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50 Female-Directed Movies You Should Watch
July 31, 2014 11:12 PM   Subscribe

"DISCLAIMER TIME! 50 is a very small number. I make no claims to any of these lists being either comprehensive or some sort of objective analysis of the 'best' films directed by women. I make selections based on on what I've seen, what I like, and the position of the stars. One film per director. Ready? Let's go." posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (65 comments total) 60 users marked this as a favorite

 
She's dead wrong about Lana Wachowski's post-"Matrix" output, which has been uniformly awesome with the possible exception of "Revolutions."

Also, the American Indies list has a bunch of pretty blah stuff on it but is missing Debra Granik's fantastic "Winter's Bone."

The thing that makes me angriest is the almost complete lack of women making big-budget studio films. Like, I thought "Star Trek 3" would have been a fantastic project to hand to a female director, given the prominence of women in the fandom, but there are almost zero plausible contenders. How many women are there who've made studio movies budgeted at over, say, $100 million? Kathryn Bigelow (who seems to have moved on to exclusively prestige projects), Mimi Leder (who hasn't worked in years [EDIT: except in television, which seems to be more female-friendly across the board]), Betty Thomas (who doesn't seem to really be taken seriously these days), Lana Wachowski (who's probably too specific a talent, and too picky an auteur, to her great credit). Who else is there?
posted by eugenen at 11:37 PM on July 31 [2 favorites]


If you're going to go for a non-obvious choice for your Kathryn Bigelow pick (that is, not The Hurt Locker or Zero Dark Thirty (personally, I think the first is very good, and the second kind of average), don't go for Point Break, that just makes you look like you're going for early nineties action ironically. Go for Strange Days, which is fantastic.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:50 PM on July 31 [5 favorites]


Hell, I'll go for an even more non-obvious choice: K-19: The Widowmaker. Fantastic action flick.
posted by eugenen at 11:58 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]


Thats a good selection of films. I am much more ignorant of female directors than I should be, so thanks for this!
posted by Cannon Fodder at 11:58 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]


If I was making a list like this and was going to include an ironic choice there's no way it wouldn't be Jane Wagner's Moment by Moment.

Lynn Shelton's great. I completely understand when people are turned off by the mumblecore label but everyone should really give her movies a watch.

No Claire Denis or Marguerite Duras?!
posted by edeezy at 12:02 AM on August 1 [1 favorite]


No Claire Denis or Marguerite Duras?!

And no Agnes Varda it seems.
posted by Brian B. at 12:26 AM on August 1 [2 favorites]


Farah Khan
posted by yeolcoatl at 12:44 AM on August 1 [1 favorite]


So, I'm going to suggest (probably to many people's horror) Jennifer Lynch's Boxing Helena, which is just about as perfect a cinematic metaphor for certain kinds of rather evil, controlling relationships as I have ever seen. It's brilliant, the cast is pretty great, the unfolding of the plot starts out horrifying and gets worse, and through it all, Sherilyn Fenn as Helena continues to hold the upper hand in the relationship, despite everything that is happening to her.

Truly a film written and directed by a woman, offering insights into the ways men try to control females that they desire in a way which no male written or directed movie ever could.
posted by hippybear at 1:11 AM on August 1 [2 favorites]


Oh yeah, Winter's Bone is amazing. Seconded and thirded. It's also Jennifer Lawrence's first (or second, maybe?) big role, and she's really showing what she can do.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:13 AM on August 1 [8 favorites]


Liked the list even before I got to "Yes it is! In ’87, Huey released this, Fore, their most accomplished album…"
posted by threeze at 1:38 AM on August 1 [1 favorite]


The thing that makes me angriest is the almost complete lack of women making big-budget studio films. Like, I thought "Star Trek 3" would have been a fantastic project to hand to a female director, given the prominence of women in the fandom, but there are almost zero plausible contenders.

Breaking Bad's Michelle MacLaren will make an excellent blockbuster the very first chance she gets.
posted by EmGeeJay at 1:39 AM on August 1 [2 favorites]


No Claire Denis or Marguerite Duras?!

And no Agnes Varda it seems.


Yeah, the foreign film list seems to be more like "What's on Netflix Instant?" than "Here are some of the greatest films directed by women." Seems unnecessarily myopic.
posted by vacapinta at 1:39 AM on August 1 [1 favorite]


If you're going to go for a non-obvious choice for your Kathryn Bigelow pick (that is, not The Hurt Locker or Zero Dark Thirty (personally, I think the first is very good, and the second kind of average), don't go for Point Break, that just makes you look like you're going for early nineties action ironically. Go for Strange Days, which is fantastic.

