Among the many boons of a service like Netflix is the ability to expand our filmic horizons, whether we’re newcomers to a (sub)genre or aficionados in search of our newest find. When it comes to the ever-expanding realm of LGBTQ cinema, streaming libraries reflect shifting cultural attitudes, a tremendous wealth of insight and experimentation in storytelling, and—not least of all—an urgency to both educate and entertain. Modern romance, coming-of-age, parenting, loss, pop culture, aging—the tapestry of queer film is a rich and universal human experience that will appeal to viewers regardless of sexual or gender identity. From historical documentaries to international sleepers to mainstream hits, Paste has combed through Netflix’s library to spotlight the top offerings currently streaming on the service.
18. Out in the Line-Up
Director: Ian W. Thomson
This unique sports documentary from writer-director Ian W. Thomson follows two gay surfers on their global trek through the hyper-masculine world of competitive surfing. As viewers are taken across the world’s beaches, they’re offered a glimpse at the ways surfing culture clashes or conforms to our larger cultural conceptions of gayness and, ultimately, shapes the way queer surfers make space for themselves in the professional sporting universe. By picking apart the “laid-back” surfer stereotype, Thomson considers how the very “open” nature of the sport—half-naked men spending entire, intensely focused days in close proximity with one another—has helped make it one of the most hostile places for both male and female athletes. Out in the Line-Up is a worthwhile exploration of the evolving relationship between sports and LGTBQ culture, and a solid look at how transcending stereotypes helps us all become more comfortable with our identities.
15. 52 Tuesdays
Director: Sophie Hyde
Billie’s (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) family makes every decision together. That is, until the day the 16-year-old comes home to her mother, Jane (Del Herbert-Jane), chest in a binder and hair partly shaved off. Jane is undergoing gender reassignment and Billie is the last one in the family to know. To make matters worse, the teen has to move out for a year until her mother goes through hormone therapy and, eventually, surgery. Billie isn’t ready to let go of her mother, and so the two agree to see each other once a week for 52 weeks. Same time, same place. Except that with every new Tuesday, the changes in both Jane and Billie become more evident. As the two strive to maintain their bond in the face of monumental transformation, a relationship based on trust and communication morphs into a back-and-forth of boundary testing and evolving identities. Not so suddenly, Billie and now James find themselves out of their comfort zones as both attempt to discover their most authentic selves. Sophie Hyde’s 52 Tuesdays is a mash-up of dramatic vignettes and documentary-style storytelling that follows one trans man through his later-in-life transition alongside his daughter as she, too, documents her own—from child to adult.
6. The Blue Hour
Director: Anucha Boonyawatana
Taiwanese director Anucha Boonyawatana’s first feature is a hauntingly romantic tale of forbidden love and the dark secrets we keep in its name. After Tam (Atthaphan Poonsawas), tormented by his classmates and abused by his family, meets the attractive boy Phum (Oabnithi Wiwattanawarang) in the quiet corridors of a supposedly haunted swimming pool, his life takes a somewhat poetic turn. The open expression of their love is confined to the decaying walls of the abandoned building, but the isolation of the space helps build a strong sense of trust and courage between them. Yet what begins as an exciting new romance quickly turns bleak when Phum reveals aggressive plans to get his family’s now trash-covered land back from those who stole it. As Tam becomes more intertwined with Phum’s plot, the lines between what’s real and what’s not become blurred, forcing the young man to choose between equally harrowing realities.
If you’re looking for a movie that gives you answers for all your burning questions, The Blue Hourisn’t for you. But in spite of its somewhat disappointing opacity, Boonyawatana’s film features a strong use of horror as a metaphor for our worst idealizations. Narratively and visually, The Blue Hour is true to its name. The film is dark—from themes and dialogue to settings and lighting—but it’s all delivered, rather intriguingly, on a canvas of burgeoning and desperate love. This careful storytelling approach proves that Boonyawatana’s goal isn’t to simply explore the naiveté of youth and the heartbreak of romance. Instead, The Blue Hour demonstrates the unworldly nature of our firsts and lasts, and the rot of time that often accompanies our greatest desires.
Director: Sean S. Baker
Shot entirely with an iPhone, Sean Baker’s Tangerine is a near perfect execution of raw realism juxtaposed against fleeting yet profound moments of human vulnerability and tenderness. Writer-director Baker wastes no time flinging viewers into his story’s cacophonous premise: a delirious misadventure focusing on the fractured but luminous lives of transgender prostitutes Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor). Such immediacy helps set up the fast-paced, heartfelt journey that follows. When Sin-Dee Rella and Alexandra reunite following the former’s release from her month-long prison sentence, we learn that Sin-Dee’s boyfriend and pimp Chester has been seeing another woman. The news ignites a nearly two-hour chase around the streets of L.A. to locate and handle the “issue.”
Within the story’s backdrop of the wild and dingy Los Angeles cityscape, Tangerine’s rule-defying characters thrive. Though it could easily devolve into an exploitative revenge porn drama,Tangerine shirks its expectations, becoming an aggressive examination of human complexity and a bold refusal to judge a book by its cover. That goes not only for its approach to characterization, but just about every narrative aspect of the work—from the way Baker develops his larger plot to how he sequences his shots. This tale carefully upholds its characters’ sharply divisive existence. The deeper we go into the world of these two sex workers, the more we forget our assumptions of those who inhabit it. In the end, Tangerine is about discovering that our roughest edges can be both our most colorful and meaningful.
The full list first appeared in Paste Magazine on July 21, 2016.