Sight & Sound: Ten Favorite Films from Cheryl Dunye, Desiree Akhavan, and Other Queer Faves

Last December, the latest update to the prestigious Sight & Sound poll sent feminist waves through the film community when queer genius Chantal Akerman claimed the number one spot. The days of Citizen Kane and Vertigo were over — the era of Jeanne Dielman had begun. Okay, fine, Orson Welles and Hitchcock were still in the top ten and a list is just a list — but it does communicate something about how mainstream film culture is expanding both in terms of politic and form.

While the aggregate critic and director lists are always fun and interesting to peruse, the real treat of this poll are the individual lists. Three months later all of those submissions have been released and are available for study — many with fun comments! As someone who has seen the vast majority of the aggregate lists, this is really where I can discover gems of recommendations.

The following are the favorite films from all the out queer and trans directors who submitted lists — with some notes on what these lists reveal about the artists’ own work.


Desiree Akhavan

Work includes: Appropriate Behavior, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, The Bisexual

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 01: Writer and director Desiree Akhavan attends the 2019 Athena Film Festival awards ceremony at the Diana Center at Barnard College on March 1, 2019 in New York City.

Photo by Lars Niki/Getty Images for Athena Film Festiva

A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, 2011)
The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2015)
Black Girl (Ousmane Sembène, 1965)
Fat Girl (Catherine Breillat, 2001)
Adaptation. (Spike Jonze, 2002)
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1974)
When Harry Met Sally… (Rob Reiner, 1989)
Morvern Callar (Lynne Ramsay, 2001)
Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud, 2007)
The Day I Became a Woman (Marzieh Meshkini, 2000)

I’m obsessed with this list and how reflective it feels of Akhavan’s work. The humor, the darkness, the humanity. Fat Girl is one of my very favorite movies, but it’s also the one people have been most upset with me for recommending — it’s very brutal! — so seeing it here and seeing it described in her notes as hilarious as well as heartbreaking is validating to me personally. Also The Day I Became a Woman is a masterpiece!! I was so lucky to see it at BAM some years back and it was one of the best discoveries I’ve ever had at a repertory theatre.

Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet

Work includes: Anaïs in Love

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 03: Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet attends Film at Lincoln Center's Rendez-Vous With French Cinema opening night screening of "Fire" at Walter Reade Theater on March 03, 2022 in New York City.

Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959)
Scenes from a Marriage (Ingmar Bergman, 1974)
A Woman Under the Influence (John Cassavetes, 1974)
Cléo from 5 to 7 (Agnès Varda, 1962)
The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
The Cranes Are Flying (Mikhail Kalatozov, 1957)
Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone, 1968)
Shoah (Claude Lanzmann, 1985)
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (F.W. Murnau, 1927)
All About Eve (Joseph L. Mankiewicz)

Sometimes these lists are fun, because they’re obviously in line with the director’s work — sometimes they’re fun because they’re the opposite. There are traces of Scenes from a Marriage, All About Eve, and Cléo from 5 to 7 in Bourgeois-Tacquet’s debut feature, but this list as a whole shows that her influences are varied and her future work may surprise. There’s nothing inherently shallow about romance or comedy — the opposite I’d argue! — and this diverse list of classics explains to me why her film felt so layered and complex.

Cheryl Dunye

Works include: The Watermelon Woman, Mommy is Coming

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - NOVEMBER 07: Director Cheryl Dunye attends a taping of "Queen Sugar After-Show" at OWN on November 7, 2017 in West Hollywood, California.

Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

Imitation of Life (Douglas Sirk, 1959)
Alphaville (Jean-Luc Godard, 1965)
Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren, Alexander Hackenschmied, 1943)
Funny Girl (William Wyler, 1968)
Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)
Jeanne Dielman (Chantal Akerman, 1975)
Cléo from 5 to 7 (Agnès Varda, 1962)
Daughters of the Dust (Julie Dash, 1991)
We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay, 2010)
Midnight Cowboy (John Schlesinger, 1969)

Dunye may be best known for her debut — and one of my personal top ten — The Watermelon Woman, but this list is a reminder of just how varied and experimental her work has been. From her early shorts to her latest features, it’s no surprise to see landmarks of experimental feminist filmmaking pop up here. Echos of Deren, Akerman, Varda, and Dash can be felt in her bold approaches to cinematic form. The list leading with Sirk’s melodrama about motherhood and race for me recontextualizes Dunye’s TV movie Stranger Inside as a grand melodrama. She didn’t include any notes which is a bummer because Alphaville is such an interesting Godard pick and We Need to Talk About Kevin is such an interesting post-2000 pick!

