Best of Queer Cinema 2023

By Miruna Tiberiu

 

The time has come again to sit down and pick apart the state of queer cinema. Following yet another year which has seen the entry into the game of breath taking new talent as well as pleasant surprises from veterans of the film world, 2023 has cemented itself as the birth of a new era for queer cinema, and this is not said lightly. If the frustration we were faced with upon trying to condense this list to only five films says anything, it is that perhaps, as Managing Editor Miruna Tiberiu brought to light in her piece on Passages (2023), we are now left less with a ‘genre’ of queer cinema, and more with the entry of queer filmmakers and their films into the crème de la crème of the film world more widely. Hand-picked by the GAY45 Editorial Team, here are our five favourite LGBT+ films of 2023.

 

All of Us Strangers

This long-awaited collaboration between renowned filmmaker Andrew Haigh and big screen powerhouses Paul Mescal and Andrew Scott, All of Us Strangers finally made its audience debut at the London Film Festival this autumn, following its run at the Telluride Film Festival in the US shortly before. Mescal and Scott already had their places in the hall of fame of queer cinematic gems – the former with 2023’s Aftersun and the latter with the likes of Pride (2014) – so their coming-together to deliver this haunting yet dreamy tale of trauma, love, and loneliness delivers all the more of a punch to its astounded audience. As a palimpsest of memory forms within Haigh’s frame, the film pulls in so many directions, be it the past in which our protagonist Adam ruminates on his relationship to his long-dead parents and all the missed conversations that were ripped from him with this tragedy, or the present, which sees a chance encounter with Harry, played by Mescal, turn into a romance that is as exhilarating as it is thoroughly painful. The past and present, as ever, are inextricably intertwined. We will leave it at that; it is a film that is best experienced before it is analysed. You can catch All of Us Strangers in theatres this December in the US, and in late January in the UK.

 

Passages

It is no surprise that we are big fans of Ira Sachs’ latest queer feature. Passages follows a young filmmaker, Tomas, living in Paris with his partner, artist Martin who is beautifully portrayed by British actor Ben Whishaw. As Tomas completes his latest film, he simultaneously discovers an intense attraction to Agathe who is part of his crew. As the two embark into an electric relationship, breaking up his marriage to Martin, Tomas not only discovers the unlimited, often confusing, realm of his sexuality, but more importantly, the confusing realm in which any sexuality functions in the 21st century. Attempts are made, as well as mistakes at every step, as we follow the oscillating relationships between the three protagonists throughout the course of a year. In a refreshing turn, Sachs refrains from giving his audience answers to this confusing conundrum of modern love. A tale of non-monogamy, desire which transcends labels, and the fear of loneliness, Passages succeeds precisely because its audience must react to what they see themselves, individually. There is no one to hold their hand. You can read Miruna Tiberiu’s review of Passages here, as well as watch the film on MUBI here.

 

Strange Way of Life

Over the last few decades, Pedro Almodóvar has become one of the most innovative and important filmmakers in queer cinema, gracing the big screen with the likes of All About My Mother (1999), The Skin I Live In (2011), and Parallel Mothers (2021) who all deal with queer sexuality, gender, and family relationships that become enveloped in such themes. As these films all reveal, he is a master of all genres. His latest endeavour continues this pursuit, as Almodóvar queers the Western with his short film Strange Way of Life. Premiering at Cannes this summer, and distributed by MUBI worldwide as we speak, Strange Way of Life places two of cinema’s sweethearts – Pedro Pascal and Ethan Hawke – into an intoxicating tale of lost chances and an intimate drive towards another that transcends decades spent apart. We follow Silva and Jake, the latter of whom is a Sheriff, as they meet by chance after 25 years and reminisce about their youth, one tinged with desire and pain. The reunion between the two is short lived, as cowboy politics becomes entangled into their relationship once again and they must fight against all odds to finally live together on a ranch, as they’d always dreamed.

 

Bottoms

After delivering her hilariously awkward first feature Shiva Baby (2020) fresh out of film school, Emma Seligman raises us Bottoms. This high school comedy (though all those who have seen it know that it transcends this flimsy ‘genre’ from the get-go) is filled to the brim with jokes of every kind, from slapstick and bizarre to awkward and ironic, as it opens its magician’s coat and offers you the tricks up its sleeve to suit your every desire. The setup is simple: two high school ‘losers’ who are most definitely ‘not like other girls’ (read: queer, quirky, nerdy and with an incredibly eclectic fashion sense), PJ and Josie, set up an all-female fight club in the hopes of spending time with their unfortunate crushes, who just so happen to be the most popular girls at school and, of course, painfully heterosexual. Chaos ensues, you can be sure. Featuring incredible performances from Ayo Edebiri and Rachel Sennott amongst others, Bottoms draws back to the heyday of 2000s comedy but updated for the GenZ sense of humour. More than that, it brings its queer characters to the forefront of joke-making and laughter-inducing, rather than the butt of the joke that was so often seen in ‘classic’ comedies that have not stood the test of time. Following the success of other like-minded comedies, namely 2019’s Booksmart and this year’s Theater Camp, Bottoms shows that comedy just keeps getting better. Be sure that you are in for a rollercoaster of giggles, unexpected cackles that are forced out of you, winces, and heart-warming moments.

 

Joyland

We end our list with a film that has been kept under the radar despite its ground breaking nature. Whilst released in 2022, Saim Sadiq’s heart warming drama has seen theatrical releases in the Anglophone world only this year; and what a great cinematic experience. Set in Lahore, Pakistan, Joyland centres around Haider, the youngest son of an extended patriarchal household, who finds himself forced to think of creative means to make money to provide for his wife, Mumtaz, as the two are pressured to start a family as a marker for success. Despite showing no interest in the sphere, Haider finds a job as a backup dancer at an erotic theatre, where he meets trans performer and choreographer Biba and becomes increasingly drawn to her. The two fall in love, slowly and passionately, in what can be safely seen as the most refreshingly tender portrayal of queer love on screen this year. Whilst Haider faces his prejudices and grows from this encounter, Sadiq never uses Biba’s transness as a ‘stepping stone’ for his cis protagonist or fodder for commentary on the socio-political atmosphere of modern-day Pakistan. Rather, such discussions are kept to the realm of the implicit, emerging out of scenes of metro rides in single-gender trains, or offhand comments over dinner. Indeed, the film was initially banned in Pakistan, but following its success at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, where it was selected for several awards and even won the Queer Palm, making it the first Pakistani film to have ever been selected at Cannes, Joyland was subsequently released in theatres nationwide. Between intimate realist dialogue, breathtaking dance scenes which merge the spirit of ballroom with the iconicity of Lollywood, a sweeping score and some of the most creative use of colour in cinematography this decade, Joyland is absolutely not a film to miss.

 

Article by Miruna Tiberiu.

 

Miruna Tiberiu is the Managing Editor of GAY45. She is a student at Cambridge University. Tiberiu has written for numerous publications, including The Cambridge Review of Books, and the Cambridge Language Collective. She is the co-founder and co-editor of Cambridge’s first all-queer magazine, Screeve. Tiberiu was long-listed for the International News Media Association (INMA)’s “30 Under 30” Awards 2023.

 

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