Happy Holidays and Happy New Year! Before we ring in 2022, we wanted to highlight some of the best gay films we saw this year. Check out our Top 20 Gay Movies of 2021 below and make sure to pick up your copies on DVD and/or Blu-ray at TLAgay.com!
Editor’s Note: We limited our considerations to titles that we have currently available to order on our site (including pre-orders). So, while certain film exclusive to subscription services may be masterpieces, they don’t qualify for this particular list as they haven’t been announced yet for DVD, Blu-ray or non-exclusive VOD.
20. A Wake
Young actor Noah Urrea pulls double duty in this emotional drama, playing twin boys from a religious family. A Wake revolves around the funeral of Mitchel, a teen who died far too young. Everyone is reeling from the loss, but there is a generational divide when it comes to how the younger and older family members deal with grief. While the parents cling to normalcy, the children grow tired of repressing the truth about their late brother. When an unexpected stranger named Jameson (Kolton Stewart) arrives on the scene, everyone in the family must suddenly face the secrets and lies that have surrounded Mitchel’s life – as well as his untimely death. Don’t miss this powerful new film from director Scott Boswell (The Stranger in Us).
19. The Obituary of Tunde Johnson
On a day unlike any other, Tunde Johnson (Steven Silver) is confronted with both his sexuality and his race. After coming out to his parents, he is the victim of a racially motivated shooting. Instead of dying, he repeatedly undergoes re-incarnation, but the opportunity to do things differently and avoid the tragic consequences of his actions meets the harsh reality of being black and queer in the United States. A fresh take on the Groundhog Day-style time loop narrative, The Obituary of Tunde Johnson is a riveting must-see, examining the overlaps of wealth and race, beauty and sexuality. Director Ali leRoi creates a disturbing universe where even the hereafter is a restless limbo upon which the burden of straddling many worlds at once constantly weighs.
The debut film from directing duo David Matamoros and Angeles Hernandez, Isaac employs two different timelines to tell the story of two couples who clash together. Former childhood friends Denis and Nacho (Ivan Sanchez and Pepe Ocio) had an intense relationship as teens. They meet as adults and seemingly regain those distant ties of trust, affection and complicity. Denis, who needs money for a business venture, doesn’t hesitate in asking Nacho for a loan. From there begins a game of mutual dependencies in which the two men’s partners are both implicated. And if this four-way collaboration was not complex enough, loose ends, social pressures, ambition, repressed desires and guilt complicate this intense story of polyamory even further.
One of the year’s most high-profile gay films, Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci star in this romantic drama about a couple struggling with a life-changing diagnosis. Sam and Tusker, partners of twenty years, are traveling across England in their old campervan, visiting friends, family and various places from their past. Having recently learned that Tusker is suffering from early-onset dementia, their time together has become more important than ever – and their love will be tested like never before. From writer-director Harry Macqueen and the producers of the award-winning 45 Years, Supernova is a profoundly moving film which has earned rave reviews from critics. The Washington Post said “Tucci and Firth have never been better.”
16. Here Comes Your Man
What begins as a simple hookup blossoms into an unlikely romance between two young men in this charming and deeply sexy gay romantic comedy. When Jordan (Calvin Picou) and Aaron (Jason Alan Clark) meet in person after exchanging pics, their initial tryst is fraught with the kind awkward tension that suggests they might not be a perfect match. On top of that, Aaron is unaware that Jordan is, for all intents and purposes, “straight.” Confused about his sexuality, Jordan blocks Aaron’s number. When they run into each other weeks later, the truth comes out… and they find something undeniable about their strange romantic chemistry. But turning a one-night stand into “happily ever after” is not quite as easy as it seems.
15. Summer of 85
Adapted from a young adult novel by Aidan Chambers, this gorgeous new film from prolific writer-director Francois Ozon (Swimming Pool, 8 Women) follows a gay summer romance during the mid-80s. When Alexis (Felix Lefebvre) capsizes off the coast of Normandy, David (Benjamin Voisin) comes to the rescue and soon opens the younger boy’s eyes to a new horizon of friendship, art and sexual bliss. The two lovers steal every possible moment for a fugitive kiss, a motorcycle ride,or a trip to the cinema, but their relationship is soon rocked by a host of challenges. Their wild summer fling lasts just six weeks, but casts a shadow over a lifetime. A must-see, Summer of 85 is a nostalgic reverie or first love and its consequences.