Clea DuVall

Works include: Happiest Season, High School

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 13: Clea DuVall attends Amazon Freevee's High School House Party at No Vacancy on October 13, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.

Photo by Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images for Amazon Freevee

The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)
Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990)
The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991)
Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, 2001)
Fargo (Joel Coen, 1995)
Parasite (Bong Joon-ho, 2019)
Dog Day Afternoon (Sidney Lumet, 1975)
Pariah (Dee Rees, 2011)
Tootsie (Sydney Pollack, 1982)
Vernon, Florida (Errol Morris, 1981)

I say this with love, but God does this list feel exactly like what one would expect from a cis white Gen X lesbian — especially The Silence of the Lambs, Fargo, and Tootsie. Hard to argue with any of these films though. And it’s nice to see Pariah on a list.

Nan Goldin

Works include: The Ballad of Sexual Dependency

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 04: Nan Goldin attends the 2023 New York Film Critics Circle Awards at TAO Downtown on January 04, 2023 in New York City.

Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (F.W. Murnau, 1927)
Nothing But a Man (Michael Roemer, 1964)
The Cranes Are Flying (Mikhail Kalatozov, 1957)
Wanda (Barbara Loden, 1970)
A Man Escaped (Robert Bresson, 1956)
A Woman Under the Influence (John Cassavetes, 1974)
The Asphalt Jungle (John Huston, 1950)
Cléo from 5 to 7 (Agnès Varda, 1962)
XXY (Lucía Puenzo, 2007)
Titicut Follies (Frederick Wiseman, 1967)

I love this list almost as much as I love Goldin. It really seems to embody the gritty poetry and attention to human specificity captured in her own work. It also has a few films I need to watch! I will be bumping Nothing But a Man and XXY up my to-watch list — I’ve been hesitant to watch the latter because as much as I like Puenzo’s The Fish Child, I’m always weary of cis filmmakers’ takes on any sort of gender variance. But I trust Goldin! Also shoutout to Wanda, one of my very favorites.

Jennie Livingston

Works include: Paris is Burning

PARK CITY, UT - JANUARY 22: Director Jennie Livingston attends the Sundance Outfest Queer Brunch with John Waters at Grub Steak Restaurant during the 2006 Sundance Film Festival January 22, 2006 in Park City, Utah.

Photo by Thos Robinson/Getty Images for here! Networks

8 ½ (Federico Fellini, 1963)
Ikiru (Akira Kurosawa, 1952)
Fanny and Alexander (Ingmar Bergman, 1982)
Andrei Rublev (Andrei Tarkovsky)
Black Rain (Shohei Imamura, 1988)
Princess Mononoke (Hayao Miyazaki, 1997)
All the President’s Men (Alan J. Pakula, 1976)
All That Jazz (Bob Fosse, 1979)
The Gleaners and I (Agnès Varda, 2000)
Nashville (Robert Altman, 1975)

It’s interesting to me that there’s only one documentary here! Overall a solid list of somewhat predictable but great picks — with Black Rain standing out as the most obscure. Definitely adding that one to my to-watch list. In her notes, Livingston also shouts out Herzog, Fassbinder, John Waters, and Suzana Amaral, as well as recent films Memoria, Flee, and Good Luck to You, Leo Grande.

Phyllis Nagy

Works include: Carol, Call Jane

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 14: Director Phyllis Nagy attends the "Call Jane" UK premiere during the 66th BFI London Film Festival at The Mayfair Hotel on October 14, 2022 in London, England.

Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for BFI

Sunset Blvd. (Billy Wilder, 1950)
News from Home (Chantal Akerman, 1976)
All That Jazz (Bob Fosse, 1979)
The Palm Beach Story (Preston Sturgess, 1942)
Jeanne Dielman (Chantal Akerman, 1975)
Casino (Martin Scorsese, 1995)
The Conformist (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1970)
Beau travail (Claire Denis, 1998)
Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986)

This is an intense group of films! I love the inclusion of two Akerman titles as well as the very bold Scorsese pick of Casino. The Palm Beach Story is also a fun burst of light here. Overall, just a really solid list of good movies.

Jenni Olson

Works include: The Joy of Life, The Royal Road

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 23: Jenni Olson attends the "All The Beauty and the Bloodshed" premiere during 2022 NewFest at SVA Theater on October 23, 2022 in New York City.

