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Greatest Films Directed by Women

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Greatest Films Directed by Women

52 of the Best Movies Directed By Women

Greatest Films Directed by Women

A while back, I asked my friends and colleagues to choose their favourite films of all time. The result led to mixed reactions (both by staff and readers), and some angry feedback. But how could any of us select only ten films from the thousands we’ve seen and walk away happy with the results. Of all the films which received a vote, it was those more widely available who made the cut. In other words, films such as The Godfather and Pulp Fiction stood a greater chance of receiving more ballots than say, obscure foreign gems.

My biggest disappointment with the picks, although only ten films were spotlighted, was the lack of votes for films directed by women. Could it be that none of us valued great directors such as Claire Denis, Agnès Varda, Chantal Akerman or Lina Wertmüller? Well no, there was those of us who voted for films directed by women, just not enough of us. So I decided to go back and ask everyone to send a list of their favourite films directed by women. In celebration of International Women’s Day, here is a list of some of the best films directed by women, listed in alphabetical order.

Editor’s note:

There were three films tied in first place for most votes. Which films? It doesn’t really matter. What is important is to know that every single one of these films comes highly recommended by us. Hopefully it will inspire some of you to seek out those movies you are not yet already familiar with.

Honourable mentions: There were a few films voted on that didn’t make the cut that were co-directed by a woman including The Turin Horse and Werckmeister Harmonies (both co-directed by Ágnes Hranitzky) –Persepolis (co-directed by Marjane Satrapi) and Little Miss Sunshine (co-directed by Valerie Faris). There are two otehr films co-directed by women which received enough votes to appear down below.

There are two short films mentioned below: Skyscraper by Shirley Clarke and Wasp by Andrea Arnold.

There was some back-and-forth discussion on who exactly directed the 1952 Film Noir On Dangerous Ground. Nicholas Ray is credited as director but Ida Lupino was said to have taken over the production midway through. She remains uncredited but we figured we should mention this factoid.

Finally, some of us voted for Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse assuming Eleanor Coppola directed the documentary. However the film is credited as directed by Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper using footage filmed by Eleanor Coppola, thus excluding the pic from our list.

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Great Movies Directed by Women

(In Alphabetical order)

Greatest Films Directed by Women 35 rhums

35 Rhum (35 Shots of Rum)
Directed by Claire Denis

Blending poeticism and realism has been part of Denis’ repertoire for some time but it has never been quite as soulful and seductive as it is with 35 Shots of Rum. Denis, who has called the film a tribute to the great Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu, delicately explores the relationship between a widowed Parisian train driver and his university student daughter. Impressively directed, beautifully acted, and with a terrific soundtrack, the painfully slow pacing and relative lack of dialogue may prove off putting to some but 35 Shots of Rum is supremely confident film-making at its very best. (Ricky D)

Greatest Films Directed by Women

Across the Universe
Directed by Julie Taymor

Julie Taymor’s vision for 2007’s Across the Universe is anything but boring – the film became transcendent within the realms of what is known to be a musical. Summoning divine feminine spirit, the energy of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and the rock n’ roll soul of Ken Russell’s 1975 Tommy, viewers were in for a visually stunning art installation backboned by the Vietnam War. The discography of the Beatles adds another layer to this already visually stunning project. Audiences new and old can transport themselves into a story of the grooviest era of American history. (Amanda R Vogel)

Greatest Films Directed by Women

A League of Their Own
Directed by Penny Marshall

“Dying is Easy, Comedy is Hard” -Edmund Gwenn

Penny Marshall gets a lot of credit – and deservedly so – for being the first female director to crack the $100 million dollar barrier at the box office, doing it once with Big and a second time with A League of Their Own. (In today’s dollars each film grossed over 200 million.) But her more important and impressive achievement is A League of Their Own, an historical film about a forgotten piece of women’s history that Marshall turned into a mainstream hit. Possibly the first sports film to pass the Bechdel Test, Marshall took a story that could have been turgid and strident and made into a comedic souffle , using the comedic timing she developed first as an actress on the Mary Tyler Moore ShowHappy Days and Laverne and Shirley, before becoming a comedy director for Laverne and Shirley and ultimately feature films.

Coming out 20 years after the passage of Title IX – a law that forced colleges and universities funded with federal money to give equal opportunities to female athletes, A League of Their Own, reminded us of what female baseball players accomplished during WWII when given an opportunity and (in a way) predicted a future where women athletes would take the opportunity given to them by Title IX to vault to levels of popularity that rivalled male athletes. It is a hall-mark of great films that before they are made they seem impossible, and afterwards they are much imitated. Without A League of Their Own is it possible to imagine Bend it Like Beckham, Girl Fight, Million Dollar Baby, or the immense popularity of the 1999 U.S. Women’s World Cup team?

Delivering a message without ever preaching, A League of Their Own is one of the best sports films of all time and one of the most fondly remembered. There may be no crying in baseball, but I am delighted this film made our list. (Michael Ryan)

American Psycho

American Psycho
Directed by Mary Harron

Imagery of feeding ATM machines stray cats, violent threesomes with prostitutes and chucking chainsaws down a spiral staircase may seem like the psychotic narcissism of an over-testosterone filled male, but in fact comes from the twisted yet creative mind of female Canadian director and writer Mary Harron in American Psycho. Following a wealthy New York investment banking executive (Christian Bale), Patrick Bateman hides his alternate schizoid ego from his business partners and loved ones, as he escalates deeper into his irregular, gratuitous fantasies. Tossed between actors and directors, first with Johnny Depp and David Cronenberg (Videodrome) and later with Leonardo DiCaprio and Oliver Stone (Natural Born Killers), the psychological thriller was certainly not a far stretch in bringing this 2000 cult satire based on Bret Easton Ellis’s novel to unfathomable grotesque heights. The genre-defying director wasn’t an amateur prior to American Psycho to controversial topics. She conquered I Shot Andy Warhol, about the controversial feminist and author of the S.C.U.M. Manifesto, Valerie Solanas, in 1996. Blurring the lines between professional realities and personal prisons, American Psycho surely plays as a horror but goes deeper into the torment of the human psyche and sexual conundrums. Why would a woman dive so deep into the dark crevasses of the mental psychosis, especially one that disregards women? Why not? Take the famous business card scene, where Bateman compares business cards with his fellow colleagues. The scene plays anxiously as we hear the nervousness and jealousy in Bateman’s monologue. The audience suffocates with him, as we hear the faintness of a heart beat pulsating alongside the conference table. It’s even quite satirical and funny as we see the blunt similarity between cards and the chauvinistic pride each man exudes of their own. Why, you may ask? Perhaps we need a female touch to make violence come across as art, and Harron certainly does it right. (Chris Clemente)