Are you already kicking yourself for leaving Near Dark off this list? its got Vasquez and Hudson! Easily in Bigelow's top two films.
posted by biffa at 1:49 AM on August 1 [7 favorites]


Gave it a quick skim, but I don't recall seeing Sally Potter, Jane Campion, or Agnieska Holland in there.

Also, terrible click-bait format for presentation.
posted by kokaku at 1:49 AM on August 1 [2 favorites]


I really liked Saving Face by Alice Wu. I'm bugged that she's never managed to direct another film.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:56 AM on August 1


We Need To Talk About Kevin was an amazing movie, even if I was completely unable to take John C. Reilly seriously.

I thought Clueless was better than Fast Times at Ridgemont High, if we're talking about Amy Heckerling. I'm glad to see her on this list, regardless.

This is a good list, too. Nora Ephron, Asia Argento, Maggie Carey.
posted by pony707 at 1:57 AM on August 1 [1 favorite]


You know what's sad? I said to myself, "I wonder why so many of these women are known for telling men's stories." Like Mary Harron. Then I thought, "That's... probably why they're *known.*"
posted by pony707 at 1:58 AM on August 1 [1 favorite]


You know what's sad? I said to myself, "I wonder why so many of these women are known for telling men's stories." Like Mary Harron. Then I thought, "That's... probably why they're *known.*"

It's a little lame, IMO, to dismissively characterize Harron directing 'American Psycho' as "telling men's stories" -- I thought a woman taking on that book was a gutsy and subversive move.

Agnieszka Holland's 'Burning Bush' is in fact on that list.
posted by eugenen at 2:29 AM on August 1 [2 favorites]


"I wonder why so many of these women are known for telling men's stories."

Check out Marguerite Duras. Her stuff was eye-opening for me. Try L'Amant (she didn't direct it, but she wrote it; it's autobiographical), Hiroshima mon amour...

In France there's also Josiane Balasko, who's got something of an acerbic sense of humor (doesn't work for everyone), Anne-Marie Miéville, and Claudine Nougaret, to name just a few of many.
posted by fraula at 2:38 AM on August 1 [1 favorite]


Scandinavia is a bit under represented on the list.

Susanne Bier's 'In a Better World' got the Best Foreign Language Oscar but 'After the Wedding' is also good.
posted by biffa at 3:48 AM on August 1 [1 favorite]


I owe a huge chunk of my youth to Nora Ephron for having made "You've Got Mail". I only wish she'd never tried to remake "The Women"...
posted by Hermione Granger at 3:51 AM on August 1


This list is incomplete without Kelly Reichardt, for Wendy & Lucy in particular.
posted by dogwalker at 4:13 AM on August 1 [2 favorites]


OH!! And also Alison Maclean who directed one of my favorite movies, Jesus' Son, and then went into TV directing and I hope she will make another feature soon.
posted by dogwalker at 4:22 AM on August 1 [1 favorite]


If you're going to go for a non-obvious choice for your Kathryn Bigelow pick (that is, not The Hurt Locker or Zero Dark Thirty (personally, I think the first is very good, and the second kind of average), don't go for Point Break, that just makes you look like you're going for early nineties action ironically. Go for Strange Days, which is fantastic.

If you want the ultimate, you gotta be willing to pay the ultimate price of jerks on the internet thinking you like something ironically.

Wait, who cares. Point Break rules.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 5:24 AM on August 1


I just looked through the foreign section, since that's mostly what I watch, plus the indie and mainstream parts, and as others have noted what got missed is just ridiculous. The format really sucks ass also; it's like the whole thing got no thought, from the choices of films to how to lay out the article.

No Catherine Beillat? No Asia Argento? Good grief, no Jane Campion?

I mean, this is a nice idea, but given what was left out this is pretty much a joke.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:24 AM on August 1 [3 favorites]


