The 20 Best LGBT Films of 2020
LGBTIQA+ films have become somewhat mainstream in the 21st century. ‘Brokeback Mountain’ (2005) was a gamechanger that missed the Oscar; ‘Blue Is the Warmest Colour’ was laden with issues but won the Palme d’Or; ‘Carol’ won critical acclaim; ‘Moonlight’ (2016) won the Oscar for Best Picture in a rather dodgy way in the history of the award show even if its Black director did not. ‘Beats per Minute’ (2017) was a huge hit, internationally; and so did ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ (2019). You could argue that these were mostly gay or lesbian films, and you would not be wrong. Trans films had trans characters mostly played by straight men in costumes with a few exceptions. As far as LGBT films of 2020 are concerned, this spread is still limited to gay, bi, and lesbian films, with a smattering of trans films.
But a whole lot of people who identify are intersex, questioning, asexual, pansexual, and others are yet to be explored in the film even two decades into the 21st century. Rarely does an advertisement get released about who an intersex person is, even by UN Free and Equal or other equal rights crusader, forget alone a feature film or documentary on their lives, feelings, and mess. Even there the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation, or that the two are different is difficult to grasp and hold onto.
I am, personally, queasy with the term ‘best’ because I have not watched all of the films out there. I may have seen some of them – most of them with traction but not all – let alone queer films. In consequence, you may find your favorite queer film missing from this list because I have not watched it yet. A few like ‘And Then We Danced’ (this one hurts the most!), ‘Falling,’ and ‘Cicada’ almost made the cut, but I wanted to stick to 20 and had my reasons.
It is already May and international publications will soon compile the best films of 2021 so far, come end of June, and I thought it is high time that this list comes out.
2020, all the same, was my most productive year in watching films. Notables, other than the three mentioned above include: ‘Aviva,’ ‘Bad Education,’ ‘The Boys in the Band,’ ‘Circus of Books,’ ‘Ema,’ ‘The Half of It,’ ‘If It Were Love,’ ‘Lingua Franca,’ ‘Moffie,’ ‘Mucho Mucho Amor,’ ‘Straight Up!,’ ‘Sublet,’ ‘Supernova,’ and ‘Uncle Frank;’ and these are only the films I have watched. I am positive there are a number of international films that have not got the attention they deserve or have made any list. Like a classic pseudo-English literature student, I am waiting to read ‘Funny Boy,’ ‘A Suitable Boy,’ and ‘The True History of Kelly Gang’ before I watch them.
Without further ado, criticize me all you want for not including the above, because some of them are genuinely better than the films on my list, but these are my top 20 LGBT(IQA+) films of 2020. It is a sad state of affairs that none of them is from India, or that 12 of them are in English; anyway, let me not analyze it before telling you what made it.
20. THE PROM
If you are Ryan Murphy, it should not be difficult for you to get Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Kerry Washington, James Cordon, Keegan-Michael Key, and Andrew Rannells as your cast. In fact, you can get them to dance. That’s exactly what Murphy does in this Netflix film where the high school cancels the prom because a female student wanted to take another female student as her partner. Bring Streep and group; they fix it – although Olivia Pope is the one who needs fixing this time.
Watch/Stream The Prom on Netflix
19. BLOODY NOSE, EMPTY POCKETS
Playing with the idea of a documentary, I was not quite sure of placing this film directed by Bill Ross IV and Turner Ross that is set in a bar on its closing night. Nonetheless, there are so many characters that enter and exit the bar that it is hard to keep track of who is who and whose story is whose. The bar is friendly to gay people, trans people, drunk people, people who have to work but have passed out on the couch, and everything seems too good to be true. Had it been a fiction film, I would have questioned it all.
Watch Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets on Kanopy
18. MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM
‘Ma Rainey’ has broken grounds in many ways, but her fearless relationship with Dussie Mae (Taylor Paige) in 1927 America is what is beautiful about this film for this list. Ma (Viola Davis) gets instantly jealous the minute she sees Dussie with another man. She dresses up Dussie, needs Dussie alongside her when she sings and drives back with her. Their relationship has an unequal power dynamic, but to see a Black woman so in charge of what she wants from life and have it before the entire world did, is truly empowering.