Greatest Films Directed by Women

An Education
Directed by Lone Scherfig

While coming-of-age drama and starch collar oppression of newly found sense of freedom can hardly be described as an original subject for British drama, indeed every film between hard knocks urban melancholy seems to be this particular story, rarely has it been done so expertly, and successfully, as with Lone Scherfig’s An Education.

Gorgeously shot in London’s swinging 60’s, providing a wonderful juxtaposition of jazzy fun loving and conservative restraint, this adaptation of Lynn Barber’s memoir follows 16 year old Jenny (Carey Mulligan), a bright and witty school girl on the cusp of a seemingly inevitable trail to Oxford and through it life long boredom. Then she meets the charming and cultured David (Peter Sarsgaard), a man twice her age who immediately earns her affections with his intelligence and wry attitude towards each day, leading her on a romantic adventure showing the best, and eventually worst, the world has to offer.

Though sadness and dishonesty may only be hidden thinly behind the veneer of wish fulfillment and up in arms joy at the better things, An Education retains a positive smile even when the grin fade, positing the value of broken hearts and shattered dreams, and that ever coveted happiness can be drawn from self-care and strength, not blind luck and random chance that should be scrutinized if not dismissed. Led by a superb (and star making) central turn from the uniquely expressive Mulligan and backed by a uniformly outstanding supporting cast, Scherfig paints a bedazzling, seductive and highly memorable picture out of Nick Hornby’s screenplay that navigates the dreamy and the rocky and emerges as a triumphant and deeply endearing tale of discovery, both of life and self. (Scott Patterson)

Greatest Films Directed by Women

A New Leaf
Directed by Elaine May

Thirty years ago, May made this darkly savage romantic comedy that really turns the genre on its head and that remains unmatched to date both for its laugh-out-loud humor an its completely unromanticized take on a love story. Matthau plays an aging, unemployable, trust-fund millionaire who, having managed to run through his inheritance, sees no way out but to marry a rich woman. Fate has him grazing shoulders with Henrietta (played by Elaine May herself), a shy, somewhat clumsy heiress lacking in social grace and perhaps a little too interested in botany to make for interesting dinner company. The version that’s available to watch is the watered-down, “palatable” version, and arguably May’s 3-hour original cut of this film is darker and more disturbing to watch. But even this version avoids all the common pitfalls of being either too sentimental or too cynical and whereas one character is perhaps more sympathetic, the other is clearly more attractive. May’s genius lies in finding amidst all this darkness, Renoir’s humanism without succumbing to easy happy-ever-after endings or on the other hand, simple shock-value bitterness. The savagery only adds to the intensity of its romantic center. (Seema)

Beau Travail

Beau Travail
Directed by Claire Denis

At once a literate piece of pop music-fuelled psychology and a feminist fetish picture on the curiosity of the male routine, Beau Travail realigns the modern military man with his homoerotic ancestors. Like Greeks glistening in the sun, Claire Denis’ soldiers don’t fight for love or for honour but for the built-in structure of performing tasks dutifully and teasing their physical superiority. Loosely adapted from Herman Melville’s novella Billy Budd, Denis’ evocative ode to repression and regimentation re imagines the classic tale of mutiny in contemporary Djibuti, where a platoon of French foreign legion officers trains for a war that never comes. Gregorie Colin is model recruit Galoup, whose perfection is balanced by his superior’s (Denis Lavant) seething jealousy (or lust). The mysterious and timeless landscape of Africa is the ideal grounds for a masculine rivalry, where the victor comes out on top not through force of strength but by strength of will in suppressing and sublimating the weakness of all men: desire. (Shayne Ramirez)

Bright Star | Greatest Films Directed by Women

Bright Star
Directed by Jane Campion

Perhaps one of the most startling things about Campion’s film is that Keats isn’t necessarily the centerpiece. Nor is his poetry, necessarily. When Campion inserts his poetry into the film, which she does rather frugally, it’s to punctuate and illustrate the film’s themes. One of Campion’s biggest triumphs is to not even attempt to film the poetry or for that matter, to try and explain the process through which poetry is created. Instead, the gorgeous sun-dappled cinematography accomplishes the near-impossible task of having us experience the world through our senses the way Keats seems to have. The film is just as concerned with painstakingly recreating the delicate daily rhythms of domestic life in pre-industrial England as it is in capturing the arduous passion underlying a relationship that’s constantly besieged by sickness and death. Campion and her film are less interested in Keats the genius and the legend and more in the poet too poor to marry and the spunky seamstress that captured his imagination. (Seema)

