Year in Review: Queer Films and Performances

Nomi Ruiz made a stromg impression in "Haymaker."
GRAVITAS VENTURES AND KAMIKAZE DOGFIGHT

There were certainly some impressive LGBTQ films and performances in 2021. Here is a recap of the best (and the worst) from this year’s slate of cinema.

BEST FILM: Flee

This riveting documentary tells the true story of director Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s gay friend Amin, whom he first met as a teenager in Denmark. Using animation and news footage, Rasmussen interviews Amin, who talks about his attraction to men and the struggles he and his family face leaving Afghanistan behind. A harrowing story about finding home, “Flee” is personal and political — and undeniably affecting.

BEST PERFORMANCES 

TRANS: As Anna, a cisgender woman in her 20s who agrees to be a surrogate for Matt (Ed Helms), trans actress Patti Harrison is fantastic in the poignant comedy, “Together Together.” Harrison imbues Anna with a positive spirit and provides an engaging, grounded presence. Harrison makes viewers feel her character’s every emotion — especially when Anna takes a salesclerk to task when she thinks Anna is a single mother.

RUNNERS UP: Nomi Ruiz, a woman of transgender experience, made a strong impression in her feature film acting debut as a down-to-earth diva in “Haymaker,” a gritty and enjoyable low-budget romance by writer/director/star Nick Sasso that riffed on the “Bodyguard” formula. Likewise, Leyna Bloom made an auspicious film debut as Wye, a New York kiki ballroom dancer in writer/director Danielle Lessovitz’s absorbing drama, “Port Authority.” Bloom was at her best when Wye is performing, but she is equally compelling in the dramatic scenes.

FEMALE: In “Two of Us,” Barbara Sukowa gave a deeply moving turn as Nina, a woman of a certain age who has put all her hope and trust (and money) into being with Madeleine (Martine Chevallier), the woman she loves — only to be unexpectedly denied her happy ever after. Sukowa’s nuanced performance makes Nina’s nervy and vulnerable dispositions palpable as her fortunes rise and fall.

MALE: Udo Kier has a fabulous turn as Mr. Pat, an aging hairdresser asked to style a dead woman (Linda Evans) for her funeral in “Swan Song.” The reliable character actor delivers what is arguably a career-best performance as Mr. Pat travels across town, reflecting on his life and his experiences as a gay man.

BEST NEWCOMER: “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” showcased a star-making performance by out gay actor Max Harwood as the title character in this screen adaptation of the irresistible West End musical about a teenage drag queen.

“Deadly Illusions” was one of the disappointing films of 2021.COURTESY OF KISS AND TELL PRODUCTIONS

BEST DOCUMENTARY

Director Chris McKim’s outstanding documentary “Wojnarowicz,” about late gay political activist and multimedia artist uses his journals, cassettes, photographs, paintings, and super-8 films to recount his life and work. The film is a remarkable testament to the downtown artist as an angry young man.

RUNNER UP: “My Name Is Pauli Murray,” was an illuminating (if conventionally made) documentary profile of the remarkable, queer, non-binary, human rights activist, lawyer, poet, and reverend. Murray was instrumental in combating race- and gender-based discrimination at a time when there was great risk in doing so. Through engaging interviews with and recordings by Murray, as well as testimonies by a slew of talking heads, “My Name Is Pauli Murray” shines a necessary light on a woman whose work is essential, and largely unknown, but whose legacy continues today.

SEXIEST FILM

Out gay filmmaker Tsai Ming-liang’s “Days” depicted two men, Kang (Lee Kang-seng) and Non (Anong Houngheungsy), who eventually meet in a hotel room where Non massages the naked Kang before they go their separate ways. Tsai makes not just the encounter — a half-hour long sequence that brims with eroticism — but the entire film, tremendously tender. The long takes and ambient sound contribute to the palpable sense of longing, loneliness, isolation, and connection that makes Tsai’s work spellbinding.

RUNNERS UP: The passionate Chilean romance, “The Strong Ones,” chronicles the relationship that develops between Lucas (Samuel González) and Antonio (Antonio Altamirano) in a coastal town in Southern Chile. The attraction between the two men is electric; the attractive actors have tremendous chemistry. Viewers will likely melt just watching these guys simply gaze at each other.

Bruce LaBruce’s “Saint-Narcisse” is a witty comedy about a handsome young man, Dominic (Félix-Antoine Duval) who goes on a journey of self-discovery and discovers he has a twin, Daniel (Duval in a double role), a young monk. Their connection leads to an attraction—and yes, twincest!—but Daniel, is being held as a sex slave by Father Andrew (Andreas Apergis) who worships Saint Sebastian. Duval gives an unselfconscious performance that exudes eroticism.

WORST FILM

Deadly Illusions,” was an often unintentionally funny, frequently head-scratching erotic thriller, about a writer (Kristen Davis) who gets romantically involved with her nanny Grace (Greer Grammer), a woman who is not what she appears to be. It was completely bonkers but not in a good way; it featured lousy dialogue, leaden pacing, and terrible acting. Worst of all, this lackluster film was disappointing — not because it wasn’t good, but because it wasn’t worse.

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