In 2021, there were dozens of films by, for, and about LGBTQ characters, made by out queer actors and filmmakers.
The year’s best queer film is, arguably, “The Power of the Dog,” which is set in 1925 Montana, and depicts Phil (a magnificent Benedict Cumberbatch), a repressed gay rancher, and his evolving relationship with Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), the effeminate young son of his sister-in-law (Kirsten Dunst). This sensational drama was written and directed by Jane Campion, who adapted the novel by the gay writer Thomas Savage.
Another highlight this year was “Summertime,” a jubilant, ebullient film that featured more than two dozen queer and BIPOC performers reciting their own slam poetry. Affectionate and infectious, this film, set in July 2019, provides a mixtape of voices expressing their thoughts and feelings as they cope with aspirations and heartbreak, economic inequality, and discrimination based on race, gender, or sexuality. It was incredibly uplifting.
Among the indelible performances this year was Isabelle Fuhrman’s phenomenal turn as Alex, a queer freshman rower in out writer/director Lauren Hadaway’s “The Novice.” Fuhrman goes all in to capture Alex’s physical and mental decline and self-destructive tendencies as her obsessions consume her.
“Swan Song,” by out gay filmmaker Todd Stephens, showcased an outstanding Udo Kier as Mr. Pat, a hairdresser in Sandusky, OH, who is asked to style a dead woman for her funeral. The actor exhaled sass like smoke from one of his many More cigarettes, and was fantastic, jumping rope with schoolkids in one scene, and lip-synching to Robyn with a chandelier on his head in another.
Out gay Philly native Colman Domingo was unforgettable as the ferocious and protective X in Janizca Bravo’s “Zola.” As a pimp who escorts the title character (Taylour Paige) and her new friend Stefani (Riley Keough) on a dangerous weekend road trip to Florida, the actor was wonderfully mercurial, slipping in and out of moods (and even accents) as he tries to maintain control as things get out of hand.
Likewise, Max Harwood made an auspicious feature film debut playing the charismatic title character in the fabulous screen adaptation of the West End musical, “Everybody’s Talking about Jamie,” Harwood’s performance is both inspiring and poignant as Jamie strives and struggles to find his place in the world as a teenage drag queen.
2021 was a good year for trans visibility. Patti Harrison was ingratiating as Anna, a cisgender woman who agrees to be a surrogate mother for Matt (Ed Helms) in “Together Together.” The trans actress gave this touching comedy its heart.
Trans actress Leyna Bloom made a strong impression in “Port Authority,” a drama set among the denizens of the New York City ballroom scene, while Nomi Ruiz delivered a promising debut as a transgender singer who falls for her bodyguard (writer/director Nick Sasso) in the entertaining B-movie, “Haymaker.”
Gender identity was also the subject of “Cowboys,” Anna Kerrigan’s terrific drama about a father (Steve Zahn) and his preteen son, Joe (Sasha Knight), who go on the run because Joe’s mother (Jillian Bell) refuses to recognize her son’s gender dysphoria.
Trans performer Eddie Izzard produced, starred in, and co-wrote the ambitious and absorbing period thriller, “Six Minutes to Midnight,” about a British intelligence agent (Izzard) who goes undercover at a finishing school for daughters of the Nazi high command in the hopes of uncovering Germany’s war plans.
There were several impressive documentaries this year by and about trans people. “North by Current,” was trans filmmaker Angelo Madsen Minax, intimate, personal, and quietly powerful film about his family coping with the aftermath of a tragedy. “The Sound of Identity,” profiled Lucia Lucas, a trans opera singer preparing for her American debut in the title role of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.” And the French import, “Little Girl” directed by Sébastian Lifshitz, chronicled a year in the life of Sasha, an eight-year-old who was born in a boy’s body.