OK, I'll bite: here are > 50 significant (critics and/or box office) movies from French or francophone female directors of the younger generation (so no Kaplan, Varda, Companeez, Mieville or Duras here). Occasionally NSFW. Unifrance can send me a check now.
Mona Achache: Le hérisson
Chantal Akerman: Golden eighties, Un divan à New York
Lisa Azuelos: Comme t-y est belle !, LOL
Sólveig Anspach: Hauts les coeurs!
Pascale Bailly: Dieu est grand, je suis toute petite
Josiane Balasko: Gazon maudit, Ma vie est un enfer (NSFW clip), Cliente
Emmanuelle Bercot: La puce
Catherine Breillat: Romance
Valéria Bruni-Tedeschi: Il est plus facile pour un chameau...
Catherine Corsini: La nouvelle Eve
Josée Dayan: Cet amour-là
Julie Delpy: Two days in Paris, La comtesse, Two days in New York
Claire Denis: Chocolat, Trouble every day, Beau travail
Virginie Despentes: Baise-moi
Marina De Van: Dans ma peau
Anne Fontaine: Mon pire cauchemar
Nicole Garcia: Place Vendôme
Valérie Guignabodet: Monique
Agnès Jaoui: Le goût des autres, Comme une image
Noémie Lvovsky: La vie ne me fait pas peur, Camille redouble
Maïwenn: Le bal des actrices, Polisse
Tonie Marshall: Vénus Beauté
Isabelle Mergault: Je vous trouve très beau
Agnès Merlet: Le fils du requin, Artemisia
Géraldine Nakache: Tout ce qui brille
Pascale Ferran: Lady Chatterley
Diane Kurys: Sagan
Valérie Lemercier: Le derrière, Quadrille
Patricia Mazuy: Saint-Cyr
Agnès Obadia: Romaine par moins 30°C
Euzhan Palcy: A dry white season, Rue Cases-Nègres
Marie Perennou: Microcosmos
Céline Sciamma: La naissance des pieuvres
Coline Serreau: Trois hommes et un couffin, Romuald et Juliette, La crise
Marion Vernoux: Reines d'un jour
Sandrine Veysset: Y aura-t'il de la neige à Noël ?
Yolande Zauberman: Moi Ivan, toi Abraham (no trailer)
posted by elgilito at 5:35 AM on August 1 [14 favorites]


"I wonder why so many of these women are known for telling men's stories." Like Mary Harron...

Check out Mary Harron's excellent I Shot Andy Warhol. She also directed The Notorious Bettie Page, which I haven't seen yet but have heard good things about. Harron is probably better known for American Psycho, but it's not due to her lack of telling women's stories.
posted by Cookiebastard at 5:52 AM on August 1 [1 favorite]


Thank you for this post - I look forward to working through it. Although I was about to snap at the lack of Samira Makhmalbaf on the Foreign Flicks page, until I realized it's broken up into multiple pages and she's on the second. Samira Makhmalbaf, folks: well worth checking out.
posted by Stacey at 5:54 AM on August 1 [1 favorite]


Oh yeah, Winter's Bone is amazing.

Winter's Bone, the novel, is easily one of the top 5 most memorable* pieces of fiction I've ever read.

This is not what this post is about, I know.

* memorable in a strikingly good way
posted by Ella Fynoe at 6:07 AM on August 1


This list is incomplete without Kelly Reichardt, for Wendy & Lucy in particular.

Exactly. She's an American treasure.
posted by The Michael The at 6:26 AM on August 1 [1 favorite]


I recently enjoyed Kelly Reichardt's Old Joy and have been planning to watch Meek's Cutoff for ever. Guess I need to add Wendy & Lucy to the list as well.
posted by czytm at 6:32 AM on August 1 [1 favorite]


This is great!

Looking forward to when A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and Belle are available, but going home tonight to put Dark Touch and Cracks in my Netflix queue and Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superhoines in my Hulu one!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:36 AM on August 1


I'm glad for the inclusion of Punisher: War Zone, even if the author seems confused about the astonishing brilliance of that film.

I'd like to link to one of my favorites, the unjustly forgotten Sarah Jacobson, who was decades too early with her desire to create a zine-like revolution of insependent, microbudget filmmakers, and died of cancer so young she would not live to see exactly the revolution happen. Her two feature length films, I Was a Teenager Serial Killer and Mary Jane Is Not a Virgin Anymore, are impossible to find, although I did track down the latter and write about it.
posted by maxsparber at 6:43 AM on August 1


Wow! Thanks for posting this. So many movies I didn't realized were directed by women. American Psycho?? Who knew!
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:53 AM on August 1


Gillian Armstrong, who directed 'My Brilliant Career', 'Mrs Soffel', 'Little Women' and a most amazing series of documentaries, similar to the Seven Up series, which follows the lives of three women and their families over three decades or so, is worthy of mention.
posted by h00py at 6:54 AM on August 1 [2 favorites]


Can't wait to check this out. My husband and I decided to try to work our way through the AFI top 100 and once in a while, I'll think, these are all movies my father would like but do not interest me at all. Then I feel like I have bad taste - not that I care a whole lot, I like what I like, but what does it say about me if the movies I love are ones that people who know about movies feel ambivalent about? Not much, is my guess.
posted by kat518 at 6:57 AM on August 1


Was there no mention of Lone Scherfig? An Education, Italian for Beginners, Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself. We can just forget about One Day, but Riot Club comes out soon.
posted by mochapickle at 7:10 AM on August 1


It's hard to explain why I love the movie Mamma Mia but I thought it was interesting that it was the highest grossing movie musical of all time worldwide, the 5th highest grossing movie of 2008, and the third highest grossing movie internationally of 2008. It was directed by Phyllida Lloyd who also directed The Iron Lady.
posted by kat518 at 7:13 AM on August 1 [1 favorite]


The Lana Wachowski thing always makes me wonder about the ethics and philosophy of discussing the history of trangendered people and their works.