Greatest Films Directed by Women

But I’m a Cheerleader (1999)
Directed by Jamie Babbit

Conversion therapy, homophobia, and families disowning their children are incredibly serious issues, and it takes a skillful filmmaker to tackle them as well as Jamie Babbit does in her 1999 classic But I’m a Cheerleader. A satire of conversion therapy, But I’m a Cheerleader is filled to the brim with laughter, fun, romance, and joy, but it is never disrespectful of the struggles of people who have gone through the severe trauma caused by conversion therapy. When films try to represent the struggles of marginalized groups, they often either focus only on the struggle and end up dehumanizing people by robbing them of their complexity, or they try too hard to minimize or resolve the struggles and end up erasing trauma. Babbit’s film is a masterclass on how to balance these two extremes to tell a truly nuanced, human story. The cinematography, design, and performances are all excellent, and But I’m a Cheerleader rightfully earns its status as a queer classic. In addition to celebrities like RuPaul and Mink Stole, it is also full of “before they were famous” appearances by stars Clea DuVall, Natasha Lyonne, Michelle Williams and Melanie Lynskey, showing Babbit’s strong eye for casting. (Steven Greenwood)

Greatest Films Directed by Women

Cleo 5 a 7
Directed by Agnès Varda

Varda’s French New Wave masterpiece Cleo 5 a 7 is very different than those of her contemporaries. Among the very few films of the movement about women, Varda also offers a new perspective on youth: namely, the fear of having it slip away. The movement is one that has always been characterized by the youthful rambunctiousness of the male spirit, but through the fragile physical beauty of her character, suggests the painful mortality of the flesh. Set in more or less real time, the time frame, which involves a lot of waiting and nothing, leaves a lot of room for uncomfortable reflection. It allows us to enter into Cleo’s mindset, which could easy to dismiss for its vapidness, except that as much as we aspire to value freedom, love and justice, beauty means a whole lot to us. (Justine Smith)

Clueless

Clueless
Directed by Amy Heckerling

Amy Heckerling has an uncanny talent to make socially-relevant teen films. Her debut film Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) is still considered a significant teen film in popular culture 30 years on from its initial release. In 1995, she wrote and directed one of the more successful adaptations of a Jane Austen novel. Revitalising Austen’s EmmaClueless stars a then-unknown Alicia Silverstone as the spoilt yet good-natured Cher, who acts as matchmaker amongst the Beverly Hills social elite.

Funny, sweet and imaginative, Clueless was an unexpected success, raising its stars – including Donald Faison, Paul Rudd and the late Brittany Murphy – to international fame. Now, 17 years later, Clueless is one of the very few teen films that has survived the dangers of being dated due to the cultural impact of ‘Valspeak’, its timeless but totally relatable social situations and most importantly, how it just shows how tough life can be for a rich and popular 16-year-old girl from the Hills. (Katie Wong)

Greatest Films Directed by Women

The Decline of Western Civilization
Directed by Penelope Spheeri

It’s a cliché, but it has resonances here and there: we begin our lives in rebellion but end up as much more sedate creatures. Penelope Spheeris broke through with this stellar document of early-80s LA punk; you might not have guessed at the time that she’d wind up as a serial director of safe studio comedies (Black Sheep, Little Rascals, Beverly Hillbillies, etc.). Maybe that’s because Decline is such a seedy blast, replete with candid and sometimes distressing interviews (no one should have been surprised when Darby Crash of The Germs kicked it shortly after the film was released), not to mention plenty of agreeably loose concert footage. Anyone with even a passing interest in punk owes it a watch, whether they’ve moved onto the mortgage or not. (Simon Howell)

Greatest Films Directed by Women

Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Directed by Amy Heckerling

We’ve got the precocious inexperienced heroine, the cool older brother, the beautiful girl next door, the slacker stoner and the stammering nerd. Sound like almost every high school comedy you’ve ever seen? Well, Fast Times at Ridgemont High did it first. The film manages to rise far above the character tropes to show us the human side of the stereotype and it manages to do it in a way that the film that is most lauded for doing this, John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club, never does. In The Breakfast Club, the weird girl still has to put on make up so the jock will like her and the nerd ends up without a girl and having to do everyone’s homework. What’s more, no one in their right mind believes that these five people will even so much as look at each other when Monday comes around. In Fast Times, each character gets their moment in the sun and when characters interact with each other it seems genuine and not just for the sake of subverting stereotypes.

Take Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn), your average stoner and slacker. He has his fair share of hilarious mishaps but we also get to see the consequences of his constant slacking off. That this involves one of the best screen teachers in high school comedy history, Mr. Hand (Ray Walston), is just a bonus. Or take Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh); she has just started high school and it’s obvious she’s unaware of her effect on guys. Naturally, she’s flattered by the attention she suddenly gets and gets into more than one situation she’s not prepared for. This, too, has some real life consequences for her that we would not find in your average teenage rom-com.

Though the screenplay for Fast Times was written by Cameron Crowe based on his experiences shadowing some real students at a high school, Amy Heckerling’s assured direction makes this film the perfect blend of comedy and pathos, of hilarious moments and heartfelt, emotional ones. Clearly Heckerling knows the ins and outs of the high school crowd (which she would later demonstrate again with the cult classic Clueless). She also manages to get some amazing performances out of some very young actors, many of whom have Heckerling and this movie to thank for their career and stardom. (Laura Holtebrinck)

Fish Tank

Fish Tank
Directed by Andrea Arnold

Andrea Arnold burst into the independent filmmaking world with Red Road and gave the world the latest and most difficult adaptation of Wuthering Heights in 2011. In between those two films she did her best work (to date) in Fish Tank, in which 15 year old Mia’s world is rocked when her mother brings home a new boyfriend, played by the persistently reliable Michael Fassbender. With this and to a less refined extent Red Road, Arnold is the closest a British female director has come to perfecting the social realism ideal in over a decade. In the modern era, Fish Tank is solitary in that it uses the female experience to paint something which has been shied away from in both the classic era of social issues cinema and in modern cinema in general and that is the experience of teenagers in dead-end small time towns, told with a searing honesty and an approach which is never anything less than difficult – an approach that only comes with understanding. Women don’t often get the chance to present their experiences through the medium of cinema; Fish Tank is the answer to that famine. Although clearly set in the modern day with hip-hop and gang culture, this is a film that will last, not because of its rarity, but because of the way the director employs documentarian levels of story and character in an uncompromising look at the real England. Outside of Mike Leigh and Ken Loach, who are much more interested in masculinity, nobody makes films like this. (Robert Simpson)