14. Truman & Tennessee
The brilliant work, personal struggles and cultural impact of iconic American writers Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams explodes onto the screen in this innovative dual-portrait documentary. Filmmaker Lisa Immordino Vreeland masterfully collages a wealth of archival material, including dishy talk show appearances with Dick Cavett and David Frost, with clips from some of the duo’s most memorable movie adaptations. Featuring vibrant voiceover work by Jim Parsons (as Capote) and Zachary Quinto (as Williams), the film is dripping with wit and wisdom. It is a celebration of both men’s fearless candor and often tumultuous friendship that honors how their identity as gay Southerners informed their timeless artistic achievements and relationships with family, colleagues, confidants and one another.
13. The Man with the Answers
Victor (Vasilis Magouliotis) is a former diving champion who works in a furniture factory and lives with his sick grandmother in a seaside town in Greece. Distraught after her death, he dusts off her old car and travels to Germany to visit his estranged mother. On the ferry to Italy, he meets Matthias (Anton Weil), a talkative, inquisitive young German who is on his way home. Matthias persuades Victor to take him along. As they drive north, Victor’s uptight, repressive personality clashes with the more free-spirited Matthias. But they soon find common emotional ground as their summer road trip takes unexpected turns. The Man with the Answers is a tender and romantic story about self-discovery, love and family… in all its many forms.
Wojnarowicz (also know as Wojnarowicz: F**k You F*ggot F*ker) is a fiery and urgent documentary portrait of downtown New York City artist, writer, photographer and activist David Wojnarowicz. As New York City became the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, Wojnarowicz weaponized his work and waged war against the establishment’s indifference to the plague until his death from it in 1992 at the age of 37. Exclusive access to his breathtaking body of work – including paintings, journals, and films – reveals how Wojnarowicz emptied his life into his art and activism. Rediscovered answering machine tape recordings and intimate recollections from Fran Lebowitz, Gracie Mansion, Peter Hujar and other friends and family help present a stirring portrait of this fiercely political, unapologetically queer artist.
It’s the end of the Summer of 1994 and Gene (Nick Pugliese) is preparing for his high school drama friends’ final murder mystery slumber party. The theatrical hostess, Rose (Anna Grace Barlow), will fly off to start college the next morning, followed by earnest Claire (Megan Suri), charismatic Oscar (Nico Greetham), and sarcastic Ally (Danielle Kay). Before they leave and head off to begin their separate lives, however, Gene wants to come out of the closet – but is terrified of what his sheltered Christian friends might think… especially his best friend Oscar. Part The Breakfast Club, part The Big Chill, this nostalgic, funny coming-of-age tale is a poignant love letter to drama nerds, late bloomers and the intense friendships that mark our youth.
10. Twilight’s Kiss
Twilight’s Kiss (originally titled Suk Suk) presents the story of two closeted married men in their twilight years. One day 70-year old Pak (Tai-Bo), a taxi driver who refuses to retire, meets 65-year old Hoi (Ben Yuen), a retired single father, in a park. Despite years of societal and personal pressure, they are proud of the families they have created through hard work and determination. Yet in that brief initial encounter, something is unleashed in them which had been suppressed for so many years. As both men recount and recall their personal histories, they also contemplate a possible future together. A critical hit at film festivals around the globe, Twilight’s Kiss is a refreshing coming-out romance about two mature men.
09. I Am Syd Stone
Syd Stone (Travis Nelson) is a former A-List actor whose once-promising career has hit a major slump. Now he finds himself in a small town, reluctantly shooting a B-movie. While getting drunk in a hotel bar, he forms an almost instant connection with Matt (Benjamin Charles Watson), a young lawyer on the verge of his biggest case yet. Despite pressure from his representatives to hide his sexuality for the sake of his career, Syd and Matt soon become more than just friends. Based on an acclaimed short film and adapted into a feature-length film from the popular web series of the same name, I Am Syd Stone is a sexy, thoughtful and moving coming-out romance. Tilt Magazine called it “a heartfelt exploration of living authentically.”
Michael (John Benjamin Hickey) is a travel columnist for The New York Times who reluctantly goes on a trip to Tel Aviv to write an article after suffering a tragedy. Leaving behind some unresolved relationship troubles with his husband, Michael just wants to do his research and go home. But when he sublets an apartment from Tomer (Niv Nissim), an attractive young film student, he suddenly finds himself drawn into the life of the city. The intense bond he forms with this casually seductive younger man ends up transforming both their lives in unexpected ways. Sexy, charming and ultimately life-affirming, Sublet is the newest indie gem from acclaimed director Eytan Fox (the award-winning filmmaker behind Walk on Water and Yossi & Jagger).
