Yes, Rent is currently streaming on Netflix, but I promise you there is much more to the "Gay & Lesbian" section than 525,600 minutes of what probably should have been a straight-to-DVD musical. (What? Who said that?)
From tearjerkers to comedies to French erotic thrillers, Netflix has some truly phenomenal movies centered on LGBT characters and the issues surrounding their experiences, disproving the trope of the gay best friend who provides nothing but comic relief. Our favorites will make you laugh, cry, or want to shake your MacBook harder than when the spinning rainbow wheel of death appears. Best of all, you can stream them right now.
After what was supposed to be a meaningless hookup, Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New) spend a dreamy, introspective weekend together, discussing topics from career aspirations to coming out stories. The catch? Glen plans to leave England to attend art school in the US on Monday. Much of the dialogue was improvised, and it pays off, drawing you in with the actors' tangible, intimate chemistry. Watching this movie feels like you're a fly on the wall of a real and romantic one-night stand.
Casting two transgender women (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor) as his leads and filming the entire movie with an iPhone, director Sean S. Baker smashed convention and discrimination with this comedy-drama. Sin-Dee Rella, a transgender sex worker newly released from prison, finds out that her boyfriend/pimp has been cheating on her, and searches for him all over Hollywood (on Christmas Eve, no less) with her friend Alexandra. Despite having no prior acting experience, Rodriguez and Taylor exude confidence, and their adventures will both crack you up and serve as a biting reminder of the challenges trans women face.
Stranger by the Lake (2013)
Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) spends each day of his summer on a lakeshore where dozens of gay men come to sunbathe naked and cruise in the surrounding forest. One day, he meets and begins to fall in love with Michel (Christophe Paou), who is handsome, mysterious, and potentially murderous. Alain Guiraudie won Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival for this French erotic thriller, and rightly so: Lake's eerily slow pace keeps the suspense building and the male full-frontal lingering in just about every scene. This is a French film, after all.
A Single Man (2009)
Is life worth living after the sudden death of your partner? That’s the question Colin Firth’s forlorn George faces in this drama, based on the novel by Christopher Isherwood and directed by fashion designer Tom Ford. You’ll see Ford's eye in every gorgeous scene, as if the movie is one long, breathtaking couture commercial. Set in 1960s LA, A Single Man will simultaneously break your heart and give you hope as George interacts with colleagues, visits an old friend (Julianne Moore), and has a romantic tryst with a student at the university where he teaches -- all as he decides whether this will be the day he ends his life.
Pariah centers on Alike (Adepero Oduye), a smart and shy 17-year-old secretly beginning to embrace that she's a lesbian. Her parents don't approve of her baggy clothes and her openly lesbian best friend, instead pressing her to dress more femininely and get to know Bina, whom Alike's mother sees as a more suitable friend -- and whom Alike eventually explores her sexuality with even further. It’s a moving portrait of a girl searching for love and acceptance, and gets at the heart of closeted adolescence: a taxing time that forces you to question what you’re willing to withstand to simply be yourself.
Holding the Man (2015)
Based on an internationally acclaimed memoir, Holding the Man is an Australian romantic drama that requires at least one box of Kleenex and two bottles of wine at the ready. It tells the true story of Timothy Conigrave (Ryan Corr) and John Caleo (Craig Stott), who spark a forbidden high-school romance just before the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. Over 15 years, they fight for their love through seemingly endless discrimination, fearlessly defending their relationship and gay rights along the way. Their unfailing devotion to each other makes this a love story for the ages.
The Way He Looks (2014)
Hope you kept those tissues handy. This Brazilian movie is about a blind teenager, Leonardo (Ghilherme Lobo), whose life changes completely when a new student arrives in town. It's not your typical coming-of-age story: The Way He Looks addresses a classic fear of rejection from the unique point of view of a boy dealing with both his blindness and his sexuality (not to mention his first kiss), and tackles it with just the right mix of compassion and humor. You’ll want to hug Leonardo and never let go.
4th Man Out (2015)
Lovable car mechanic Adam (Evan Todd) is ready to tell his extremely straight best friends that he's gay, but can't seem to muster the courage until the morning after a drunken night out. The group is stunned, and acts awkwardly, but after Adam’s closest friend goes on a date with a wise girl who shows him how insensitive he’s been, he rallies the group together to help Adam find his way out of a dating rut. It’s cheesy at times, and purposely bro-y, but not all LGBT films have to be laced with tragedy, and this one is a welcome respite, leaning heavily on the feel-good side.
Margarita with a Straw (2014)
The heroine of this dazzling Indian drama epitomizes the idea of "carpe diem." Laila (Kalki Koechlin) is a wheelchair-bound teenager with cerebral palsy who gets offered a scholarship to attend NYU for a semester, where she falls in love with a blind Pakistani girl. You should actually sip on a margarita while you watch this one, to both mask your tears and celebrate the unbelievable heart Laila possesses. In the face of disability and the desire to come out to her mother as bisexual, she'll teach you countless lessons about the human quest for joy.
After his mother (Mary Page Keller) passes away, lonely artist Owen's (Ewan McGregor) father, Hal (Christopher Plummer), is diagnosed with terminal cancer -- and comes out as gay at 75. Hal then falls in love -- genuine love -- for the first time. Beginners is set in flashbacks to Owen's final years with his dying yet rejuvenated father, and to childhood moments with his goofy, misunderstood mother. In present day, as Owen dwells on these memories and struggles with his career, he meets a wayward French actress (Mélanie Laurent) who helps lift his spirits. Plummer is the heart and soul of this gentle indie, which is based on the true coming-out story of writer/director Mike Mills’ father. Honorable mention goes to Owen's pet pup, Arthur, an adorable Jack Russell Terrier who gets subtitled dialogue of his own.
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