With actors and filmmakers taking challenging roles, 2013 was another Queer Year for Film. Here’s a rundown of the year’s queer films and trends, including the good, better, best, and worst of 2013.
BEST Queer Film of the Year:
Blue Is the Warmest Color. It was three hours long. It had explicit lesbian sex scenes. It won big at Cannes. And it’s a masterpiece, an intimate, erotic, and ecstatic romantic drama that captures issues of self-worth and self-expression in ways that are both authentic and devastating. Plus, lead actress Adèle Exarchopoulos gives a phenomenal performance.
Trans Performance by a Straight Actor
BEST IN A GOOD FILM: Jared Leto will likely score an Oscar nomination for his terrific portrayal of Rayon in the AIDS drama Dallas Buyers Club.
BEST IN A BAD FILM: Kate del Castillo’s scenery-chewing performance as a trans inmate in K-11 wasn’t bad—in fact, she was quite entertaining as the LGBT cell’s Queen Bee. But this lurid drama directed by Jules Stewart (Kristen’s mom) was a mess.
Murderous Lesbians and Queer twists
WORST: Side Effects had the negative effect of having one of its big plot twists be that two characters were murderous lesbians. The film irresponsibly equated lesbianism with venality.
BEST: Out filmmaker Jamie Babbit made the far more interesting—and tricky—Breaking the Girls, in which two women fall in love, exchange murders (a la Stranger on a Train) only for the delicious twists and double-crosses to begin!
Documentaries of the Year
BEST Call Me Kuchu presented a wake-up call for LGBT rights in Uganda and a commemoration of the work—and murder—of African queer activist David Kato. This blistering documentary about how LGBT individuals survive, and even thrive, in a country where being gay is illegal shone a bright light on its brave subjects. Another fine doc, God Loves Uganda, also addressed the issue of being queer in Africa.
HONORABLE MENTION: Valentine Road about the shocking aftermath of a gay hate crime.
Beat Film. There were three films out this year that portrayed the Beats.
WORST: Kill Your Darlings, in which Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) falls in love with, and under the spell of, the murderous Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan) was an ambitious, but largely unsuccessful, effort to capture the early Beats.
BETTER: On the Road was Walter Salles’ earnest adaptation of the Kerouac classic. Sam Riley’s Sal Paradise and Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarity, were respectfully the Kerouac and Cassidy characters. This handsomely mounted drama captured the restless spirit with mixed results.
BEST: Big Sur featuring Jean-Marc Barr as an older, alcoholic Kerouac is both beautifully filmed and superbly acted, making it the Beat film to Beat.
GOOD: The girls in Spring Breakers shared some same-sex kisses while Marc (Israel Broussard) in The Bling Ring loved those heels he stole.
VERY GOOD: Emory Cohen gave a knockout performance as a gay teen who has a date with a much older, married African American man (Wendell Pierce) in the remarkable drama Four.
BEST: The gay couple, Luis (Luis Figueroa) and Brandon (Brandon Diaz), in the enchanting comedy-drama The We and the I. The treatment of these queer students seen on a long bus ride home was truly honest, never sensationalizing their sexuality or demeaning them for being gay.
Gay Directors, Straight Films
GOOD: Bill Condon’s Fifth Estate was an entertaining enough drama about Julian Assange, but it never quite reached the depths it might have plumbed.
BEST: Lee Daniel’s The Butler was a remarkable history of civil rights in America as seen through the eyes of a White House Butler played by Forest Whitaker, but it contained no queer content.
Gay Directors, Gay Films
BEST: Spanish bad-boy Pedro Almodovar created one of his funniest and gayest films in decades with I’m So Excited, about a trio of gay flight attendants attending to panic-stricken first class passengers when their landing gear fails.
HONORABLE MENTION: François Ozon’s splendid In the House was a return to queer storytelling for the out auteur. He tells the complex, but seductive, story of a student who engages his professor by chronicling the events of his gay friend’s household.
MEDIOCRE: Lovelace made by gay filmmakers Jeffrey Friedman and Rob Epstein, about the meteoric rise to fame of porn star Linda Lovelace and the abuse she suffered at the hands her husband. It had some good elements, but never quite grabbed viewers by the throat.
BEST: The Canyons by straight filmmaker Paul Schrader, working from a script by the gay Bret Easton Ellis, told a stylish, sordid love triangle featuring bad behavior and bared bodies—Lindsay Lohan and James Deen among them.
Most Promising Newcomers
MALE: Wentworth Miller not only came out publically this year, he also penned a wicked script for the stylish and sinister thriller Stoker.
FEMALE: Stacie Passion offered a notable directorial debut with the absorbing lesbian drama Concussion.
The (Rear) end
There is always a question about the sexiest queer film or who has the best nude scene. While Matthew McConaughey’s character in Dallas Buyers Club instructs the medical establishment to kiss his naked ass, it was not seductive. And it would be tough to choose between the actors in the three Beat films: Studly Garrett Hedlund answering a door in the altogether in On the Road; adorable Daniel Radcliffe displaying his cute caboose in Kill Your Darlings; and the uninhibited Jean-Marc Barr showing off his divine behind in Big Sur. All these guys have attractive asses. But it’s no contest, because the sexiest film this year was Blue Is the Warmest Color,” featuring Adèle Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux, who bared their derrieres along with their souls.
© 2013 Gary M. Kramer
Gary M. Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews,” and the co-editor of “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” You can follow him on Twitter @garymkramer.