A scene from “Fireworks,” directed by Giuseppe Fiorello, one of Michael York’s top queer movies of 2023
2023 has proved to be an exceptional year for queer cinema, with films spanning the globe, from Norway to South Africa, captivating audiences with diverse narratives and authentic portrayals of LGBTQ+ experiences.
As we celebrate the richness of this cinematic journey, let’s explore the top 10 queer movies of the year, offering a mix of groundbreaking experiments, poignant dramas, and unapologetically queer love stories.
Strange Way of Life (USA/SPAIN)
“Strange Way of Life” explores the rekindling of a forbidden romance between Silva (Pedro Pascal) and Sheriff Jake (Ethan Hawke), once-secret lovers separated by time. Pedro Almodóvar’s short film is a dusty, lusty queer Western, delving into love and tragedy. The narrative cleverly hints at a broader story, leaving room for interpretation. With vibrant colours and stellar performances, Pascal and Hawke navigate emotions, layered with a murder mystery involving Silva’s son. The film’s brevity sparks imagination, making it a poignant exploration of love, loss, and the consequences of societal expectations on queer relationships.
“Bottoms” emerges as a standout queer film, co-crafted by Emma Seligman and Rachel Sennott. This boisterous and unconventional take on high school dynamics challenges the genre’s norms, infusing chaotic humour and satire into its narrative. The film, marked by Maria Rusche’s evocative cinematography, satirises disinterested teachers, absurd scenarios, and contradictory character statements, contributing to its comedic brilliance.
Notably, “Bottoms” showcases a refreshing portrayal of PJ and Josie, unapologetically weird and nerdy protagonists, dismantling clichéd coming-of-age lessons. The film’s soundtrack, featuring clever needle drops, complements its playful atmosphere. Amid the hilarity, “Bottoms” takes a poignant turn, addressing real-life issues faced by its characters. This juxtaposition of humour and sincerity elevates the film, making it a must-watch for those seeking a queer narrative that defies conventions, embraces diversity, and unapologetically celebrates the unconventional aspects of teenage life.
Dear David (USA)
“Dear David” ventures into the horror genre with a unique foundation—an adaptation of a viral Twitter thread by Adam Ellis. Directed by John McPhail, it pioneers the horror film genre originating from Twitter. The narrative delves into Adam’s haunting experiences with the ghostly entity, Dear David, weaving a tale of nightmares, sleep paralysis, and escalating supernatural encounters within his New York City apartment. Despite some criticism for fluctuating tones and low stakes, “Dear David” emerges as a competent horror film with noteworthy character development. It boldly navigates the queer narrative, incorporating the protagonist’s personal struggles and relationships. The film’s ambition to transcend conventional horror tropes and explore genuine human fears marks it as a progressive addition to the queer horror genre, offering a unique blend of supernatural suspense and emotional depth.
Here is our list of top ten queer films for 2023:
10) Dicks: The Musical (USA)
“Dicks: The Musical” emerges as a groundbreaking entry into queer cinema, boldly venturing into uncharted territory as the first A24 musical. Directed by Larry Charles, renowned for his work on “Borat,” the film stands out as a twisted genre experiment that fearlessly plays with sexuality and classic tropes. The narrative, inspired by a stage show performed by Aaron Jackson and Josh Sharp, navigates the lives of two seemingly royal and privileged characters, Trevor and Craig, who, beneath their sung perfection, grapple with loneliness and the quest for their elusive family.
The film fearlessly explores queer themes through Trevor and Craig’s journey of self-discovery and acceptance, challenging alpha male stereotypes and embracing individuality. The performances of Jackson and Sharp are celebrated for their unwavering commitment to absurdity, creating characters that evolve from obnoxious to endearing. “Dicks: The Musical” cleverly subverts traditional storytelling, offering a queer riff on “The Parent Trap” with mature content that emphasizes acceptance and love.
