17 Essential LGBTQ Movies You Should Watch Right Now

Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix star in Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho (1991).
Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix star in Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho (1991).
The Criterion Collection

It’s one very weird Pride Month we’re living through in 2020. While marching in a muscle tank is out, as with many things during the coronavirus pandemic, there are slivers of opportunity. To that end, what better way to celebrate all that is queer than with a headfirst dive into the incredibly rich history of LGBTQ movies from the comfort of your couch?

Queer cinema—or as it was endearingly branded in the ‘90s, New Queer Cinema (the ‘90s were extremely gay for independent film)—has afforded directors of all sexual identities and orientations all over the world an opportunity to showcase distinctive, nuanced, personal stories of what it means to be a member of the LGBTQ community. Fortunately, in recent years, we’ve also seen more of this work from Black American filmmakers like Dee Rees (Bessie, Mudbound) coming to public view.

These movies aren’t necessarily the definitive queer movies, nor are they the most popular. But they represent an idiosyncratic, undeniably off-kilter, sometimes fabulous, and always fully realized vision of what it means to feel slightly apart from the straights. (Though the straights are most definitely welcome to the party.)

1. Far from Heaven (2002)

This whole list could easily be dedicated solely to Todd Haynes—the towering director behind queer movies from the ‘90s on. But with all apologies to the great Carol (2015) and Safe (1995), we need to keep things concise. Haynes's best film, Far from Heaven, may not appear queer at first, but the slick update of mid-century melodramas then known as "women’s pictures" masterfully queers up its source material. Cathy (Julianne Moore) is a love-deprived housewife flirting with her Black gardener (Dennis Haysbert), while her husband Frank (Dennis Quaid) is a suit with a closeted affection for men. But everyone here is painfully inching their way to a full expression of their sexual and romantic selves—something any LGBTQ person knows well.

Watch it: Amazon, iTunes, Starz, YouTube

2. Nowhere (1997)

Director Gregg Araki (Mysterious Skin) has sadly never received the mainstream attention he deserves, but Nowhere remains a singular insight into his so-called Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy (which also includes 1993's Totally F***ed Up and 1995's The Doom Generation). The film, which follows an assorted mix of adrift LA youth of different colors and orientations who are connected by their disaffection, is by turns funny, surreal, and tragic—often in the same scene.

Watch it: DVD

3. Laurence Anyways (2012)

In more recent years, we’ve gotten fresh cinematic portraits of trans life. Laurence Anyways from French-Canadian indie darling Xavier Dolan is on the florid side, as with all of Dolan's films, but it’s oh so pretty. He films the blossoming of a trans woman in a difficult relationship like a glossy music video simmering with heartbreak.

Watch it: Amazon Prime

4. Happy Together (1997)

If you haven’t dabbled in Chinese cinema, here’s a gorgeous place to start. Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai—who won a BAFTA for 2000's In the Mood for Love—trains his eye on two men feeling the heady push and pull of mutual lust and dissatisfaction. The photography alone, from noisy urban Hong Kong streets to the swirling waterfalls of Buenos Aires, is swoon-worthy.

Watch it: The Criterion Channel

5. Bad Education (2004)

After a three-year break from directing, Oscar-winning Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar came back into the spotlight in 2019 with his semi-autobiographical Pain and Glory. But his criminally underrated Bad Education touches on gay youth and abuse in fascinating, brutally straightforward fashion. It might be the best performance of Gael García Bernal’s career.

Watch it: Amazon, iTunes, YouTube

6. In a Year with 13 Moons (1978)

Lilo Pempeit in 'In a Year with 13 Moons' (1978).
Lilo Pempeit in In a Year with 13 Moons (1978).
Fantoma

Watch this movie only if you’re up for a profoundly disturbing (but beautifully rendered!) experience. German filmmaking legend Rainer Werner Fassbinder is at his most stark here, unraveling the tale of a trans woman taking account of lost love and her current identity. Hard as it is to watch, it’s a vital window into the still all-too-real problems and violence the trans community faces.

