This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade.
It’s that season, once again, when everyone is compiling their lists of the year’s best film and TV offerings.
Unlike many “Best of” lists, ours narrows the scope a little. Since our coverage of film and television is geared toward queer-focused or queer-inclusive content that is relevant to our LGBTQ+ readers, we like to limit our selections to the movies and shows that match that criteria.
That means you won’t see the same kinds of big mainstream films or series on our list that you’ll find on others — but you’ll see those mentioned in plenty of other places, anyway, and we think it’s far more useful to remind our readers of the standout gems we’ve particularly loved. It’s our way of celebrating the screen memories that have stuck with us throughout the year, and to make sure you add the ones you may have missed to your year-end catch-up list.
With that in mind, here are our five favorite films and five favorite TV shows from all those we’ve covered in 2022.
1. “Everything Everywhere All at Once”
Ke Huy Quan, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Michele Yeoh in ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once.’ Photo: A24 Films
If you haven’t yet seen this genre-bending, queer-inclusive indie sci-fi comedy – conceived, written, and directed by The Daniels (Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) – you might be surprised to find it at the top of our list. If you have seen it, however, you’ll already understand why. Audaciously joining the ever-growing fray of “multiverse” movies and arguably besting them all, it’s a fast-paced but smooth-flowing wild ride in which a middle-aged Chinese American laundromat owner (Michelle Yeoh, in a career-topping star showcase) finds herself recruited into a battle against a sinister entity who seeks to destroy reality itself.
Quirky, clever, and laced with delicious absurdity, it’s a madcap caper from start to finish; but it grabs us by the heart, too, and uses the same overblown fantasy trope it creatively lampoons to gently remind us that, in a universe of infinite possibilities, we have the power to change our reality with every choice we make. It also shows us a universe where humans have fingers like hot dogs and gives us scene-stealing Jamie Lee Curtis as a frumpy and hostile tax auditor, so is it any wonder we put it at the top of the list?
Cate Blanchett stars in ‘Tár.’ Photo: Focus Features
Audiences were even more divided than critics in their response to Mike Field’s lengthy, inscrutable, and culturally provocative character study of a revered, world-class orchestral conductor (Cate Blanchett, surpassing her own brilliance yet again) whose reputation and career begin to unravel when implications of sexual misconduct subject her private life to public scrutiny. It’s easy to understand why; it’s as challenging as it is meticulous, as unsettling as it is mesmerizing, and as unsentimental as a clinical case study.
Though decried by some who saw it as an indictment against “cancel culture” or found it out of alignment with queer or feminist ideals, we found its true power beyond its purposefully contradictory politics; in its instinct for finding big truth in tiny details and its merciless focus on the uncomfortable secret corners we keep in the blind spots of our lives, it’s ultimately a movie about the masks we wear to disguise the desires we don’t want others – or even ourselves – to see.
3. “Neptune Frost”
Cheryl Isheja stars in ‘Neptune Frost.’ Photo: Kino Lorber
Another quirky, genre-bending sci-fi movie makes our list with this unique cinematic experience created by acclaimed multi-hyphenate artist Saul Williams, who co-directed with Rwandan filmmaker Anisia Uzeyman. Self-described as “an Afrofuturist sci-fi punk musical,” it traces the separate journeys of two refugees – a miner running away from a life of enforced labor and an intersex tribesperson fleeing the oppression of their native village – and their assimilation into a collective of rebel hackers dedicated to overthrowing “The Authority” and elevating the world’s consciousness. That vague plot outline, however, falls short of capturing the film’s multi-layered essence; equal parts primal myth and dystopian techno-drama, it’s more a surreal allegory than a narrative, laden with bold visual strokes and reverberating with a proud and defiant Black voice – but the issues it thrusts into our consciousness go far deeper than race. It’s hard to explain this movie better than that, so if you’re curious for more, you’ll have to watch it for yourself. Trust us, you won’t regret it.
4. “Fire Island”
It’s been a banner year for queer rom-coms, but for our money, this smart, sharp, sweet, and sexy reimagining of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” – starring and written by Joel Kim Booster and directed by Andrew Ahn – is the cream of the crop. Skewering the attitudes and agendas of modern gay life as it follows the exploits of a group of friends who have gathered for a week of comradeship and debauchery at the queer mecca of its title, it revels in its diversity – three of its four romantic leads are Asian American, for starters – and celebrates the joys of chosen family while good-naturedly reminding us that snobbery cuts both ways. It’s everything you could want from a summer romance and more – including a ridiculously corny, over-the-top happy ending and a sparkling cast that includes queer fan favorites Bowen Yang, Margaret Cho, and Conrad Ricamora.
Luke MacFarlane and Billy Eichner in ‘Bros.’ Photo: Universal Studios
OK, we know. This much-hyped romantic comedy from writer/star Billy Eichner and writer/director Nicholas Stoller ended up with a disappointing box office take despite its historic use of an almost-all-queer cast and creative team – but that doesn’t mean it’s not a great movie. Though Eichner’s manic, sometimes abrasive persona can be a hard sell for some audiences, it works to his advantage as he uses his role as a defiantly oddball over-achiever to go deeper, and his chemistry with co-star Luke Macfarlane (in a bravely vulnerable performance) is surprisingly potent; and while the film’s self-consciously pro-LGBTQ+ checklist of topics sometimes feels like an obtrusion on its unexpectedly nuanced central love story, that somehow becomes part of the point.
For us, though, the biggest reason for including this one on our list of the year’s best might be its candid and relatable depiction of romance in a more mature queer demographic than we’re used to; that, alongside its unapologetically queer attitude, its artfully downplayed generosity of spirit, and its sex-positive treatment of non-hetero-conforming intimacy, is more than enough to render its box office receipts irrelevant.