After a string of unsuccessful and awkward encounters with women, Ben (played by co-writer/director Matthew Fifer) decides to go “back on the dick.” The winning, critically-acclaimed comedy-drama-romance Cicada follows Ben, a young bisexual man, as he comes out to the world and develops an intense relationship with Sam (Sheldon D. Brown), a man of color struggling with deep wounds of his own. As the summer progresses and their intimacy grows, Ben’s past begins crawling to the surface – putting their still burgeoning romance in jeopardy. Co-starring Bowen Yang, Cobie Smulders, David Burtka and more, Cicada is a smart and deeply thoughtful crowd-pleaser that has been earning rave reviews from critics. The Jam Report called it “one of the most beautifully-crafted pieces of queer cinema.”
A closeted young man struggles to reconcile his strict Russian-Jewish upbringing with his burgeoning sexuality in this contemplative coming-of-age drama set in Brighton Beach during the 1980s. Yeshiva student David (Samuel H. Levine) dutifully follows religious strictures, but itches to explore yearnings beyond his insular community. When he moves in with his widowed grandfather (Ron Rifkin) and befriends two elderly gay neighbors, they open his imagination to new possibilities. He begins to explore gay life in the East Village, just as the threat of AIDS looms in the background. A sexy and thoughtful critically-acclaimed drama, Minyan tells a powerful story of rebellion, self-discovery, sexual and spiritual awakening – and survival.
05. I Carry You with Me
Academy-Award nominee Heidi Ewing (the filmmaker behind Jesus Camp and The Boys of Baraka) directs this luminous, moving narrative film debut. Based on a true story, I Carry You with Me follows a tender, decades-spanning romance between an aspiring chef and a teacher. Starting in provincial Mexico and continuing as first Ivan (Armando Espitia), then Gerardo (Christian Vasquez), journey towards sharing a life together in New York City, I Carry You with Me is an intimate love story, as well as a soulful rumination on family, sacrifice, regret, and ultimately, hope. Don’t miss this remarkable, award-winning gay romance. Entertainment Weekly called it “innovative, heartbreaking, vital and absolutely extraordinary.”
Moffie, the acclaimed new coming-of-age military drama from director Oliver Hermanus (the same director behind the controversial 2011 award-winner Beauty), is set in 1981 – while South Africa’s white minority government is embroiled in a conflict on the southern Angolan border. Like all white boys over the age of sixteen, Nicholas van der Swart (Kai Luke Brummer) must complete two years of compulsory military service to defend the apartheid regime. The threats of communism, violence and racial discord are at an all-time high. But they are not the only dangers Nicholas faces. He must survive the brutality of the army – something that becomes even more difficult when a connection is sparked between him and a fellow recruit. This hard-hitting new period drama is not to be missed.
Dominic (Felix-Antoine Duval) has a fetish… for himself. Nothing turns him on more than his own reflection. When he learns that he has a long-lost identical twin brother named Daniel – who is being held captive in a remote monastery by a depraved priest – it sends him down a blasphemous (and incestuous) rabbit hole of sex, revenge and redemption. Set in the early 1970s and the afterglow of sexual liberation, Saint-Narcisse is the newest film from master provocateur and reigning “King of Kink” Bruce LaBruce (Hustler White, L.A. Zombie, The Raspberry Reich, Gerontophilia) – and it might just be his best film yet! It has earned rave reviews from critics and currently holds a “100% Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. We can’t recommend it more highly!
02. Tu Me Manques
Following the death of his son, Jorge (Oscar Martinez) travels from conservative Bolivia to New York City in an effort to confront Sebastian (Fernando Barbosa), his son’s boyfriend. While Jorge struggles to accept his son’s out and proud lifestyle, Sebastian channels his grief into a bold stage production, honoring his lost love. A powerful LGBTQ tear-jerker about being one’s true self and finding acceptance, Tu Me Manques was the Official Selection from Bolivia for the Academy Awards in 2020 – a landmark achievement for a country with a notorious reputation for homophobia. The New York Times called the film “a moving and intellectually rewarding testament to queer life and loss.” Though it’s flown a little under the radar this year, we guarantee it’s one of 2021’s most moving films.
01. Swan Song
From Todd Stephens, the director behind Another Gay Movie and Edge of Seventeen, comes a funny and touching showcase for legendary character actor and arthouse icon Udo Kier. He stars in Swan Song as a retired hairdresser named Pat Pitsenbarger, who escapes the confines of his small-town Sandusky, Ohio nursing home after learning of his former client’s dying wish for him to style her final hairdo. Soon, Pat embarks on an odyssey to confront the ghosts of his past – and collect the beauty supplies necessary for the job. Co-starring Jennifer Coolidge and Michael Urie, Swan Song is a comical and bittersweet journey about rediscovering one’s sparkle… and looking gorgeous while doing so. It was a tough call, but we couldn’t help putting it at the very top of our list for this year.