The Ten Best Queer Films of 2015

Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara play lovers in Carol.EXPAND
Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara play lovers in Carol.
Courtesy of The Weinstein Company

With the year coming to an end and the bulk of "Best Of" lists featuring a mountain of the same kind of films we witness every year, it's time to offer something a little different. So instead of bombarding you with another list of movies about straight guys and their midlife crises, here's a roundup of all the best queer films this year. And we're not talking exploitative Oscar bait like The Danish Girl, films that rewrite history like Stonewall, or flicks that focus only on the straight people while pushing aside queer narratives like Freeheld, but films that actually care about their LGBTQA characters. Here are the top choices, in no particular order.

Calling Carol the film of the year wouldn't be too much of a stretch because it's really the most gorgeous work of art, regardless of being a queer narrative told by queer individuals. It's a beautiful romance between two women, an older married woman and a young retail store worker who fall for each other after a chance encounter. Director Todd Haynes and writer Phyllis Nagy lovingly and respectfully adapt Patricia Highsmith's novel from the 1950s in a manner that places so much emphasis on the visual rather than the textual, especially in every longing glance that Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara give one another.

The Duke of Burgundy
In a year when we had to suffer through seeing Fifty Shades of Grey mislead audiences into believing it was selling S&M, in steps Peter Strickland to set the record straight and challenge our notions of sadomasochistic relationships. The Duke of Burgundy is BDSM done right, concentrating on a lesbian couple whose detailed routine for arousal has finally lost its luster due to the plague of domesticity. Set in a world entirely of women and drawing inspiration from filmmakers like Visconti, Metzger, Franco, and Brakhage, it's a fascinating and sometimes surreal dive into a relationship unlike any other this year.

Appropriate Behavior
Plenty of people have found themselves fascinated by Woody Allen's Annie Hall — a romantic comedy about a man processing his relationship with his ex-girlfriend and getting over it. In 2015, we have an alternative option that follows a similar tune but plays it rather differently: Appropriate Behavior. In Desiree Akhavan's film — which she wrote, directed, and starred in — we instead witness a bisexual Persian woman getting over her ex, coming out to her family, and dealing with the children in her youth filmmaking class. It's easily one of the most charming and amusing scripts all year, and one that hasn't been forgotten long after its January release.

Saint Laurent
Rather than offer a straightforward biopic, Bertrand Bonello dives into a strange exploration of the fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, presenting him as an incredibly flawed but fascinating and talented individual. This is a film that doesn't quite take interest in its narrative, indulging in all sorts of gorgeous, colorful imagery to seduce viewers and drop them into the '60s and '70s. But the aesthetics fit the content here, with none of its features — late-night dancing, cruising, pill-popping, and bedding multiple men at once — coming across as gratuitous. Plus, it's got Gaspard Ulliel as a lead, and who doesn't want to stare at him for a couple of hours?

Tom at the Farm
After its initial festival run in 2013, Xavier Dolan's fourth feature finally found a U.S. release date, and what an intense work it is. Tom at the Farm, adapted from Michel Marc Bouchard's play of the same name, tells the story of a young man whose boyfriend passes away, leaving him to survive a weekend with his deceased partner's family while attending the funeral. What unfolds in this twisted little film proves to be thrilling and Hitchcockian in many ways, from the way Dolan stages drama to Gabriel Yared's gorgeous and piercing Herrmann-esque score.

The Ten Best Queer Films of 2015

Everything about Tangerine screams awesome. It's a feature film shot on iPhones that captures all the beauty and grit of Los Angeles through the eyes of two trans women and the individuals they interact with Christmas Eve. By actually casting trans women (the charismatic and screen-commanding Mya Taylor and Kiki Kitana Rodriguez, who should be up for every Breakout Award), director Sean Baker ensures that every beat of the film feels authentic and entertaining. A killer soundtrack, punchy dialogue, and a pace that barely allows you to keep up with the characters' steps add to the memorability of this flick.

Nasty Baby
Nasty Baby is a weird little movie, one that many people have decided to hate because it enjoys bringing up topics and not necessarily exploring them to their fullest. That said, Sebastián Silva's latest film is a hell of a cool and deliriously interesting work of art, offering a refreshing — and pretty strange — angle to the two-gays-and-a-pregnant-gal narrative that has been done again and again. It's a film that more often than not seems innocuous in its presentation of these people. Starring Kristen Wiig, Tunde Adebimpe, and Silva himself all playing their roles very naturally, Nasty Baby hits viewers with a third act that will leave some shocked yet pleased and others turned-off.

Margarita, With a Straw
It's rare to see films about heterosexual couples in which one of the two individuals has a disability and even rarer to find this aspect in a queer film, but Margarita, With a Straw offers exactly that. Laila, the protagonist, is just like any other woman her age trying to get a grasp on her sexuality, except she has cerebral palsy. And where many filmmakers would exploit Laila's disability, director Shonali Bose is far more interested in intimately exploring how her character deals with her bisexuality, her studies, and her family, never once making her feel like someone to be gawked at instead of a real woman.

Not only did New Times feature this movie in our "Best Films by Women 2015" list, but Bessie is also one of the best queer films of the year because the story line is so compelling and its main character's sexuality always feels like an essential part of the narrative. Where many a biopic or documentary makes its subject heterosexual for the sake of preserving some nonsensical legacy or image, Dee Rees never shies away from the fact that legendary blues singer Bessie Smith was a woman interested in both men and women. And a great part of why the film works is thanks to Queen Latifah's stellar performance, in which she bares her heart and soul to capture the singer at her best and worst.

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Sense8 is technically not a film, but it's a cinematic TV series courtesy of Netflix and directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski and J. Michael Straczynski. The series, which follows a group of people around the world who are mentally linked and being chased by strange individuals, is the epitome of queerness on television. This is a sci-fi show that features a gay couple involved with a straight woman as a third party who has voyeuristic tendencies, and a trans woman (played by a trans actress) involved with a cis woman. Plus, there's also an amazing pansexual orgy sequence that takes place in the minds of multiple characters, so take that, universe.

Honorable Mentions: Jenny's Wedding, Stories of Our Lives, Eisenstein in Guanajuato, Guidance, The New Girlfriend, and The Summer of Sangaile.

Follow Juan Barquin on Twitter.

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