Even though 2017 has been almost universally shitty for everything else, it’s been a great year for queer movies.
Back in February — following the Oscars flub of the century — we celebrated the Best Picture triumph of Moonlight, Barry Jenkins’ gorgeous three-part tale of of a young black man growing up in Miami and discovering his sexuality. Following the critical and commercial success of Todd Haynes’ sumptuous lesbian romance Carol, which in 2015 had signaled what looked like a sea change for LGBT films, Moonlight’s win seemed poised to usher in a new era in which deserving queer films could finally make it big.
Unlike the few LGBT Oscar contenders and winners of years past (those helmed by straight heroes whose emotional development relies upon queer tragedy-cases who are more props than people) Carol and Moonlight were tenderly crafted stories about self-discovery and queer love. Even if they did have what could be considered blind spots, they were widely beloved and widely recognized by queer and straight audiences alike. Both movies felt like victories.
This year, we were promised some big “exclusively gay” moments in blockbusters, like the new live-action remakes of Beauty and the Beast and Power Rangers in March, which ended up failing to deliver. We were also helplessly queer-baited by superheroes in the franchise giants Wonder Woman and Thor: Ragnarok. It seems the world is not yet ready for LGBT characters headlining our biggest budget films (though it was nice to see a happy queer ending in a mainstream comedy like Rough Night, despite the film’s general mediocrity.)
Still, it was a good year. Instead of waiting months to see the One Big Queer Movie, which might not be all that big or all that great, we were instead blessed with what felt like an unprecedented number of options: some movies that were terrible, some that were iffy, and some that were spectacular. Granted, many of the best offerings were small indies in limited release, so only those of us living in a few select cities have been able to see them right away. Also, mirroring mainstream media at large, queer stories by and about cisgender men, white people, or both have gained most of the attention and clout — and are still the most likely to get made.
The LGBT sea change we’ve been hoping for still hasn’t dramatically shaken up Hollywood, at a time when Hollywood’s been grappling with some other major reckonings. But during a year when I haven’t felt hopeful about much, I do feel hopeful about the future of queer cinema.
Here are the 2017 films about LGBT characters I think are worth seeing, generally categorized, but in no particular order. It’s by no means a comprehensive list, and for the sake of space I only included narrative features (but do check out Chavela, On Top, and The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, plus all its backlash). I only included films that explicitly dealt with overarching queer themes, but LGBT people working behind the camera are just as notable and just as significant, so you really need to see, for example, Dee Rees’ remarkable Mudbound (while you’re at it, check out her 2011 film Pariah, about a 17-year-old black girl coming to terms with her sexuality, one of the best lesbian films ever made). And please — avoid The Assignment at all costs.