Greatest Films Directed by Women

Friday Night (Vendredi Soir)
Directed by Claire Denis

Rarely has a film been so concerned with and attuned to little apart from the accumulation of simple sensory pleasures. The most pared down of all of Denis’s films, it’s also one of her sweetest, warmed and almost certainly the sexiest. The first half of the film is set almost entirely in a traffic jam, a simple sequence that Denis imbues with whimsical playful touches. Denis emphasizes the beauty and poetry to be found in the most quotidian of details – in the rain-soaked cars bumping up against each other, in the glow of the city lights at night, the curling of cigarette smoke. Denis observes her two protagonists in much the same way shooting their encounter almost entirely in abstract close-ups – feet rubbing together, fingers tracing patterns on bare skin, tangling of limbs. The film is a celebration of the simplest of the pleasures, of giving in to the heady pleasures of a night without worrying about what the imminent day might bring. (Seema)

The Headless Woman

The Headless Woman (La mujer sin cabeza)
Directed by Lucrecia Martel

Lucrecia Martel’s third and most accomplished feature film is a widely framed, delicately composed hallucination. Featuring a tangible, feverish soundscape, this is a film that you could close your eyes and watch. Ostensibly about a possibly-dead dog, The Headless Woman recalls the paranoia of early Polanski and the personal drama of some of Rowlands and Casavettes best collaborations. Murder mystery, senility/psychological drama, and class commentary all wrapped into one. (Neal Dhand)

Greatest Films Directed by Women

The Hitch-Hiker
Directed by Ida Lupino

Longtime friends Roy (Edmond O’Brien) and Gilbert (Frank Lovejoy) are driving into Mexico for some respite and escape from their ordinary lives. Roy is the seemingly optimistic one, anticipating their upcoming vacation, whereas Gilbert is a more subdued fellow, experiencing something of a midlife crisis, at least judging by the few lines that help describe his life and thoughts on the past. One evening they pick up Emmett (William Talman), unaware he is an infamous hitch-hiking serial killer who roams the more desolate, rural America. The killer rapidly turns their joyride into a hellish one-way road into danger.

The Hitch-Hiker is a gloriously low budgeted film noir (as so many noirs were) that has never really earned the respect and reputation it deserves. The most probable factor behind its lack of recognition is that, unlike many of the more prominent noirs, seemingly take on an aspect of gritty, pessimistic, paranoid, post-war America, at least not overtly. Lupino makes tremendous use of the rural Mexican setting to highlight just how uncomfortably and desperately alone the two protagonists are with the titular villain holding them hostage. There is so much space to run away, and yet nowhere to really hide and because of that they will have to outwit Emmett is clever fashion if they are to survive the ordeal. William Talman gives a bracing, almost hammy performance which somehow fits perfectly with the story. Tense, well filmed, with some unforgettable scenes (the target practice scene is cringe-worthy in the best way possible), The Hitch-Hiker is a taut thriller and an overlooked gem. (Edgar Chaput)

Greatest Films Directed by Women

The Hurt Locker
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

Who’d have thought that the director of surfing-action epic Point Break would be responsible for the most visceral and grounded piece of Iraq-related filmmaking to come out of America since the conflict began? The Hurt Locker follows a crack team of US soldiers whose specialty lies in dispatching IEDs – a job that routinely places them in unpredictable and precarious places, as we see in a remarkable opening sequence that depicts the minute effects of a deadly bomb blast. Bigelow makes a number of idiosyncratic choices to ramp the tensions – from counting down the number of days left in the squad’s tour of duty, to an almost complete lack of music in tense scenes. Most intriguingly, she casts relatively obscure players in the lead roles of the three soldiers while relegating A-listers to one-scene bit parts, a sign that on a battlefield this unforgiving and alien, there is no room for heroes. The characters stay focused on survival rather than on heavy-handed moralizing or speechmaking – as they should. The film’s attack-lull-attack-lull structure, while endearingly reminiscent of a modern horror film, does make the 130-minute running time a bit taxing – but it’s nothing compared to a tour of duty. (Simon Howell)

Greatest Films Directed by Women

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
Directed by Chantal Akerman

Even if gender roles and sexuality are foremost and forefront in Chantal Akerman’s provocatively patient 3-hour-plus domestic epic Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, the movie’s reach is not just social and political; it’s psychological and spiritual in the deepest most unnerving way. Delphine Seyrig (queen of experimental cinema) is cryptically sympathetic as the titular Jeanne, a Belgian house-widow, single mother and casual incall escort whose repetitious existence over three days is chronicled in exhaustive detail. Akerman has the eye of a deeply compassionate researcher – sensitive, meticulous, dispassionate – and in so doing drives you to wonder: is Jeanne’s routine a source of relief for her, or a form of repression? Is this a woman who is content with life, or one on the verge of a nervous breakdown? As one hour becomes two become three, tedium morphs into gut-level dread and Jeanne’s modest apartment – initially a place of order and sanity – seems to harbour the seeds of mental disintegration, even violence, in every room and every neatly kept corner. By tight-roping between extremes, in implying much by saying little and using the excessively commonplace to suggest the deeply specific, Akerman and friends manage to exemplify cinema as raw experience. Jeanne Dielman is a movie which you can spend three hours trying to access only to realise that it’s actually you who has been accessed, right to the very core. (Tope Ogundare)

