WHO—Russell Tovey (Looking), hot discovery Arinzé Kene (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them).
WHAT—A twisty half-naked bromance in three acts. Two overstimulated young athletes on the road share a hotel room the night before a championship match that will make or break their futures. Shared history and suppressed energies come to a head in an encounter that will shape their characters in divergent ways, setting the stage for a showdown a decade later.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE—It’s rare to see a work that dissects the battle between fame and personal integrity with subtlety and emotional resonance, and rarer still to see a film adaptation that doesn’t show the strain of its theatrical origins, but this propulsive pas de deux scores on both counts. As two jocks in and out of something like love, Tovey and Kene give sizzling performances.
WHO—Buzzy young British import Harris Dickinson, polishing his Brooklyn accent for director Eliza Hittman (It Felt Like Love) alongside Neal Huff (Take Me Out) and Madeline Weinstein (Broadway’s The Real Thing). Co-created by Alamo Drafthouse’s Tim League.
WHAT—A directionless teenager turns to weed, weights, and circumscribed sexual exploration to anesthetize himself against life in outer Brooklyn with a dying dad and overwhelmed mother. Online hookups with men provide an outlet, and an interested girl provides cover, but honest self-acknowledgment and happiness prove elusive.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE—Hittman has a distinctive eye for portraying emerging sexuality with raw specificity. Rats won the drama directing prize at Sundance, and Dickinson’s raw performance has been winning raves.
Paris 05:59: Théo & Hugo
WHO—Writer-directors Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau (Côte d’Azur) and a cast of hunky French actors.
WHAT—Lighting strikes for two men who meet at a sex club, where intense sex leads to even more intense questions of risk, mortality, and true love. Passion and escape bleed into profound real-life challenges and romantic revelations.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE—Did we mention there’s lots of hot, explicit sex? The film opens with a nearly 20-minute artfully erotic tableau, then transcends the merely physical for an emotionally potent love story. A provocative exploration of gay experience from a filmmaking duo whose movies are never anything less than delightful, and often quite a bit more.
This Is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous
WHO—YouTube sensation and transgender personality Gigi Gorgeous, Oscar-winning documentarian Barbara Kopple.
WHAT—Home-video and DIY footage plus recent interviews catalogue the many lives of Gigi, from potentially Olympic-caliber diver to bullied teen to beloved gay YouTube makeup artiste (“My camera became my therapist and YouTube became my diary”) to trolled transgender woman—and lesbian.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE—Family values. The star’s deepening relationship with her father, transcending his initial resistance to his “different” child in the wake of his wife’s death from cancer, promises to tug at the heart: “Having Gigi happy is more important than my having old Greg.” And is there a more timely icon for our age of eternal reinvention? A film that speaks to our present moment, no matter what bathroom you use.
God’s Own Country
WHO—Josh O’Connor (Florence Foster Jenkins), Ian Hart (Boardwalk Empire), Gemma Jones (Bridget Jones’s Diary).
WHAT—Freshman director Francis Lee’s tale of country love in Yorkshire between a shutdown young man and the Romanian migrant worker hired to help him with his—wait for it— sheep-farming duties pays homage to Brokeback Mountain while mounting its own clear-eyed exploration of sexual resistance and surrender.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE—Critics have tagged this as an unusually timely (can you say immigrant?) boy-meets-boy tale both surprising and skilled at toying with conventions. O’Connor’s highly praised turn alongside newcomer Alec Secareanu promises to cast both light and heat.
Call Me by Your Name
WHO—Armie Hammer (Winklevoss, anyone?), Timothée Chalamet (Homeland), co-writer James Ivory.
WHAT— A rapturously received adaptation of André Aciman’s provocative and polarizing novel, in which a 17-year-old’s sexuality is awakened at the hands of an American intruder in his cozy European universe.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE—Has there ever been such a frenzy of anticipation for a film about man-boy love? Judging by interviews they’ve given about the, um, physicality of their roles, the actors are sure to have more chemistry than Armie had with his last onscreen boyfriend, Leo DiCaprio. Idiosyncratic director Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love) may well be the ideal match for Aciman’s heightened sensibilities.
WHO—Hugh Grant, Rupert Graves, James Wilby, Helena Bonham Carter, all so young and beautiful it hurts.
WHAT—The Merchant Ivory classic, restored and rebooted audiovisually for its 30-year anniversary, tells of suppressed lust among the upper classes and boldly realized love with the ideal manservant.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE—If you’ve never seen this gorgeous adaptation of the E.M. Forster novel, prepare to swoon. If you have, you owe yourself a return trip, letting Hugh Grant’s cowardice give way to Rupert Graves’ heart-stopping gaze.
Bayard & Me
WHO—Gay civil rights pioneer Bayard Rustin and his “adopted son,” Walter Naegle, captured by director Matt Wolf (HBO’s It’s Me, Hilary: The Man Who Drew Eloise).
WHAT—A fascinating glimpse into the love story of groundbreaking—if criminally unsung—activist Rustin and Naegle, the man with whom he took on “three taboos at once.”
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE—In Naegle’s oddly eloquent and entertaining voice, we travel an intricate path from the improbable moment they met to the original family they forged in a complex 16-minute documentary that merges history with personal drama and leaves you hungry for more.