Other documentaries this year explored important LGBTQ people who impacted our history and culture. “My Name Is Pauli Murray,” profiled the remarkable, queer, non-binary, human rights activist, lawyer, poet, and reverend who was instrumental in combating race- and gender-based discrimination at a time when there was great risk in doing so. The dance documentaries, “Ailey,” and “Can You Bring It: Bill T. Jones and D-man in the Waters,” showcased the important contributions of these groundbreaking Black gay choreographers and their contributions to modern dance. “Wojnarowicz,” about the controversial political activist and multimedia artist, was a fantastic documentary that deftly illustrated the rage Wojnarowicz felt in his life and how he used it to create art and raise awareness.
Among the many queer horror film entries this year, arguably the best was out gay filmmaker Pat Mills’ pulse-pounding thriller, “The Retreat,” which had Val (Sarah Allen) and her girlfriend Renee (Tommie-Amber Pirie) fighting back when their visit to a B&B goes awry.
On the lighter side, the delicious and campy comedy-thriller, “The Estate,” was full of witty one-liners and dirty double-crosses as the gay George (out writer Chris Baker) and his stepmother Lux (Eliza Coupe) ask Joe (Greg Finley) — who is both of their lovers — to kill his billionaire father/her husband, Marcello (Eric Roberts). Chaos ensues.
The intoxicating romantic drama, “My Belle, My Beauty,” featured queer, polyamorous, and bisexual characters caught in a love triangle. The film, set in the south of France, was as gorgeous as its cast, but it was not superficial; writer/director Marion Hill (she/they) provided some keen insights about relationships.
Two notable French films featured mysteries to solve. François Ozon’s “Summer of 85,” was a sensitive teenage romance that shifts into a crime drama after Alex (Félix Lefebvre) meets and fell in love with David (Benjamin Voisin) who — spoiler alert — becomes the corpse. “Only the Animals” revolved around the death of bisexual Evelyne Ducat (Valerie Bruni Tedeschi). What happened to her is recounted through various characters, most notably, Marion (Nadia Tereszkiewicz), Evelyne’s younger lover. The film is highly satisfying as the disparate storylines lock into place.
Other worthwhile imports this year included out gay writer/director Eytan Fox’s poignant dramady, “Sublet,” which chronicled the relationship between Michael (John Benjamin Hickey), a seasoned travel writer, and Tomer (Niv Nissim), a student he rents a room from in Tel Aviv. “Moffie,” was an intimate, heartbreaking film about individuality vs. conformity as Nicolas (Kai Luke Brummer), a handsome, closeted queer teen is conscripted to military service in 1981 South Africa. Likewise, “I Carry You with Me” was a compassionate, heartfelt film, based on a true story, about Iván (Armando Espitia), a gay Mexican chef, who comes to America in search of a better life. This moving drama depicted the perils of being an undocumented immigrant and the concerns Iván and his partner, Gerardo (Christian Vazquez), have about being deported once in America.
Two other well-acted dramas dealt with couples in crisis. “The Two of Us” was an exceptional drama about Nina (Barbara Sukowa) finding ways to be with her lover and neighbor Madeleine (Martine Chevallier) after the latter has a debilitating stroke. Similarly, “Supernova” was a sentimental film that depicted a turning point in the lives of a gay couple, Sam (Colin Firth) and Tusker (Stanley Tucci), when the latter, who suffers from dementia, decides to end his life.
Alas, not all queer-themed films this year were good. “Joe Bell,” was a painfully earnest melodrama with a shameless gimmick that awkwardly chronicled the title character’s (Mark Wahlberg) walk across America in 2013 to raise awareness about the dangers of bullying LGBTQ youth.
But the worst queer-themed film this year was the overlong and underwhelming, “Dear Evan Hansen.” This stagebound film adaptation of the Broadway musical lacked spark with flat and uninspired musical numbers. Moreover, out actor Ben Platt, reprising his Broadway role, was grating (and too old).
That said, with three great queer films — “Flee,” “Parallel Mothers,” and “Compartment No. 6” — all scheduled for release in the first two months of 2022, next year is already looking strong.