MIX CPH FAVORITE QUEER FILMS OF THE 2010S
December 31, 2019
It’s the end of a decade and a lot has happened in the past ten years. For queer representation in cinema and queer cinema in general, the 2010s can be seen as a transformative time.
Whereas the 1990s gave birth to New Queer Cinema, a term coined by academic B. Ruby Rich, the cinematic movement of queer independent filmmaking which presented fictional or real lives of queer people as outsiders in conventional society. The 2010s sees a shift towards a universal interest in queer cinema viewership, thanks to some of the films on this list.
Queer stories are reaching broader audiences, queer filmmakers are getting their time in the spotlight and queer actors are getting the roles that have previously been stolen from them for decades.
For MIX COPENHAGEN, the past 10 years have seen volunteers come and go. Volunteers that have worked extremely hard to curate queer film programs that represent the queer experience and broadcast the best of what queer cinema has to offer. So, we reached out to all MIXers past – at least as many as we could – and asked them to vote on their favorite films of the 2010s. From ‘Heartbeats’ to ‘Something Must Break’, here are our favorite films of the 2010s.
20. 'Thelma' by Joachim Trier (2017)
‘Thelma’ is a horror take on the coming out, coming-of-age and romance narrative. After moving away from her religious parents to study in Oslo, Thelma meets Anja and becomes increasingly drawn towards her. As her feelings toward Anja grow stronger, Thelma starts experiencing seizures that unleash her supernatural abilities she is unaware of having.
“I could write an essay about this film. ‘Thelma’ is a game-changer for queer horror. ‘Thelma’ does not demonize its protagonist because of her queerness, instead, it blames the real perpetrator, religious patriarchal society. Thelma’s abilities and feelings are linked not because she is queer and therefore evil but because her controlled upbringing has lead to internalized homophobia and unexplored powers (a metaphor for sexuality). I could’ve lived without Anja disappearing since again characters of color have to suffer at the expense of the white characters’ journey, however, women of color are to greater extent victims of religious patriarchal society so it does seem fitting. Have you ever been asked, “would you rather drown or be burned alive?”, well this is the literal choice Thelma gave her father when she killed him (a metaphor for bringing down the patriarchy). Hands down one of my favorite death scenes in horror.”
— Andrea Coloma (MIX CPH 2017 – today)
19. 'Keep The Lights On' by Ira Sachs (2012)
Winner of the 2012 Teddy Award, ‘Keep The Lights On’ spans from 1998 to 2008, capturing Erik and Paul meeting, through their living together, and on through the painful effects of Paul’s drug addiction on their lives. The film is autobiographical, it’s the story of Sachs’ relationship with Bill Clegg.
Similar to ‘Weekend’ (another film on this list) and ‘Pariah’ (unfortunately not on this list), ‘Keep the Lights On’ operates with poetic realism that makes the film feel fresh and culturally specific. Relying extensively on natural light, the cinematographer, Thimios Bakatakis, captures to perfection, like a portrait, the contemporary life of New York City, at least for the time.
18. 'The Handmaiden' by Park Chan-Wook (2016)
In Japanese-occupied Korea, Sook-Hee’s life is turned upside down when she is recruited by a Count to con Lady Heiko and her upper-class family. What ends up unfolding is an erotic psycho-thriller with lesbian sex and romance at its core.
Cunning behavior as seen in ‘The Handmaiden’ is a signature trait of Park Chan-Wook’s work. So, it was no surprise that he decided to take on an interpretation of Fingersmith by Sarah Waters and deliver the perfect blend of devious behavior, sex, and queerness.
“This is such a fun puzzle of a film, peeling off layer after layer of metaphors and allegories. In the same boat with ‘The Favourite’, you get complicated female characters exploring their desires by exploiting the tradition of male sexuality and simultaneously making fun of it. It stays true to the original novel by Sarah Waters, but it adds a style of cinematography that is so much more visually interesting to watch than the first film adaptation”
— Mihaela Yordanova (MIX CPH 2019 – present)
17. 'Heartbeats' by Xavier Dolan (2010)
A year after his first feature ‘I Killed My Mother’, Dolan came out with ‘Heartbeats’ which he wrote, directed, edited, and if that’s not enough he also served as the art director and costume designer, all of this at the age of 21. ‘Heartbeats’ introduces us to Francis, a young gay man, and Marie, a young straight woman, who are best friends, until the day the gorgeous Nicolas walks into a Montreal coffee shop and they won’t stop until Nicolas notices one of them.
