With “Moonlight” deservedly racking up nominations or wins from nearly every awards body and critics group thus far, Barry Jenkins’ marvelous film is placing a more mainstream spotlight on LGBTQ storytelling in this year’s awards race. It’s a testament to the resonant power of “Moonlight” -- which was released by the small distributor A24 -- that it remains front-and-center in voters' minds amid the loud clutter of lavish, well-funded studio campaigns.
But it’s also important to make sure ballot-holders consider international and other independent films that warrant a look. Here is additionally noteworthy work within LGBTQ-themed films released in 2016 -- from performances to crafts -- that demands attention.
Best Supporting Actress: Molly Shannon, “Other People”
Playing a mother of three children, including an gay, aspiring TV-writer son, Shannon -- who picked up an Independent Spirit Award nomination -- serves as an anchor of familial accord and individual strength with well-handed balance in writer-director Chris Kelly’s debut film. It’s true, Shannon is depicting a character battling cancer, which can be seen as easy fodder for awards attention, but her performance never gives in to easy sentiment. As Joanne, an elementary school teacher navigating the guilt she feels for imparting hard responsibilities on the ones she’s used to taken care of, Shannon refuses to allow pity and sympathy. Instead, she implores those around her, and the audience, to understand what relationships and dynamics are most enduring and meaningful in life.
Best Supporting Actress: Lily Gladstone, “Certain Women”
In addition to Shannon, Gladstone was another nominee at the Independent Spirit Awards, and her presence in year-end honors has been one of the most pleasant surprises as 2016 critics awards have been announced. Her delicate, subtle work in Kelly Reichardt’s “Certain Women” garnered her Best Supporting Actress honors from both Los Angeles and Boston Film Critics Associations. And although her character’s sexuality is never explicitly defined, Gladstone has an intuitive sense of how to express her character’s apprehensive -- yet all-encompassing -- urge to know, and grow closer to, Kristen Stewart’s more urbane, young lawyer. Gladstone’s portrayal of a young rancher in Montana quietly expresses the yearning to learn about a life outside one’s own geographical limitation. It’s the exact kind of breakthrough performance you never expect but makes so much sense once you discover.
Best Original Screenplay: Chris Kelly, “Other People”
As a writer on both “Broad City” and “SNL,” Chris Kelly works a full-time job within a rapid-fire, comedy-centric tone, but his debut feature script exposes his observant, hard-nosed sensitive side. Through this semi-autobiographical screenplay, Kelly explores the harsh realities of acceptance -- within the ostensibly unfair circumstances of life and one’s own identity. The film’s more-than-able ensemble fills out the script’s sharp-tuned, darkly comedic rhythms, exploring both pathos and humor in a warm yet bittersweet light. And Kelly finds a deeper nerve in a catalytic scene where the gay protagonist has an authentic confrontation with his father who hasn’t come to terms with his son’s sexuality as much as he believes he has.
Best Costume Design and Production Design: “The Handmaiden”
South Korea may not have chosen Park Chan-wook’s luscious art-house hit “The Handmaiden” for its submission for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, instead opting for Kim Jee-woon’s action thrilled “The Age of Shadows,” but its production values remain some of the most glorious cinematic aspects of 2016. While the film -- which features an intriguing play on female companionship and romance -- suffers a bit from its overly ambitious plotting, its feats in constructing an Eastern Victorian world torn between Korea and Japan through both sets and costuming are undoubtedly some of the year’s best. Add to that the fact that no South Korean film has ever won an Oscar in any category, and you have a plum reason to look upon the film’s thoughtful and luscious craftsmanship for its due recognition.
Best Foreign Language Film: “From Afar”
Venezuelans chose “From Afar” to represent their country as the official submission for this highly competitive Oscars category. And despite already pulling off a surprise win at last year's Venice Film Festival, where it was given the Golden Lion, Lorenzo Vigas’ immersive, challenging psychological drama has faded in conversations among year-end honors. Investigating both the bourgeois and underprivileged class of downtown Caracas, Vigas turns a potentially problematic narrative between an older man and a young would-be hustler into a quietly compelling tale of survival and compassion. Its virtues may not scream for attention, but the carefully-calibrated arcs of the film’s two leads speak volumes on the eternal search for connection.
Nick McCarthy is the operations manager at NewFest, an LGBTQ film and media arts organization, and has written for such publications as Slant Magazine, Time Out New York and The Film Experience.