Watch/Stream Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom on Netflix
17. HAPPIEST SEASON
Clea DuVall, of ‘Veep’ fame, got Mackenzie Davis and none other than Kristen Stewart and Aubrey Plaza along with Dan Levy in this holiday film that came out at the end of last year. In this rom-com, Mackenzie introduces Kristen as a “friend” to her family. Sharing some similar experiences with Aubrey, Kirsten finds out that this is a pattern with Mackenzie. Like all holiday films, this one has an ending that lets you breathe a sigh of relief too, not without teasing you with enough tension on its way there.
WATCH/STREAM HAPPIEST SEASON HERE
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16. THE OLD GUARD
It was surprising to see somebody who had made the gorgeous ‘Beyond the Lights’ (2014) to take on a full-fledged action film in ‘The Old Guard.’ Gina Prince-Bythewood puts together a cast that is stunning in the way they fight and the way they look. This includes Charlize Theron, KiKi Layne, Matthias Schoenaerts, Marwan Kenzari, Luca Marinelli (of ‘Martin Eden’ fame), and Chiwetel Ejiofor, among others. Marwan and Luca are in a relationship, and although it is not obvious in the beginning, the two become inseparable by the end of the film. It is a subplot, but a superhero film giving us this is more than what one can imagine.
Watch/Stream The Old Guard on Netflix
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Josephine Decker’s ‘Shirley’ is a maze of a film. Based on a book of the same name by Susan Scarf Merrell, and a screenplay by Sarah Gubbins, this fictional story not only takes place in the writers’ heads and Decker’s imagination but Shirley Jackson’s (Elisabeth Moss) as she is writing her book and the imagined or real friendship she strikes with the young Rose (Odessa Young). Since so much is unclear, it is difficult to point out what has transpired. But I do not think anybody wants to; Decker’s film has enough style and substance in it to make it queer and here.
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One of my complaints with ‘Kajillionaire’ is that it did not have the filmmaker Miranda July acting in it, and the other was that it made use of the Latina character as a fairy who fixes it all. These problems aside, ‘Kajillionaire’ shows us the romance between Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood) and Melanie (Gina Rodriguez) is magical sans race issues. There is one scene, in particular, that is true July. And like her ‘Future’ (2011), it takes us to the future and makes everything all right. It is a sensory film that deals with touch and trust, affection and relation.
Related to LGBT Films of 2020 – Download the Script of Kajillionaire
13. BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ
This tale is supposed to be a classic in Germany but I only know Qurbani’s three-hour version. It made the whole thing feel Dickensian, and his intentions of adding the immigrant crisis clear enough, for me. Like the bar in ‘Bloody Nose,’ the setting of ‘Berlin’ is welcoming enough to accept anybody. One of my favorite critics Jessica Kiang pointed out the misogyny in this film. The male protagonist goes through an awful time, too; so, I am not sure what I mean by “welcoming” and want to go back to “Dickensian.” But this, with the backdrop of the American pub in ‘Bloody Nose’, and the contemporariness of ‘No Hard Feelings’, which I will mention later, together offer us a Germany that is trying its best to be inclusive from what films are showing us.
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12. MY LITTLE SISTER
I am in before you finish saying Nina Hoss! Directed by Stéphanie Chuat and Véronique Reymond, Hoss plays the sister in this German film from Switzerland. Her twin brother is a playwright who is gay and ill as well. She has to take care of him because cancer is a difficult disease. Being a playwright, on the other hand, is something the brother is intensely passionate about. The relationship between these siblings is ideal but crashing because the little sister has to do too much, and the brother is restricted to a room most times. Mothers do not help!
