Making a list of 10 truly great LGBT films even at LGBT-specific film festivals is sometimes trying, let alone at a generalized festival playing films of all sorts. And while Sundance has always been a bit queerer than your average major festival, in my seven years of Sundancin' I've never seen a slate so packed with high quality queer content (though granted I didn't have the pleasure of attending the new queer cinema-heavy early to mid-1990s editions of the festival). From powerful documentaries to dark, funny narratives that offer diverse explorations of the human condition, here's the films that stood out for me personally (and notably I did not see World Cinema directing winner "52 Tuesdays," which I've heard is fantastic):
Appropriate Behavior (directed by Desiree Akhavan)
Desiree Akhavan's debut feature offers up the story of a young woman (Akhavan herself) struggling to become a tall order of a trio: An ideal Persian daughter, a politically correct bisexual, and a hip, young Brooklynite. While the film could have easily ventured into a sort of feature length version of "Girls" (if Lena Dunham was a bisexual and Persian, that is), it develops a true voice of its own in Sundance breakout Akhavan, who tackles an intersection of identity with a somehow charming mix of humor and desolation (give this woman whatever she wants for her follow-up!).
The Case Against 8 (directed by Ben Cotner and Ryan White)
Ben Cotner and Ryan White deservedly won the doc directing prize at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival this past weekend for their film "The Case Against 8." Shot over five years, the film offers an incredible inside look at the legal battle behind overturning Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California back in 2008. It's an inspiring journey that Cotner and White (along with editor Kate Amend, who deserves serious credit here) tightly put together into a very powerful film about a legal battle that will and has dramatically changed the legal rights situation for gay and lesbian couples in the US. But more over, it's a film about people of all different backgrounds and political views -- the main lawyers in the case, David Boies and Ted Olsen, famously went head to head in the case Bush v. Gore that ended up decided the 2000 presidential election -- coming together to enact change that they seem to so deeply believe in.
The Foxy Merkins (directed by Madeleine Olnek)
Madeleine Olnek continues the absurdist tone of 2011 Sundance highlight "Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same" with the "The Foxy Merkins" -- a wacky tale of two lesbian prostitutes (Jackie Monahan and Lisa Haas, the latter of which so-wrote the film with Olnek) who work the streets of New York City. One is a down-on-her-luck newcomer to the scene; the other is a beautiful (and straight) grifter who's got things down. Their adventures are bizarre and offbeat and probably not for everyone, but they sure did work for me: I found "Merkins" to be downright hilarious.
Jamie Marks Is Dead (directed by Carter Smith)
Genre was a very big part of Sundance 2014, and it got its own queer bent thanks to emerging director Carter Smith (who made the incredible short film "Bug Crush") and his "Jamie Marks is Dead." Adapted from Christopher Barzack's young-adult novel "One for Sorrow," it follows teenage Adam (a fantastic Cameron Monaghan), who takes an interest in the death of constantly bullied classmate Jamie Marks (Noah Silver) only to find his ghost emerge in his closet. Which I realize sounds exactly like the hokey "gay ghost movie" billing the film got going into Sundance, but "Jamie Marks Is Dead" goes well beyond that with its poetic, haunting meditation on queer longing and connection without ever going there in the ways you'd expect.