Photo by Jason Mendez/Getty Images

Jeanne Dielman (Chantal Akerman, 1975)
News from Home (Chantal Akerman, 1976)
Paris is Burning (Jennie Livingston, 1990)
Tongues Untied (Marlon Riggs, 1989)
Gently Down the Stream (Su Friedrich, 1981)
D.E.B.S. (Angela Robinson, 2004)
Vertigo (Alfred Hitchock, 1958)
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Céline Sciamma, 2019)
Strong Island (Yance Ford, 2017)
Buddies (Arthur Bressan Jr., 1985)

Another double Akerman list! Leave it to Jenni to put together a perfectly queer and iconic list. I’m obsessed with the fact that D.E.B.S. is here and followed by Vertigo. An entire collection could be published with queer readings of Vertigo and I love how its place on this list communicates that. Also I need to see Buddies!

Yvonne Rainer

Works include: Film About a Woman Who…, MURDER and murder

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 10: Yvonne Rainer attends LIVE: The Performa Archive at LGDR on November 10, 2022 in New York City.

Photo by Jared Siskin/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

Zero for Conduct (Jean Vigo, 1933)
L’âge d’or (Luis Buñuel, 1930)
Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren, Alexander Hackenschmied, 1943)
Dance, Girl, Dance (Dorothy Arnzer, 1940)
The Rules of the Games (Jean Renoir, 1939)

Most people struggle to get their lists to ten so submitting only five feels like a real flex. It makes all the sense for Rainer to take her own approach to list-making and to include this mix of landmark experimental films and social comedies.

Isabel Sandoval

Works include: Señorita, Lingua Franca

VENICE, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 07: Isabel Sandoval walks the red carpet ahead of the closing ceremony of the 76th Venice Film Festival at Sala Grande on September 07, 2019 in Venice, Italy.

Photo by Laurent KOFFEL/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Jeanne Dielman (Chantal Akerman, 1975)
Heat (Michael Mann, 1995)
In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar Wai, 2000)
Holy Motors (Léos Carax, 2012)
Beau travail (Claire Denis, 1998)
Funeral Parade of Roses (Toshio Matsumoto, 1970)
Possession (Andrzej Zulawski, 1981)
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (F.W. Murnau, 1927)
Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2004)
Perfect Blue (Satoshi Kon, 1997)

Isabel is destined for Scorsese levels of cinephile director. Her deep love and knowledge of film is felt in her work as well as on social media… and at rep screenings and in the Criterion Closet. This list does not disappoint. It feels personal and reverent at the same time. I love to see trans classic Funeral Parade of Roses. Also love to see one of my longtime favorites, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, make an appearance. Isabel’s comments are brief but say everything: Desire, Transgression, Seduction. The closest I’ve come to spiritual possession.

Jane Schoenbrun

Works include: We’re All Going to the World’s Fair

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 28: (L-R) Anna Cobb and Jane Schoenbrun attend the 2022 Gotham Awards at Cipriani Wall Street on November 28, 2022 in New York City.

Photo by Dia Dipasupil/WireImage

Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren, Alexander Hackenschmied, 1943)
Where Is the Friend’s House? (Abbas Kiarostami, 1987)
The Quince Tree Sun (Victor Erice, 1992)
Hyenas (Djibril Diop Mambéty, 1992)
Totally Fucked Up (Gregg Araki, 1993)
Welcome II the Terrordome (Ngozi Onwurah, 1993)
August in the Water (Sogo Ishii, 1995)
Speed Racer (Lana and Lilly Wachowski, 2008)
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2010)
Twin Peaks: The Return (David Lynch, 2017)

More Weerasethakul, as well as an appearance from another one of my all time faves, Abbas Kiarostami. This is definitely the list on here I’ve seen the least from — how exciting! Welcome II the Terrordome was just added to the Criterion Channel as part of their Afrofuturist series, so I’m really excited to check that out. And as a fan of other work from Victor Erice, Djibril Dop Mambéty, and Gregg Araki, I need to seek out these films. Also I’ve never even heard of August in the Water! Speed Racer is a bold pick for the Wachowskis as is choosing a TV show for Lynch. But Jane is nothing if not bold in their filmmaking and in their cinephilia! I don’t know how you could look at this list and not burst with excitement for their next film, I Saw the TV Glow.

Emma Seligman

Works include: Shiva Baby

CALIFORNIA - MARCH 05: Emma Seligman attends the private celebration in honor of the Spirit Award nominations for the film "Shiva Baby" at Kimpton La Peer Hotel on March 05, 2022 in West Hollywood, California.