On one hand, the essentialism argument: Lana Wachowski always felt she was meant to be a woman/was always really a woman and having 'Larry' on those credit blocks is really a standing lie.

On the other hand, the transformative argument: Showing up to the set one day halfway through directing the Matrix sequels was a meaningful moment and can't be belittled as mucking about with just your public persona. That showing up as Lana is more than just the equivalent of 'coming out of the closet'.

I'm curious if there's some consensus on this from transgendered people. I tend to semi-split the difference by referring to specific works under the credited name (generally with a 'formerly' prepended).
posted by whittaker at 7:40 AM on August 1 [1 favorite]


kat518 - yes, I love Mamma Mia, too. It's sort of a great New Year's Eve/Day movie.

I put the disclaimer front and center so peeps would know that this is the author's own particular list - it may not coincide with your choices. There will be glaring omissions. It's great to see people adding what they think is left out, though.

(I hated the format too but what the hey - work with what ya got.)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 7:48 AM on August 1


I think the complain is essentially that it's a bit silly to make a "best" list about movies if you know very little about stuff made outside of the United States and only include token representation of it when you can easily make a big list just for France.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:42 AM on August 1 [1 favorite]


Who else is there?

Angelina Jolie, of course, with In The Land of Blood and Honey, and the upcoming Unbroken.
posted by e1c at 8:56 AM on August 1 [1 favorite]


I think the complain is essentially that it's a bit silly to make a "best" list about movies if you know very little about stuff made outside of the United States and only include token representation of it when you can easily make a big list just for France.

Even more, to make a "50 best" without some of the directors mentioned above (like Jane Campion, say) who have had both critical and commercial success (and only including Sofia Coppola as a reader's suggestion), while including some of the oddball, sort-of-ok-kinda stuff that was included, just makes it look uninformed.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:57 AM on August 1 [1 favorite]


Well, it's just this person's opinion and there's a lot of names there. Add the ones you love right here and now; I'd love to get some more recommendations. Rachel Perkins, for instance, is an Australian director who's responsible for some amazing stuff.
posted by h00py at 9:03 AM on August 1


elgilito, that's a fantastic list! So many great, great French women directors. I'd add at least one to your list, though, Pascale Ferran's Petits arrangements avec les morts. her Lady Chatterly is stunningly good, too, but Petits arrangements is every bit as powerful.
posted by yoink at 9:14 AM on August 1


<derail>Seconded. I can't say enough good things about this early performance. I remember thinking about 20 minutes into the film, "holy shit, she's going places."</derail>
posted by j_curiouser at 9:17 AM on August 1


Surprised not to find Rebecca Miller mentioned at all - I found her film Angela really impressive.
posted by progosk at 9:25 AM on August 1 [1 favorite]


Agnes Varda's Cléo from 5 to 7 is one of my favourite films.

Fat Girl by Catherine Breillat is also fantastic.
posted by whittaker at 9:39 AM on August 1 [3 favorites]


but Petits arrangements is every bit as powerful.

Indeed, I settled for Chatterley because I wanted a movie by Ferran and couldn't find a trailer for the Petits arrangements.
One director I forgot is Marjane Satrapi, who directed Persepolis and the still unreleased surreal "thriller" The voices (Sundance review, no trailer yet) with Ryan Reynolds and a foul-mouthed talking cat.
posted by elgilito at 10:18 AM on August 1


I think the complain is essentially that it's a bit silly to make a "best" list about movies if you know very little about stuff made outside of the United States and only include token representation of it when you can easily make a big list just for France.

I understand this complaint but I appreciate that it appears the author didn't just look for best director nominees at the Oscars and Golden Globes and pull out the films by women. That would have been a different kind of list - still interesting and relevant, but different. I mean, it would have excluded Wayne's World.
posted by kat518 at 10:30 AM on August 1 [2 favorites]


Wow, I just realized that none of the movies on the AFI top 100 were directed by women. That's kind of stunning.
posted by kat518 at 10:35 AM on August 1 [3 favorites]


I have a innate fondness for movies in which women figure out who they are by what they can do, so I was really pleased to see Waitress on the list - the world of the movie really rang true for me, even if it was wrapped up with an almost-fairytale-esque glow. I thought it was smart and insightful.