Watch it: Amazon Prime, The Criterion Channel

7. My Own Private Idaho (1991)

Gus Van Sant is in some ways the most accessible LGBTQ filmmaker. But long before the overlong and overrated Harvey Milk biopic Milk, he delivered a rollicking punch in My Own Private Idaho. Though the film is structurally fractured and utilizes pretty much every filmic tool in the toolbox—including a bonkers Shakespearean interlude, documentary-style interviews, and yes, Flea—it somehow all hangs together thanks to the poignant performances of River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves as hustlers who are desperate to find something like home.

Watch it: The Criterion Channel

8. Trash (1970)

Did you know Andy Warhol made movies? Shaggy and frequently ridiculous, they’re also sometimes stunning. Case in point: This very low-budget, all-the-way-in-your-face take (directed by Paul Morrissey) on a heroin addict and his trans girlfriend (a hilariously shrieking Holly Woodlawn) who will do anything to get by in a rough, anything-goes New York City.

Watch it: DVD

9. Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013)

It’s perhaps less than an authentic portrayal of first lesbian love, but Cannes winner Blue Is the Warmest Color works so well because the beats of a fluttering romance turned hurtful are universal.

Watch it: Netflix

10. Paris Is Burning (1990)

At the time it came out, Paris Is Burning was a surprising commercial success and a curiosity. Director Jennie Livingston spent careful time observing the world of Harlem-based voguing balls (which inspired Madonna’s hit “Vogue”) and the wildly talented, frequently catty, fabulous but downtrodden dancers who inhabited them. That many of those performers have died from HIV/AIDS complications makes it that much more essential a document.

Watch it: DVD or Blu-ray

11. Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)

It’s no surprise that Hedwig and the Angry Inch has become a Broadway hit. What began as an Obie Award-winning Off-Broadway musical in 1998 spawned this indie phenom movie—directed by John Cameron Mitchell, who also stars—then made its way back to the stage via Broadway, where it won four Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical. In all its incarnations, Hedwig has a killer soundtrack surrounding the unapologetically messy trans woman at its center (and yes, she has an angry inch). She tears down borders like a broken Berlin Wall.

Watch it: HBO Max

12. Bound (1996)

The Matrix-famous Wachowskis were way ahead of their time with this tight, noirish crime thriller in which Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon can’t resist each other in a mob-filled Art Deco apartment building. This cannot be overstated: It’s very hot.

Watch it: HBO Max

13. Moonlight (2016)

Barry Jenkins's Moonlight, which won the 2017 Oscar for Best Picture, doesn’t need more of the standard praise, so I’ll say this: I grew up in a more affluent Miami neighborhood, but the depiction of two Black boys in the city’s impoverished Liberty City fumbling their way to understanding their sexuality as they’re marginalized by the outside world felt so real when I first watched it in theaters. The beach scene is magical. When the two reconnect as men over a homemade Cuban meal—my hometown’s sign of love—I was flooded with tears. More importantly, those tears were earned.

Watch it: Netflix

14. Pariah (2011)

By the very title, you know that the protagonist of Dee Rees’s (Mudbound) delicately told portrait focuses on an outsider. Alike (Adepero Oduye) is a teenage girl struggling with her lesbian desires and the expectations and conflict in her family, yet she is no standard coming-of-age heroine. Oduye is so self-possessed in her portrayal, it’s impossible to look away.

Watch it: Amazon, iTunes, YouTube

15. Tangerine (2015)

This low-tech black comedy from Sean Baker (The Florida Project) doesn’t look like it was shot on an iPhone, but it was. Tangerine is a bleary, saturated fever dream that touches on corners of trans prostitution in L.A., but it also illuminates the deep abiding hope of people who just want to be recognized as the humans they are.

Watch it: Hulu

16. The Crying Game (1992)

If you lived through the ‘90s, you probably know the shot: the mid-film reveal. But while too many of us focused on the sexual dynamics of The Crying Game, Neil Jordan’s masterwork sensitively weaves a queer romance into a tapestry covering fascinating corners of Irish life.

