By Matthew Hammett Knott, Oliver Skinner and Sophie Smith | /Bent February 14, 2014 at 4:39PM
"Laurence Anyways" Xavier Dolan, Quebec's little actor-writer-director superstar, crafted his magnum opus to date in this beautiful decade-spanning love story. Wild young couple Fred (Suzanne Clement) and Laurence (Melvil Poupaud) are completely mad for each other until Laurence tells his girlfriend something he has long been holding in: that all his life he has felt he is a woman. Thus begins an ongoing struggle to sustain a relationship with friends, family, and one another while transitioning gender in a world which denies anyone considered "different" the right to be themselves. Full of visually next-level music video moments, "Laurence Anyways" is in a realm of filmmaking where only the masters dare to foray. It is a rainbow I'd like to hang on my wall.
"Middle of Nowhere" In too many love stories, barriers are constructed artificially between characters as a means of creating conflict that can be overcome with little effort. In Ava Duvernay's Sundance-winning film, Ruby and her husband are separated by the all-too-real barrier of a prison wall, and the consequences are equally real. The film depicts love as sacrifice in all its daily demands and humiliations. But it also reminds just how much love can take out of us and how lost it can leave us feeling as a result.
"Muriel's Wedding" Come the revolution, P. J. Hogan's 1994 film will take its rightful place among the canon of all-time classics, have no fear. One of the most cleverly and quietly subversive narratives of modern cinema, Toni Collette's title character starts the film convinced that finding someone willing to marry her will bring her the self-worth she has always craved, before proceeding to re-write the rules of the contemporary rom-com, and in doing so, sending a glorious two-fingered salute to the idea that romantic love is the surest way to affirm a person's sense of self.
"Orlando" Sally Potter's 1992 classic may not seem like an obvious addition to this list, but to me it seems a natural fit. By the very nature of Tilda Swinton's title character - fated to live forever and change gender unwittingly - Orlando is unable to operate within the conventions of life in general, but love and sex in particular. There are times in the narrative when this causes the character great vexation, as he / she experiences romantic travails from both sides of the gender divide. But by the film's conclusion, Orlando has reached a transcendence of such matters which, if not exactly something we can identify with in practical terms, nonetheless transmits an infectious spirit of independence and self-acceptance when it comes to the ups and downs of the heart.
"You Are Not Alone" This 1978 Danish coming-of-age story is set in an all-boys boarding school, where several of the students are beginning to discover the adult world which had once existed invisibly around them: problems with unfair authority, the body of the opposite sex, and for some, the body of the same sex. Strung together by a number of playful vignettes set against a student strike, the most unforgettable aspect of the film is the innocent relationship between 15 year old Bo and the younger headmaster's son, Kim. Whether the boys will grow up to identify as homosexual is both unknown and irrelevant — their romance exists in the fairytale of adolescence and all that matters is that they are young and in love. "You Are Not Alone" is alive with the openness of 1970s Scandinavia and the idealism of childhood, with a spirit that likely couldn't be replicated today.