Lady Bird

Lady Bird
Directed by Greta Gerwig

The dreamlike visuals of this, Greta Gerwig’s solo directorial debut, rightfully earned her place in history as only the fifth woman ever to be nominated for the Best Director at the Oscars. Filmed with all the charm and nostalgia of romanticizing your teenage years, Gerwig’s original screenplay features tangled friendships, makeshift parties,and idolized crushes (most notably on Timothée Chalamet). Lady Bird is a triumph of striking, wholly unique characters —each as memorable as the young woman in the titular role (Saoirse Ronan). The film brilliantly portrays the inexplicable, inextricable mother-daughter dynamic at a very specific moment in life —capturing the particular chaos of a teenage girl desperate to come of age in as many ways as possible all at once. Heartfelt and frequently hilarious, Lady Bird is filled with beautifully-lit teenage milestones: prom dress shopping and performing musicals on stage; furious family arguments in carpeted homes; bedroom fairylights and sundrenched streets. The warmth of the Sacramento sun is almost tangible while watching Gerwig’s hopeful, compelling storytelling; a masterful gift to film-lovers and anyone who was once a teenager.  (Andrea Marks-Joseph)

Greatest Films Directed by Women

Lost In Translation
Directed by Sophia Coppola

After making her directorial debut with her screen adaptation of The Virgin Suicides, Sofia Coppola returned with a quiet romance between two Americans stranded in Tokyo. The film is a smartly written, well directed mood piece and a study in emotional and geographical alienation. Intimate, thoughtful, touching and more importantly honest, Lost In Translation reassured us that Coppola is a director to be taken seriously. (Ricky D)

The Matrix

The Matrix (1999)
Directed by The Wachowskis’

It is challenging to find an aspect of 21st century North American popular culture that wasn’t in some way influenced by The Matrix. The film dramatically influenced fight choreography and cinematic action techniques, popularizing the extremely popular bullet time method. Released 17 years after Blade Runner, it reintroduced Cyberpunk into mainstream culture for an entirely new generation. Its costume design dramatically influenced early 20th century fashion, and it was a major step in the careers of Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss and Hugo Weaving. Written as a trans allegory, The Matrix was also an extremely important film for many trans people. The film provided a meaningful source of connection for a marginalized group in a time when most mainstream cinema was either trans-exclusionary or outright transphobic, and the directors themselves continue to provide important voices for trans women in filmmaking.  Lilly and Lana Wachowski’s political, artistic, and formal influence is undeniable, and The Matrix stands as a testament to the significance of these two filmmakers’ work. (Steven Greenwood)

Greatest Films Directed by Women

Meek’s Cutoff
Directed by Kelly Reichardt

Kelly Reichardt had a stellar if hushed 2000s, and then she commenced the current decade with a film that is already beginning to feel like an unsung modern classic. Meek’s Cutoff is one of those exhilarating instances in which a marriage of disparate styles produces something tricky to imagine, but perfect to behold: a period piece set in mid-1800’s Oregon, shot in academy ratio and classically beautiful for it, but with Reichardt’s signature severe naturalism. The result is so stark and understated that it begins to feel graceful, weirdly epic. A small caravan of settlers (featuring Michelle Williams and a once again devout Paul Dano) hires a guide, big-talking Stephen Meek, to help them navigate the Oregon Trail. As the terrain grows less forgiving and water evermore scarce, the settlers begin to wonder if the route Meek advocated won’t turn out to be the death of them all. Feminist and racialist readings aside, here is a film which displays full conviction in the weight of the situation it is depicting, so much so that it is willing to simply sit and watch it all unfold. More suspenseful than most thrillers, this is immersive cinema of a type that appreciates movement and stillness alike, behaviour and lack thereof, and the drama of the everyday even if the everyday is on a knife’s edge. This is one worth singing about as loudly as the film is quiet. (Tope Ogundare)

Greatest Films Directed by Women

Me and You and Everyone We Know
Directed by Miranda July

“I want to poop back and forth. Like, I’ll poop into her butthole, and then she’ll poop it back. Into my butthole. And then we’ll just keep doing it, back and forth. With the same poop.”

In Me and You and Everyone We Know, these words are dictated by a six-year old boy to his older brother who’s chatting online with an anonymous woman. If you’re seduced by the tone of July’s debut feature, those words become poetry, touching and funny. That tone is balanced between, on the one hand, soft and benign; and, on the other, life-affirming and near-fantastical, with a faith in the idea that magic could happen at any moment. It’s a delicate balance – one slip and the film’s humour would become broad, and its philosophy disingenuous.

What keeps it all upright is July’s strong perspective – which includes her sense of humour (her comedic timing and physicality are superb). The stylistic and emotional unity of the film seem to derive solely from this perspective, which resonates through the various characters and situations, attracting them to its curiosity, trust, and promise of love – in Richard’s words: “I am prepared for amazing things to happen. I can handle it.” Equally, though, July’s is a distanced, objective perspective on human behaviour, but, in being so, manages to unveil the common humility behind behaviour that would otherwise appear questionable or unethical.

This is nowhere clearer than in the storylines dealing with sex and intimacy. July presents sex as seen through children’s eyes – even if those children are actually adults. In the latter case, this suggests arrested sexual development, or, perhaps, a willful regression. Through those eyes there’s no sign of judgment, just curiosity, humour, compassion and trust. That’s the very heart of the film, and it could easily result in a claustrophobically sweet and sentimental atmosphere, but MAYAEWK escapes by choosing not to erase the sense of fear that seems to inhibit most of the characters, even when they manage to transcend it. In doing so, the film presents a challenge to its characters and audience: how will you respond to the continuing presence of such fear? With cynicism and despair, or with curiosity and faith? (Odysseas Constantinou)

Greatest Films Directed by Women

Meshes of the Afternoon
Directed by Maya Deren & Alexander Hammid

If you’ve seen this, it was likely in your film class (admit it) and for good reason. Meshes is a difficult film to comprehend, even on a 10th viewing, but it’s a film that lingers. It forces you to contemplate its symbolic visuals and perplexing narrative. Yet, it’s an inviting experience. Set in a familiar environment, the film posits an ordinary situation (basically the act of going home) in the physical realm of a dream. It plays with perspective and time and the notion of cause and effect, revisiting scenes and folding in on itself similar to David Lynch’s Lost Highway or Christopher Nolan’s Doodlebug, both of which may have found influence here.

