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42 LGBTQ+ Valentine's Day Movies for Every Mood
Queer Valentine's Day Movies for Every Mood
Valentine's Day is a perfect holiday to spend at home, regardless of whether you're single, dating, or blissfully wed. Netflix and chilling is an ideal way to celebrate V Day; but are you in the mood to revel in the beauty of love or sneer at the hopelessness of relationships? Want to laugh at the horrors of dating or get out a cathartic cry? Here's your guide to the queer classics that will magically manipulate your emotions.
For the Hopeless Romantic
The crook of her elbow in her blond fur, her coral lipstick against the interior of the Packard, her leather glove on the steering wheel, the glint of her green eyes in the sun. That's how Rooney Mara's Therese dares to gaze at Cate Blanchett's Carol on their dizzying drive through the Lincoln Tunnel, in which they enter as acquaintances and come out on the other side forever changed. But it's not just the one scene that captures the feeling of falling in love so exquisitely. Todd Haynes's film is based on Patricia Highsmith's bold 1952 novel The Price of Salt, which dared depict a relationship between women that ended with a hopeful note that they possibly went on to a happy life together. The movie's appeal lies in part in the forbidden nature of their love affair, which they play close to the vest due to the strictures of the times. Carol and Therese parry and test each other for what they will or won't reveal until they're finally consumed with passion and emotion all to the sound of Carter Burwell's swelling score. Nothing is more romantic than that.
Donna Deitch's directorial debut is the first "real" lesbian film (an out lesbian, nobody dies, two women have sex). Based on lesbian author Jane Rule's novel, Desert of the Heart, the film follows Vivian (Helen Shaver), a repressed divorcee waiting out the legal finalities in a ranch guesthouse in 1950s Nevada. Vivian is all class and repression, and the ranch owner warns her to stay away from her irrepressible lesbian daughter Cay (Patricia Charbonneau, wearing jean shorts and cowboy boots and a whole lot of lesbian lust). Turns out, that's who she's drawn to, and soon Cay loosens Viv right up in the first real lesbian sex scene in a film. Their growing relationship played against the rocky red soil and rolling landscape doesn't necessarily have a future, but it's the sight of Vivian's slow but seismic sexual awakening that makes this film Deitch's valentine to the rest of us.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Yes, you'll laugh your ass off at German transgender singer Hedwig and her hilarious journey to become an "international ignored" pop star. But you'll also be floored at the love story between Hedwig and the Kurt Cobain-esque Tommy Gnosis. The 2001 musical's stunning theme, "Origin of Love," expresses the desire for all of us to find that one other perfect human who fits us like a glove. While the final reconciliation between Hedwig and Gnosis may only exist in Hedwig's head, it is wonderfully cathartic. And Hedwig clearly ends up in love in the end of the film -- with her beautifully original self.
This 1997 Hong Kong was ahead of its time. The unflinchingly real look at a dysfunctional (and, at times, abusive) relationship between two young men is difficult, but rewarding, viewing. Ho and Lai may not be able to make it work, but their love is never in doubt.
This beautifully restrained film tells the story of two young gay British men who meet at a club, hook up, and fall in love over the course of an eventful weekend. One of the guys is introverted and half-closeted, while the other is brash, gregarious, and wears his sexuality on his sleeve; their worldviews complement each other and their chemistry is explosive. Through passionate conversations, many drug-fueled, they alternately challenge, confuse, and confound each other. It's a grown-up, no-holds-barred exploration of modern love between men, and even the sex is honest. Directed by Andrew Haigh, who's moved on to executive-produce HBO's Looking, the film well deserved its status as a critical darling.
The Watermelon Woman
Cheryl Dunye's 1996 film made history as the first feature directed by a black lesbian. Aside from its historical significance, The Watermelon Woman is a tender, funny romance and a love letter to POC actresses who toiled in Hollywood with little acknowledgement. Even though you know it's likely hopeless, you'll cheer for the relationship between protagonist Cheryl and Diana (played by Go Fish's Guinevere Turner), as well as the decades-old relationship between actress Fae Richards and her lover. The ending may not be satisfying in the way you imagined, but it does feel real.
My Own Private Idaho
Gay director Gus Van Sant's meandering story follows River Phoenix, who plays Mike, a troubled gay street hustler, and his best friend (played by Keanu Reeves) from the streets of Portland to Seattle to Italy and Idaho. Along the way, the film explores love and loss, betrayal and the street life a lot of LGBT kids find themselves in. It's a bit of a gay Easy Rider and a must-see; poignant, emotional, frustrating, and definitely without a happy ending.
