Cate Blanchett in a scene from “Carol”
Stacker Studio

Top 25 LGBTQ+ films, according to critics

Written by:
May 5, 2022
The Weinstein Company

Top 25 LGBTQ+ films, according to critics

Queer representation in film was, for a long time, limited to villains, perverts, or characters who met violent or tragic ends by the conclusion of the story. But the narrative is beginning to flip.

Over the past several decades, LGBTQ+ characters have seen increased representation—and better representation—than ever before. While independent productions have historically pioneered LGBTQ+ representation, larger and more mainstream audiences have been exposed to more queer stories recently. Between 2018 and 2020 alone, a GLAAD Media Institute study found a significant uptick in films featuring queer characters in major studio productions. Gains in representation of LGBTQ+ characters of color and screen time given to queer characters were also made during this time. Where studios continue to miss the mark, according to the study, is their lack of inclusion of transgender and nonbinary characters.

With more queer characters come more compelling queer stories that illuminate the diversity, complexity, and nuance of queer experiences. Giggster looked at Metacritic data on the top movies of all time and identified the top 25 on the list that include LGBTQ+ themes and storylines. Running the gamut from documentaries to Westerns, and animated films to satirical period dramas, the movies on this list bring fresh perspectives on queerness that won acclaim from critics and audiences alike. While all of these films have LGBTQ+ themes, not every film listed here features queer cast members or directors.

Al Pacino in a scene from “Dog Day Afternoon”
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Warner Bros.

#25. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

- Director: Sidney Lumet
- Metascore: 86
- Runtime: 125 minutes

“Dog Day Afternoon” stars Al Pacino and John Cazale as first-time bank robbers whose attempt to rob a Brooklyn bank spirals into an out-of-control hostage situation. The story is based on a real Brooklyn bank heist gone awry in 1972. Pacino plays Sonny, a queer Vietnam War veteran. His main motivation for robbing the bank is to get enough money for his partner, Leon—a trans woman played by Chris Sarandon—to have gender confirmation surgery.

Though the film has many of the trappings of a more traditional gangster flick, “Dog Day Afternoon” diverges from the genre with its more unusual critiques of the political climate at the time. The film also challenges the notion of what makes someone a hero.

AV Club’s Chuck Bowen wrote the portrayal of Sonny and Leon’s relationship through a pivotal phone call is the "most pronounced and obvious display of this film’s empathy.” Kyle Turner from IndieWire said despite the fact that the film does not put a lot of emphasis on its queer storyline, it treats hypermasculinity as something obviously performed. According to Turner, “Dog Day Afternoon” avoids falling into harmful, stereotypical Hollywood portrayals of queer characters, which were common at the time.

Kang-sheng Lee and Anong Houngheuangsy in a scene from “Days”
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Homegreen Films

#24. Days (2020)

- Director: Ming-liang Tsai
- Metascore: 87
- Runtime: 127 minutes

Malaysian Taiwanese filmmaker Ming-liang Tsai is no stranger to making queer cinema. Though Tsai is somewhat averse to labels in regard to his work, most of his films feature queer characters. “Days” is no different. The film portrays the slow, separate lives of two lonely men: Kang, who is middle-aged, and Non, a younger sex worker. For much of the film, they exist on different, fairly mundane paths, until they finally intersect when Kang hires Non to give him a sensual massage. They seem to share a quiet, immediate connection, which contrasts with the intense isolation of the first part of the film.

“Days” won a special mention Teddy Award at the Berlin International Film Festival, an honor given to a distinguished film that deals with queer topics. Critics lauded the film’s slow but resonant emotionality—David Ehrlich from IndieWire called the scenes between Kang and Non “the most piercingly sentimental moment” of all of Tsai’s films. Roger Ebert critic Simon Abrams called the film “beautiful,” adding, “it radiates the sort of low-key intensity and punch-drunk wooziness that can become intoxicating.”