I also really liked Whip It, which I invariably recommend to younger women of my acquaintance. (Marcia Gay Harden was really strong in her role as Bliss' mother, too!) As a movie, it's a little ragged and there are a lot of familiar motifs and notes, but it is put together well, and in an environment not often seen on screen. The cast really lifts it up. It basically bombed at the box office, but is well worth a rental.

Among early female directors (I was glad to see Ida Lupino on the list, because she had a wonderful eye and strong skills, but she wasn't the first female director by far), I'd recommend Dorothy Arzner's The Wild Party, which features Clara Bow, but she directed a dozen others in the pre-Code era, often with now-famous actress.
posted by julen at 11:47 AM on August 1 [1 favorite]


I also really liked Whip It, which I invariably recommend to younger women of my acquaintance. (Marcia Gay Harden was really strong in her role as Bliss' mother, too!) As a movie, it's a little ragged and there are a lot of familiar motifs and notes, but it is put together well, and in an environment not often seen on screen. The cast really lifts it up. It basically bombed at the box office, but is well worth a rental.

Whip It was totally awesome. It went entirely by the numbers except in all the ways it didn't. It felt (for me, a gay man) to be a very empowering story for women, and it left me pretty euphoric. It's one of those I will watch when I see it on the schedule, because it's got something special going on.
posted by hippybear at 12:24 PM on August 1 [2 favorites]


I don't know anything about Sally Potter's output apart from Orlando, but that film is just so wonderful.

Also, if Tilda Swinton ever directs a feature film I'll be able to die happy.
posted by mr. manager at 12:41 PM on August 1 [3 favorites]


A couple of IMDB lists
posted by el io at 12:41 PM on August 1 [1 favorite]


No Pet Sematary?
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:30 PM on August 1 [1 favorite]


UCLA List of best women directed films in direct response to the lack of women on the AFI list.
posted by el io at 2:26 PM on August 1 [1 favorite]


Oof, how could I have forgotten Titus. Julie Taymor. 1999.
posted by whittaker at 2:29 PM on August 1 [4 favorites]


Ulrike Ottinger
posted by matildaben at 2:32 PM on August 1 [1 favorite]


I guess much of the delight of these lists is the recommendations they inspire, so...

VAGABOND (Agnes Varda) is seriously one of the greatest movies of all time, with a female protagonist more complex and interesting than just about anyone in the last twenty years of American cinema.
And once you've seen that, her documentary THE GLEANERS AND I is terrific

DAISIES (Vera Chytilova): Great anarchist surrealism, and if you can find it, her PANELSTORY is also fantastic

EXPERIMENTAL FILMS (Maya Deren): The mother of us all. Some of the most important experimental films ever made in America, endlessly quoted to this day

WINGS (Larissa Shepitko): Wonderfully observational, low-key, but full of feeling

THE CONNECTION (Shirley Clarke): Classic American scuzziness, with a cast that anticipates a lot of American indie style

PLEASE GIVE (Nicole Holofcener): Holofcener at her worst can drift into indie-movie Nancy Meyers complacency, but this one is smart, lacerating, and like the best policitcal filmmaking, it raises a lot of questions that it refuses to answer. One of the most intriguingly ambiguous ending shots of all time

ME & YOU & EVERYONE WE KNOW: The main plot is a little woo, but the subplot is so original and so untouched by most American film that it's worth it
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:25 PM on August 1 [1 favorite]


I was kind of waiting to see if anyone else would suggest Nicole Holofcener.

OH I have a good one - Sarah Polley, Stories We Tell.
posted by kat518 at 10:01 PM on August 1 [1 favorite]


'Daises' on the blue (what is the opposite of 'previously'? 'nextly'? 'subsequently'?)
posted by el io at 10:43 PM on August 1 [1 favorite]


Lisa Krueger wrote and directed Manny and Lo, which features a tiny little Scarlett Johansson (12 years old) and is very good if you can find it.

This thread has turned into a very useful resource!
posted by danabanana at 6:26 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]


Two of the best movies directed by any gender in the last few years have been Red Road and Fish Tank, both by the phenomenal Andrea Arnold. Red Road has either one of the most realistic sex scenes ever made -- or actual sex between the actors (I can't tell).
posted by anothermug at 11:53 AM on August 4


Oh oh oh oh oh! I forgot about The Woodsman by Nicole Kassell, (Trailer Here).

No movie has ever put me on the edge of my seas in absolute invested suspense as the climax of this film. Ever.
posted by whittaker at 5:56 PM on August 11


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