Watch it: Netflix, Showtime

17. The Birdcage (1996)

I have to get personal: The Birdcage was the first LGBTQ movie I saw in theaters as a kid. I was floored. It’s hilarious. Robin Williams and Nathan Lane make an idiosyncratic but believable gay South Beach couple who also happen to own a drag club. And who have to convince a conservative couple that they are, in fact, a straight couple. The movie might seem dated now, but it was massively empowering in its time. When my dad took me and my brother out of the theater, he was clear: “That was funny, but there’s nothing funny about being gay. Gay people are just like everyone else.” The conversation reverberated as I came out years later.

Watch it: Showtime

10 Products for a Better Night's Sleep

Amazon/Comfort Spaces
Amazon/Comfort Spaces

Getting a full eight hours of sleep can be tough these days. If you’re having trouble catching enough Zzzs, consider giving these highly rated and recommended products a try.

1. Everlasting Comfort Pure Memory Foam Knee Pillow; $25

Everlasting Comfort Knee Pillow
Everlasting Comfort/Amazon

For side sleepers, keeping the spine, hips, and legs aligned is key to a good night’s rest—and a pain-free morning after. Everlasting Comfort’s memory foam knee pillow is ergonomically designed to fit between the knees or thighs to ensure proper alignment. One simple but game-changing feature is the removable strap, which you can fasten around one leg; this keeps the pillow in place even as you roll at night, meaning you don’t have to wake up to adjust it (or pick it up from your floor). Reviewers call the pillow “life-changing” and “the best knee pillow I’ve found.” Plus, it comes with two pairs of ear plugs.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Letsfit White Noise Machine; $21

Letsfit White Noise Machine
Letsfit/Amazon

White noise machines: They’re not just for babies! This Letsfit model—which is rated 4.7 out of five with nearly 3500 reviews—has 14 potential sleep soundtracks, including three white noise tracks, to better block out everything from sirens to birds that chirp enthusiastically at dawn (although there’s also a birds track, if that’s your thing). It also has a timer function and a night light.

Buy it: Amazon

3. ECLIPSE Blackout Curtains; $16

Eclipse Black Out Curtains
Eclipse/Amazon

According to the National Sleep Foundation, too much light in a room when you’re trying to snooze is a recipe for sleep disaster. These understated polyester curtains from ECLIPSE block 99 percent of light and reduce noise—plus, they’ll help you save on energy costs. "Our neighbor leaves their backyard light on all night with what I can only guess is the same kind of bulb they use on a train headlight. It shines across their yard, through ours, straight at our bedroom window," one Amazon reviewer who purchased the curtains in black wrote. "These drapes block the light completely."

Buy it: Amazon

4. JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock; $38

JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock
JALL/Amazon

Being jarred awake by a blaring alarm clock can set the wrong mood for the rest of your day. Wake up in a more pleasant way with this clock, which gradually lights up between 10 percent and 100 percent in the 30 minutes before your alarm. You can choose between seven different colors and several natural sounds as well as a regular alarm beep, but why would you ever use that? “Since getting this clock my sleep has been much better,” one reviewer reported. “I wake up not feeling tired but refreshed.”

Buy it: Amazon

5. Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light; $200

Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light
Philips/Amazon

If you’re looking for an alarm clock with even more features, Philips’s SmartSleep Wake-Up Light is smartphone-enabled and equipped with an AmbiTrack sensor, which tracks things like bedroom temperature, humidity, and light levels, then gives recommendations for how you can get a better night’s rest.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Slumber Cloud Stratus Sheet Set; $159

Stratus sheets from Slumber Cloud.
Slumber Cloud

Being too hot or too cold can kill a good night’s sleep. The Good Housekeeping Institute rated these sheets—which are made with Outlast fibers engineered by NASA—as 2020’s best temperature-regulating sheets.

