to preserve the virginity of their daughters on prom night. Blockers' queer storyline, absent from its marketing but a major part of the film, unfolds amid a succession of R-rated high jinks, which include John Cena undergoing an alcohol enema and Leslie Mann leading a high-speed chase of a limo full of vomiting teenagers. In between laughs, the audience is surprised to see the tender heart of this raunchy comedy: an estranged father (Ike Barinholtz) encouraging his teen daughter, Sam (Gideon Adlon), to finally speak her truth and seek out love. Unfortunately, most mainstream comedies include gay people as the butt of humor, but Blockers quietly made history by showing that members of the LGBTQ community and their allies can be in on the jokes, too.