It was a rich year for gay movie fans. The standouts just kept coming.
The two movies on the top of my list were gender-bending and genre-breaking movies released early in the year. With a brilliant ensemble cast, outstanding writing and directing by Jocelyn Moorhouse, a cross-dressing police sergeant and couture to die for, “The Dressmaker” was a delightful feminist take on the spaghetti Western (and a timely antidote to 2015’s hateful “The Hateful Eight.”) “A Bigger Splash,” written by gay filmmaker Luca Guadagnino, starred Ralph Fiennes and Matthias Schoenaerts as ex-lovers fighting over rock star Tilda Swinton.
Other contenders included three films from the year-end Oscar race: Isabelle Huppert’s mesmerizing performance in Paul Verhoeven’s provocative “Elle,” Natalie Portman’s stunning work in “Jackie” and Amy Adams’ transcendent portrayal of a linguist who saves the world in “Arrival.”
The best LGBT movie of the year was the outstanding “Being 17” by the French auteur André Téchiné. Without a wasted word or shot, the film is a master work that offers a complex portrait of two teens and their families as the boys deal with both coming out and coming of age.
A close runner-up is the powerful “Moonlight,” written and directed by Barry Jenkins and based on a play by Tarrel Alvin McCraney. While the pacing occasionally stumbles and the female characters are rather stereotypical, the film is a stunning portrayal of a young black man at three stages of his life and features sizzling performances by an amazing ensemble cast and lush cinematography by James Laxton.
Other LGBT titles of note were “The Handmaiden” based on a novel by Sarah Waters but transported to 1930s Korea by director Chan-wook Park; “Little Men” by Ira Sachs; and, “Florence Foster Jenkins” which found not only the obvious comedy but an unexpected tenderness in the tale of a tone-deaf diva (Meryl Streep), her supportive husband (Hugh Grant) and her gay accompanist (Simon Helberg).
Despite its terrible title (which does get explained during the film), the best documentary of the year was “Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You.” Directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady use some innovative techniques to create a multi-faceted portrait of a man whose groundbreaking television series challenged America’s ideas about gender, race, class and sexuality.
The best LGBT documentary of 2016 was HBO’s richly layered “Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures,” an intricate examination of the provocative artist and his enduring legacy.
Other outstanding LGBT documentaries of the year included “Tickled,” “Southwest of Salem: the Story of the San Antonio Four,” “Check It” and “The Witness.”
The best foreign film of 2016 was Pedro Almodóvar’s heartfelt “Julieta.” Working with three short stories by Canadian author Alice Munro, the openly gay Spanish auteur moves from the worlds of camp and melodrama to a sharply-detailed gritty tale of grief and loss.
The best animated movies of 2016 were “Finding Dory,” starring Ellen DeGeneres as a delightful blue tang with memory issues, and “Moana,” about a Polynesian girl who saves her island while singing some great songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Hamilton”), Mark Mancina and Opetaia Foa’i.
The oddest cinematic trend of the year was playing with the gender and sexuality of characters in established franchises in an attempt to bring fresh blood to stale stories. In one case, it worked. Despite some horrible Internet trolling by the likes of Milo Yiannopoulus, the all-female remake of “Ghostbusters” offered a fresh and fun spin on the classic testosterone-fueled comedy and featured Chris Hemsworth as a dim-witted himbo, delightful cameos by cast members from the original movie, and a wonderful breakout performance by lesbian comic Kate McKinnon.
On the flip side of the trend, three flailing franchises suddenly discovered that already established characters were gay, revelations that did little to generate box office or critical notice. “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” outed frat boy Dave Franco. “Independence Day: Resurgence” revealed that Brakish Okun (Brent Spiner) was still alive and was in a long-term relationship with partner Milton Isaacs (John Storey). To the dismay of George Takei, a brief scene in “Star Trek Beyond” reveals that the rebooted Sulu (John Cho) has a partner and child.
The 2016 Hall of Shame includes two movies that tried to erase LGBT lives. The leaden Will Smith fantasy “Collateral Beauty” went to great lengths to depict a diverse Manhattan, except for the fact that no openly LGBT people are visible anywhere in the film. The turgid courtroom drama “Denial” focused on the legal battle between a renowned historian and a Holocaust denier, but failed to mention the LGBT victims of Nazi hatred.
D.C.’s expanding film culture is supported by a variety of fine presenters across the region, including the four Landmark Theatres, the two Angelika theaters and the Avalon Theatre. D.C.’s vibrant film festival scene has become increasingly diverse, with great LGBT offerings this year at the D.C. Independent Film Festival, the Maryland Film Festival and Filmfest D.C., among others. As usual, strong support for the LGBT community was displayed by D.C. Shorts, the Washington Jewish Film Festival, AFI Docs and the Middleburg Film Festival, which brings a little Hollywood glamour to Virginia’s wine and horse country every fall.
Reel Affirmations, D.C.’s international LGBT Film Festival, continues to bring excellent queer programming here through its monthly XTRA film series (which included the excellent debut film “Fair Haven”) and its annual festival (which included “LOEV” by the talented Indian filmmaker Sudhanshu “Suds” Saria). AFI Silver in downtown Silver Spring regularly includes outstanding LGBT programming in its amazing blend of contemporary independent films, stunning showcases weaving together classic films from Hollywood and world cinemas, and fascinating showcases of the latest international films.
To round out the list of the year’s best movies, here are some other great movies to catch on DVD or VOD (“Eye in the Sky,” “Maggie’s Plan,” “Love and Friendship” and “The Lobster”) and some great performances to enjoy in theaters (“Loving,” “Manchester by the Sea” and “La La Land.”