Celebrate international Pride Month online with these nine LGBTQ+ movies to help you escape to another time, place, or mindset.
My favorite part of Pride has always been queer cinema: Though there’s nothing like walking down a bustling street filled with enthusiastic members of the LGBTQ+ community—marching along and challenging conventional politics with your own assertion of what queerness means to you alongside other activists, advocates, and queer family members—I always love escaping the New York heat after the parade and finding myself in a dark screening room, popcorn and soda in hand, ready to enter another world and another idea of what queerness can look like, sound like, and be.
Pride the event might be canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Pride the feeling and the sense of discovery of one’s history in film and culture will always be relevant.
Queer people, in iterations both explicit and implicit, have been on the screen for much longer than many would have you think. Today, artists and filmmakers continue to expand on how to articulate what being queer can mean and be on film, from drag culture in Tokyo to prophets in New York, ghostwriting in the Northwest, and ghosts and gay killers in Paris. Below are nine queer films to help you escape to your very own personal Pride film festival at home.
1. Angels in America (2003)
Those remaining in New York are forced to be in the city without really being in it anymore, a tricky paradox of isolation in a metropolis. But Mike Nichols’s mini-series adaptation of Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning queer opus for HBO—which concerns, among other things, Mormons, prophets, the AIDS crisis, democracy in America, and, of course, angels—lets you revisit both a New York that’s grounded in the material (Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, Washington Square Park, etc.) and transcends the real: a place where messengers can crash through the ceiling of a rent-stabilized apartment in the West Village or two strangers can meet in a dream, one monologuing in drag. Exhaustive and overwhelming in its power, beauty, and humor, Angels in America is an uncanny escape into a world and political landscape we think we know. Watch on HBO or Amazon Prime.
2. Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)
Some of us may dream of the city but others dream of the mountains. Deep in the Alps, an actress (Juliette Binoche) reluctantly faces the twilight years of her career. With the aid of her sly assistant (Kristen Stewart), she contemplates whether to star in the play that made her famous as an ingenue decades ago—only now as the older character she once starred opposite. Also starring Chloë Grace-Moretz and simmering with Sapphic sensuality, Clouds of Sils Maria explores the roles we play that lurk beneath the surface of our everyday lives. Watch on Amazon Prime.
3. Certain Women (2016)
Head northwest to Montana with Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women, which observes the (relatively) quiet lives of three women whose mere existence forces them to brace the same social and power dynamics that threaten to marginalize them. In one chapter of the film, an Indigenous ranch hand named Jamie (Lily Gladstone) develops a kinship with a night class teacher and attorney (Kristen Stewart). Over dinner at a local diner, an unspoken and inarticulable desire sparks between them—one that is not precisely sexual, but conveys a want for intimacy in a world that seldom gives women like Jamie the privilege of any identity. Watch on Vudu, Youtube, or Amazon Prime.
4. The Half of It (2020)
Alice Wu’s The Half of It also finds itself in the Northwest and embedded in the delicate experience of longing. But it’s not so much the place that’s the escape—loner Ellie (Leah Lewis) and affable Paul (Daniel Diemer) themselves are ambivalent about their home—but the feeling of wanting: to be elsewhere, to be another person, to be free of ties that bind. In Wu’s tender, empathetic hands, Ellie, in ghostwriting for Paul to his crush, opens up a world of possibility of who she could be, and where her yearning might lead her next. Watch on Netflix.
5. Funeral Parade of Roses (1969)
In the Tokyo underground in the ‘60s, the queer scene isn’t just home to drag queens, but to people whose identities transcend easy codification. As experimental and documentary filmmaker Toshio Matsumoto explores the lives of these queer and trans people, they at once unpack and reinvent the story of Oedipus Rex and develop an entirely new cinematic aesthetic that almost literally transports you to another world. Watch on Kanopy or order a copy on Amazon.
6. Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)
The New York of Marielle Heller’s Can You Ever Forgive Me? doesn’t really exist anymore, even though the film takes place as recently as the early 1990s. But the New York that occupies the minds of its protagonists, fussbudget biographer and forger Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) and partner in crime/hustler Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant), doesn’t exist anymore either: It’s a version that long ago disappeared, but whose 70s-era lights never dimmed in their eyes. Heller’s is a love letter to the acerbic characters that have kept the various permutations of New York alive, even as the world around them tries to bully them out. Watch on Hulu, Youtube, or Amazon Prime.
7. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (2017)
This biographical film follows Harvard University professor William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans)—the man who taught DISC theory, which categorized human relationships into four categories of power—and his wife, Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall), as they descend into an abyss of pleasure and power play with their research assistant and mutual lover, Olive (Bella Heathcote). This decadent relationship served as the blueprint for what would become Wonder Woman. Though the world they create has consequences, what the three of them are able to unlock about each other—and about how we understand power and pleasure—is a timeless escape all the same. Watch on Hulu, Vudu, or Amazon Prime.
8. The Wild Boys (2017)
Bertrand Mandico’s The Wild Boys is difficult to describe, given its chimeric tendencies: It’s a shapeshifter of a film, literally and thematically. Drenched in a fever dream aesthetic, both black and white and phantasmagoric color, the delinquents of the title are taken to an island that is like a body, pulsating and sexually charged, ripe for triggering their own transformations. Like diving into a world shaped by both Lord of the Flies and gay photographer James Bidgood, The Wild Boys upends gender and queerness with hallucinatory glee. Watch on Amazon Prime.
9. Knife + Heart (2019)
Perhaps the greatest escape of all—from anxieties, nightmares, and our troubles—is film itself. At least, that’s what Yann Gonzalez suggests in his neo-Giallo masterpiece Knife + Heart, which follows a gay porn producer (Vanessa Paradis) in 1970s Paris reeling from a breakup with her editor, as the cast for her new film is killed off one by one. Bathed in lurid neon lights and eroticism, the glory of heaven, hell, and everything in between is just a movie away. Watch on Amazon Prime.