The Velvet Underground perform
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Motto Pictures

#23. The Velvet Underground (2021)

- Director: Todd Haynes
- Metascore: 87
- Runtime: 121 minutes

This documentary about the iconic late-’60s band The Velvet Underground explores the formation of the band and how it fit into the irreverent New York art scene. The film itself is a multimedia experience, designed to be aesthetically akin to the way Andy Warhol—The Velvet Underground’s producer and patron—would stage the band’s shows. Warhol often used video projections, lights, and sounds. The two surviving members of the band—co-founder John Cale and drummer Maureen “Moe” Tucker—as well as critics and other members of the scene provide commentary and insight.

Director and writer Todd Haynes (of 2015’s “Carol”) captures the queer subtext the band was operating within, both implicitly and explicitly. Although, he notes in an interview the word “queer,” when applied now to New York’s subculture at that time, “feels revisionist, and a contemporary imposition of a new idea onto it.” While the only openly LGBTQ+ member of the band was frontman Lou Reed, Haynes said the band—and the community it existed within—pushed back on heteronormativity.

Sidse Babett Knudsen and Chiara D’Anna in a scene from “The Duke of Burgundy”
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Rook Films

#22. The Duke of Burgundy (2014)

- Director: Peter Strickland
- Metascore: 87
- Runtime: 104 minutes

According to the AV Club’s Mike D’Angelo, “The Duke of Burgundy” is among the most "incisive, penetrating, and empathetic films ever made about what it truly means to love another person, audaciously disguised as salacious midnight-movie fare.”

The film follows Cynthia, a middle-aged woman who studies butterflies, and Evelyn, her younger lover, as they try to make their full-time BDSM relationship work. Throughout the film, the power dynamics between them—which at first seem clear-cut—become more complex. Despite the film’s kinky premise, it dives deeper, exploring what it means to be enough for another person. IndieWire ranked it third in its roundup of the best films of 2015.

Viola Davis performs a scene from “Ma Rainey's Black Bottom”
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Netflix

#21. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020)

- Director: George C. Wolfe
- Metascore: 87
- Runtime: 94 minutes

Viola Davis “fills up the room” as the unabashedly queer legendary blues singer Ma Rainey, according to Roger Ebert critic Odie Henderson. The film takes place over the course of one (fictional) day’s recording session in 1927 Chicago as tensions run high between the appropriative white producers and the Black musicians, as well as between Rainey and her band.

In preparation for the role, Davis deeply researched Rainey’s life—in 1925, Rainey was arrested for hosting a lesbian orgy of her chorus members at her house—and wanted to honor her memory by making sure her womanizing ways and overt sexuality weren’t downplayed on screen. Although there’s only one scene that shows physical intimacy between Rainey and her younger girlfriend Dussie Mae (Taylour Paige), Rainey’s seductiveness and ability to command power and space—despite pervasive racism and misogyny—dominates the film.

Melissa McCarthy in a scene from “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
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Fox Searchlight Pictures

#20. Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)

- Director: Marielle Heller
- Metascore: 87
- Runtime: 106 minutes

Based on Lee Israel’s memoir of the same name, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” stars Melissa McCarthy as Lee, a failed lesbian writer in financial straits. She begins forging letters from dead celebrities—as well as stealing real ones—and selling them, adding in scandalous “personal details” to increase their value. She soon recruits an acquaintance, Jack (Richard E. Grant), to help her sell them, and they strike up a friendship.

Though director Marielle Heller said that queerness is not the sole focus of the film—Jack’s character is also gay—it is also not invisible. From Lee and Jack’s queer friendship, to scenes in New York’s oldest gay bar, to an uncomfortable romantic pass, and many references to the ongoing AIDS crisis, queerness subtly runs throughout the film in ways rarely seen in Hollywood films, according to IndieWire critic Jude Dry. I-D critic Nick Levine called its portrayal of queer loneliness and friendship “stingingly poignant.” McCarthy and Grant both received Oscar nominations for their performances.

