(c) The Interested Bystander
Last month, around the time the New York Film Festival was winding down, NewFest, New York’s LGBTQ+ film festival, ramped up with a few overlapping movies, like the Nan Goldin documentary “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” and the gay military drama “The Inspection.” But for whatever reason, some high-profile movies with LGBTQ+ themes were bypassed by NYFF. Thankfully, NewFest picked up the slack. Films that include some of this year’s International Film Oscar choices from their respective countries like “Close” from Belgium, “Blue Caftan” from Morocco and “Mars One” from Brazil. They were shown at NewFest in addition to highly anticipated selections, including “My Policeman” (with Harry Styles fans finding themselves at their first film festival, and a gay one at that) and documentary “The Return of Tanya Tucker – Featuring Brandi Carlile,” which has two gay icons coming together to create great music.
Outside of the marquee films, we also got a lot of interesting and complex full-length films and shorts from first time filmmakers and veterans alike. A lot of familiar actors make appearances, especially in the shorts, which points to pandemic fatigue and warming up their acting chops with only short-time commitments–a nice surprise. I did, however, enjoy last year’s pandemic return line-up more as this year didn’t really have the kind of heartwarming or purely mindless fun films in their line-up. But, in the times we’re living in, issues of homophobia, mental health and activism in these films would be top of mind. So, here are a few I saw that stayed with me, some with release dates (some are already on streaming) and some, hopefully, you can catch at other festivals around the country.
(c) Tank Fairy
Dir. Erich Rettstadt, Taiwan
We all need a guardian fairy, and a bullied Taiwanese kid gets his in the form of a gas tank delivery person, who sassily wields her power, with a Chinese cover of Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero” as her theme song. This was the funniest film in the festival.
Lucky Fish (c) Lucky Fish
Dir. Emily May Jampel, USA
A meet-cute at a Chinese restaurant as two bored teen girls make eye contact and then have a brief chat in the bathroom. File this under: You are not the only one going through angst.
Dir. Dania Bdeir, Lebanon/UK
The cinematography is amazing in “Warsha,” about a crane operator in Beirut, and let’s just say anyone with vertigo or a fear of heights will be triggered.
Masquerade (c) Masquerade
Dir. Olive Nwosu, Nigeria/UK
A touching film about a woman living in London with her wife who returns to her hometown in Nigeria and doesn’t know how much to reveal to her friends and family.
Dir. Joshua Hernandez, USA
Not much happens as a dancer faces bad health news and decides to create art to work through his grief. What makes this special is that Tomas Matos (from “Fire Island”) shows off his dramatic range here, impressively.
(c) The Actress
Dir. Andrew Ondrejcak, USA
Trans actor Isabel Sandoval has a fun time recreating iconic film moments. Just because. Such fun.
Barnaby (c) Barnaby
Dir. Jake Wilson, USA
Like in “Clue,” a party turns deadly, and it’s hysterical. Full of recognizable LA character actors like Ashley Park, Matt WIlkas and Sas Goldberg, this farce may be stretched a bit too long, but it had some nice twists and the dog who played the title character? Woof.
Dir. Mike Donahue, USA
Not to be outdone, “Troy” features a host of great New York character actors in this film about a couple whose massage therapist neighbor, Troy, is giving his male customers some very loud happy endings. Great to see stage actors Adina Verson, Dylan Baker, Pooya Mohseni and Billy Carter in this.
Hidden (c) Hidden
Dir. Mathilde Suissa, USA
If you love “Heartstopper,” you will enjoy this lesbian variation in which two high school girls are caught by one of their mothers in a lie. I like that what could have been high drama is instead treated with humanity and grace.
Mama's Boy (c) HBO
Directed by Laurent Bouzereau
The opening night film was a documentary adaptation of Oscar-winning writer Dustin Lance Black’s memoir focusing mostly on his childhood and his unbreakable bond with his mother, even as she marries abusive men and joins the Mormon church. There are a lot of twists and turns to Black’s story, including his rise in Hollywood and his marriage to Olympic diver Tom Daley. Even though he has gone through a lot, Black’s story doesn’t feel as special as he thinks it is. But, as this is a love letter to Black’s mother, I’ll overlook the self-indulgence.
The Inspection (c) A24
Directed by Elegance Bratton
Inspired by the director’s own story as a young homeless man (here played by Tony winner Jeremy Pope) who is thrown out of his house by his religious mother (the fabulous Gabrielle Union) and then decides to join the Marines, the film feels like the lovechild of “Precious” and “An Officer and a Gentleman.” A fascinating directorial debut, it doesn’t rise above the standard “grunt in the military” trope, even with the gay wrinkle. Still, look for this movie to be in the awards conversation this season.
Nelly & Nadine (c) Wolfe Releasing
NELLY & NADINE
Directed by Magnus Gertten
There are a lot of unanswered questions in this documentary, probably lost to time, but I was engrossed. The film starts with an irresistible image of Nadine, a Chinese woman on a ship full of recently freed Holocaust survivors, and it then follows the granddaughter of another concentration camp survivor, Nelly, as she tries to uncover the story of how Nadine became a part of her grandmother’s life. Gertten leaves all the investigative lifting to the granddaughter, making himself more of a fly on the wall, which makes the film feel passive. But the story of “Nelly & Nadine” itself when put together is fascinating.
My Policeman (c) Prime Video
Directed by Michael Grandage
The most traditional narrative I saw this year, “My Policeman,” is about the friendship of a woman (“The Crown’s” Emma Corin), her policeman husband (Harry Styles) and his special friend (David Dawson) in 1950s England. Even with all the angst and gross indecency laws hanging over the secret love affair, it was still nice to see some happiness between the men before it all falls apart. Styles is much better here than in “Don’t Worry Darling,” and he gets to sing and show off some…umm…assets. Give the audience what it wants.
Chrissy Judy (c) Undetectable Productions
Directed by Todd Flaherty
Director Todd Flaherty plays the Judy half of the title characters, two drag performers who haven’t quite made the big time, reminding me of another performing cinematic duo, “Connie and Carla.” When Chrissy leaves the act, Judy must decide if he should continue solo. Shot in gorgeous black and white, the film doesn’t sugarcoat the milieu of the drag-eat-drag world, but it doesn’t show much joy either.
I'll Show You Mine (c) I'll Show You Mine
I'LL SHOW YOU MINE
Directed by Megan Griffiths
Essentially a two-character play in which a woman (Poorna Jagannathan, the Indian mother in TV’s “Never Have I Ever”) interviews her former teen star nephew (Casey Thomas Brown) about his time in the spotlight and his current life. Jagannathan is the reason to see this talky film and the power dynamics between the two.
Close (c) A24
Directed by Lukas Dhont
My favorite film of the festival is also one of the most frustrating. The first hour is almost perfect, focusing on the friendship of two prepubescent boys in a rural Belgium town. When both start at a new school, their bond is tested with innuendos from their new classmates about how close they really are. But the second half gives us a twist in its plot, taking the boys down a familiar road (done better in other films) that just isn’t as interesting as its set up. With touching actors (especially by the two boys), gorgeous cinematography and even with this unfortunate story choice, the film feels special. It was this year’s Grand Prix winner at the Cannes Film Festival.
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