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This film was unfairly compared with ‘Portrait’ as if two-period lesbian films could not coexist, or both be good. By that logic, everybody loved ‘Carol’. Also, the maker of ‘God’s Own Country’ (2016) could not have made a faulty film. I mean, you can see the dirt under Kate’s nails, and for somebody who is animated, she has turned into a muted actor, giving just enough, for most of the last 13 years. She and Lee deserve so much more! Now, to the plot: Winslet plays Mary Anning, a British paleontologist, and spent days in isolation before and during the film to get into the skin of her character. The love story she develops with Saoirse Ronan is not immediate, but out of chance and circumstance. It develops gradually, and it has an ending that strikes you and lets Mary pause, but not let go of who she is.
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10. SUMMER OF 85
How can there be a queer romance film and there not be François Ozon? This film made me feel how two people feel when they have agreed to be in a relationship but have not decided on the terms. Case in point: polyamory; it hurts so bad when one goes and sleeps with somebody else. To that extent, it deals with a questioning teenager, I think. It’s in French, of course, the sexually liberal, produced in France and Belgium, narrated rather oddly like a thriller when everyone who is watching knows the ending, but with all the passion of a coming-of-age love story that ‘Call Me By Your Name’ has spoilt for the rest of our lives. This, as the title suggests, is the summer of 1985, and not Italy. And the hunks are cute and rebellious, riding bikes and motorbikes until something untoward happens.
9. SHIVA BABY
I am delighted to place this gem of a film on my list. Directed by Emma Seligman ‘Shiva Baby’ stars Rachel Sennott as a bisexual Jewish woman who is attending something called a “shiva.” Meriam Webster defines it as “a traditional seven-day period of mourning the death of a family member that is observed in Jewish homes.” For, I only know the first meaning with a capital “s,” the god of destruction! Sennott, playing Danielle, has quite a shiva, meeting her ex-girlfriend, and present sex partner, who she did not know had a wife and a baby. All this, in front of her mum and dad, who are looking for a job and a man for her. 77 minutes have never been tighter!
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Agnieszka Holland, the prolific Polish filmmaker, has made everything from ‘Europa Europa’ (1991) to ‘Spoor’ (2017), but she had to make this film that is a tale of both beauty and wonder. ‘Charlatan’ is about the real-life healer Jan Mikolášek who cured people using plant-based remedies by looking at their urine samples. There is a love affair between the charlatan and his hunk of an assistant, played by Juraj Loj. Both father and son take turns to play the charlatan: Josef Trojan plays the younger version and Ivan Trojan plays the older one, and both get some Loj. Their romance and love are so true that although Loj’s character is married, he proves his love to Mikolášek. Only Holland!
A film called ‘Monsoon’, not set in India, with a posh, rich British chap as a protagonist who is searching his soul is like giving me enough red flags to not watch something. Yet, Hong Khaou’s ‘Monsoon’ slowly made me a convert. Of course, I liked the protagonist’s love interest more, who looks like Obama and has played Obama. The tall Peter Sawyers is the stuff of dreams! Henry Golding of ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ fame is the lead, playing ‘Kit,’ who has returned to Vietnam for the first time since he left as a six-year-old. He wants to scatter his parents’ ashes there after all they did to get out, but who is to tell this boomer? As Kit moves from Saigon to Hanoi, feels more for Sawyers, the setting with its two-wheelers and auto-rickshaws, everything takes a turn; you want Kit to be happy, and are ready to part ways with Sawyers.
6. NO HARD FEELINGS
It took me a while to like ‘Futur Drei’; it is too stylish! Three actors: Benjamin Radjaipour, Eidin Jalali, and Banafshe Hourmazdi play Parvis, Amon, and Banafshe respectively. They all look like they are from a fashion magazine: just walking around the streets, not having a care for the world they inhabit. It is a typical coming-of-age film, and director Faraz Shariat would not have had it any other way, I believe. It is in German and Persian. Underneath all that style, comes the substance: Amon and Banafshe are refugees. Banafshe is being deported immediately, and it is heart-breaking to see Amon cry tears that are seemingly real. Amon is closeted while Parvis is confidently out. When they are discovered having intercourse in the refugee centre, where Parvis works, Amon’s friends abandon him. Parvis’s parents have worked all their lives to ensure he has the lifestyle he flaunts now. So, Shariat does explain and let them live, even if the color is in your face.
