Although the entertainment industry has been greatly impacted for the second year running due to coronavirus restrictions, with various films making their way to streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney Plus, it’s been another sensational year for LGBTQ+ storytelling. (Although the small screen is still demolishing cinema when it comes to representation, we should add.)
While there (arguably) hasn’t been another instant classic such as Moonlight, Carol or Call Me By Your Name, there have been a plethora of critically-acclaimed dramas, comedies and documentaries that have made us laugh, scream and discover new aspects of LGBTQ+ culture and history in the process.
Here, we’ve selected our 10 favourite LGBTQ films of the year, from romantic epics starring Oscar winner Kate Winslet and educational documentaries chronicling one of America’s most revered Black and queer heroes, as well as history-making holiday rom-coms with the Jennifer Coolidge. The list is in alphabetical order, but we’ve given a special shoutout to our Film of the Year at the end of the list.
Cast: Alvin Ailey
Directed by Jamila Wingot, this documentary film chronicles the life of American dancer, director and choreographer Alvin Ailey, who founded the dance company Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. Although Ailey was notoriously private about his life, it was well-known that he was gay and on 1 December, 1989, he died from an AIDS-related illness. Wingot’s film is a beautiful and breathtaking look at one of America’s most legendary – and as the first film following his life, sadly forgotten – Black and queer pioneers, whose choreographic masterpiece Revelations has since been recognised as one of the most performed ballets in the entire world.
Cast: Kate Winslet, Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Jones, James McArdle, Alec Secăreanu, Fiona Show
Released in select territories last year, where it received critical praise, Ammonite didn’t receive a UK release until March 2021. Francis Lee’s romantic epic stars Kate Winslet as famed fossil collector and palaeontologist Mary Anning, whose work is credited with contributing important changes in scientific thinking about prehistoric life and the history of the Earth. Set in an English coastal town in the 1840s, Saoirse Ronan co-stars as her love interest Charlotte Murchison. Winslet and Ronan’s unshakeable chemistry transcends the film’s inconsistent tone, and while there might have been some criticism for its historical inaccuracies, Mary and Charlotte’s spellbinding affair make this one of the best queer romantic dramas of the year.
Cast: Virginie Efira, Lambert Wilson, Daphne Patakia, Olivier Rabourdin, Clotilde Courau, Charlotte Rampling, Hervé Pierre
In contention for the steamiest film of 2021 (slash decade), Benedetta is loosely based on the 1986 non-fiction book Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy, and depicts a provocative lesbian love affair in an Italian convent. With the Virgin Mary being used as a sex toy and a nun making out with a vision of Jesus, Benedetta is one of the boldest queer biographical dramas in recent memory and one that is destined to become a favourite amongst queer women. In the words of one fan: “Paul Verhoven directing a film about an 18th century lesbian nun with religious psychosis that has sparked actual protests outside movie theaters? Yeah, I’ll watch that.”
Cast: Gemma Chan, Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, Salma Hayek, Brian Tyree Henry, Kit Harrington, Kumail Nanjiani, Barry Keoghan, Lauren Ridloff, Ma Dong-seok, Lia McHugh, Don Lee, Harish Patel
Yes, Eternals may have received a lot of flack for its exposition, runtime and character development – being ranked one of the worst Marvel Cinematic Universe flicks in the process – but the impact of Brian Tyree Henry’s character Phastos cannot be understated. This year, the Chloe Zhao-directed blockbuster delivered the MCU’s first ever big-screen gay superhero and queer couple with the genius inventor and his husband Jack (Haaz Sleiman), and while they absolutely deserved more screen-time, seeing a leading hero such as Phastos kiss another character of the same-sex is a monumental step forward for the genre. Whether you loved or hated Eternals, having a positive – and authentic – depiction of a gay couple in the number one film franchise of all time is reason alone for the film to make this list.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie
Cast: Max Harwood, Noah Leggott, Sarah Lancashire, Lauren Patel, Shobna Gulati, Ralph Ineson, Adeel Akhtar, Samuel Bottomley, Sharon Hogan, Richard E. Grant, John McCrea, Layton Williams, Bianca Del Rio
Following numerous delays due to the coronavirus pandemic, Amazon Prime’s adaptation of one of Britain’s most beloved gay musicals of all time premiered in September to highly positive reviews. Newcomer Max Horwood, who took over the title character from co-stars John McCrea and Layton Williams, was lauded for his performance as the Sheffield teen, who overcomes anti-LGBTQ+ prejudice and discrimination to become a drag queen. With everything that’s happened over the past year, the musical’s uplifting message and infectious numbers arrived at the perfect time.
