2017 is the first year I’m participating in 52 Films By Women and the first half seemed to fly by! That doesn’t mean it hasn’t been difficult, because it most definitely has. I mean, I’m still about 2 films behind so obviously it’s a bit of a struggle.
I’ll look at my to-watch list on Netflix or DVR and everything I would assume to be directed by a woman (Vampire Academy or Blue is the Warmest Color, for example) were in fact directed by men. It doesn’t help that Netflix doesn’t even have a dedicated list for female directors when they have one for ‘Time Travel Movies starring William Hartnell.’ You have to physically look through all of the movies and find “feminine sounding” directors (which is NOT a fool-proof method) or find a list online which will almost never be up to date since Netflix plays some strange game of musical chairs every month with their streaming content.
Still, 12 of my 26 films were watched through Netflix. Other than that, 6 were through either Amazon Prime or Hulu, 4 were DVDs from my public library, 2 on cable, 1 rented through the playstation store (thanks Dan!), and 1 at a public screening a friend and I stumbled into at a park while we were in the Twin Cities.
You can see my whole list of what I’ve watched so far right here, but right now I’m going to take you through some of my favorite films I watched because of this challenge, in chronological order.
The To Do List (2013) Directed by Maggie Carey
What I jokingly call the pinnacle of cinema. This was my first “oh my god a man could not have come up with anything even CLOSE to this” moment.
The “Wings Beneath My Wings” scene is the greatest two minutes of film ever recorded and definitely reminded me of the “Time After Time” scene in Parks and Rec, so that’s probably just Aubrey’s presence.
Is it an AMAZING film with a PERFECT premise and GREAT execution? No, because it doesn’t have to be.
It follows Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza) as she figures out the difference between attraction and societal pressure by taking her sexuality into her own hands. She chooses who she experiment with and what they do…with a binder full of charts.
It’s a painfully straight, white movie but it does center around women choosing to have a lot of sex and thoroughly enjoying it, from a female perspective. Now I want this same movie but made by/with queer women and women of color, like now.
Happy New Year (2014) Directed by Farah Khan
I’ve watched this one 3 times this year and have loved it each and every time. This one is for people who LIKE how goofy Bollywood action-comedies tend to be and wouldn’t look away from a 3 hour foreign language heist movie.
It’s the team heist musical I never knew I needed. “Heist” here is used fairly loosely since more than half of the movie is dedicated to a dance competition. The trailer is bad-ass and really gets to the heart of the cheese fest that is this film.
The family dynamics within the team is some of the cutest shit I’ve ever seen, because family is the heart of this film and it’s not exclusive to blood relatives.
There’s a thin line between inclusion in a comedy film and ableist jokes and this film does cross the line from time to time. I just really, really love a team who works together and accomplishes what needs to get done where everyone has a disability.
I could go on and on about the inclusion of the differing classes and all of the things the characters pointed out as being shitty things to do/say (the sexism, slutshaming, racism) but I know I’d be told I was reaching because hey this is a movie about vomiting and laughing at guys doing traditional feminine things!! The worst bit in the whole movie is a cross-dressing blackmail bit which sucks!!
Remember that western comedies directed by men get away with A LOT more, though. Men can get away with being boring and no fun. This, however, is not boring at all and is super fun for the most part! Underdogs! Music! Family dynamics! Dancing! Disabled main characters! Slow motion abs! Really silly gags and running jokes! Fun!
Watched through Netflix.
Girl Asleep (2015) Directed by Rosemary Myers
This lil Australian indie perfectly sums up what it feels like to be 15: scary weird. Like a comedic feminist Wes Anderson take on Alice in Wonderland and Coraline, it shows how magical and terrifying teen girls are to themselves.
It follow 15 year old Greta trying to survive the surprise party her parents invited (blackmailed?) her whole school to, as well as trying deal with the mere concept of growing up. She wants to escape it all, so she enters the metaphorical rabbit hole to an intriguing, horrifying parallel dimension. To get through it she will need to discover her identity, influenced by her childhood but strong enough to allow her to survive.
It’s beautiful and charming and weird and hilarious and gross and magical and heartwarming. The ending is probably one of my favorite scenes of anything ever.
Watched through Netflix.
13th (2016) Directed by Ava DuVernay
Every good thing you’ve heard about this documentary is true. It is that important, it is that well-done. There is nothing I can add to the discussion of this film that hasn’t already been said. Watch it.
It’s a passive act of activism to watch this film and tell others it’s as good as everyone says, but it’s still something we can all do. Watch it.
Under the Same Moon (2008) ‘La misma luna’ Directed by Patricia Riggen
People (see: white americans who had to watch this film in their highschool Spanish class) apparently don’t like this one, but to be honest it hits all the right tropes for me.