Meshes was created by the husband-wife team of Alexander Hammid and Maya Deren, who both appear in the film. Hammid also shot the film and creatively manifests the story’s psychology through technical means. Noteworthy is his use of split-screen to create multiple Maya Derens, which is impressive and beautiful even out of context. The film later gained a score from Teiji Ito (Deren’s later husband) in 1959. Unfortunately, it’s audibly distracting and at times out of sync with the on-screen action. Try watching Meshes on mute to get the original intended effect. In any case, see it now on YouTube, form your questions, then watch it again for answers (or even more questions). (Ryan Clagg)

Monster

Monster
Directed by Patty Jenkins

Monster is as painful, disturbing and brutal as the real-life story of Aileen Wuornos. Wuornos spent much of her childhood living in the woods, in exile, at the outskirts of her hometown. She had few real friends. As a child she was molested by her grandfather and raped by one of his friends. At school she performed sexual favours for small material rewards. She became a prostitute in her teens, and was homeless for most of her life. Yet, in spite of the despicable acts we witness, Patty Jenkins’s and Charlize Theron’s choice to inhabit Wournos’s devastating loneliness make Monster an extremely compassionate film, while never justifying the murders that she felt necessary. This is the kind of film that can result if we’re charitable enough to allow a person’s own victimhood to become a legitimate factor in their ensuing and ostensibly unforgivable behaviour.

Theron’s performance, rightly lauded, is incredible and mesmerising – the desperation and nervousness, the unsettled and unsettling nature of the character’s relationship to her self and body. It’s a performance capable of invoking genuine pity for Wuornos, as well as for many of her victims. As many critics have noted, ‘performance’ doesn’t describe Theron’s onscreen presence adequately; ‘embodiment’ or ‘inhabitation’ hit closer to the mark.

Crucial to Monster’s success is the fact that it doesn’t set out to sensationalise the story of a serial killer (how easy it would’ve been to keep her at a menacing distance from the viewer) but rather stays close to Wuornos’s emotional perspective and reasoning – however irrational and indefensible it becomes. Despite the marketing, the film’s title is not a statement, but a question and a challenge: should we believe Aileen is simply, inherently bad?; or should we search for enough compassion in ourselves to try to understand her actions? The tension between these two perspectives lingers and resonates long after we walk away, shaking our heads both at how irreparably broken a person can become given the right (wrong) circumstances, and at how Monster is able to evoke such charity and understanding. (Odysseas Constantinou)

Morvern Callar

Morvern Callar
Directed by Lynne Ramsay

Based on Alan Warner’s 1995 cult novel, Morvern Callar was the second film from Lynne Ramsay, Scotland’s celluolid laureate, which was released to a chorus of critical fanfares in 2002. Samantha Morton, emitting her usual ethereal empathy, is the titular character, a young woman from a small seaside resort town in Scotland. One Christmas morning she awakes to contfront a horrific scene – her boyfriend has committed suicide, leaving the manuscript of his recent novel at their bedside computer, with an Alice In Wonderland like invitation to ‘Read Me’. Erasing his name she assigns the literature to herself and flees to Almeria in the Costa del Sol, where she subsequently sells the book to a publisher as her own, individual work. With its vivid deployment of colour, Morvern Callar is a slightly impenetrable daydream, a curiously moving drama with a puzziling central character, inscrutable and unconventional with a great soundtrack to boot. A clear companion piece to the androgynous Bowie in The Man Who Fell To Earth. (John McEntee)

Near Dar

Near Dark
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

There’s something stunning about watching Near Dark now and knowing what Bigelow was going to become as a director. Near Dark is an audacious breakthrough that serves as an excellent reminder as to why vampires shouldn’t sparkle. Its small town boy (Adrian Pasdar) meets pretty girl (Jenny Wright) has a sexy one night stand and wakes up the next morning a vampire, and is then kidnapped and tortured by her psychotic family story.

Bigelow uses her surroundings to create a heady mix between westerns in a wide open, dry and dusty landscape and good old fashioned terror. I dare anyone watching not to be absolutely horrified by Severen’s (Bill Paxton) brutal bar attack. Near Dark stands up as a fine example of how effective horror films can be when their done right. Bigelow uses everything at her disposal, including a killer script, and creates a story that’s a cross between old school horror and uniquely inspired film. Near Dark more than deserves its cult classic status, and it’s probably the one and only time Bill Paxton could be considered scary. (Tressa Eckermann)

The Night Porter

The Night Porter (Il portiere di notte)
Directed by Liliana Cavani

The Night Porter is a highly controversial film made by Liliana Cavani depicting a sexually charged relationship between a concentration camp guard and one of the camp’s inmates. Reunited over a decade later by chance at a hotel in Vienna, the film blends flashbacks to the modern day in order to establish the complexity of their relationship and the changing power dynamics within it. A far cry from exploitation, the film quite sincerely suggests the impossible obsessions and desires of humanity even in the most difficult of circumstances. I would not go so far as to say this is a film about love, but the influence and power of sex is immeasurable and certainly clouds the judgement of ideology. Dirk Bogarde and Charlotte Rampling are incredible in their respective roles. (Justine Smith)

The Piano

The Piano
Directed by Jane Campion

Campion’s one-woman masterpiece – she wrote, directed and produced – holds the sad accolade of so far being the only film directed by a woman to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1993. The Piano melds naturalism and historical drama into an offbeat romantic triangle, in which, of course, romance as we usually understand it is all but absent. Instead, the threesome is punctuated by cruelty – remember the finger chopping scene?- arrogance, and power struggle, as Ada’s stubborn character evolves from an unhappily married self-imposed mute with a symbiotic relationship with her piano (symbiosis bordering on pathological dependence) to a happily-loved piano teacher. Boosted by Michael Nyman’s evocative soundtrack (at beautiful odds with the ruggedness of humans and landscapes) and a cinematography which amplifies the brute beauty of the natural setting, the film remains one of the most watchable, aesthetically accomplished, heartfelt Palme d’Or winners. (Zornitsa Straneva)

c

Point Break
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

There was a time when Kathryn Bigelow was merely known as Mrs. James Cameron. With a string of modest hits under her belt, Point Break was when she truly came out from under his shadow. Keanu Reeves stars as rookie FBI agent Johnny Utah, who goes undercover as a surfer to investigate a number of bank robberies and eventually befriends local head honcho Bodhi (Patrick Swayze). Cue the odd emotional conflict and a perfect celluloid definition of ‘frenemies’, resulting in probably one of the best films ever to revolve around surfing.