The original title in French ‘Les Amours Imaginaires’ is truer to the story; a story of unrequited love, love that only exists in the imagination, a longing for something that does not exist. ‘Heartbeats’ is the brilliant portrait of young obsession and fantasy, where regardless of the object of attraction, stories were being created in the minds of the infatuated.
"‘Heartbeats’ is a tale of two people of different genders falling in love with the same person and their mutual competition to win his affection and their attempt to find out if he is straight or gay. But with the line “How could you think I was gay?” as the only clue, the audience never finds out with certainty what “box” Nicolas belongs to – maybe he is bi/pansexual? The beauty of the film is that when it comes to love, this doesn’t matter, but it’s too late for our suitors”
— Steven Andersen (MIX CPH 2010 - 2014)
16. '120 Beats Per Minutes' by Robin Campillo (2017)
‘120 Beats Per Minute’ is an expansive film about ACT UP in the early ’90s in Paris, where love for community and an orchestra of voices arguing, protesting, and fucking fill the frames. The personal is political is at the core of this film, which makes for the perfect love letter to the ACT UP movement in Paris, as well as Campillo’s urgent call to arms and queer resistance.
The film won six César Awards and the Grand Prix award at Cannes. After decades of thoughtful films about HIV, ‘120 Beats Per Minute’ is revolutionary because it portrays men with AIDS and vital and sexual beings that refuse to give up. The film’s determination to bring its characters to love is as radical and passionate as the subjects themselves.
15. 'Tranny Fag' by Kiko Goifman and Claudia Priscilla (2018)
Winning the Teddy Award for Best Documentary, ‘Tranny Fag’ is part concert film, part snapshot portrait, and part manifesto. The film presents Linn Da Quebrada, an activist, performance artist, and self-proclaimed “Bixa Travesty”, a term she coined herself that translates to “Tranny Fag”, who wants audiences to re-evaluate all notions of gender, race, and sexuality.
Linn is an outspoken advocate for Black gender and sexual minorities from Brazil’s favelas. Through songs and spoken words, Linn encourages, no dares us, to tear apart and burn down a system made by and for white straight males. Linn describes her gender, body, race, and existence as a political instrument, one that she is ready to use to burn down white cis-heteropatriarchy.
‘Tranny Fag’ is a vigorous documentary, which presents Linn at home cooking with her mom, in hospital rooms dancing naked for her friend while fighting testicular cancer, and on stages breaking down norms with and for her audience. The filmmakers and Linn are uninterested in making audiences comfortable with the images and ideas presented – what more can we ask from queer cinema?
14. 'Booksmart' by Olivia Wilde (2019)
Olivia Wilde’s hilarious feature debut centers on two best friends and academic superstars, Molly and Amy, who on the eve of their high school graduation realize they should have worked less and played more. Determined not to fall short of their peers, the girls try to cram four years of fun into one night. As silly as it sounds and as silly it gets, ‘Booksmart’ is a celebration of female friendship and its complexities with lesbian narratives front and center.
‘Booksmart’ does not gender-swap, instead, it is specific to female experiences, thanks to the four women who wrote the film: Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, and Katie Silberman. These women filled the film with honest and free dialogue on lesbian sex and female masturbation.
Amy is an out lesbian and she wants to have sex before high school ends. Molly and Amy are supportive of each other in everything and figuring out how lesbian sex works is no exception. From theorizing that it’s masturbation with a flipped hand to getting empirical data by watching lesbian porn, Amy’s experience learning the ways around sex is not only very real but something never illustrated in a teen sex comedy before.
The most important, laughable, and cringe-worthy scene of ‘Booksmart’ comes with the film’s one and only sex scene between Amy and Hope. Amy struggles to take Hope’s pants, shoes, and underwear off. The sex scene is crammed with excitement, nervousness and most of all comedy that will make you want to laugh and cry because we’ve all been there.
Recently, Delta Airlines came under fire when it was revealed that they were screening a version of ‘Booksmart’ that omitted the lesbian sex scene, a female masturbation scene, the words “vagina” and “genitals” and an animated sequence in which the two main characters turn into naked dolls. However, the word “fuck” was not cut from the scene in which “vagina” was muted. Wilde took to Twitter and wrote, “What message is this sending to viewers and especially to women?” “That their bodies are obscene? That their sexuality is shameful?” This quickly got rectified and now Delta customers can enjoy ‘Booksmart’ in its entirety.
13. 'Appropriate Behavior' by Desiree Akhavan (2014)
The protagonist, Shirin has to move out of her ex’s apartment and navigate singledom while dealing with the consequences of ‘coming out’. Akhavan is the writer, director, and lead in this romcom about a closeted bisexual woman exploring the single life in Big Apple. With humor, the film explores the Shirin’s bisexual and Persian identity and how these intersect.