Boasting nine Oscar nominations, The Hours is a powerhouse of acting that boasts the talents of Ed Harris, Julianne Moore, Meryl Streep, and Nicole Kidman, who won Best Actress for her portrayal of Virginia Woolf. Based on the novel by gay author Michael Cunningham and directed by Stephen Daldry, The Hours depicts characters across the span of the 20th century who are all drawn to members of the same sex. And like Ed Harris's character, a gay poet dying of an AIDS-related illness, each is drawn toward the precipice of suicide. But what easily could have been a flat tale of woe taps into a deeper font. Masterful storytelling and performances stress the combined human powers of love, obligation, and regret in maintaining one's grasp on life and all the hours therein.
The Kids Are All Right director Lisa Cholodenko's debut feature achingly illustrates falling in love for the first time with someone of the same gender and all that accompanies it. A fairly green editor for a photography magazine, Radha Mitchell's Syd falls in love with Ally Sheedy's photographer Lucy (who happens to be her neighbor) while trying to seduce the reclusive artist into shooting a new spread. Part muse/part editor, Syd and Lucy consummate their relationship while on a trip away from New York City. The scene begins typically enough with the passion and longing indicative of finally letting go. But partway through, Syd, tears up. When Lucy asks if it's "weird" for her, she replies, "I think I'm kind of in love with you." The scene beautifully gets to the heart of a first time that's also infused with overwhelming emotion. The women enjoy a short honeymoon period of falling in love before the film takes a final depressing turn.
Blue Is the Warmest Color
Though this French film is most remembered for its epic sex scene, at its heart is an epic tale of first love. Emma and Adele may not end up together, but they will never have another relationship like the one they shared together. Who can't relate?
Fried Green Tomatoes
This 1991 movie takes some liberties with (and blunts the queerness of) Fannie Flagg's beloved novel, but its impossible not to see the lesbian love story at the heart of the film, between butch Idgie and delicate Ruth. The bedside scene between Mary Stuart Masterson and Mary-Louise Parker is not for the faint of heart, at least for romantics.
The music, the acting, the sparse, lovely dialogue -- Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain was a masterpiece in so many regards. The 2005 film shook up cinema, as one of the first major Hollywood films to center on a gay love story. The ending is indeed tragic; so if you're seeking a way to expunge tears this day, here's your movie.
Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss
This 1998 gem showed us how endearing and funny Sean Hayes can be. Playing a lovelorn, aspiring gay director, Hayes's Billy falls for Gabriel, an "is he or isn't he?" waiter. The film holds up in many ways, except for Billy's hesitance to just ask Gabriel if he's gay. Regardless, Billy's infatuation over Gabriel is so relatable and the ending -- while not giving some viewers what they want -- leaves us on a happy note and hopeful that Billy will one day find his happy ending.
Better than Chocolate
This Canadian production resonated with audiences thanks to its sexy leads and light touch, coming off as just another enjoyable romantic comedy, save for a lesbian twist. High jinks ensue when a young woman tries to keep her visiting mother and brother from her new female lover, but things turn out just fine in the end. In the days of Boys Don't Cry, LGBT audiences were hungry for a queer love story that didn't end tragically, and Better Than Chocolate delivered. And who can forget that sexy yet strange body-painting scene?
Edge of Seventeen
Not to be confused with the Hailee Steinfeld starrer released in 2016, this '90s indie darling tossed it back to the mid-'80s with a story about an Ohio teen obsessed with New Wave culture -- especially Annie Lennox and the Eurythmics. While working at an amusement park in the summer before college, Eric discovers he's way more into his coworker Rod (Andersen Gabrych) than he is to his devoted girlfriend/best friend, Maggie (Tina Holmes). Luckily, his manager Angie (Lea DeLaria) is on hand to offer sage coming out advice.
Guin Turner's 1994 lo-fi classic, Go Fish, will bring you back to a simpler time -- when Donald Trump was a joke, Tinder was used to light fires, and San Francisco was the ideal place to meet a girlfriend (not a tech bro).
This Oscar-winner is indeed a harrowing tale of a young black man's maturation and sexual awakening, but it's also a tender love story that culminates at the end of this cathartic queer tale. The lovely payoff will have you floating.
A quintessential film for a generation of gay men, 1999's Trick took a lighthearted look at the pleasures and pitfalls of one-night stands as Gabriel (Christian Campbell) and Mark (John Paul Pitoc) discover that hooking up in Manhattan isn't as easy as it looks and romance can blossom at the most unexpected times.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Nearly every slightly off-kilter high school student in America who rolls with the drama club crowd could say that this film was essential to their upbringing and their appreciation of sexual exploration, camp, and absurdity. This musical has so many things: a satire of ridiculous B-movies, fun with fishnets and heels, insane science fiction, artsy weirdness, and unabashed sexuality. And it's chock-full of very catchy, fun music.
