By Gary M. Kramer
The year in queer film 2016 had both notable achievements—Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, about three stages in the life of an African American man, chief among them—and some dubious ones. Sea of Trees by out filmmaker Gus Van Sant was critically panned and barely got a theatrical release. When it did, audiences stayed away in droves.
Here is a rundown of the year’s best LGBT films.
Best Gay Male Film: Moonlight by Barry Jenkins shrewdly investigated what it means to be black and gay and in a world that revolves in and around drug culture. The film’s sensitive moments and indelible, internalized performances keep Moonlight from playing into stereotypes, illuminating the characters’ humanity.
Best Debut Film: Andrew Ahn’s Spa Night, about David (the remarkable Joe Seo) a Korean American grappling with his sexuality, his parents, and the reality of a just out of reach American Dream, was simply astonishing. From the hothouse sexual atmosphere of the spa to the issues of Asian American assimilation, Spa Night was an immersive debut that captured the tensions of sexuality and family.
Best Lesbian Film: Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden was a mesmerizing adaptation of lesbian author Sarah Waters’ celebrated Victorian-era novel, The Fingersmith. It was the year’s most highly satisfying Sapphic drama. The narrative twists were as breathtaking as the rich vivid colors, ornate interiors, and luscious exteriors that made Park’s film visually stimulating.
Best Gender-Bending Film: Don’t Call Me Son had a teen (Naomi Nero) learning he was stolen from his birth mother. Reunited with his biological family, he causes more conflict when he displays his penchant for cross-dressing. Like its characters, this film took risks.
Best Documentary: Hockney is a marvelous and profound portrait of the artist that captures its subject through a mélange of quotes by Hockney, anecdotes by his friends, and outstanding archival footage and photographs. It showcased and emphasized the painter’s way of seeing, and allowed audiences to see Hockney in a new way, too.
Most Homoerotic Sequence: The “No Dames” dance number from Hail, Caesar not only features clever lyrics sung by soon-to-be lonely seamen, but Channing Tatum’s expression when caught with another man’s ass in his face was priceless. And the bit where he is sandwiched between two dancing male behinds was especially delicious.
Most Seductive Male: Naked and lying in bed, Luis Alberti was muy caliente as Palomino Cañedo, who seduced and deflowered Sergei Eisenstein (Elmer Bäck) in Peter Greenway’s hypnotic Eisenstein in Guanajuato.
Best Male Ass: In the love scene between Ryan (Jake Choi) and Ning (James Chen) in Ray Yeung’s charming Front Cover it is unclear whose naked ass is seen (even Yeung, when pressed to identify the actor, demurs, “I forget.”) Regardless of the ambiguity or the nudity, Front Cover emphasized that Asian-American men, long (and unfairly) desexualized on screen, are hot, and both Choi and Chen were fabulously sexy.
Best Gay Teen on Screen: Stephen Cone’s modest, incisive gem, Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party, had every character reveal themself in a look or a line of dialogue, and out actor Cole Doman made a striking film debut in the title role.
Best Ellen Page Performance: The terrific Ellen Page’s finest screen work in 2016 was not actually a film (she had two films, Tallulah and Into the Forest, in release this summer) but her documentary TV series, Gaycation. Travelling with her gay best friend Ian Daniel, the pair explored LGBT life in Japan, Brazil, Jamaica and the U.S. It was a fun and informative trip worth taking.
Best Non-Gay Film Made by a Gay Man: Fashion designer turned filmmaker Tom Ford’s sophomore effort, Nocturnal Animals, about an art gallery owner (Amy Adams) and her ex (Jake Gyllenhaal) was as stylish as it was spellbinding.
Best Gay Film Made by a Straight Man: Matt Sobels’ stunning Take Me to the River, chronicled gay teen Ryder (Logan Miller), at the center of escalating tensions with his extended family during a reunion in the heartland.
Best Re-release: Multiple Maniacs John Waters’ crude—and crudely made—classic underground “celluloid atrocity,” long out of release, features one helluva performance by Divine. It was great to revisit Lady Divine getting a “rosary job” from Mink (Mink Stole), and raped by Lobstora, a fifteen-foot broiled crustacean.
Here’s to more great LGBT cinema in 2017.
© 2016 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