Even though it remains as one of her least well-received films, Bigelow manages to capture stunning surfing scenes as well as the testosterone-fuelled adrenaline of sheer reckless abandonment. At the end of the day, Point Break reaffirms the fact that she was – and still is – a female director with balls. (Katie Wong)

Portrait-of-a-Lady-on-Fire

Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Directed by Céline Sciamma

A film on the power of the female gaze, Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire is an spellbinding drama which brims with tension. Set in the late 18th Century, the story focuses on Marianne, a painter, who is sent to an island to create a portrait of a lady for her arranged suitor. Yet, the interplay between painter and subject, looker and object, becomes tinged with desire as the lines become increasingly blurred. The first film directed by a woman to win the Cannes Queer Palm award, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a landmark achievement. (Ryan O’Shea)

Power of the Dog

The Power of the Dog
Directed by Jane Campion

Jane Campion stunned audiences this year with her take on the Western genre with The Power of the Dog. The film centres around the cruelty of Phil Burbank, who becomes increasingly confrontational after his brother marries a widow and moves into the shared ranch with her teenage son. Despite the run time, it feels as tightly plotted as an Ibsen play, building gradually to a restrained, yet completely devastating, ending. A potent cocktail of sexuality and suspicion, Campion’s film is a fantastic deconstruction of the form of masculine machismo and repression stemming from many Western films. (Ryan O’Shea)

Ratcatcher

Ratcatcher
Directed by Lynne Ramsay

Lynne Ramsay’s striking debut set the stage for her follow-up films: off-center framing, flat compositions, and camera moves that teeter on the edge of bravado. What would later morph into the non-linear Warhol-world of We Need to Talk About Kevin began as a gold and gray-toned 1970s Glasgow-set coming of age tale. Featuring arresting moments of freedom in the midst of an otherwise banal, ugly world, Ratcatcher’s texture gets under your fingernails. (Neal Dhand)

Ravenous

Ravenous
Directed by Antonia Bird

Ravenous is a one-of-a-kind whatsit belonging to no specific genre that needs to be seen to be remotely understood. Director Antonia Bird came aboard after two predecessors were sacked (though for the record, Bird insists the blame belongs to Fox), and maybe her late-to-the-party energy helps explain the film’s singular vibe. Alchemising elements of black comedy, horror, mystery, satire, and adventure, Ted Griffin’s clever (but not clever-clever) and merciless script is served beautifully by Bird’s energetic and atmospheric filmmaking, as well as her facility with the stacked cast. Most of all that includes Robert Carlyle, devouring the countryside. (Simon Howell)

Raw

Raw
Directd by Julia Ducournau

This incredible and striking French film follows a young vegetarian woman in her first year of veterinary school who finds herself gradually consumed with a hunger for flesh after her first taste of meat. Julia Ducournau pulls no punches, as she and her cast of brilliant actors show the courage to mix sexuality and graphic disturbing horror, whilst crossing into a coming-of-age story set against the uncomfortable nature of freshman life.

I first saw this film at a festival in Melbourne, which Julia Ducournau herself visited for a Q&A. Already impressed by the film, it only served to amplify everything to hear her passion, the discussion on symbolism, the thought put into each and every scene, and the attention to detail that comes across so stunningly. Without shying away from the vivid and visceral imagery, Raw finds itself as a beautiful film brimming with style. It’s truly a special film exploring the boundaries of horror, celebrating intimacy and blending sensuality and femininity with the flourish of cannibalism. (Shane Dover)

Red Road

Red Road
Directed by Andrea Arnold

Andrea Arnold’s seemingly discreet feature film debut delivers a mix of Dogme-inspired cinema vérite, social realism and suspense thriller set around a bleak housing estate in a grim part of modern-day Glasgow. The first of two Cannes Jury Prize wins for Arnold, Red Road features naturalistic acting and Dogme-style aesthetics, not usually associated with the thriller genre. Indeed Red Road to a large extent defies both genre and narrative expectations. Suspense is delivered through other means – the razor-sharp performances of the largely unknown cast, the eerie, creepy tracking shot sequences and the seemingly inexplicable motivation of main character Jackie’s stalking a stranger freshly released from prison, all combine into an ominous atmosphere which leads on to the jolting twist at the end. All in all, however, this quietly powerful psychological drama surprises with yet another plot twist – revenge is an illusion; forgiveness, albeit infused with hatred, is the only way out for both victim and perpetrator. With two Jury Prize wins for her first two features, Arnold seems one of the likeliest candidates to repeat Jane Campion’s feat and earn a Palme d’Or some day. Here’s hoping. (Zornitsa Straneva)

Seven-Beauties

Seven Beauties (Pasqualino Settebellezze)
Directed by Lina Wertmüller

Lina Wertmüller’s pitch-black comedy of horrors is still one of the most gleefully subversive explorations of totalitarianism and debasement ever made. It’s also one of the least likely films ever to attract significant love from the Academy: it made Wertmüller the first woman ever to be nominated for Best Director, and also nabbed nods for its screenplay and the incredible central performance from Giancarlo Giannini, who flails amorally for 115 minutes but still manages, somehow, to sometimes earn our sympathy. Watching it now, it’s remarkable that a film this hopeless (and hilarious) found suuch wide acceptance; that must be a tribute to how unmistakably stellar its construction is, and the power that exudes from sequences like the infamous “seduction.” (Simon Howell)

