Paris Is Burning (1990)
Before RuPaul’s Drag Race and Pose there was Paris Is Burning, a 1990 documentary about the walking, voguing and reading that made up New York’s ballroom scene. While the film, directed by Jennie Livingston, attracted criticism after its release, it remains a longstanding reference and insight into the lives of the predominantly black and Latino gay, queer and transgender community at the centre of this cultural phenomenon.
120 BPM (2017)
This French drama is centred around the Paris chapter of ACT UP, a political movement fighting the Aids epidemic, and follows the blossoming relationship between two men in the midst of the crisis. Director Robin Campillo drew on his own experience as an activist in the 1990s, weaving in real-life events – such as a “corpse parade” in the streets of Paris – with a bittersweet love story.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)
French director Céline Sciamma – whose previous work includes Water Lilies and Girlhood – is known for exploring the female gaze, and Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a delicately considered expression of this. Set in 18th-century Brittany, the film follows Marianne, an artist who’s been commissioned to paint a portrait of Héloïse, who is being married off to a suitor in Milan.
The Death and Life of Marsha P Johnson (2017)
Dubbed “the Rosa Parks of the modern transgender movement”, Marsha P Johnson was a gay and trans rights activist and a figurehead of the Stonewall demonstrations of 1969. Her death in 1992 was ruled a suicide – a point that has always been questioned among those that knew her. In this Netflix documentary, activist Victoria Cruz re-explores the case while highlighting the violence and injustices faced by transgender women.
Pain and Glory (2019)
In this acclaimed, darkly comic Spanish-language film, director Pedro Almodóvar (of Volver) depicts a filmmaker in crisis, in what many consider to be his most autobiographical work to date. On learning that one of his old films is to be re-released, Salvador, the gay, middle-aged director at the centre of the film, begins to work his way through old memories in an attempt to come to terms with the path his life has taken. A brooding Antonio Banderas as the director and a glowing Penélope Cruz as his mother (in her youth) are among the casting delights in this bittersweet drama.
This comedy-drama follows two transgender sex workers, played by Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor, as they navigate the streets of Los Angeles in search of a cheating boyfriend. Directed by Sean Baker, who’s best known for his 2017 drama The Florida Project, Tangerine was shot entirely on iPhones and has been lauded for its groundbreaking filming techniques – as well as Baker’s street casting of the lead characters.
In 2016, Moonlight became the first LGBTQ+ film to take home the Best Picture prize at the Oscars. Directed by Barry Jenkins – his second feature film – it tells the story of Chiron, an African-American man living in Miami, as he comes to terms with his sexuality. True to the theatrical origins of the story (it’s adapted from an unpublished play by Tarell Alvin McCraney called In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue), the film is split into three parts, ‘Little’, ‘Chiron’ and ‘Black’, or childhood, adolescence and adulthood.
This film follows two young men over the course of a weekend in Nottingham. They meet at a gay bar on Friday night and spend the next two days learning about each other and growing closer; as the hours roll by, they must figure out if what they have is worth pursuing. Directed by Andrew Haigh, it’s a tender, meditative portrait of contemporary life as a young gay man in England.
Until the historical drama Pride was released in 2014, the story of how the National Union of Miners fought for gay and lesbian rights to be incorporated into the Labour Party’s programme in 1984 was little known. The film, written by Stephen Beresford and directed by Matthew Warchus of Matilda – The Musical fame, tells the story of the unlikely events in Thatcher’s Britain and stars Andrew Scott, Dominic West and Bill Nighy.
Happy Together (1997)
This intense, plosive drama from much-lauded Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai (who’s often cited as a cinematic influence on Barry Jenkins) tells the story of a gay couple, Lai Yiu-fai and Ho Po-wing, as they move from Hong Kong to Buenos Aires. In fractured sequences which move from black and white to colour, Happy Together explores the emotional consequences of displacement on an already precarious queer relationship.
Violet is in a frustrated relationship with her Mafia-connected boyfriend. Corky is a tough ex-con. Using the disguise of Violet’s heterosexual relationship, Violet and Corky begin an affair and end up hatching a plan to steal $2m from a Mafia boss and frame Violet’s mob boyfriend. This punchy and slick film from directing duo the Wachowskis turns the classically heteronormative caper movie on its head, presenting instead a neo-noir lesbian thriller.
The Kids Are Alright (2010)
This film by American director and screenwriter Lisa Cholodenko was one of the first mainstream releases to depict a same-sex couple raising a family. Set in Los Angeles, the story follows Jules and Nic, played by Julianne Moore and Annette Bening respectively, as their teenage child becomes curious about his biological father.