5. WELCOME TO CHECHNYA
The fact that this documentary exists is enough for hope to be there in this world. Let me start by telling you that Chechnya is in Russia and that this film is shot in English, Russian, and Chechen. With fake faces, voices, and names, to protect the people who are fleeing Chechnya, director David France makes excellent use of technique to film the anti-gay acts, which include but are not limited to abduction, disappearance, death, and torture, on the basis of one’s sexual orientation. The consequences being borne by the individuals, their partners, their families, the people who help them, and anybody who they have contacted on a service that aids such services, almost making it the second Holocaust. Essential viewing, this!
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This film brings to life all the ways the media has portrayed trans lives and taught society how to act, react, and behave, along with teaching trans people those things, too. Director Sam Feder also offers hope from this decade, mainly from television, towards the end. ‘Disclosure’ was eligible for the Oscars; the Oscars were not eligible to disclose their discrimination!
Watch/Stream Disclosure on Netflix
3. ALICE JUNIOR
Coming from Brazil, the protagonist has to move cities. Gil Baroni’s friendly film is in Portuguese and French, and is yet another coming-of-age film but about a transgender teen. I think it is the only film, which is of this age, other than the employment of technology in ‘Chechnya’, because Alice, played by Celestina Mota, is a YouTuber documenting her life on social media and emoticons. She is bullied, but she has learned how to stand up for herself. The film is an excellent example of having a positive support system. The father helps and is all for Alice, but cannot live her life and protect her from the world. I had to check if either of them was North American when I watched the film. This film, along with ‘The Prom’ is, perhaps, the most fun you would have on this list. ‘The Old Guard’ and ‘Happiest Season’ are enjoyable, too; but depends on your definition of that word, in any case. Elements of the ending of ‘Alice’ are definitely chilling and so inclusive that I nearly cried.
Watch/Stream Alice Junior on Netflix
2. TWILIGHT’S KISS
As I said somewhere in the beginning, gay men have taken over the hierarchy in the queer umbrella and my top two films are Asian gay films. ‘Suk Suk’ is about a married couple, Pak and Hoi, a taxi driver and a retired father, 70 and 65, respectively. The personal and the societal are what they struggle with as America renamed this film, from what literally translates to “Uncle Uncle” to ‘Twilight’s Kiss.’ Inspired by an oral history of how gay men led their lives in Hong Kong, ‘Suk Suk,’ in 92 minutes does its job and does not takes its second spot on my list for granted. Both Tai Bo (Pak) and Ben Yuen (Hoi) have been written so well by Yeung that the “uncles” wear their clothes with ease: the former being more reserved and the latter being more open, to cut a long story short.
This is my first Tsai Ming-liang film, so I am unfamiliar with his method; apparently, this is what he does: go slow, talk less, do not offer subtitles. The runtime for ‘Rizi’ is 127 minutes; so, imagine that! There are only two characters: Kang and Non. Lee Kang-sheng, apparently a frequent collaborator, plays Kang; and Anong Houngheuangsy plays Non. If all this is not slow enough, Tsai started shooting this in 2014, when ‘Girlhood’ and ‘Boyhood’ were released. Anyway, there is hardly any dialogue in ‘Rizi’, so there is no need for subtitles. Kang stares at the rain for the first five minutes on his balcony, and Non completes his chores and washes his vegetables. Somehow, somewhere, the Tsai effect takes hold of you, and you are transfixed by this mundanity. The two characters meet; you root for them. They have a meal; you want them to be full. You do not want to hear noises. You just want the day to pass by. You want to be with Kang and Non. You want to be with yourself and one of the best films of the year, queer or not.