Kit Conner and Joe Locke in ‘Heartstopper.’ Photo: Netflix
This one is a no-brainer. The British Netflix import based on the webcomic by Alice Oseman (who adapted it for the screen) is a show to win the heart of even the most cynical viewer and have them ready to binge it straight to the end after watching only the first five minutes. The story of two boys’ school students – on opposite ends of the campus popularity spectrum – who form an unlikely friendship that blossoms into something more, is infectiously sweet and unrelentingly positive without feeling like an impossible fairy tale. More than that, its tender depiction of two youthful hearts negotiating the pangs and pressures of first love while navigating their school’s deeply ingrained social hierarchy has enough universal and multi-intersectional appeal to help it transcend its “queer content” genre and become an all-inclusive touchstone for younger generations – and to make older viewers wish they had grown up with a show like this one. None of it would work, however, without the soulful and endearing performances of series leads Joe Locke and Kit Connor, whose individual talents and shared chemistry make this big-hearted show a classic for the ages.
2. “Interview With the Vampire”
Sam Reid and Jacob Anderson in ‘Interview with the Vampire.’ Photo: AMC
Three decades after Anne Rice’s saga of love among the undead was turned into a plush big screen star vehicle for Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise, fans of the late author’s wickedly sexy and thrillingly subversive novel – and the multi-book series that followed it – finally got the version they deserved with AMC’s electrifying adaptation.
Reimagining key details of Rice’s seminal narrative (changing her lead vampire’s origin story in old New Orleans to make him a Black creole entrepreneur instead of a wealthy white plantation owner with slaves, for one) to update its cultural relevance, it still maintains a strong connection to the passionate, poetic spirit of the original tale; even better, it more than makes up for the film version’s comparative “straight-washing” by embracing the same-sex romance between the story’s beloved protagonists – sensitive fledgling vampire Louis (Jacob Anderson) and his flamboyant creator-turned-lover Lestat (Sam Reid) – to cement the connection between Rice’s brooding, sexually fluid vampires and the millions of queer fans that have seen themselves reflected in the pages of Rice’s books all along. To top it all off, it pulls no punches in rendering both the gory savagery of the story’s horrors and the brazen eroticism of its sensually enhanced supernatural heroes – meaning that even if you’re never heard of Anne Rice, you’ll be hooked by the end of the first episode.
3. “The Andy Warhol Diaries”
Netflix makes the list again with this comprehensively drawn Ryan Murphy-produced docuseries that takes a deep dive into the text – and between the lines – of the infamous queer pop artist-and-tastemaker’s notoriously opaque posthumously published diary. Supplemented by insights from surviving members of Warhol’s inner circle and imagery from the extensive archives he left behind, it attempts to reveal the fragile inner life of an enigmatic figure who made lack of substance a cornerstone of his career; it succeeds beyond expectation, revealing a heartbreakingly human voice behind the minutiae he recorded from his daily routine, casting light on the romantic relationships he took pains to keep separate from his public image, and hinting at a greater connection between his emotional life and his art than critics and commentators have previously acknowledged.
While it might not drop any bombshells or change the cultural conversation around Warhol and the era he helped to define, it gives us a behind-the-curtain glimpse that expands our empathy toward one of our greatest queer icons – aided by the controversial-but-effective AI-enhanced voice of actor Bill Irwin reading excerpts from the diary as Warhol – and that’s perhaps a much more meaningful accomplishment.
Cast of ‘Reboot.’ Photo: Hulu
The most traditional series on our list, perhaps, is this queer-inclusive Hulu gem from “Modern Family” co-creator Steven Levitan, in which a young television writer (Rachel Bloom) gets a green light for her proposed reboot of a beloved ‘90s sitcom, which she plans to reinvent for a modern audience; her plan hits a snag, however, when the network brings in her father (Paul Reiser) – the original show’s creator – as a showrunner.
Complicating things even further is the show’s returning cast (Keegan-Michael Key, Judy Greer, Johnny Knoxville, and Calum Worthy), a dysfunctional collection of now-faded stars whose off-camera lives and relationships continually threaten to derail the production. The premise not only sets up a ripe field for comedy about the cultural conflicts and differing attitudes between older and younger generations, but it also provides limitless possibilities for Hollywood’s favorite pastime of making fun of itself; a top-flight, talented cast makes sure neither of those tropes feel tired, and Levitan’s signature rapid-fire comedic style ensures that every episode is laugh-out-loud funny. Our only complaint is that it’s so binge-worthy we burned through the debut season – which with only eight episodes feels frustratingly brief – and now we’re forced to wait for the next one.
5. “The Sandman”
Tom Sturridge in ‘The Sandman.’ Photo: Netflix
Fans of Neil Gaiman’s iconic comic book and its darkly beautiful, queer-inclusive mystical universe have been waiting for more than 30 years to see it come to the screen, but this moody and stylish Netflix adaptation proved to be well worth their patience. With an excellent Tom Sturridge heading the cast as Morpheus – the saga’s mercurial “hero,” who rules over the Kingdom of Dreams and holds the fate of the human world in his immortal hands – and big-budget production values that bring the striking visual aesthetic of the original comic to thrilling life, it captures Gaiman’s macabre metaphorical fantasy saga and its wide assortment of conflicted, complex characters and themes to a pitch-perfect tee. Sure, some purists might quibble about the gender-swapping and/or reimagining of characters to create an even more diverse and inclusive blend than the original comic – but to us, those flourishes feel like a healthy evolution that only strengthens the appeal of a timeless classic. Besides, any show audacious enough to give us Gwendoline Christie as Lucifer is a masterpiece, in our book.
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