WEST HOLLYWOOD, Photo by Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images

When Harry Met Sally… (Rob Reiner, 1989)
The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
Incendies (Denis Villeneuve, 2010)
The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010)
Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959)
It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1947)
E.T. (Steven Spielberg, 1982)
Dog Day Afternoon (Sidney Lumet, 1975)
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (John Hughes, 1986)
Fiddler on the Roof (Norman Jewison, 1971)

I’m honestly surprised there’s no horror here given Shiva Baby’s formal genre defiance. But it does make sense that this list is filled with comedies and taut suspenseful dramas. This list feels extremely younger millennial to me! Specifically one who grew up in a Jewish home watching Fiddler on the Roof. Tradition!


Did I miss anyone? What are your top ten films of all time?

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Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is a Brooklyn-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. She is a Senior Editor at Autostraddle with a focus in film and television, sex and dating, and politics. Her writing can also be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Refinery29, Into, them, and Knock LA. She was a 2022 Outfest Screenwriting Lab Notable Writer and a 2023 Lambda Literary Screenwriting Fellow. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about queer trans women. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Drew Burnett has written 521 articles for us.

11 Comments

  1. Feeling extremely validated that one of my favourite films is on Desiree Akhavan’s list (The Lobster).

    Hard to make my own list that isn’t all mentioned above (Miseducation of Cameron Post, D.E.B.S, The Watermelon Woman for sure) but if I had to branch out I would probs throw in Moonlight, Dogtooth, The Matrix, The Straight Story. Maybe even Enchanted? What does this say about me

  2. The Woman King
    Parasite
    Foxfire
    Everything everywhere all at once
    Girl – Lukas Dhont
    The Favourite – Giorgio Lanthimos
    Galaxy Quest
    Unbelievable – with Toni Collette and Merrick Weaver
    3 billboards in Ebbing Missouri
    Nomadland
    Boy – Taika Waititi
    What we do in the shadows – Taika Waititi
    Cousins – Ainsley Gardiner
    Whina – James Napier Robinson
    The Castle – Rob Sitch
    The adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert – Stephan Elliott
    Lantana – Ray Lawrence

  3. My too ten:
    Black Christmas (Sofia Takal, 2019)
    Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2013)
    The Art of Self Defence (Riley Stearns, 2019)
    Silent Night (Camille Griffin, 2021)
    Synechdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman, 2008)
    The Muppet Christmas Carol (Brian Henson, 1992)
    Bound (Lana and Lilly Wachowski, 1996)
    But I’m a Cheerleader (Jamie Babbit, 1999)
    Cradle Will Rock (Tim Robbins, 1999)
    Batman & Robin (Joel Schumacher, 1997)

  4. Putting Speed Racer on your list is TASTE

    I always find it interesting which directors have a lot of international films on their list and which have a list composed entirely of American directors. I don’t necessarily think one is better than the other but it does seem like some people don’t step outside their comfort zone as much.

  5. I can’t unscramble my brain to get just ten films out but want to emphasize that August in the Water is a really lovely film and anyone who hasn’t seen it should do so ASAP. Very contemplative. Happy to see so much Weerasethakul but excited to get into all the films here I have never seen!
    Thanks for compiling this, lots of movies that need more air time outside of film lover circles.

  6. Scream (Wes Craven, 1996)
    Kill Bill vol 1 (Quentin Tarantino, 2003)
    Kill Bill vol 2 (Quentin Tarantino, 2003)
    Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, 2001)
    Carol (Todd Haynes, 2015)
    Great Expectations (Alfonso Cuaron, 1998)
    The East (Zal Batmanglij, 2013)
    But I’m a Cheerleader (Jamie Babbit, 1999)
    Mean Girls (Mark Waters, 2004)
    Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man (Lian Lunson, 2005)

  7. Mmmm. Cheryl Dunye. Thank you for introducing me to her. I’ve seen “Watermelon Woman” on my Amazon Prime recs but haven’t watched it yet. This is good motivation.

  8. My top 10 (in any order, except #1 is clearly #1):

    Bound (1996)
    The Matrix (1999)
    The Bodyguard (1992)
    Zola (2020)
    My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997)
    Ready or Not (2019)
    Psycho (1960)
    Night of the Living Dead (1968)
    Max Max: Fury Road (2015)
    Moonlight (2016)

    Huh interesting, I didn’t anticipate the number of 90’s movies I would have on this list! And nothing before 1960 or between 1968 and 1992… time to go watch some more movies lmao

  9. Liking Akhavan’s list in particular. No surprise as I adored The Bisexual.

    Ten that haven’t been mentioned here, just off the top…

    Nattvardsgästarna (Winter Light)
    Körkarlen (The Phantom Carriage)
    The Long Day Closes
    En kärlekshistoria (A Swedish Love Story)
    En el séptimo día
    De jueves a domingo
    L’enfance nue
    La llorona (2019)
    Nationalité: immigré
    Umberto D.

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