Antonio Banderas and Nora Navas in a scene from “Pain and Glory”
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Canal+

#19. Pain and Glory (2019)

- Director: Pedro Almodóvar
- Metascore: 87
- Runtime: 113 minutes

“Pain and Glory” is a Spanish film starring Antonio Banderas as Salvador Mallo, a retired, ailing gay filmmaker. Early on in the film, he reunites with his former collaborator, Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia), an actor he distanced himself from years earlier for using heroin. This time, it is Salvador who asks Alberto for the drug. This sends the protagonist down an unexpected path that wavers between past and present, brings him into contact with an old lover, and forces him to reconcile with histories that cannot be changed.

Time Magazine ranked the film the best of 2019. According to Mark Kermode of The Guardian, Banderas “gives the performance of his career.” Banderas was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for the role, and the film was nominated for Best International Feature Film.

Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in a scene from “Brokeback Mountain”
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Focus Features

#18. Brokeback Mountain (2005)

- Director: Ang Lee
- Metascore: 87
- Runtime: 134 minutes

This iconic film was adapted from Annie Proulx’s 1997 short story of the same name. Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger star as two cowboys hired to herd sheep across the mountains of Wyoming for a summer in the ’60s. During the summer, the two men unexpectedly strike up a physically and emotionally intimate relationship. The film follows the men as they part ways at the end of the summer—but neither can seem to let the other go. They struggle in the following years against both internalized and external (and quite violent) homophobia, societal expectations around masculinity, and familial responsibilities. The central tension of “Brokeback Mountain” pulls between what is lost by expressing a love that is forbidden by society, and what is lost by not expressing it.

Peter Travers from Rolling Stone called the film “unmissable and unforgettable.” The release of “Brokeback Mountain” was considered a milestone and a “mass-culture phenomenon.” It was considered an important film because it centered on a gay relationship in a big-budget, mainstream Hollywood film, and because it allowed queerness to enter the conventions of the Western, one of the most quintessential and mythical American genres. “Brokeback Mountain” took home three Oscars—Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Score.

Penelope Cruz and Milena Smit in a scene from “Parallel Mothers”
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El Deseo

#17. Parallel Mothers (2021)

- Director: Pedro Almodóvar
- Metascore: 88
- Runtime: 123 minutes

“Pain and Glory” director Pedro Almodóvar’s most recent film “Parallel Mothers” stars Penélope Cruz and Milena Smit as two single mothers who find themselves mysteriously intertwined after they give birth at the same time, next to each other, in the hospital. Cruz plays Janis, a late-30s photographer, and Smit plays 17-year-old Ana, who is somewhat more reluctant to enter into motherhood than Janis. The film interweaves history with the present, and it explores the many forms of intimacy and love that can exist between people.

Despite several highly dramatic plot twists, critics raved about the film’s emotional authenticity—particularly Cruz’s performance, which Roger Ebert critic Christy Lemire called “both fiery and grounded.” The role earned Cruz an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.

Maribel Verdu, Gael Garcia Bernal, and Diego Luna in a scene from “Y tu mamá también”
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Anhelo Producciones

#16. Y tu mamá también (2001)

- Director: Alfonso Cuarón
- Metascore: 88
- Runtime: 106 minutes

This steamy Mexican road film by “Gravity” and “Roma” director Alfonso Cuarón tells the story of two teenage friends, Julio and Tenoch. They find themselves free for the summer and invite a late-20s woman, Luisa, to accompany them on a road trip to a faraway beach. Luisa leaves her husband, who she learns cheated on her, and sets off with the younger boys. What follows is “one of the rare happy erotic movies,” an adventure full of youthful freedom, and openness to sexuality and intimacy in their many forms, according to Criterion’s Charles Taylor.