The movie’s energy, standout scenes, and expertly produced musical numbers, helmed by Marius de Vries of “La La Land” and “Moulin Rouge!” fame, elevate it beyond mere entertainment. Despite occasional repetitions, the film becomes a celebration of queer identity in a world often steeped in cynicism, urging audiences to embrace their unique selves. In essence, “Dicks: The Musical” emerges as a vibrant, daring, and unapologetically queer cinematic experience.
9) Fireworks (ITALY)
“Fireworks,” directed by Giuseppe Fiorello, emerges as a powerful and poignant queer representation film, delving into the complexities of forbidden love in 1980s Sicily. Based on the tragic real-life Giarre affair, the movie portrays the societal challenges faced by two teenage boys, Gianni and Nino, navigating their homosexuality amidst prejudice and archaic mentalities.
Set against the backdrop of the 1982 football World Cup in Sicily, the film meticulously captures the atmosphere of the deep South and explores the harsh societal norms of the time. Gianni and Nino’s friendship blossoms into a courageous love story that defies societal backlash, becoming a catalyst for change in a conservative environment. The film not only commemorates the victims of the Giarre affair but also sheds light on the resilience and openness of individuals who refused to conceal their feelings.
“Fireworks” is lauded for its dedication to historical and social accuracy, providing a nuanced portrayal of the era. The strong performances, especially by the lead actors, add emotional depth to the narrative. As it addresses the tragic consequences of hate crimes, the film becomes a significant contribution to LGBTQ cinema, aiming to challenge prejudices and highlight the ongoing relevance of its impactful story. In essence, “Fireworks” stands as a compelling and relevant queer film that advocates for dignity, acceptance, and the triumph of love over societal constraints.
8) The Lost Boys (FRANCE)
“The Lost Boys,” a remarkable debut by director Zeno Graton, stands out as a must-watch queer film in 2023, offering a compelling narrative that intertwines love, rebellion, and the harsh realities of juvenile detention. Khalil Ben Gharbia’s brilliant portrayal of Joe, a restless young man, and Julien De Saint Jean’s captivating performance as William, the rule-breaker who becomes Joe’s love interest, create a visceral and intense cinematic experience.
The film’s exploration of queer love within the confines of a juvenile detention centre adds a layer of urgency and poignancy to the narrative. Joe and William’s connection, expressed through sensual and tender moments, challenges the oppressive environment they navigate. The symbolic ouroboros tattoo becomes a powerful metaphor for spiritual rebirth, offering a glimmer of hope in an otherwise cyclical and unforgiving system.
“The Lost Boys” goes beyond a love story; it delves into the systemic issues contributing to the detainees’ criminal lives, critiquing rehabilitation measures and exposing the limitations of good intentions. The film raises thought-provoking questions about freedom, the impact of broken homes, and the cycle of incarceration. Graton’s directorial debut successfully combines emotional depth, social critique, and a sensual love story, making it a must-watch for audiences seeking a nuanced and impactful queer film in 2023.
7) Norwegian Dream (NORWAY)
“Norwegian Dream” emerges as a timeless queer film that transcends conventional boundaries, offering a poignant exploration of the challenges faced by Robert, a young Polish migrant worker. Director Leiv Igor Devold crafts a narrative that delves into themes of internalised shame, self-discovery, and societal expectations in the backdrop of a Norwegian fish processing plant. The film’s relevance extends beyond its immediate context, resonating with audiences globally through its exploration of universal struggles faced by LGBTQ individuals.
Hubert Milkowski’s compelling portrayal of Robert captures the internal conflict and cautious self-expression within a macho environment. The film’s authenticity lies in its nuanced depiction of Robert’s journey, which unfolds against the progressive backdrop of Norwegian society. The introduction of Ivar, played by Karl Bekele Steinland, adds a layer of complexity, challenging societal norms and highlighting the emotional solace found in queer relationships.
