It was such a queer year at the movies that even my popcorn tasted gay. And the best news? So many folks on the spectrum were represented, from brainy lesbian teens to flirty fluid strippers to Greta Garbo–obsessed nurses to homosexual Nazis. Even the cardigan king himself, Mr. Rodgers, showed up to change his shoes and (yet again) leave us guessing.
Here, the cinematic moments of 2019 that have lingered most vividly. Warning: Spoilers ahead!
Lesbians Reigned Supreme
There were countless depictions of queer women on the big screen in 2019. But let’s try to count them anyway.
In the lively high school graduation comedy Booksmart, Kaitlyn Dever was Amy, a lesbian who meets a girl, kisses her, and then throws up—though it all works out in the end. But if you ask me, it seemed like Beanie Feldstein’s character Molly was also in love with Amy, no? Waiting on the sequel.
The wedding dramedy Funny Story featured a lesbian couple (Jana Winternitz and Emily Bett Rickards) with lesbian friends, which is always nice.
Kristen Stewart’s Charlie’s Angels character, Sabina, was a lesbian, but no one knows that because no one saw it.
Similarly, Vita & Virginia starred Gemma Arterton as the married poet Vita Sackville-West, who had same-sex affairs, especially with writer Virginia Woolf (Elizabeth Debicki), but audiences didn’t care much.
I guess they were too busy being all shaken up by Toy Story 4, which had a blink-and-you’ll-miss-them sighting of two lesbian moms with a child. Some Christians were outraged, claiming the moviemakers were trying to desensitize kids against queers. Exactly!!!
I also noticed a quick shot of two girls holding hands in the raunchy comedy Good Boys. The desensitizing continues.
The theater-milieu dramedy Before You Know It had director and co-writer Hannah Pearl Utt playing a lesbian stage manager learning how to finally be an adult.
J. Lo and Constance Wu had an affectionate, sexy chemistry that seemed to border on romance in Hustlers (though Constance Wu told me they were aiming more for more of a mother-daughter vibe). Trans actress Trace Lystette also dropped in for the proceedings.
Hints of lesbianism and bisexuality also popped up in the hippie clan of Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood.
In Last Christmas, in which Emilia Clarke plays a hapless actress working in a Christmas store, her sister (Lydia Leonard) was a lesbian, which created potential complications within the larger family.
In the just-released Fox News tell-all Bombshell, Kate McKinnon is a lesbian who sleeps with Margot Robbie’s character (they’re both composites of harassed employees). McKinnon’s character, Jess, works at Fox News despite being a closeted Democrat and queer. Alas, working there makes it impossible for her to get hired anywhere else.
And in another new movie, queer director Céline Sciamma’s French film Portrait of a Lady on Fire, an 18th-century painter (Noémie Merlant) and her portrait subject (Adèle Haenel) ignite more than a canvas.
But gird your loins, evangelicals: Tessa Thompson hinted that her Valkyrie character will be involved in a queer storyline in Thor: Love and Thunder. Finally, an openly queer Marvel hero!
But Gay Men Got Plenty of Love—Often in Biopics
Biopics were prevalent, as always.
In Judy, a gay male couple, Stan and Dan (played by Andy Nyman and Daniel Cerqueira), see Judy Garland (Renée Zellweger) in concert and end up cooking her an omelet at their place and bonding with her. The point is hammered home that the tragic icon stood for oppressed outcasts.
Rocketman dared to be gayer than Bohemian Rhapsody, and was likable—just a bit icky when Sir Elton kept hugging himself as a child.
The White Crow dealt with ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev’s (Oleg Ivenko) personal struggles and oppressions as a Russian artiste who defects.
Mapplethorpe, about the controversial photographer who died of AIDS, starred former Doctor Who and The Crown star Matt Smith, but failed to draw many patrons.
But one of the year’s most acclaimed movies, The Two Popes, had Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins) chiding future Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce) for being too open-minded about homosexuality, which they discuss with robes on.