“Y tu mamá también” is not apolitical, however. Underneath the carefree surface of the film—ensured by the boys’ wealth and status—is a look at another version of Mexico: police checkpoints and a level of poverty that is clearly foreign to them. The film received widespread acclaim, but Cuarón sued the Mexican Directorate of Radio, Television, and Cinema over a censorship complaint that restricted the film to viewers over 18 years old.

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener in a scene from “Capote”
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Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

#15. Capote (2005)

- Director: Bennett Miller
- Metascore: 88
- Runtime: 114 minutes

Based on true events, “Capote” follows gay American writer Truman Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) as he reports on the murders of the Clutter family in Kansas. This becomes a years-long project which would become one of his most famous works, “In Cold Blood.” With the help of his friend, author Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), Capote gains access to the case files and interviews the murderers repeatedly, becoming more and more invested in understanding the case. Ultimately, his involvement in telling the grisly story threatens to consume him.

Critics praised Hoffman’s performance as Capote, and he won the Oscar for Best Actor for the role.

Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos in a scene from “Blue Is the Warmest Colour”
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Quat'sous Films

#14. Blue Is the Warmest Colour (2013)

- Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
- Metascore: 89
- Runtime: 180 minutes

“Blue Is the Warmest Colour” is a French film about a teenager, Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos), who begins to question her sexuality after finding herself attracted to a blue-haired young woman, Emma (Léa Seydoux). When the two finally meet, they have an instant connection and begin a passionate relationship. The film follows them over the course of years, as life and desires evolve. The film won the illustrious Palme d’Or at Cannes, and Peter Bradshaw wrote for The Guardian that it was “genuinely passionate filmmaking.”

Though the film represented a milestone in queer cinema because of its explicit—and long—sex scenes, many critics and members of the LGBTQ+ community were not won over. New York Times critic Manohla Dargis wrote the film’s sexuality is mediated entirely through the lens of its director, a straight man. Throughout many scenes, Dargis says the male gaze turned the lesbian sex in the film into an almost pornographic male fantasy because of the way it’s shot. Julie Maroh, the author of the graphic novel the film is based on, criticized the film because it lacked any actual lesbians on set. The director of the film has also been charged with sexual assault, and lead Seydoux said she “felt like a prostitute” at times during filming.

Benedict Cumberbatch in a scene from “The Power of the Dog”
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Netflix

#13. The Power of the Dog (2021)

- Director: Jane Campion
- Metascore: 89
- Runtime: 126 minutes

This Western psychological drama tells the story of two rancher brothers, Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George (Jesse Plemons), whose lives are changed when they meet widowed innkeeper Rose (Kirsten Dunst). When Rose and her teenage son move in with the brothers after she and George marry, Phil is resentful of the change and becomes hostile, beginning a campaign of harassment.

Several queer storylines are explored throughout the film, and critics largely praised the way in which queer characters evaded stereotypical portrayals. Juan Barquin wrote for Them Magazine that the film offers “a subtle, sensitive exploration of masculinity and femininity,” and that it tells a queer story which “refuses at every turn to be boxed in.” Exploring themes of masculinity, repressed sexuality, love, and revenge, “The Power of the Dog” led the Oscars with 12 nominations and won in the Best Director category.

Promotional poster of “Wojnarowicz”
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Hobo Camp Films

#12. Wojnarowicz (2020)

- Director: Chris McKim
- Metascore: 90
- Runtime: 108 minutes

This documentary profiles David Michael Wojnarowicz, the prominent queer New York artist and AIDS activist who documented his own illness with AIDS before succumbing to it in 1992. Wojnarowicz was a multimedia artist who worked in paint, collage, photography, and filmmaking. Most of his work was deeply political, and critiqued the U.S. government’s response to the AIDS crisis, while simultaneously celebrating queerness through fierce documentation of himself and those around him.

The sheer volume of Wojnarowicz’s work—as well as journals, recordings he made of his lover and friend Peter Hujar, and other personal effects—make him come alive through the documentary. Richard Brody from The New Yorker wrote that the film “is a wondrous, intimate, and often outrage-inspiring biographical portrait of the artist and his times.” Interviewees for the film include Fran Lebowitz, who was a friend of Wojnarowicz and Hujar in the ’70s and ’80s.