We bet it's been a while since you've seen this '90s classic, where a flamboyant male couple goes undercover to play straight and impress their daughter-in-law's conservative family (much hilarity ensues). There's a wonderful gay love story at the heart of the movie, which never takes itself too seriously ("Madonna! Madonna! Madonna!"). Or go old school and check out La Cage aux Folles, the '70s film The Birdcage is based on.
The Broken Hearts Club
A heartwarming movie about gay friendship and the hunt for love, The Broken Hearts Club is hard to dislike. In the film, no one's relationship is perfect; many of the gay and bi characters struggle with commitment and fidelity, a universal theme for our community. By the end, you'll feel like all these guys will eventually figure it out.
Camp nonsense at its best! The lesbian subplot is never quite consummated, but the teasing is extraordinary (oh the grinding!). Seeing two women flirt over a shared desire for dog food is something every queer person needs to experience.
But I'm a Cheerleader
This year served up two conversion therapy dramas -- Boy Erased and The Miseducation of Cameron Post. But out director Jamie Babbit's satirical But I'm a Cheerleader, in which Orange Is the New Black's Natasha Lyonne plays Megan, a lesbian cheerleader sent to a conversion therapy camp run by the very campy Cathy Moriarty and RuPaul (of all people), has been the gold standard of "ex-gay" movies for 18 years. John Waters acolyte Mink Stole costars with Harold and Maude's Bud Cort as Megan's parents, who, troubled by her Melissa Etheridge poster and general disinterest in boys, send her off to True Directions, where the girls wear Pepto-Bismol pink and do a deep dive into domesticity while the powder-blue-clad boys learn to chop wood (as it were).
There, Megan falls for resident bad girl Graham (Clea DuVall in the role that squarely landed her on queer girls' radars). Megan and Graham vacillate about their security in their identities throughout the film, but love is a powerful force. And they eventually come out and as a couple in a very public -- and adorable -- way.
Combining racism, class issues, and gay love in one sudsy mix sounds like a recipe for heavy-handed treacle, but Stephen Frears's My Beautiful Laundrette is as entertaining as it is culturally resonant. The story of a Pakistani man and a street punk falling in love, challenging the conventions of Thatcher-era London, and classing up a laundromat in the way only gay men can do, My Beautiful Laundrette was immediately met with praise and its screenplay nominated for an Oscar. The film's punk was played by the brilliant Daniel Day-Lewis, while director Frears had a massive hit this year on television with A Very English Scandal.
The Crying Game
Yes, the "reveal" over Dil's transgender identity is something that has not aged well, but The Crying Game remains an exceptional film. On top of the beautiful way Jaye Davidson humanizes Dil, something unheard of when it came to trans characters, this propulsive Stephen Rea film also touches upon the Irish Republican Army, terrorism, and disaffected white men.
Tongues Untied would become weaponized in the culture war. The brilliant work -- exploring black gay identity and experience through storytelling, poetry, movement, and expression -- was condemned as pornography by the right wing and debated in the halls of Congress, when Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina used it to argue against funding the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Naz & Maalik
This film is not only revolutionary (non-white boys in love), but fun; featuring the titular characters bouncing around Brooklyn, conducting mischief and sneaking into alleys for kisses. But there's also room for a disturbing subplot about Islamophobia and how young men of color are seemingly always eyed with suspicion.
Sean Baker's iPhone-shot film is beloved for its performance, cinematography, humor, and realistic look at sex workers operating in L.A.'s East Hollywood neighborhood. Much of the lauded 2015 film is devoted to one of the women trying to chase down her no-good boyfriend, but in the end, the movie is about female friendship and its many complications and benefits.
The Color Purple
Based on bisexual author Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Color Purple chornicles the traumatic life of Celie, a Southern African-American woman living in the early 20th century. Celie overcomes racism and sexism and triumphantly finds herself in the process. In the Oscar-winning Steven Spielberg classic, Celie not only learns to love herself, but other women (though her same-sex attraction is explored more thoroughly in Walker's novel). The crux of the movie though lies in Celie's love for her beloved sister, Nettie.
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Sure, Priscilla is a road trip movie, a drag musical, and an uproarious comedy, but it's also a story of three friends, different as can be but united and faithful to each other.
All All About My Mother
This beloved 1999 film from out director Pedro Almodovar explores all kinds of love; between men and women, women and women, and mothers and their children. Almodovar demonstrates that love is never any less real if it's not romantic, but simply platonic or familial.
Prepare to clutch your pearls and make sure you've sent the kids to bed before turning on Shortbus, out director John Cameron Mitchell's funny, earnest send-up of the ins, outs, ups, and downs of the modern queer dating experience. Complete with a musical threesome that involves out singer-songwriter Jay Brannan singing into another man's asshole, the film has a documentary feel that's brought home when viewers inevitably see pieces of their own relationship drama in the myriad couplings at the center of the story. At turns emotional, honest, awkward, and humorous, Shortbus is one of the best, raunchiest LGBT films you've probably never seen.