An outstanding documentary was Where’s My Roy Cohn?, about the slithery, self-loathing gay lawyer who backed the McCarthy hearings and mentored Donald Trump. Cohn lied about being gay, he lied about having AIDS, and he lied about all his crimes and offenses too. I’m not lying when I say he was reprehensible.
In fictional films: Isn’t It Romantic, a Rebel Wilson vehicle, made fun of the various tropes of a romantic comedy, including the gay best friend.
Netflix’s Velvet Buzzsaw was a satire, with Jake Gyllenhaal playing bitchy queer art critic Morf Vandewalt.
In What Men Want, Taraji P. Henson’s male assistant, Brandon (Josh Brener), had a crush on a gay man (Pete Davidson), so her character, Ali, read Pete’s mind and saw that he was ready.
Papi Chulo starred Matt Bomer as a gay man who has split from his boyfriend and becomes obsessed with his Hispanic helper (Alejandro Patiño).
Gay director Paul Downs Colaizzo’s Brittany Runs a Marathon cast Jillian Bell as the self-improving titular heroine, whose running friend Seth (Micah Stock) turns out to be a gay daddy.
In Frankie, gay writer-director Ira Sachs’ film about a dying French actress’s family get-together, we learned Isabelle Huppert’s ex-husband has fallen for a man.
Some audiences at It Chapter Two were perfectly fine with all the gore—it was the sight of two guys kissing that made them squeamish. I can only hope these delicate viewers didn’t see Toy Story 4 as well.
I pray they also avoided Pedro Almodóvar’s semi-autobiographical Pain and Glory, in which Antonio Banderas played Salvador, an ailing film director who reconnects with his old bae Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia) and discovers they still share a frisson. In the movie, there is also a flashback to Salvador as a boy swooning over a naked man.
There was a gay subplot in Downton Abbey, naturally.
In The Good Liar, swindle victim Betty (Helen Mirren) gets help from her grandson (Russell Tovey)—or is it her grandson?
In Jojo Rabbit, Sam Rockwell was Captain Klenzendorf, an increasingly sympathetic lapsed Nazi who’s into dudes.
Speaking of Rockwell, he was defense lawyer Watson Bryant in Richard Jewell, about the titular security guard (played by Paul Walter Hauser) wrongly accused of planting a bomb at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. At one point, one of Jewell’s cohorts tells him that the FBI—which is trying to railroad Jewell into guilt—decided that his partner in the bombing “is probably your homosexual boyfriend.” Jewell responds, “I want to make sure they know I’m not gay.” And so, he tells them.
And in the realm of subversive subtitles, End of the Century was a moving Argentinian movie about two guys (Juan Barberini and Ramon Pujol) who spend the day together in Barcelona.
And Then We Danced was a gay-themed Swedish film about a Georgian dancer (Levan Gelbakhiani) who is romantically awakened.
The Brazilian Greta dealt with a gay nurse (Marco Nanini) who worships Greta Garbo.
Sorry Angel was a French period piece about the impact of AIDS on gay love in the 1990s.
Another French movie, gay director François Ozon’s By the Grace of God, was based on the true story of three men confronting the church about their experiences as the victims of pedophile priests.
Bi Characters Made Less of a Splash
Giant Little Ones was a well-reviewed film centering on fluid teen sexuality.
While it never comes up in the new biopic A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, friends of children’s host Mr. Rogers (played by Tom Hanks in the film) have said he was bi.
We Still Need More—and Better—Trans Representation
The hipster dramedy Adam—the most controversial queer film of the year—featured a cis teen whose lesbian friends mistake him for a trans guy. He goes along with it because he wants to get laid. Did we need a trans Soul Man? You decide.
Meanwhile, in the anthology film Berlin, I Love You, Diego Luna was the umpteenth cis actor to play trans. Zzzzzzz.
As fabulous as 2019 was at the cineplex, here’s hoping for an even better—and queerer—2020.