“Norwegian Dream” becomes a queer film for the ages by addressing themes that resonate universally—internal struggles, economic challenges, and the pursuit of authenticity. Devold’s directorial approach, favouring authenticity and introspection, allows the film to transcend cultural boundaries, making it a compelling representation of the LGBTQ experience. In its exploration of love, loyalty, and societal expectations, “Norwegian Dream” stands as a timeless and resonant cinematic piece that contributes to the broader conversation on queer representation in film.
6) Runs in the Family (SOUTH AFRICA)
“Runs in the Family” emerges as an important local queer film for South Africa, navigating the intersections of family dynamics, acceptance, and self-discovery within the LGBTQ community. Gabe Gabriel’s screenplay and performance bring forth a narrative that defies conventional tropes, steering away from typical coming-out scenarios to focus on the deep and unconditional bond between a transgender son and his father.
The film’s significance lies in its portrayal of a South African family, breaking new ground in queer representation by showcasing the complexities and warmth of a father-son relationship. As River and Varun embark on a road trip filled with drag performances and unexpected revelations, the film captures the essence of found family and the challenges of reconnection.
“Runs in the Family” contributes to the local cinematic landscape by presenting LGBTQ characters in a nuanced and authentic light, addressing themes that resonate with South African audiences. The inclusion of South African scenery and cultural elements adds a layer of authenticity, making the film a valuable addition to the representation of queer narratives in the region. Overall, “Runs in the Family” stands as a heartwarming and culturally relevant queer film, enriching the South African cinematic landscape with its refreshing take on family, acceptance, and the journey to self-discovery.
5) Rotting in the Sun (USA/MEXICO)
“Rotting in the Sun” emerges as a daring and metafictional gay film that challenges conventional narratives, featuring Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Silva as a self-loathing caricature grappling with artistic disillusionment. The film ventures into Mexico City’s gentrification, exposing the shallowness of privileged existence fuelled by American and European expats. Silva’s character’s nihilistic journey to a gay nudist beach confronts issues of identity amid a hedonistic lifestyle.
The film’s satirical exploration of social media, hedonism, and instant gratification blurs the lines between reality and illusion. Silva’s character encounters writer and comedian Jordan Firstman, adding comedic tension and highlighting the pitfalls of internet culture. Class dynamics and power imbalances are scrutinized through the character of Señora Vero, Silva’s housekeeper.
“Rotting in the Sun” critiques privilege, shallowness, and inner ugliness, employing satire to expose the worst impulses of its characters. The film’s daring association of nihilism, homosexuality, and social media challenges traditional queer narratives.
While the climax shifts focus, the movie retains its critical stance on societal issues, offering a shapeshifting exploration of complex themes. Silva’s irreverent portrayal of himself contributes to the film’s acerbic quality, making it a compelling, thought-provoking, and visually distinctive queer cinematic experience.
4) Of an Age (AUSTRALIA)
“Of an Age,” directed by Goran Stolevski, unfolds as a poignant Australian queer drama set in 1999 suburban Melbourne. The film delves into the transformative connection between Kol and Adam, sparking during an hour-long road trip. Kol, a Serbian immigrant and competitive ballroom dancer, experiences a profound shift when Adam, a confident and openly gay man, enters his life.
The narrative captures the nuances of their interactions, exploring repressed longing and shared interests. Stolevski’s attention to detail creates a moody and melancholic atmosphere, immersing the characters in a world suspended in time. While the film is critiqued for somewhat underdeveloped characters, the chemistry between Thom Green and Elias Anton shines, particularly in conveying the depth of desire and self-acceptance.
“Of an Age” symbolises an Australian queer film that navigates the complexities of self-discovery, fleeting romance, and the exploration of desire within a specific cultural and temporal context. The film’s wistful portrayal of an ephemeral affair adds a layer of authenticity to its exploration of queer themes. Despite its narrative limitations, the film contributes to the queer cinematic landscape, offering a glimpse into the transformative power of connection amidst the backdrop of late 20th-century Australia.
3) Rustin (USA)
“Rustin,” directed by George C. Wolfe, serves as a biopic that sheds light on the often-overlooked story of Bayard Rustin, a pivotal figure in the civil rights movement and a Black gay activist. Colman Domingo’s stellar portrayal of Rustin adds depth to the narrative, emphasizing his charisma, intelligence, and the challenges he faced as a Black gay man.