The film switches back and forth between two story lines: nine-year-old Carlitos in Mexico missing his mother, Rosario, who left him with his grandmother to travel to America to support them. When Carlitos’ grandmother passes away, he sees only one choice. He plans to go find his mother in America and help her work before she finds out when she calls in a week, when she’d surely make a plan to make the dangerous and expensive journey back. He makes a friend as he goes and with the help of this father figure, he has a lifetime of adventures and finally reunites with his mother.
“But Kyra, it’s just not realistic!” Oh, I’m sorry, does every story featuring illegal immigrants have to be a tragic cautionary tale? There can’t be this ONE cheesy, predictable story about family and love directed by a female Mexican director? Yeah, that’s what I thought.
Watched through Netflix.
The Dressmaker (2015) Directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse
Forget about the boring poster, forget about vaguely hearing last award season that it’s some beautiful romance, forget whatever word association the title inspires. I think it’s better going into this one knowing as little as possible.
I will say it’s another beautifully filmed, dark and twisty Australian movie about womanhood. It also has amazing performances from all of the leads (there’s a very attractive Hemsworth next to a very attractive Winslet) so honestly, unless you can’t handle just how dark Australia’s dark humor tends to be, there’s no risk going into this film, you’re going to love SOMETHING about it.
Watched through Amazon Prime.
Speed Racer (2008) Directed by Lana Wachowski & Lilly Wachowski
If you haven’t watched this, what the hell are you waiting for? I know I was waiting until my father was out of the house before putting it on because he HATES this movie with his whole being, which frankly made the fact that it was GOOD even BETTER. This is movie making MAGIC. They had to create a new filming technology to create those visuals. NEW TECHNOLOGY, GUYS.
It’s like going to Disney World and eating every cartoon character shaped sugary treat and then riding roller coasters for the rest of the day and despite what your mothers warnings, you never get sick, and there are no lines. It’s like going to a rave where no one feels you up or pushes you to the sticky ground and no one overdoses ever. Weirdly enough, it’s really how I wanted the Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland to be, but obviously the Wachowski’s are just all around better people and directors than Burton. I love these women!
I still don’t have enough knowledge to talk about the white-washing that I assume is there, because frankly I never see it mentioned (it’s still on me, though, I could spend a more than an hour digging).
Cameraperson (2016) Directed by Kirsten Johnson
This may not be your cup of tea, but if you have ever enjoyed a documentary and been impressed with it’s story or it’s structure, watch this.
As a writer I never want to describe something as “hard to describe,” especially since it has a pretty straight forward concept. Kirsten Johnson takes “left over” footage from various documentaries she filmed over the span of her professional career as a cameraperson to create a kind of memoir. However, the brilliance of the buildup created in editing these clips together feels hard to describe.
I think because, to someone who has shot and edited small projects, who both understands and doesn’t understand, it feels like magic. It felt like magic watching it. I was bored and wary at first, I’m going to be honest, but there was a soon point where I realized I was not only invested but anxious. This story made out of pieces of other stories was fully engrossing. I don’t know where that point came where it just pulled me in, because it was such a subtle build up. This is the most well-edited film I have ever seen.
Queen of Katwe (2016) Directed by Mira Nair
I have a soft spot for Disney sports movie, especially since there hasn’t been one in a few years…and definitely not one of this caliber. There are some complaints that this film is too cookie cutter but I disagree. I don’t believe we’ve had a widely distributed film this sincere and grounded about life in Africa and young women being confident in their intelligence.
It is the true story of Phiona Mutesi who became the first and only chess master in Uganda. I believe this film in unique because it was crafted with the care and resources to deliver something Phiona could be proud of, not just something for American audiences to project their own vision of Uganda and the people who live there. It tugs at the heartstrings, of course, because of it being a true story, but it doesn’t feel like “inspiration porn” (which does not mean it’s not as inspiring as Phiona hopes it is).
I’m a white American so I could be wrong, but from what I’ve gathered not only does it follow the true story incredibly close but Nair, who is from India but lived in Phiona’s hometown for decades, used the true locations and casted locals as pretty much all of the characters minus the ~5 leads. Every cast member gives a brilliant, honest performance, including Lupita Nyong’o who absolutely destroyed me as Phiona’s mother.
Watched through Netflix.
Clueless (1995) Directed by Amy Heckerling
This is a rewatch, obviously, but I’m counting it because I didn’t just like watch it on TV. I somehow found an outdoor screening last month and it was a completely new experience watching it with a crowd. There’s nothing like a line written 20 years ago that relates to the current political climate and hearing maybe 250 college kids cheer at an inflatable screen. Really, there’s nothing like watching 250 college kids cheer at Jane Austen. Still perfect, still fashion goals, still begrudgingly shipping the lead couple.
Thanks for reading! What are your favorite films directed by women? Let me know in the comments or tweet me at @kyra_kat! Speaking of twitter, click here to share this post if you enjoyed it, it helps out a lot!