Illustrated scene from “Flee”
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Final Cut for Real

#11. Flee (2021)

- Director: Jonas Poher Rasmussen
- Metascore: 91
- Runtime: 89 minutes

“Flee” is an animated documentary about a refugee—using the name Amin Nawabi—who fled Afghanistan and went to Denmark. The story is told by Nawabi himself, for the first time, to the Danish man he is about to marry. The film teases apart the themes of vulnerability, different ideas of home and belonging, and politically charged ideas around what a “better life” really means. It also charts Nawabi’s discovery of his queerness. It is simultaneously a coming-out story and a coming-home story.

Roger Ebert critic Roxana Hadadi wrote the “aching, lovely” documentary is “one of the year’s best.” For The New York Times, A.O. Scott wrote the film lends specificity to an issue many in more privileged positions tend to think of in vague, global terms, creating “a powerful feeling of intimacy.” The film was nominated for Best Documentary Feature, Best Animated Feature, and Best International Feature at the Oscars—the first film to be nominated in all three of these categories.

Olivia Colman in a scene from “The Favourite”
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Fox Searchlight Pictures

#10. The Favourite (2018)

- Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
- Metascore: 91
- Runtime: 119 minutes

This period film-meets-black comedy stars Olivia Colman as Queen Anne, Rachel Weisz as the queen’s lover and manipulative advisor Sarah, and Emma Stone as Abigail, Sarah’s poor younger cousin. “The Favourite” tells the partially true story of Sarah and Abigail’s competing interests to win the favor of the queen, who is in poor health and has a waning interest in governing. As Sarah and Abigail attempt to thwart each other, a triangle between the three women forms.

As A.O. Scott wrote for The New York Times, “The Favourite” blurs the lines between the erotic and the political, showing clearly the ways in which sexuality and power are intertwined. And, according to critics, the film’s representation of sexuality is not to be taken for granted. The Advocate’s Tracy E. Gilchrist wrote that the film “depicts a radical queer female sexuality on film that the Academy has traditionally seen fit to ignore.” Olivia Colman won the Oscar for Best Actress for her role as Queen Anne.

Denis Lavant in a scene from “Beau travail”
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S.M. Films

#9. Beau travail (1999)

- Director: Claire Denis
- Metascore: 91
- Runtime: 92 minutes

“Beau travail” is a French film set in Djibouti, and is loosely based on the 1888 Herman Melville novella “Billy Budd.” The film stars Denis Lavant as a closeted gay ex-sergeant, Galoup, who tells the story of his time in the French Foreign Legion in a series of retrospective flashbacks. Galoup is under the command of Commandant Forestier, whom he admires and wishes to impress. The arrival of a handsome and gentle new recruit, Sentain, destabilizes Galoup when Forestier takes a liking to Sentain. Overcome with jealousy and unacknowledged attraction, Galoup seeks to punish the new soldier—with unintended consequences.

The colonial military setting allows for the film to probe deep questions about masculinity, otherness, violence, and self-knowledge. As Criterion critic Girish Shambu wrote of director Claire Denis’ work on the film: “As a woman filmmaker exploring an all-male group and its dynamics from the outside, Denis treats masculinity in an unusual and thoughtfully ambiguous fashion.”

Saoirse Ronan in a scene from “Lady Bird”
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IAC Films

#8. Lady Bird (2017)

- Director: Greta Gerwig
- Metascore: 93
- Runtime: 94 minutes

Starring Saoirse Ronan, Beanie Feldstein, Laurie Metcalf, and Timothée Chalamet, “Lady Bird” is a coming-of-age story that explores the complexities of relationships: between mothers and daughters, best friends, first crushes, and unreciprocated loves. It also mines the highs and lows of adolescence—and all the angst, moments of questioning sexuality, often misplaced rebelliousness, and more that comes with growing up.

