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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.