Cast: Kiana Madeira, Olivia Scott Welch, Benjamin Flores Jr., Julia Rehwald, Fred Hechinger, Ashley Zukerman, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Maya Hawke, Jordana Spiro, Jordyn DiNatale, Elizabeth Scopel, Gillian Jacobs, Sadie Sink, Emily Rudd, Ryan Simpkins, McCabe Slye, Chiara Aurelia
The horror genre received a much-needed queer makeover this year with the arrival of Leigh Janiak’s blockbuster trio of Fear Street films, based on R. L. Stine’s beloved teenage novels of the same name. The fantasy-slashers, released over a span of three weeks on Netflix, stars Kiana Madeira and Olivia Scott Welch as Deena and Sam, star-crossed lesbian lovers who try and break the ancient curse that has doomed their hometown of Shadyside for centuries. The series received widespread acclaim for its performances, writing and entertainment value, but it was ultimately Madeira and Welch’s groundbreaking couple that was singled out for praise by critics and viewers due to the notorious lack of mainstream LGBTQ+ representation in the horror genre.
Produced and directed by Kristine Stolakis, with Jason Blum and Ryan Murphy on executive producer duties, Pray Away follows survivors and former leaders of LGBTQ+ conversion therapy – which refers to any attempt at changing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity and often involves cruel techniques such as electroshock therapy or prayer. The powerful film exposes the lies of the harmful practice, the immeasurable power of religious belief and its power to destroy countless lives – in this case, the lives of those within the LGBTQ+ community.
Cast: Colin Firth, Stanley Tucci, Pippa Haywood, Peter MacQueen, James Dreyfus, Ian Drysdale, Sarah Woodward
Written and directed by Harry Macqueen, Supernova stars Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci as Sam and Tusker, partners of 20 years. Following Tusker’s diagnosis of young-onset dementia, the couple travel across England in their campervan where their individual ideas for their future begin to collide. One of the most tear-jerking films of the year, Supernova boasts career-high performances from the aforementioned industry legends and is a devastating observation into the effects of dementia, as well as a moving portrait of a couple accepting mortality.
Single All The Way
Cast: Michael Urie, Philemon Chambers, Kathy Najimy, Barry Bostwick, Luke Macfarlane, Jennifer Coolidge
Netflix made history this year with Single All The Way, their first ever Christmas film focusing on a gay romance. The rom-com follows Peter (Michael Urie) as he persuades his best friend Nick (Philemon Chambers) to pose as his boyfriend on a trip home for the holidays to avoid his family’s judgement about his perpetual single status. With no presence of homophobia in storyline and hilarious supporting performances from Kathy Najimy and Jennifer Coolidge, Single All The Way is on its way to becoming an LGBTQ+ Christmas classic.
FILM OF THE YEAR: Shiva Baby
Cast: Rachel Sennott, Molly Gordon, Danny Deferrari, Polly Draper, Fred Melamed, Dianna Agron, Jackie Hoffman
Emma Seligman received critical acclaim for her feature directorial debut, Shiva Baby, which stars Rachel Sennott as Danielle, a disorganised bisexual Jewish woman who attends a shiva with her family. Twist alert: Danielle spots Max (Danny Deferrari) there, the wealthy married man with whom she has been having sex with for money. One of the most refreshing queer films in recent memory, Shiva Baby is unique in its portrayal of bisexual and Jewish people and how it makes both communities accessible for audiences. An anxious and claustrophobic black comedy, assisted by a spine-chilling score from Ariel Marx, Shiva Baby is a remarkable debut from Seligman backed by a captivating performance from Sennott. We can’t wait to see what both of these powerhouses deliver next.