Buy it: SlumberCloud

7. Comfort Space Coolmax Sheet Set; $29-$40

Comfort Spaces Coolmax Sheets
Comfort Spaces/Amazon

If $159 sheets are out of your price range, the GHI recommends these sheets from Comfort Spaces, which are made with moisture-wicking Coolmax microfiber. Depending on the size you need, they range in price from $29 to $40.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Coop Home Goods Eden Memory Foam Pillow; $80

Coop Eden Pillow
Coop Home Goods/Amazon

This pillow—which has a 4.5-star rating on Amazon—is filled with memory foam scraps and microfiber, and comes with an extra half-pound of fill so you can add, or subtract, the amount in the pillow for ultimate comfort. As a bonus, the pillows are hypoallergenic, mite-resistant, and washable.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Baloo Weighted Blanket; $149-$169

Baloo Weighted Blanket
Baloo/Amazon

Though the science is still out on weighted blankets, some people swear by them. Wirecutter named this Baloo blanket the best, not in small part because, unlike many weighted blankets, it’s machine-washable and -dryable. It’s currently available in 12-pound ($149) twin size and 20-pound ($169) queen size. It’s rated 4.7 out of five stars on Amazon, with one reviewer reporting that “when it's spread out over you it just feels like a comfy, snuggly hug for your whole body … I've found it super relaxing for falling asleep the last few nights, and it looks nice on the end of the bed, too.” 

Buy it: Amazon 

10. Philips Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band; $200

Philips SmartSleep Snoring Relief Band
Philips/Amazon

Few things can disturb your slumber—and that of the ones you love—like loudly sawing logs. Philips’s Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band is designed for people who snore when they’re sleeping on their backs, and according to the company, 86 percent of people who used the band reported reduced snoring after a month. The device wraps around the torso and is equipped with a sensor that delivers vibrations if it detects you moving to sleep on your back; those vibrations stop when you roll onto your side. The next day, you can see how many hours you spent in bed, how many of those hours you spent on your back, and your response rate to the vibrations. The sensor has an algorithm that notes your response rate and tweaks the intensity of vibrations based on that. “This device works exactly as advertised,” one Amazon reviewer wrote. “I’d say it’s perfect.”

Buy it: Amazon

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Hamilton Cast Discusses the History and Impact of the Musical in New Disney+ Exclusive

The real work begins after the final bow.
The real work begins after the final bow.
Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

On Friday, July 10, Disney+ will release Hamilton: History Has Its Eyes on You, a conversation with key original cast members and creators that covers everything from personal memories to thoughts on how the musical can expand our understanding of America’s past.

Moderated by Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts, the program features Lin-Manuel Miranda, director Thomas Kail, Leslie Odom Jr. (Aaron Burr), Phillipa Soo (Eliza Hamilton), Renée Elise Goldsberry (Angelica Schuyler), Daveed Diggs (Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson), and Christopher Jackson (George Washington).

Also in attendance is Annette Gordon-Reed, a Harvard University history professor and leading scholar on Thomas Jefferson’s relationship with his enslaved maid, Sally Hemings. Hemings is mentioned briefly in Hamilton, and the contentious topic of slavery crops up in a few pithy insults directed at various characters, but some viewers have criticized how the production largely glosses over the issues and glorifies the Founding Fathers as sympathetic and respectable leaders.

Hamilton: History Has Its Eyes on You is a chance for Miranda and his team to discuss the decisions that went into fitting a long, complex history into a series of musical numbers—and for Gordon-Reed to offer a historian’s perspective on how we should interpret Hamilton.

“The really important thing, I think, is for people after they’ve watched it to go and find out more,” she says in a preview clip on Good Morning America. (If you’re wondering where to start, you might want to take a closer look at some of those history-packed lyrics.)

You can stream the special starting tomorrow, which leaves plenty of time to watch the musical on Disney+ again … and again. If you still need a subscription to Disney+, head here to sign up.

[h/t Good Morning America]