The film follows Lady Bird, played by Ronan, through her senior year of high school in Sacramento, California, a place she longs to leave behind for New York City. As she navigates the tension between wanting to forge a new path and not quite knowing how, she fumbles some of her relationships and attempts to mend them. One scene of note shows Lady Bird comforting a queer character who expresses his fear of coming out to his family. Alissa Wilkinson from Vox wrote that, beneath the seemingly conventional surface of the story, the film grapples with deeper questions, making it “pitch-perfect.”

Timothee Chalamet in a scene from “Call Me by Your Name”
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Sony Pictures Classics

#7. Call Me by Your Name (2017)

- Director: Luca Guadagnino
- Metascore: 93
- Runtime: 132 minutes

Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer star in the queer summer romance “Call Me by Your Name,” based on André Aciman’s novel of the same name. Set in the picturesque 1980s Italian countryside, 17-year-old Elio (Chalamet) is living with his family when graduate student Oliver (Hammer) comes to live with them and work with his father, a professor. As the summer progresses, the two develop an intense romantic relationship, which they attempt to hide from those around them. But as the season draws to an end, it is unclear whether the relationship will last.

The film was released to widespread acclaim, receiving the longest standing ovation in the New York Film Festival’s history when the film finished its screening there. David Ehrlich of IndieWire called the film a “queer masterpiece.” The film also received criticism for showcasing a relationship between a 17-year-old and a 24-year-old, with Slate’s Jeffrey Bloomer claiming the plot “is not a story of predation,” but rather one of “first love and lust told from the perspective of a particularly mature teenager on the cusp of adulthood.” Bloomer also acknowledges the importance of questioning these types of relationships in media: “But the age gap will give pause to more people than right-wing trolls—it did to my progressive companion at an early screening—and it does the film no favors to pretend it’s not a question worth exploring.”

Documentary photo from “We Were Here”
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Red Flag Releasing

#6. We Were Here (2011)

- Directors: David Weissman, Bill Weber
- Metascore: 94
- Runtime: 90 minutes

“We Were Here” is a documentary that chronicles the AIDS crisis in San Francisco. The film is structured by five main interviews, conducted with people who lived through the epidemic. Some of the voices in the film include Ed Wolf, who counseled queer men dying from AIDS, and Daniel Goldstein, an HIV-positive artist and activist who lost two lovers to AIDS. Focusing on how the queer community in San Francisco came together to provide care and mobilize politically, the film muses on the power of chosen family and the failures of the government to intervene effectively.

Stephen Holden of The New York Times wrote that “We Were Here” is “extraordinarily moving” and “beautifully edited.” Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan wrote that the “clear-eyed and soulful documentary brings us inside the contagion in a way that is so intimate, so personal, you feel like you’re hearing about these catastrophic events for the first time.”

Cate Blanchett in a scene from “Carol”
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The Weinstein Company

#5. Carol (2015)

- Director: Todd Haynes
- Metascore: 94
- Runtime: 118 minutes

“Carol” is set in 1950s New York City and centers around Carol (Cate Blanchett), an alluring and mysterious woman, and Therese (Rooney Mara), a younger department store clerk and aspiring photographer. Carol enters the store where Therese works, and their instant connection leads them to strike up a relationship. But complications soon arise, as homophobic social pressures threaten to break them apart. The film is based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel “The Price of Salt.”

Roger Ebert critic Sheila O’Malley called the film a “lush emotional melodrama.” Peter Travers for Rolling Stone praised Blanchett’s and Mara’s performances, and wrote that director Todd Haynes had achieved “a new peak of film artistry.”

Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn and Micheal Ward in a scene from “Lovers Rock”
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BBC Programs

#4. Lovers Rock (2020)

- Director: Steve McQueen
- Metascore: 95
- Runtime: 70 minutes

“Lovers Rock” is set over the course of one night at a London “blues party”—a house party safe for Black clubbers and others ostracized by Britain’s racist club scene—in the ’80s. Steve McQueen’s “Lovers Rock” is, according to Vanity Fair’s Sonia Soraiya, “a love letter to the joy of being alive, and young, and at least momentarily, free.”