After this success, Akhavan went on to ‘The Miseducation of Cameron Post’, a film about conversion therapy starring Chloë Grace Moretz, and to create the acclaimed television series ‘The Bisexual’. The 2010s have Akhavan to thank for bisexual representation.
“Bisexual representation in film is often heavy-handed and usually just serves as a plot device for the main story. So, when you get a smart, funny and really well-written film about and by a bisexual Iranian American woman, you just have to have it”
— Mihaela Yordanova (MIX CPH 2019 – present)
12. 'A Fantastic Woman' by Sebastián Leilo (2017)
After her partner dies, Marina has to battle with her transphobic inlaws for her right to mourn and pay respect to her husband’s late memory.
‘A Fantastic Woman’ was selected as the Chilean entry for the 90th Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and it won, this made Daniela Vega, the star of the film, the first transgender person in history to present at the Oscars. Sebastián Leilo’s film forced the Chilean government to allow people over the age of 14 to change their name and gender in official records, making ‘A Fantastic Woman’ a testament of the power of art and its influence on society.
11. 'And Then We Danced' by Levan Akin (2019)
In 2013, violent anti-LGBT demonstrations erupted in Tbilisi, Georgia and targetted LGBT activists marching for gay rights. Watching the violence unfold from his home in Sweden, gay Georgian filmmaker Levan Akin decided to set his third feature film in Tbilisi, and envision it as a coming-of-age drama about a traditional Georgian dancer coming to terms with his sexuality. Six years later, “And Then We Danced,” which is Sweden’s official submission to the Oscars for Best International Feature, is reigniting anti-gay sentiment in Georgia.
‘And Then We Danced’ frames a gentle coming-of-age story within a traditional staple of Georgian culture and delivers a political film.
10. 'Rafiki' by Wanuri Kahiu (2018)
Another film to attract controversy and make history was ‘Rafiki’. Premiering at the Cannes Film Festival in 2018, this Nairobi-set film was the first Kenyan film to be screened at the festival. ‘Rafiki’ follows Kena and Ziki, two women forging a relationship despite their difference and the political rivalry between their families. When love blossoms between them, they must choose between love and safety against a backdrop of insular gossip, local politics, and burgeoning maturity. The film was based on ‘Jambula Tree’ an award-winning short story by Monica Arac de Nyeko.
The film was banned in Kenya “due to its homosexual theme and clear intent to promote lesbianism in Kenya contrary to the law”. The Kenya Film Classification Board went as to demand Kahiu to change the ending, as it was too hopeful and positive. Kahiu not only refused their demands, she sued the Kenyan government, to allow the film to be screened and become eligible to be submitted as Kenya’s entry for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Kahiu won and the Kenyan High Court lifted the ban, allowing the film to be screened in the country for seven days.
9. 'Tomboy' by Céline Sciamma (2011)
Céline Sciamma has mastered the coming-of-age genre for young queer people. ‘Tomboy’ introduces Laure, a gender non-conforming 10-year-old who moves house and kick starts their new life as a kid called Mikäel.
"I loved Tomboy because it nuances gender without using adults’ categorical premises. Is the protagonist a trans child? Or a girl who also wants to play football? Lesbian? We have no idea, and that’s not the point. For we are experiencing this story through a child’s perspective, where everything is in the process of becoming and not yet finished. I watched this film with a whole bunch of school kids. My girlfriend and I were the only adults in the hall, and we were traumatized by living LGBT lives and watching films like ‘Boys Don’t Cry’. So we sat on the edge of our seats, waiting all the time for the film’s main character to be “discovered” and punished and possibly killed. We thought we knew the conventions for this type of film and so we were frightened through its entirety. The school children, on the other hand, had no expectations and seemed completely relaxed. It was them who got it right. It was their film. Next-generation films. A film for those still in the process of becoming."
— Sarah Glerup (MIX CPH 2006 – 2010)
8. 'Laurence Anyways' by Xavier Dolan (2012)
Winner of the 2012 Queer Palm at the Cannes Film Festival. Another one by Dolan, ‘Laurence Anyways’ is a fantastic example of complex queer cinema. We follow Laurence and his girlfriend Fred and how their relationship develops after Laurence starts to transition. Set during the late 1980s and early 1990s, the film spans a decade, recording in detail the doomed love of Fred and Laurence, as well as the trials and tribulations that they face.
‘Laurence Anyways’ is high camp, self-indulgent, stylish which earned Dolan a comparison to Pedro Almodovar. The film is filled with superb supporting characters, from Fred’s sister to Laurence’s chosen family of drag queens. However, as always, Dolan excels with his visuals and music. Every costume and interior is art directed to perfection and the film is filled with music from opera to Celine Dion.