Stranger by the Lake
Yes, this French film is a psycho-sexual thriller (some would say horror film), but it's also deeply sexual and reminds viewers why cruising is so fun and hot (unlike the Al Pacino dud, Cruising). Get ready to see some sex in film that can be described as pornographic (erect penises, body fluids); something truly exciting to see in a movie that has such well-produced cinematography and dialogue.
This neo-noir thriller marked the directorial debut of the Wachowski siblings who directed the superb bisexual/lesbian classic in which Violet (femme and alluring Jennifer Tilly), a moll owned by her Mafia boyfriend (Joe Pantoliano) but looking for escape, has an affair with butch neighbor Corky (Gina Gershon in the hottest lesbian film role ever). The two women hatch a scheme to steal millions from the mob, and the usual noir tropes (just who is betraying who?) work to great success, albeit with a hefty dose of violence (this is a rare film where there are empowered women and violence and the latter isn't directed at the former). The reason queer girls loved it? The sex was genuine and hot, thanks in large part to Susie Bright, who served as the resident lesbian sexpert to help the auteurs get it right. (She has a cameo too.)
You won't get the explicit sex portrayed in movies like Stranger by the Lake, but Derek Jarman's '70s classic Sebastiane is deeply erotic and a slow-burn of male passion. The dialogue is completely in Latin, so it's not easy viewing, but if you're in the right mood for a moody, historical seduction, Sebastiane is for you.
Another example (see also Strangers on a Train) of Alfred Hitchcock putting one over on the Hollywood censors. Farley Granger and John Dall play an obviously gay couple who decide to murder a friend just to prove they can (there are echoes of the Leopold-Loeb case in the film), and they expect to get away with it. No, the gay characters aren't likable or admirable, but not every movie has to have role models. The film is known for its technical experimentation, with Hitch shooting in long, continuous takes, but that's really less important than the excellent characterizations, including James Stewart out of nice-guy mode as the couple's former professor, and the director's signature macabre humor, with the couple holding a cocktail party for the victim's friends and family while his body's in a trunk in the same room.
The Boys in the Band
Mart Crowley's hit play became the first famous gay film ever. Vito Russo said of the movie, "The internalized guilt of eight gay men at a Manhattan birthday party formed the best and most potent argument for gay liberation ever offered in a popular art form." No, it wasn't representative of what gay life was like, but it was representative of what gay life was like for those alcoholic men, in that city, at that time. Crowley's quotable script was shocking, real, and hysterically funny. With Cliff Gorman, Leonard Frey, Kenneth Nelson, and Frederick Combs, and directed by William Friedkin (of Cruising fame). It's the perfect Valentine's day movie for those looking for bitchy quips to hurl around.
The Talented Mr. Ripley
It's hard to think that Matt Damon once played a conniving gay twink, so obsessed with a handsome, wealthy friend that he literally wanted to jump into his skin. Everyone is great in this film, from Cate Blanchett to Jude Law, and Damon really stretched his wings. What's most memorable about The Talented Mr. Ripley is the way it demonstrates how attraction can bubble over into something very ugly and very scary.
The Children's Hour
Not a positive consideration of lesbianism but a historically significant one. Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine run an exclusive girls' school, and a bratty student starts a rumor that they're lovers. This being a 1961 film of a 1934 play (by Lillian Hellman), the rumor is devastating and the consequences tragic. The stars are appealing and their performances excellent, but the movie will most likely enrage you. Still, it's an important example of how even the intimation of homosexuality was depicted in a less enlightened age.
This oft-forgotten British film of the 1960s highlights how difficult it was being LGBTQ at the time. A bisexual man goes after an insidious blackmailer who is driving queer men to empty their bank accounts, and worse. There is some enjoyful catharsis as the protagonist gets the upperhand on the blackmailers, but the whole production is dark and depressing; a testament to the homophobia of the time.
David Lynch's masterpiece is pretty straight foward... until a point. Then the narrative veers off a windy road and never returns to the straight and narrow. That's fine. By the end it's clear that Lynch is telling the story of a failed love between two actresses, and how it drove one of them to madness.
A Single Man
Director Tom Ford (yes, that Tom Ford) took his sweet, elegant time crafting this interpretation of Christopher Isherwood's novel. The main character, George Falconer (a multiple award-winning performance by Colin Firth), is contemplating and planning his suicide. Isherwood structured the story on a fantasy of what he would do if he lost his lifelong partner, Don Bachardy. Julianne Moore plays the daft, married neighbor friend, Charley, who still carries a torch for Falconer despite his orientation. Firth as Falconer bravely takes on long soliloquies staring directly at the camera and holding us in his thrall.