In My Top 10 Favorite Lesbian Movies, various members of Autostraddle’s TV Team tell you about the movies nearest and dearest to our hearts and invite you to like all the same things we like. Today, writer and tv/film critic Natalie shares feelings about her favorite films of all time.
I’m jumping into the fray, offering my top 10 favorites… which include a disproportionate number of love stories for someone so strangely convinced that love is a lie.
10. TIE: I Can’t Think Straight & The World Unseen
I am not sure I realized what an indelible impression these movies made on me until I was watching the Amazon series, Four More Shots Please. It was a relatively new series at the time… a bit like Sex and the City but with four Indian women (one of whom is bisexual) and conversation that veers between Hindi and English. I wasn’t sold on the show right away but then Umang (the aforementioned bisexual character) shows up at the door of her new client, superstar actress Samara Kapoor, and is immediately lovestruck… and then everything clicks. And it clicks, mostly, because the woman playing Samara is Lisa Ray, the same actress who I’d vicariously fallen in love with in I Can’t Think Straight and The World Unseen.
buy for $14.99 // free on Cinemax
More than the story itself — I love this movie as a treatise on loneliness — I love Can You Ever Forgive Me? for Melissa McCarthy. She fully embodies the misanthropic Lee Israel in a way that’s just astounding to watch and, in the process, subverts all the limitations Hollywood’s ever put on her. McCarthy likes being funny (and even here, she does that, though in different way that some of her other work) but that’s not all she can do. I love seeing her get to showcase that.
Credit to my TV Team teammates who convinced me to give Blockers a try despite the name and the horrible ad campaign that accompanied it. When I finally saw it, it felt like a gift. It won me over with its celebration of female friendships and, of course, it’s adorable queer storyline. And the bow on top of that gift? Thinking about the people (read: men) who bought into movie’s sexist advertising, and instead got a movie that reaffirms female agency.
rent for $1.99 // free on Canopy
It’s hard not to dote on all the ways in which Rafiki is truly a groundbreaking film… for queer representation, for queer representation in Kenya, specifically, and for a new genre of film that showcases Kenya in a light we have never seen before. But, also, I feel like that overshadows that Rafiki is simply a really good movie, an all-around beautifully rendered love story.
You know that moment when you start to feeling something for another girl — but the words to define exactly what that something is, elude you? It’s a moment that’s so magical and pure and you only ever get to experience it once before becomes a vague memory. That feeling, that moment… that is Mosquita y Mari. Few films capture it better than Aurora Guerrero does here.
free on Netflix
In 1951, after toiling around in the minor leagues for three years, Bob Nieman earned his first at-bat in Major League Baseball. He steps into the batter’s box in the second inning and knocks Mickey McDermott’s pitch out of the park for a solo homer. His second time up and he does it again: this time, knocking it out of Fenway Park. Nieman remains one of just two players ever in MLB to have hit homers during their first two at bats.
That is, oddly enough, what I thought about after recently re-watching Alice Wu’s latest release: how improbable it is that someone could hit homeruns on their first two at-bats — or, even more impressive, in their only two at-bats — as Wu has done with The Half Of It and Saving Face.
Did I imagine The Half Of It would jump so far up my list of favorites after just two months of streaming? No, I did not… but the combination of Alice Wu’s writing and directing, Leah Lewis’ performance, the soundtrack and the Alice Wu-curated character playlists? It made it impossible for me not to love it.
buy for $9.99 // free on HBO or HBO Max
I am, generally speaking, not a fan of period pieces but Bessie is an exception to all the rules. I love so many things about this movie: Dees Rees’ masterful directing hand, Queen Latifah’s stunning performance, Mo’Nique’s reemergence as an acting powerhouse and Tika Sumpter as queer, which is a thing I’ve secretly wished for since I first saw her on One Life to Live years ago. I love that the depictions of Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey and their distinct queer identities get to exist alongside each other. Bessie allows us to be complex and complicated in a way that other TV and film often does not.
3. Imagine Me & You
Have there ever been two more affecting lines uttered in lesbian film canon than:
Luce: Don’t forget me.
Rachel: I won’t remember anything else.
I think not. I’m not even sure I believe in love at first sight but every time I watch Imagine Me & You — which is far more frequently than I’d care to admit — I really, really want to.
2. Saving Face
Saving Face was crafted as a love letter to Alice Wu’s mother but when I saw it for the first time, my focus was entirely on Wil and Vivian’s relationship. Their love story felt like the thing I should relate to, so I spent the entire movie hoping that they’d find a way to be together. But, in the 16 years since Saving Face‘s debut, it feels like I’ve grown to see Wu’s intention. Gao’s lesson that “love can start at any point in your life that you want it to” feels like the most resonant part of the movie for me now. It’s almost as if Saving Face has grown along with me… and that makes for a really special film.
Back in 2018, still basking in the glow of Moonlight‘s upset of La La Land for the Best Picture Oscar, famed lesbian author Jacqueline Woodson asked Lena Waithe if she thought we’d ever have a “lesbian Moonlight.” Waithe quickly points out that we’ve already had one: Dee Rees’ stunning coming-of-age and coming out drama, Pariah. But like its central character, Alike, Pariah found itself adrift in a world not yet ready for its honesty.
Adepero Oduye astounds as Alike, the 17-year-old who navigates her identity along a Brooklyn bus route: literally shifting from the conservative, feminine girl her mother loves to the masculine-of-center woman who loves other women, as she makes her way across town. Pariah is, at times, painful to watch — in the way that things that feel too true usually are — but optimism persists throughout.
Movies that almost made the list: Avengers: Endgame (technically, it counts!), D.E.B.S., Dirty Computer, Out In The Night, Paris is Burning, Set It Off, The Color Purple, The Watermelon Woman, Widows