‘Laurence Anyways’ is his third feature which follows the same theme as his previous work (‘Heartbeats’ and ‘I Killed My Mother’) of impossible love. Regardless of the film’s accolades, Dolan did receive major criticism for using a transgender story as a plot device to depict impossible love, however, it has also received praise for the tender and honest love story it centers.
7. 'Tangerine' by Sean Baker (2015)
Shot on an iPhone 5s for a budget of $100,000 and starring non-professional actors, Baker’s feature tells the story of Sin-Dee and Alexandra, two transgender sex workers who are reunited on Christmas Eve and tear through Tinseltown searching for the pimp who broke Sin-Dees’ heart.
‘Tangerine’ wonderfully executed the portrayal of Black trans sisterhood and its importance, as well as introduced two new actresses Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor, who deliver a performance comparable to seasoned pros. This is the first film in awards competition to star two trans women of color portraying trans lives.
6. 'Something Must Break' by Ester Martin Bergsmark (2014)
Ester Martin Bergsmark gives us one of the most gentle transgender portraits of the 2010s. ‘Something Must Break’ introduces Sebastian (Saga Becker) who wants to live as Ellie, shares a flat with lesbian friend Lea in Stockholm and works at a storage facility. Sebastian indulges in casual encounters with strangers in parks and public toilets but longs for something more. One day, Sebastian is rescued from a hate crime attack by the dreamy Andreas (Iggy Malmborg), who quickly makes it clear he “is not gay”, to what Sebastian swiftly replies “me neither.” Their relationship allows Sebastian to freely explore romance and sex, functioning as a catalyst for Sebastian to fully become Ellie.
When Andreas starts to worry that everything might be a little too queer for him, Ellie chooses herself and leaves him. Andreas’ function was to support Ellie’s development and she will not settle for a half-romance, she no longer needs him.
‘Something Must Break’ has its cinematic flaws, however, there are moments that set it apart, such as the intimate camerawork that caresses its main characters, as well as its slow-motion moments of euphoria and melancholy close-ups.
"“It is without a doubt my favorite queer film of the 2010s, mainly due to the fact that it was the first time I saw myself in film. The film takes place in a recognizable environment with characters that you feel you could easily have met in the Copenhagen queer environment in 2014. When the film came out, most queer films continued to be about “coming out stories”, however, ‘Something Must Break’ is more about difficult and painful love. Today, fortunately, there’s a greater focus on the importance of casting trans people to play trans characters in films, but five years ago, it was a big deal that the main character was played by Saga Becker, who is a transgender actress. Finally, this was the first mainstream film I saw that had a touching sex scene with a non-cis character”."
— Ro Robotham (MIX CPH 2014 - 2015)
5. 'Call Me By Your Name' by Luca Guadagnino (2017)
Based on the book by the same name, ‘Call Me By Your Name’ takes place in Northern Italy in the 1980s. We meet 17-year-old Elio who spends his days reading sheet music and swimming in the lake until he meets Oliver, his father’s intern. Before you know it, a romance between the two arises. Premiering at Sundance Film Festival, what began with a limited release in selected countries, quickly turned into general releases as the film started gaining widespread critical acclaim. The film garnered a number of accolades for its screenplay, direction, acting, and music.
“I loved ‘Call Me By Your Name’. It is full of Jewish cultural references that form an accurate and true reflection of how it is to be culturally Jewish. It is positive Jewish representation without the stereotypes, surprisingly rare in popular culture, and the emphasis on cultural and social aspects of Judaism rather than religious make it important representation. It’s well-acted and emotionally very well built up without excessive dialogue, and the dialogue between the two main characters was often coded and indirect. This unsaid emotional tension made Elio easy to identify with, and it was easy to feel his emotions and heartbreak throughout the film. Homophobia was unspoken, and only really visible through how cautious they were around each other, which is pretty rare in gay or bisexual films. This allowed it to be about love and lust, rather than sexuality, even though the fact that it was two men was central to the film.”
— Maddie Shapland (MIX CPH 2015 - 2017)
4th 'Weekend' by Andrew Haigh (2011)
British director Andrew Haigh brought us this extraordinary, breakout film about two gay men whose first encounter lasts longer than either them or the audience expected. ‘Weekend’ is a depiction of how love can creep up on you in the most unsuspecting of situations and it features intimate conversations between the two male protagonists that speak to life, love, and what it means to be a gay man in the 21st century.
