Pride month is upon us, and what better way to celebrate the LGBTQ community than to binge watch films of same-sex love? Often they are far from the formulaic rom-coms Hollywood churns out about heterosexuals–a lot of LGBTQ-focused films are infused with extraordinary depth, secrecy, and sexual tension. There’s nothing cookie-cutter or bland about them. These flicks feature tender, titillating, and humorous takes on LGBTQ relationships that are universally relatable no matter what your sexual identification.
Brokeback Mountain is a rugged, slow burn about lust run wild and the untamable nature of love. Adapted from Annie Proulx’s short story of the same name and starring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, the storyline follows the stoic Ennis Del Mar and charismatic Jack Twist, young men hired as summer sheep herders in the Wyoming mountains in 1963. Isolated from civilization, they find comfort in one another, but part ways when the gig ends. Years later, Jack pays Ennis a visit; both men have since married women and become fathers, but the spark between them reignites. Jack wants to cut ties with his heterosexual charade and build a life with Ennis, but Ennis fears societal retribution. The push-pull continues through their entire adulthoods as the married men meet sporadically under the guise of fishing trips. “I wish I knew how to quit you,” a desperate Jack tells Ennis at one point. Anyone who’s shared passion with a commitment-averse partner will recognize this familiar and frustrating dynamic in Brokeback Mountain.
Harvey Milk was an everyman kind of hero and this biopic tenderly captures the slain politician’s tenacity, his enthusiasm for life, and his capacity for love. After Harvey (played by Sean Penn) falls for a young stud named Scott Smith (played by James Franco), the couple moves to San Francisco and opens a camera store on Castro Street. Heated interactions with Irish-Catholic residents in the neighborhood prompt Harvey to become a gay rights activist, and soon he’s run for office (and lost) three times. Along the way, Harvey struggles to balance his personal life and his political zeal, resulting in more than one romantic casualty. But in 1977, Harvey wins a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, making him the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California. But just because he was the voters’ choice doesn’t mean everyone accepts him. Among his detractors is fellow supervisor Dan White, a former cop and fireman who senselessly kills both Harvey Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone in City Hall. To see the outpouring of love in the LGBTQ community after Harvey’s assassination, however, will renew your faith in the human spirit.
Two women embark on a clandestine affair in Carol, a visually lush film set in 1950s New York. Cate Blanchett plays Carol, an elegant mother who meets Therese, a doe-eyed photographer played by Rooney Mara, while Christmas shopping at a department store. Both are involved with men; Carol is going through a contentious divorce while Therese is phoning it in with her boyfriend. On New Year’s Eve, the pair consummate their attraction in a lusty, skin-filled scene, but Carol is forced to end the relationship or risk losing custody of her daughter. This film is a feast for the senses that asks the question: What price are you willing to pay to be your authentic self?
Blue is the Warmest Color
Pouty-lipped Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) is a teenager whose life is blown open (in a good way) by a blue-haired artist Emma (Léa Seydoux) in this seductive French film based on the graphic novel of the same name. Speaking of graphic, if you’re a fan of realistic sex scenes, this is your film. The extended girl-on-girl action doesn’t leave anything to the imagination. Equally blunt is the depiction of long-term relationships and how they can deteriorate once the first flush of desire wears off. When a betrayal implodes the bond between Adèle and Emma, you’ll feel like you’re in the room, mid-shouting match, with them. And an emotional post-mortem at the end of the movie will make you relive that time you tried to patch things up with an ex you couldn’t forget – or wouldn’t forgive.
Call Me By Your Name
Summertime and the livin’ is…sexy, or so it seems for 17-year-old Italian-American Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet) and 20-something American Oliver (Armie Hammer). Oliver, a student of Elio’s professor father, has been invited to stay at the Perlmans’ Italian villa. Like Call Me By Your Name director Luca Guadagnino’s other sumptuous summer film, A Bigger Splash, you can feel the heat – not only wafting off all that sweaty, bare skin, but in the glances between the young men. Anyone who, as a teen, was sexually awakened by an older and more experienced lover will relate to the delicious, but unsustainable, union between these two men.
Boys Don’t Cry
In a role that garnered her an Academy Award, Hilary Swank plays a young trans man named Brandon Teena in this tragic story based on true events. When Brandon moves to a new Nebraskan town for a fresh start, he quickly finds a hardscrabble crowd to run in, but aside from Lana Tisdel (played by Chloë Sevigny), they’re far from open-minded. Brandon falls hard for Lana, who reciprocates his feelings even after she discovers that he’s trans. The rest of the community isn’t as accepting, however, and before long Brandon is hunted down, gang-raped, and eventually killed. This film is a brutal reminder of how ignorance breeds violence.
Moonlight is a coming of age story about Chiron, a gay protagonist in a rough neighborhood of Miami. The film is divided in three parts: youth, adolescence, and adulthood. At the start of the story, Chiron is a sweet kid being bullied by his peers and shamed by his drug-addicted mother. A drug dealer takes Chiron under his wing and assures him it’s okay to be gay. In his youth, Chiron and his friend Kevin share a sexual experience, but their relationship is severed when a bully coerces Kevin to violently haze Chiron. As adults, Kevin invites Chiron to visit him; their reunion is bittersweet. The palpable but unspoken emotion in this film is a sucker punch to the gut.
But I’m A Cheerleader
This campy satirical comedy drags you into conversion therapy camp alongside 17-year-old Megan (played by a precocious Natasha Lyonne) who has a thing for her cheerleading colleagues. An intervention led by Mike (RuPaul) results in Megan being sent to True Directions, a repressive five-step organization where participants practice gender-stereotypical tasks and heterosexual behaviors. Megan and her peers rebel, eventually freeing themselves from True Directions and forming their own accepting community. The over-the-top theatrics in this film will have you laughing at what would otherwise be a deeply troubling subject.
This is your vintage LGBTQ film pick. It’s also the lowest budget film of this bunch. But sometimes a little DIY aesthetic can be endearing. Such is the case with Go Fish, in which butch lesbian Max is in the midst of a 10-month sex drought. When Max meets Ely, a shy hippy lesbian, she isn’t immediately attracted to her. But over time, and after several soul-baring conversations, Max and Ely find they’re compatible after all. Their storyline is interspersed with those of their mutual friends, all of whom dish about their love lives and opine on each other’s relationships together. Though the film can be ungainly at times, it deserves props for its authenticity and diverse cast.