Pride: 25 Queer Films To Love

Dating Amber writer and director David Freyne introduces our London correspondent Ella Kemp to 25 of his favorite LGBTQIA films.

A coming-out, coming-of-age film, David Freyne’s Dating Amber follows “baby gays” Eddie (Fionn O’Shea) and Amber (Lola Petticrew), who act as each other’s beards in order to stop speculation about their sexualities. Released on Amazon Prime Video in the UK for Pride month, it’s winning praise from Letterboxd members as a “charming” and “gentle” comedy-drama “full of loveliness that extends beyond the Irish accents”.

Lola Petticrew and Fionn O’Shea as Amber and Eddie in Dating Amber.
Lola Petticrew and Fionn O’Shea as Amber and Eddie in Dating Amber.

As the number of films by and about the gay and trans community expands, we asked Freyne if he could narrow down a list of ten favorites for us. The answer was no—instead, we got 25!

“There are so many extraordinary queer films beyond this list, but all of these films just really affected me when I saw them. Some were the first time I saw queerness on screen, while I deeply identified with others. And, as a filmmaker, each of them makes me braver to fight to tell stories that aren’t always easy to get made.

“They are in no particular order because I don’t want to bump into Barry Jenkins (which is obviously going to happen) and have to explain that he is number five on that list (that he will definitely read) for no specific reason. It’s just a technicality.”

David Freyne’s 25 Favorite LGBTQIA+ Films

My Summer of Love (2004)

Directed by Paweł Pawlikowski

Paweł Pawlikowski’s film feels like a dream that sweeps you up along with it, helped along by incredible early performances from Natalie Press and Emily Blunt. The hypnotic use of Goldfrapp’s ‘Lovely Head’ is probably my favorite use of a song in any film ever. Their drug-fuelled dancing was a massive inspiration for Eddie and Amber’s baby steps into Dublin’s gay scene in Dating Amber.

Weekend (2011)

Directed by Andrew Haigh

I never fail to cry buckets at the end of this heartbreaking gem. It’s small in the best sense of the word. Two people fall in love over one intimate weekend. Their gayness is both incidental and totally fundamental. It’s so delicate and moving. Andrew Haigh is a master.

But I’m a Cheerleader (1999)

Directed by Jamie Babbit

Jamie Babbit’s debut is a brilliant, campy comedy about a cheerleader sent to a conversion therapy camp. I love it for all the reasons many critics (at the time) disliked it. It is subversive, quirky and defiantly upbeat. And it stars Natasha Lyonne and Clea Duvall. Enough said.

Paris is Burning (1990)

Directed by Jennie Livingston

I’m not saying anything new when I say that Paris is Burning is necessary viewing. It’s a hilarious, moving and eye-opening look at the (mostly) Black trans women in New York’s ball scene. It is a glimpse into the lives of these extraordinary people who risked everything to live authentically, for themselves and each other. And at a time when our trans family is so under attack, it is vital to see such iconic figures from our community. You’ve probably seen it. Re-watch it. Also those end notes will make you cry.

Happy Together (1997)

Directed by Wong Kar-wai

As with all Wong Kar-wai’s work, it is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. It’s a tough watch, a portrait of a toxic, failing relationship. But it looks beautiful. They’re miserable and co-dependent. It’s abusive and awful. But it’s great. It really is a great film. I’m not selling this one well. Just watch it.

Moonlight (2016)

Directed by Barry Jenkins

Definitely worth watching after Happy Together. Not just because it will make you feel better, but because Barry Jenkins has noted it as a big influence. Also, Moonlight is a masterpiece. You know that, of course. Side note: I realize I’ll never be able to create a hand-job scene as powerful and tender as Jenkins did here, but, in Dating Amber, I made three comedy hand-jobs. Take that Jenkins!

God’s Own Country (2017)

Directed by Francis Lee

You can feel Francis Lee in every frame of this film. It’s personal filmmaking at its very best, with wonderful performances from Josh O’Connor and Alec Secăreanu. And it has the most beautifully romantic ending that you only realize we lack for LGBTQ characters when you see it laid out so wonderfully. When we were trying to finance Dating Amber and people suggested it was too Irish, I’d just reference God’s Own Country, which is so defiantly Yorkshire, and they’d shut up. Also, Secăreanu’s jumper with a thumb hole is my style icon. Bring on Ammonite!

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)

Directed by Marielle Heller

Marielle Heller is such a brilliant filmmaker. This film is based on the memoir by Lee Israel who forged letters by famous people to sell. It’s a genre piece that feels like it could have been made in the 70s. But what I love about it the most is that it is a rare example of a film that centers the friendship between a lesbian and a gay man. Why do films usually treat us like we exist in totally separate worlds? Anyway, it’s a joyous watch.

Tangerine (2015)

Directed by Sean Baker

I’m obsessed with tightly plotted films and Tangerine doesn’t waste a frame. It’s 88 minutes of pure wit, charm and entertainment in line with the best of old-school Hollywood. You instantly forget that Baker’s film is shot on an iPhone and just get swept up in the extraordinary performances of Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez. It’s such a mystery they don’t work more. (Reader: it’s not a mystery. It’s because they are Black trans women, and the industry is shit.)

Portrait of a Lady On Fire (2019)

Directed by Céline Sciamma

We all bow at the alter of Céline Sciamma. This film is perfection. The sparse-but-powerful use of music, exquisite photography and extraordinary performances that burn beneath the stillness. The final shots of Adèle Haenel will feed your soul for a year. (Side note: face masks have never looked so stylish.)

Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971)

Directed by John Schlesinger

This was John Schlesinger’s follow up to his best-known film, Midnight Cowboy. A middle-aged gay doctor (Peter Finch), and a divorced woman (Glenda Jackson), are both in an open love triangle with a younger, bisexual sculptor (Murray Head). It’s quite low-key and far tamer now than when it was released, but it’s a beautiful film and Schlesinger’s most personal. He was one of the few openly gay directors of his time. And Jackson’s performance steals it.

Far From Heaven (2002)

Directed by Todd Haynes

Todd Haynes’ stunning film will make you immediately go out and discover all of Douglas Sirk’s glorious technicolor melodramas. Julianne Moore’s performance as a wife who discovers her husband is gay will break you. Dennis Quaid is also terrific as her closeted husband.

The Watermelon Woman (1996)

Directed by Cheryl Dunye

Cheryl Dunye’s low-budget debut is a seminal queer film. A video store worker and documentarian (played by Dunye) starts a new relationship while becoming obsessed with ‘the watermelon woman’, a Black actress forgotten by history. It’s lo-fi, funny and a, far too rare, film about race and sexuality.

My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)

Directed by Stephen Frears

It may have been the first time I saw gay characters on screen and, at the time, it petrified me. But what an amazing film about love, acceptance and the power to change. Fun fact: Daniel Day-Lewis spent a year as a tumble dryer in preparation for his role.

Beautiful Thing (1996)

Directed by Hettie MacDonald

Hettie MacDonald’s coming-of-age film is so lovely, honest and tender. James Harvey adapted it from his own play of the same name. The soundtrack is almost entirely The Mamas and the Papas. I am surprised some cigar-smoking West-End mogul hasn’t attempted a musical adaptation. Or maybe they have, I don’t know.

Pride (2014)

Directed by Matthew Warchus

Such a purely entertaining film while being urgent, political and deeply moving. Beresford’s script is a masterclass in plotting and if you don’t cry at the end then you are dead inside. Sorry but that’s just science. Also it has the most emotional postscript coda since, well, Paris is Burning.

Love is Strange (2014)

Directed by Ira Sachs

Ira Sachs is one of my favorite current filmmakers and criminally underrated. I mean, he’s appreciated, but he needs to be lauded. Love is Strange is such a charming and quietly devastating love story about an older gay couple who lose their apartment and have to couch surf with relatives. It’s one of the most effective films in dealing with the rental crisis in big cities, something he does equally brilliantly in the follow-up, Little Men.

A Fantastic Woman (2017)

Directed by Sebastián Lelio

Sebastián Lelio’s film is a beautiful story about one trans woman’s grief after the unexpected death of her older partner. But what makes this film so spectacular is the captivating performance by Daniela Vega. We need to see more of her on screen.

BPM (Beats per Minute) (2017)

Directed by Robin Campillo

It’s a film about the AIDS activism of Act Up in 1990s Paris. What makes this so incredible is how joyous it is. Strobe-doused dance scenes punctuate this film that will make you want to take to the streets and fight for your rights.

The Queen of Ireland (2015)

Directed by Conor Horgan

This documentary by Conor Horgan follows Ireland’s most famous drag queen, Panti Bliss (aka Rory O’Neill). It’s about his life, a legal battle (a bunch of homophobes sued Rory for calling them homophobes on national TV) and the staging of a show in his hometown. Central to all this is Ireland’s historic vote on marriage equality, something that Panti was a powerful figure in. If you want to laugh and have your heart soar in seeing confirmation of how a once painfully conservative country moved to love and equality, watch this.

The Kids Are All Right (2010)

Directed by Lisa Cholodenko

Lisa Cholodenko’s feature is a warm, witty and realistic look at a lesbian couple and their children. Every performance is pitch perfect. I can’t believe it’s a decade old and that we have had so few similar films since.

Booksmart (2019)

Directed by Olivia Wilde

We need more joyous films with queer leads and Olivia Wilde’s debut is just that. Set over one night of belated partying, we follow best friends Molly and Amy (Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever), one of whom happens to be a lesbian. It is just so much fun to watch.

All About My Mother (1999)

Directed by Pedro Almodóvar

I mean this list could just be an Almodóvar filmography, but All About My Mother just happened to be the first of his I saw and it blew my little gay mind. It’s simply about love in its truest sense. Almodóvar said it best with his dedication, “To all actresses who have played actresses. To all women who act. To men who act and become women. To all the people who want to be mothers. To my mother.”

Female Trouble (1974)

Directed by John Waters

You can’t have a queer film list without John Waters, and this 1974 classic is my favorite of his. It follows Dawn Davenport (played by the legendary Divine) from teen delinquent to the electric chair. It’s hilarious, irreverent and distasteful in the ways only Waters can be.

Saint Maud (2019)

Directed by Rose Glass

Rose Glass’s debut film isn’t out yet and so technically shouldn’t be on the list. But I saw at a festival last year and loved it, so there. It’s a horror film about a private nurse (rising star Morfydd Clark) who tries to save the soul of her deviant and lesbian patient (the always-brilliant Jennifer Ehle). It’s eerie, stylish and the sort of debut all us filmmakers wish we had. Shut up, you’re jealous!

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