“‘Weekend’ represents a more traditional “gay” narration of the one-night stand (with two very different motifs in the protagonists) that turns into unexpected feelings and a deeper connection between two people, however, due to circumstances, these are doomed to never come to fruition. I think the movie resonated with me because it played on emotions I could recognize from my own life”
— Steven Andersen (MIX CPH 2010 - 2014)
3. 'Blue Is The Warmest Color' by Abdellatif Kechiche (2013)
In ‘Blue Is The Warmest Color’, Adèle’s life is changed when she meets Emma, a young woman with blue hair, who will allow her to discover desire and to assert herself as a woman and as an adult.
As divisive as the sex scenes are in the film, we cannot deny that it sparked international discussions about the danger of the male gaze. Furthermore, the stars Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos were so essential to the film that they were awarded the Palme alongside their director, making them the second and third women to win the prestigious honor in the festival’s history.
Despite the maligned sex scenes, we can't deny that the film created international discussions about the danger of the male gaze. In addition, the stars Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos were so essential to the film that they were awarded the Palm, along with their director, making them the second and third woman to win the prestigious award in the festival's history.
2. 'Carol' by Todd Haynes (2015)
Patricia Highsmith has given us the source material for two classic films, ‘Strangers on A Train’ and ‘Carol’. In 1952, she published ‘The Price of Salt’ and in 2015 Haynes brought us ‘Carol’. Cate Blanchett plays the seductive, caring and strong character who leaves her unfulfilling life to run away with Therese, masterly played by Rooney Mara. Direction, cinematography and a gentle score set the mood for a delightfully fresh and gentle film, perfect for the upcoming Holiday season.
‘Carol’ earned six Oscar nominations, and although it was snubbed in the Best Picture category, it was the first love story about a female couple that doesn’t end in disaster or death for the women, and the man doesn’t steal focus, to make it to the Oscars.
The film begins right before Christmas and the protagonists give in to their desire during a road trip on New Year’s Eve, which has earned ‘Carol’ the holiday film status, especially among queer women.
“One can debate whether the length of Carol’s painted nails is credible, and no lesbian has ever said “I never looked like that!” in the midst of making love, as if it were a mirroring scene. But. ‘Carol’ is something rare, a lesbian film with a proper budget. The cinematography is exquisite, Cate Blanchett is exquisite, there are exquisite 50s clothes and tasteful minimalist music on the soundtrack and on top of that, it’s a Christmas film. Until we get a lesbian version of ‘Love Actually’, ‘Carol’ remains the only lesbian Christmas film worth pulling out every December.”
— Sarah Glerup (MIX CPH 2006 – 2010)
1. 'Moonlight' by Barry Jenkins (2016)
The absolute favorite is one of the best queer films ever made and a cinematic masterpiece, ‘Moonlight’. Through the span of three chapters experienced from the perspective of the same person, we meet him as a child named “Little”, a teen called “Chiron” and finally and grown man by the name of “Black”. ‘Moonlight’ is an adaption of ‘In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue’ a play by Tarell Alvin.
Every single chapter explores a different identity for the protagonist and even though they function as a continuation of the character’s life, Little, Chiron, and Black are their own individual characters facing their own struggles. The actors, Alex Hibbert (Little), Ashton Sanders (Chiron) and Trevante Rhodes (Black) portray their characters with uniqueness and familiarity at the same time, something that is also portrayed in the film’s poster, three stages in Chiron’s life all of whom are distinct yet from the same source. ‘Moonlight’ never stops unfolding, since it grows with every single time you watch it. It’s the first film with an all-black cast and the first LGBTQ-related film to win the Oscar for Best Picture.
“Even though we are only invited to three major turning points in Chiron’s life, it never feels like there is a gap in the story or that we need to know what happened. ‘Moonlight’ is film poetry, the result of excellent performances, epic directing, exquisite cinematography and incredible editing. I could feel Miami’s sunlight and humidity through the screen and the camera captures emotions and feelings like you are there, like you know the characters. ‘Moonlight’ is a specific story of queerness, poverty and Black identity intersecting without attempting or wanting to be universal. You don’t need to identify with the characters, the film doesn’t even care if you understand them, instead, it’s an honest narration of Chiron’s life and we are privileged to be mere witnesses.”
— Andrea Coloma (MIX CPH 2017 – present)
At MIX COPENHAGEN, we are joyous for the increased representation in mainstream media, however, there is a multitude of stories that portray the complexity and plethora of the queer experience and never make it to mainstream audiences, many of them represented in this list. That’s why we will continue to support queer filmmakers, queer stories and queer audiences. We can’t wait to see what the next decade has to offer.
See you in the dark, see you in 2020.