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    The Highs and Lows of 2015 Queer Movies


    In 2015, the LGBT films that received the most attention ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. On the plus side, there was Carol, out filmmaker Todd Haynes’ outstanding adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel, The Price of Salt, about lesbian desire in the 1950s. The film was another unqualified success for Haynes, and actresses Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett were indelible as the lovers.

    Another breakout hit was Tangerine, Sean Baker’s funky little comedy, shot entirely on an iPhone. The film featured two motor-mouthed transgender prostitutes Sin-dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor) wandering around Los Angeles on Christmas Eve. The film thrived on its characters’ manic energy, and it had tremendous heart.

    However, on the negative side, gay filmmaker Roland Emmerich’s Stonewall got a stoning from critics, who found the film cringe-inducing. Even before its release, Stonewall was criticized for “white-washing,” having a fictional white male hero as the central character in a story that should be about the transgender activists, drag queens, and queer people of color who fomented social change.


    There were other highs and lows this year for out actors. Lily Tomlin earned raves for her performance as the title character in Grandma, a tough talking lesbian feminist who helps her granddaughter (Julia Garner) procure an abortion. Tomlin’s feistiness was the film’s biggest asset, and generated much of the film’s humor.

    In contrast, out actress Ellen Page’s passion project, Freeheld, was met with a lukewarm reception both critically and commercially. Page co-starred with newly-minted Oscar winner Julianne Moore as Stacie Andree and Laurel Hester, the lesbian couple that fought for domestic partner pension benefits when Laurel developed terminal cancer. The film was best in its tender scenes between the lovers, but lacked the emotional pull in the grandstanding moments.

    In addition to the aforementioned Tangerine, films with trans characters this year included Eric Shaeffer’s romantic roundelay, Boy Meets Girl, about Ricky (Michelle Hendley) a transitioning teen and her friends; the fine Australian drama 52 Tuesdays, about a teenager’s (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) relationship with her gender transitioning mother (Del Herbert-Jane); and The Danish Girl, a handsomely mounted but impassive film starring Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne, as the transgender pioneer Lili Elbe. Even gay filmmaker François Ozon teased out a tale of transvestism in his fabulous comedy-drama The New Girlfriend about a cross-dresser (Romain Duris) whose secret is discovered by his late wife’s best friend.


    Gay men had a rough year at the movies. In Legend, Tom Hardy had a terrific double role as the Kray twins, and yet the sexuality of the gay brother, Ronnie, was largely unexplored despite some frank discussions of his sexual predilections. Robin Williams’ final starring role, as a sexually repressed gay man in the dull and obvious Boulevard, felt contrived, rather than poignant. And while the biopic Saint Laurent looked as fabulous as star Gaspar Ulliel, the overlong film was all style, no substance.

    Bisexuals possibly had it best on screen in 2015. Desiree Akhavan’s Appropriate Behavior was an hilarious deadpan comedy about looking for love, having sex, and failing to connect with anyone. It was an auspicious feature debut. Likewise, the naughty couples in the adult sleepover film, The Overnight, were testing their boundaries with some same-sex seductions—when not participating in an unforgettable nude scene. Also exploring their queer sides were Matthew Broderick’s milquetoast character in Neil LaBute’s caustic Dirty Weekend, and Jack Black, whose bromance with James Marsden in the underrated and underseen film The D Train was simply unsettling, but fantastic.

    Queer non-fiction film this year offered the divine comedy of Gore Vidal vs. William F. Buckley, Jr. in Best of Enemies, and the human comedy of The Yes Men Are Revolting, in which the openly gay Andy Bichlbaum worries that his work, as an activist creating hoaxes against corporations with his business partner Mike Bonanno, will prevent him from settling down with a romantic partner. There was also the middling comedy, Do I Sound Gay, where filmmaker David Thorpe talks out of both sides of his mouth as he explores the vocal stereotypes of gay men.

    Far more fashionable was Dior and I by out filmmaker Frédéric Tcheng, a gorgeous documentary portrait of Raf Simons as he took the helm of the haute couture house. Tab Hunter Confidential was also an enjoyable doc about Hunter’s closeted days in Hollywood and the happiness he found in his off-screen relationships with men, including Tony Perkins.

    Gay actors starred in some rather mediocre films this year. Queer icon Ian McKellen had a big indie film hit, as the literary sleuth in out director Bill Condon’s Mr. Holmes, but the film itself was curiously underwhelming. And while Magic Mike XXL didn’t take off at the box office, gay actor Matt Bomer looked good taking it off, but his character was as skin-deep as the film.

    Some of the hottest nude and sex scenes in cinemas featured queer couplings. Gaspar Noé’s audacious Love, shot in glorious 3-D, featured a threesome with Karl Glusman (from Stonewall) and his coming-at-you penis, and his female co-stars Aomi Muyock and Klara Kristin. There was also an awkward encounter with a trans character. Love wasn’t for all tastes, but it was, ahem, impressive. Future Beach by out filmmaker Karim Aïnouz, was a superb drama about two men who bond when one’s friend drowns. The film featured an elliptical narrative, raw emotion, and plenty of skin.

    Arguably, the best films of the year had queer twists. The outstanding French entry, Eastern Boys, started out like a sex film about a Ukrainian prostitute, but it became a tense and touching love story. Director/writer Robin Campillo’s film was a quietly powerful drama about exploited illegal immigrants.

    Writer/director/star Sebastián Silva’s Nasty Baby, took an unexpected (and for some, unappreciated) narrative turn when an interracial gay couple (Silva and Tunde Adebimpe) helping their friend Polly (Kristen Wiig) have a baby, get involved in something quite sinister. Nasty Baby may have left a bad taste in viewers’ mouths, but it was memorable, not unlike this queer year at the movies.

    © 2015 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.” Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer