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A Good Year in Queer

Alex Hibbert and Mahershala Ali in Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight,” based on a play by Tarell Alvin McCraney. | A24

Alex Hibbert and Mahershala Ali in Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight,” based on a play by Tarell Alvin McCraney. | A24

BY GARY M. KRAMER | The year in queer film 2016 had both notable achievements — Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight,” about three stages in the life of an African-American man, chief among them — and some dubious ones. “Sea of Trees” by out filmmaker Gus Van Sant was critically panned and barely got a theatrical release. When it did, audiences stayed away in droves.

Here is a rundown of the year’s best LGBTQ films:

Best Gay Male Film: “Moonlight” by Barry Jenkins shrewdly investigates what it means to be black and gay in a world suffused with the drug culture. The film’s sensitive moments and indelible, internalized performances keep “Moonlight” from playing into stereotypes, illuminating the characters’ humanity.

Runner Up: Andrew Ahn’s “Spa Night,” about David (the remarkable Joe Seo), a Korean American grappling with his sexuality, his parents, and the reality of a just-out-of-reach American Dream, was simply astonishing. From the hothouse sexual atmosphere of the spa to the prosaic challenges of Asian-American assimilation, “Spa Night” is an immersive debut that captured the tensions of sexuality and family.

Joe Soe in Andrew Ahn’s “Spa Night.” | STRAND RELEASING

Joe Soe in Andrew Ahn’s “Spa Night.” | STRAND RELEASING

“Moonlight,” “The Handmaiden” top a strong field in LGBTQ cinema

Best Lesbian Film: Park Chan-wook’s “The Handmaiden,” a mesmerizing adaptation of lesbian author Sarah Waters’ celebrated Victorian-era novel “Fingersmith,” was the year’s most highly satisfying Sapphic drama. The narrative twists are as breathtaking as the rich vivid colors, ornate interiors, and luscious exteriors that made Park’s film visually stimulating.

Kim Tae-ri in Park Chan-wook’s “The Handmaiden.” | MAGNOLIA PICTURES

Kim Tae-ri in Park Chan-wook’s “The Handmaiden.” | MAGNOLIA PICTURES

Runner Up: “Summertime,” Catherine Corsini’s beautiful and moving lesbian romance from France, addresses femininity and living one’s truth in a not-always accepting environment.

Best Documentary: “Hockney,” Randall Wright’s marvelous and profound portrait of the artist, captures its subject through a mosaic of quotes from Hockney, anecdotes by his friends, and outstanding archival footage and photographs. The film showcases and emphasizes the painter’s way of seeing, and its allows audiences to see Hockney in a new way, as well.

Runner Up: “Tickled,” a strange cautionary tale by David Farrier, a New Zealand pop culture reporter turned filmmaker, explores the world of “competitive endurance tickling.” When he receives a homophobic response to his query about this fetish subculture, Farrier uncovers a weird and wild wormhole.

Most Homoerotic Sequence: The “No Dames” dance number from “Hail, Caesar” not only features clever lyrics sung by soon-to-be lonely seamen, but Channing Tatum’s expression when caught with another man’s ass in his face was priceless. And the bit where he is sandwiched between two dancing male behinds was especially delicious.

Runner Up: “Dirty Grandpa” It was hard to suppress a smile whenever Robert De Niro goosed Zac Efron’s ass. 

Most Seductive Male: Naked and lying in bed, Luis Alberti was muy caliente as Palomino Cañedo, who seduced and deflowered Sergei Eisenstein (Elmer Bäck) in Peter Greenway’s hypnotic “Eisenstein in Guanajuato.” 

Elmer Bäck and Luis Alberti in Peter Greenway’s “Eisenstein in Guanajuato.” | STRAND RELEASING

Elmer Bäck and Luis Alberti in Peter Greenway’s “Eisenstein in Guanajuato.” | STRAND RELEASING

Runner Up: In Tim Kirkman’s “Lazy Eye,” Alex (Aaron Costa Ganis) was simply irresistible as he reunited with Dean (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe), his ex, for sex.

Best Male Butt: In the love scene between Ryan (Jake Choi) and Ning (James Chen) in Ray Yeung’s charming “Front Cover,” it’s unclear whose naked ass is seen (even Yeung, when pressed to identify the actor, demurred, “I forget.”) Regardless of that ambiguity, “Front Cover” emphasizes that Asian-American men, long and unfairly desexualized on screen, are hot, and both Choi and Chen were fabulously sexy in their turns.

Elmer Bäck and Luis Alberti in Peter Greenway’s “Eisenstein in Guanajuato.” | STRAND RELEASING

Elmer Bäck and Luis Alberti in Peter Greenway’s “Eisenstein in Guanajuato.” | STRAND RELEASING

Runner Up: Garrett Clayton’s cute caboose displayed at the end of “King Cobra.”

Best Gay Teen on Screen: Stephen Cone’s modest, incisive gem “Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party” had every character reveal themself in a look or a line of dialogue, and out actor Cole Doman made a striking film debut in the title role.

Runners Up: A tie: André Techine’s sensitive “Being 17” and Stephen Dunn’s fantastic (and fantastical) “Closet Monster.”

Worst Coming Out Film: Max Landis’ “Me Him Her,” about an actor (Luke Bracey) who wants to come out, is painfully unfunny even without the embarrassing twice-used sight gag involving a giant penis.

Runner Up: “Fourth Man Out,” from Andrew Nackman, about a small town mechanic who comes out to his best friends, reinforced the stereotypes it was trying to break.

Best Ellen Page Performance: The terrific Ellen Page’s finest screen work in 2016 was not actually a film but her documentary TV series, “Gaycation.” Traveling with her gay best friend, Ian Daniel, she explored LGBTQ life in Japan, Brazil, Jamaica, and the US. It’s a fun and informative trip worth taking.

Runners Up: Her fierce turns in “Into the Forest” and “Tallulah.”

Best Latin American Film: “From Afar” had Armando (Alfredo Castro) paying young men to bare their bodies, and eventually falling for    and becoming a father figure to — a young teen (Luis Silva) who robs him. The film, by Lorenzo Vigas, traverses interesting issues of expression and repression.

Runner Up: Anna Muylaert’s “Don’t Call Me Son” has a teen (Naomi Nero) learning he was stolen from his birth mother. Reunited with his biological family, he causes more conflict when he displays his penchant for cross-dressing. Like its characters, this film takes risks.

Best Film Made By a Gay Man: Fashion designer turned filmmaker Tom Ford’s sophomore effort, “Nocturnal Animals,” about an art gallery owner (Amy Adams) and her ex (Jake Gyllenhaal) is as stylish as it is spellbinding.

Runner Up: Ira Sachs’ poignant “Little Men” about two teens who become friends as their parents come into conflict. 

Best Gay Film Made by a Straight Man: Matt Sobels’ stunning “Take Me to the River,” chronicles gay teen Ryder (Logan Miller), at the center of escalating tensions with his extended family during a reunion in the heartland.

Curtiss Cook, Jr., and Kerwin Johnson, Jr., in Jay Dockendorf’s “Naz and Maalik.” | WOLFE VIDEO

Curtiss Cook, Jr., and Kerwin Johnson, Jr., in Jay Dockendorf’s “Naz and Maalik.” | WOLFE VIDEO

Runner up: Jay Dockendorf’s “Naz and Maalik” about gay African-American Muslim teens in Brooklyn who have just spent their first night together. The film gets by on the easygoing charm of its two leads, Curtiss Cook Jr. and Kerwin Johnson Jr.

Best Re-release: “Multiple Maniacs” John Waters’ crude — and crudely made — classic underground “celluloid atrocity,” long out of release, features one helluva performance by Divine. It was great to revisit Lady Divine getting a “rosary job” from Mink (Mink Stole), and raped by Lobstora, a 15-foot broiled crustacean.

Here’s to more great LGBTQ cinema in 2017.

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