The film has only a small amount of dialogue, instead relying on sensory cues to guide viewers through by using music, rich imagery, movement, and food. As Roger Ebert critic Odie Henderson wrote the film is “a delectable feast for the senses,” and celebrates young people being young, be it sneaking out to go to a party, dancing, falling in love for the first time, or being cared for by a community.

James Baldwin in scene from “I Am Not Your Negro”
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ARTE Films

#3. I Am Not Your Negro (2016)

- Director: Raoul Peck
- Metascore: 95
- Runtime: 93 minutes

This documentary centers the life and work of iconic Black gay writer and thinker James Baldwin. Much of the film is based on Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript “Remember This House.” Almost the entirety of the words come from Baldwin’s writings and are voiced by Samuel L. Jackson.

“I Am Not Your Negro” scrutinizes America’s history and present, laying bare the foundational role that white supremacy and anti-Black racism played in the formation—and present maintenance—of the state. Even though Baldwin died nearly 30 years prior to the making of the documentary, his writings on white backlash and otherness continue to reveal startling insights about persistent racism in the U.S.

A.O. Scott wrote for The New York Times, “You would be hard-pressed to find a movie that speaks to the present moment with greater clarity and force.” Despite Baldwin’s identity as a gay man and his prolific writings on queerness and the intersections of racial and sexual otherness, some critics noted the film’s lack of reference to this facet of his work. Nonetheless, IndieWire called the film “the year’s most important Oscar nominee.”

Adele Haenel and Noemie Merlant in a scene from “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”
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Lilies Films

#2. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

- Director: Céline Sciamma
- Metascore: 95
- Runtime: 122 minutes

“Portrait of a Lady on Fire” is a French film starring Adèle Haenel as Héloïse, an aristocrat to be married off to a nobleman, and Noémie Merlant as Marianne, a painter who is commissioned to paint her marriage portrait. When Marianne arrives in the late 1700s, she initially paints Héloïse in secret, as Héloïse has rejected past attempts from other artists to paint her portrait. However, the two women soon form an intimate bond which becomes secretly romantic, and Héloïse agrees to sit for Marianne.

Critics and audiences lauded the film, with The Atlantic proclaiming it “the best film of 2019,” while the A.V. Club pronounced it “the most rapturously romantic movie of the year (if not of the last few).” Much of the film’s emotional conviction comes from, as director Céline Sciamma herself put it, the way the film operates as a “manifesto about the female gaze.” Both the painting Marianne makes of Héloïse and the lens Sciamma uses to capture their romance reveal mutual consent, collaboration, and awareness of the dynamics of looking. According to Criterion critic Ela Bittencourt, this is what ultimately sets this film apart from other queer romances.

Mahershala Ali and Alex R. Hibbert in a scene from “Moonlight”
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A24

#1. Moonlight (2016)

- Director: Barry Jenkins
- Metascore: 99
- Runtime: 111 minutes

Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” tells the story of Chiron in three chapters. The first centers on his childhood as a young Black boy growing up in Miami, where he is teased and bullied. Yet he receives tenderness and guidance from a drug dealer who becomes a sort of father figure. The second two parts follow Chiron into his adolescence, and finally into adulthood, as he grapples with his sexuality and how he fits into the world.

“Moonlight” probes the complexities of masculinity, intimacy, and belonging with empathy and gentleness. Roger Ebert critic Brian Tallerico called the film “masterful” and “one of those rare movies that just doesn’t take a wrong step.” A.O. Scott of The New York Times called it “breathtaking,” and wrote that it resists “easy summary or categorization.” The film won the Oscar for Best Picture, as well as Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali.

This story originally appeared on Giggster and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.

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