The year in queer: Best and worst films of 2023

“Huesera: The Bone Woman,” directed by Michelle Garza Cervera, was a top lesbian horror film of the year.
“Huesera: The Bone Woman,” directed by Michelle Garza Cervera, was a top lesbian horror film of the year.

There were some fantastic queer films this year — and a few misfires. Here is a rundown of some of this year’s highlights (along with two lowlights) from 2023’s releases.  

Best Biopic: “Cassandro was a moving story of queer empowerment, based on the life of the gay wrestler Saúl Armendáriz. Saúl (Gael García Bernal) finds unexpected success in the ring as Cassandro, a flamboyant lucha libre wrestler.

Best International Film: In Joyland,” by Pakistani director/cowriter Saim Sadiq, Haider (Ali Junejo) meets the transgender exotic dancer, Biba (Alina Khan) when he takes a job as one of her backup dancers. Haider soon finds himself attracted to Biba, and he struggles with his desires as he also cares for his wife, Mumtaz (Rasti Farooq).

Best Breakout Performance: Trace Lysette in Monica.” Lysette gets an excellent showcase as the title character, a trans woman who has returned home to care for her dying mother (Patricia Clarkson), who abandoned her years ago. 

Best Debut Feature: The intimate, engaging character study, “Blue Jean,” which probes the personal and professional crises of Jean (Rosy McEwen), a closeted lesbian in Newcastle, England in 1988. When Jean’s student, Lois (Lucy Halliday) catches sight of Jean at the lesbian bar, her life and career may be in jeopardy.

Runner Up: Trans writer/director Vuk Lungulov-Klotz’s sensitive, moody drama, Mutt about the emotional 24 hours in the life of Feña (Lîo Mehiel), a Latinx transman in New York City.

Best Documentary: “Kokomo City, a fabulous, compassionate documentary about four Black trans women spilling the tea about sex work, race, gender, sexuality, masculinity, and more. The film, directed by trans filmmaker D. Smith, however, is tinged with sadness as one of its subjects, Koko Da Doll, was tragically murdered in April.

Best Bad Romance: “Passageswas a shrewd and exacting study of amour fou by out gay director/co-writer Ira Sachs. When Tomas (Franz Rogowski), a self-involved filmmaker, falls for Agathe (Adèle Exarchopoulos), he wants to end his marriage to Martin (Ben Whishaw). 

Runner Up: Our Son When Gabriel (Billy Porter) decides to break up their family, he and his husband Nicky (Luke Evans) fight for custody of their son Owen (Christopher Woodley). Out gay director/co-writer Bill Oliver never allows “Our Son” to get maudlin, and both Evans and Porter give strong performances as men who must reevaluate their lives and relationships in light of their breakup.

Best Lesbian Horror film: Bisexual director Michelle Garza Cervera’s Mexican thriller, Huesera: The Bone Woman,” had the newly pregnant Valeria (Natalia Solián) having strange experiences, especially after she becomes romantically involved with Octavia (Mayra Batalla), an ex-girlfriend. Cervera features striking visuals and a nifty sound design to give viewers an unsettling experience. 

Runner Up: “Attachment,” a Jewish folk horror film, about Maja (out actress Josephine Park) meeting cute with Leah (Ellie Kendrick) in a Copenhagen bookstore only for Leah to be possessed by a dybbuk. Will the dybbuk win, or will Maja’s love help her new girlfriend survive?

Best Nudity: Out gay filmmaker Sebastián Silva’s spiky black comedy, “Rotting in the Sun” displayed copious full-frontal nudity (it was almost impossible to count all the penises). 

Runner Up: “Will-o’-the-Wisp,” which featured a hilarious episode in which several nude and hunky firemen pose in tableaus and ask art history student Alfredo to “name the painting” they are representing. 

Best Revival: The Wounded Man (1983). Not soon forgotten by anyone who sees it, this film is intense and sexy, compelling, but also confusing. Nevertheless, the mysterious, dream-like quality of the film is mesmerizing.

Best Short: Strange Way of LifePedro Almodóvar’s satisfying 30-minute film has gay cowboys Silva (Pedro Pascal) and Jake (Ethan Hawke), now a sheriff, rekindling their past romance. But both are also in pursuit of Joe (George Steane), Silva’s son, who is wanted for murder. Sexual tension, bloodshed, and destiny ensue. 

Best Queer Sports Film: Out gay filmmaker Matt Carter’s In from the Side, which mixed romance and sports as Mark (Alexander Lincoln) is a B-team rugby player who falls for Warren (Alexander King), who is on the league’s A-team.

Runner Up: “Next Goal Winsbased on the true story of the American Samoa soccer team’s comeback efforts to score one goal and qualify for the FIFA World Cup.  Jaiyah (Kaimana), who is fa’afafine (a recognized third gender) makes a significant contribution to the team and the film. 

Best Unreleased Film: “All the Colours of the World are Between Black and White” is a remarkable drama about Bambino (Tope Tedela), who strikes up a close friendship with the charismatic photographer Bawa (Riyo David) in Lagos, Nigeria, where homosexuality is criminalized. 

Runner Up: “Almamula,” writer/director Juan Sebastián Torales’ compelling story about Nino (Nicolás Díaz), a gay teen whose parents take him to live in the countryside where he is forced to attend a church youth group. Torales’ film exacts a hypnotic pull on viewers. 

Worst Films: Ashley McKenzie’s overlong and exasperating, “Queens of the Qing Dynasty” depicts the deep friendship that develops between the suicidal Star (Sarah Walker) and An (Ziyin Zheng), a genderqueer volunteer at the hospital where Star is being held. Raw and discomfiting. McKenzie’s ambitious film is ultimately excruciating.

Down Low,” directed by Rightor Doyle, and written by Phoebe Fisher and out gay actor Lukas Gage, who costars, is a black comedy about two gay men and a dead body — but it was painfully unfunny.