The film not only explores Rustin’s role in organising the 1963 March on Washington but also delves into his personal life, including his friendships and romantic relationships. Rustin’s activism extends beyond racial equality to encompass gay rights, portraying him as a multifaceted figure who fought against societal forces and intracommunity animosity.
While “Rustin” is critiqued for its somewhat melodramatic opening montage and occasional reliance on clichés, Domingo’s performance stands out, providing emotional weight to the character. The film is recognized for its portrayal of Rustin as an activist for both racial and LGBTQ+ equality, contributing to the representation of queer political figures in cinema.
In summary, “Rustin” serves as a significant queer political film, highlighting the intersectionality of Rustin’s activism and his contributions to both the civil rights and LGBTQ+ rights movements. The movie presents Rustin as a crucial figure in American history and emphasizes the ongoing relevance of his advocacy for equality on multiple fronts.
2) Passages (France)
“Passages” emerges as a queer masterpiece, skilfully crafted by Ira Sachs, delving into the intricacies of a love triangle involving two gay men and a straight woman. Franz Rogowski and Ben Whishaw deliver compelling performances, portraying the complexities of desire, intimacy, and human connection. The film boldly explores physical and emotional intimacy through explicit scenes, drawing inspiration from influential European directors.
The cinematic language of “Passages” is a testament to its sophistication, utilising body language, dances, and a carefully curated soundtrack to convey the shifting emotional landscapes of the characters. The narrative skilfully navigates the challenges within Tomas and Martin’s relationship, touching on themes of love, parenthood, and truthfulness.
While facing censorship challenges due to explicit content, “Passages” confronts the dangers of cultural censorship and champions artistic expression. Sachs’s criticism of the restrictions adds a layer of social commentary to the film’s narrative. “Passages” stands out as a profound exploration of queer relationships, offering a nuanced portrayal of love and desire. Its commitment to authenticity, coupled with outstanding performances and expressive cinematic elements, cements its status as a queer masterpiece that resonates with mature audiences seeking thought-provoking cinema.
1) Red, White & Royal Blue (USA)
“Red, White & Royal Blue” emerges as a must-watch gay film for 2023, delivering a stylish and highly polished queer romance that captivates audiences with its charismatic leads, Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine. Based on Casey McQuiston’s bestselling novel, the film navigates the complex love story between Alex, the son of the U.S. president, and Prince Henry, second in line to the British throne.
While the movie’s micro-managed approach draws criticism for potentially sacrificing depth, it successfully creates a visually appealing piece of young adult fluff that resonates with audiences seeking an escapist experience. The storyline, revolving around a PR-driven transformation from animosity to friendship and romance, adds layers of intrigue to the narrative.
At the heart of the film’s success is the twin charisma assault delivered by Zakhar Perez and Galitzine, whose on-screen chemistry and charm elevate the overall viewing experience. Their performances contribute significantly to the film’s appeal, making “Red, White & Royal Blue” a must-watch for those seeking a delightful and captivating gay romance in 2023.
The top LGBTQ+ movies of 2023 showcase a remarkable diversity of storytelling that transcends borders and challenges conventional norms. From the metafictional exploration of identity in “Rotting in the Sun” to the poignant love story set against the Giarre affair in “Fireworks,” each film offers a unique perspective on queer experiences. “Red, White & Royal Blue” stands out as a polished and captivating romance, symbolising the evolving landscape of queer cinema in Hollywood. Furthermore, the recognition these films have received at esteemed film festivals, from Cannes to Toronto (TIFF), is a testament to the growing impact of queer narratives on the global stage.
Queer cinema is not only gaining the acknowledgement it deserves but is also influencing mainstream discourse, inspiring storytellers to continue pushing boundaries and providing audiences with authentic, richly textured stories that celebrate the diverse spectrum of human emotion and identity.