Sita-Sings-the-Blues

Sita Sings the Blues
Directed by Nina Paley

Annette Hanshaw of the Jazz Age and Sita of the Ramayana seem like odd bedfellows, and that Nina Paley made it happen—elegantly—is a miracle. She divides her film into four threads, each with a distinct animation style and responsible for different aspects of the story. Then, she weaves these parts together, blending characters and themes. Sita Sings the Blues takes a canonical story and retells it, in the finest tradition of re-telling this particular canonical story, in order to say old truths in new ways. Don’t believe me? Watch it here. If her artistic achievement alone isn’t enough, we might remember Sita Sings the Blues for its role in how films are protected and presented. (Dave Robson)

the-souvenir-movie

The Souvenir Pts. I and II
Directed by Joanna Hogg

The contemporary hyperfocus on “writing what you know” has led to a lot of, well, myopic art, but every once in a while it pays dividends. There’s nothing else quite like the Souvenir films, however: a genuine (and very possibly ongoing) semi-autobiographical arthouse film series, with part numbers and everything. Writer-director Joanna Hogg excavates and riffs on her film-school days to create a subtly expanding cinematic mini-universe that seems endless in possibility precisely because of its hyper-intimate scope. (Simon Howell)

Sweet Bean

Sweet Bean
Directed by Naomi Kawase

Naomi Kawase puts so much care and affection into her films, contemplative and layered experiences that have that magical ability to instantly draw the viewer in. Kawase famously has said “The job of cinema is to concentrate on love or passion,” and she certainly captures that essence in her filmmaking.

Sweet Bean is about cuisine, but not just the mechanical preparation of it. Japan has a history of placing emotional emphasis on the art of cooking in their films, and the differing viewpoints converging on the joy it can bring. A dispirited middle-aged chef, a teenaged girl who visits the shop every day whose overbearing mother is forcing her into a workplace, and an elderly woman with a dream of working on a dorayaki shop and the secret to tantalizing sweet bean paste. The convergence of this unique cast at the shop brings about a tale that masterfully sweeps through the touching and personal highs and lows of life, leaving you handling these emotions long after the credits have rolled. (Ricky D)

Swept Away

Swept Away (Travolti da un insolito destino nell’azzurro mare d’agosto)
Directed by Lina Wertmüller

Wertmüller, whose start in filmmaking came working as Federico Fellini’s assistant, would go on to craft some of the seminal films of mid-period Italian cinema. She was the first female nominated for the Best Director award and her adventure-comedy-drama Swept Away caused quite a controversy when released. This is the story of a wealthy woman whose boating vacation in the Mediterranean Sea takes an unexpected turn when she and one of the boat’s crew are separated from the others and left stranded on a deserted island. Swept Away is about shifting power balances. The woman’s capitalist beliefs and the man’s communist convictions clash, but during their struggle to survive, their social roles are reversed. Funny, at times tragic, and often touching, Swept Away is a near-perfect film. (Ricky D)

Triumph-of-the-Will

Triumph of the Will (Triumph des Willens)
Directed by Leni Riefenstahl

Triumph of the Will was released in 1935 and rapidly became one of the most famous and infamous propaganda films of all time. Made by Leni Riefenstahl, it chronicles the 1934 Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg, which was attended by more than 700,000 Nazi supporters. Triumph is a frightening document and a reminder of the power that Hitler had over the German people. As repellent as it might be to watch, this horrific snapshot of a time and place is important in helping us learn of and from the past. Riefenstahl’s techniques, such as moving cameras, the use of long focus lenses, aerial photography, revolutionary montage of sound and image and exquisite cinematography, have earned Triumph recognition as one of the greatest films in history. Despite the subject matter, the film has continued to influence movies, documentaries, and commercials to this day, including Frank Capra’s seven-film series Why We Fight and Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. (Ricky D)

Trouble-Every-Day

Trouble Every Day
Claire Denis

The increasingly diverse French auteur Claire Denis directs a film that is profoundly disturbing and hauntingly unforgettable. Trouble Every Day is a modern-day horror story about a man and a woman, living thousands of miles apart, who are afflicted with the same self-destructive brain damage that affects their sexual appetites. Trouble Every Day looks, sounds and feels like no other vampire film in recent history, viewed as more of an oddity than a strange and ambitious take on the horror genre. The score, provided by the Tindersticks, carries the film along with a slow, menacing, edgy sense of unease, building up to a gruesome, bloody and unforgettable finale. Trouble Every Day is cinematically astonishing. (Ricky D)

Virgin Suicides

The Virgin Suicides
Directed by Sofia Coppola

The Lisbon sisters, all beautiful, are the object of obsession by the boys in their small town. Their repressive parents lock them away from the dark world that’s surly going to ruin their lives after the youngest commits suicide. By the end of the movie each sister is dead at their own hands and the parents move away devastated. Not exactly uplifting material, but director Sofia Coppola created a film as eerily beautiful as the five sisters the movie focuses on.

All these years later what stands out about The Virgin Suicides isn’t the desperately sad story but the frothy and dreamy imagery that Coppola’s now known for. By the time the time the movie ends, as a new family moves rather effortlessly into the Lisbon home and lives your left as hollow as the Lisbon parents. Life might go on, the surroundings may stay the same, but The Virgin Suicides and Coppola reminds us that pain is the same everywhere and too easily swept under the rug. (Tressa Eckermann)

The-Watermelon-Woman-1996-1536x954

The Watermelon Woman (1996)
Directed by Cheryl Dunye

One of the most important films of New Queer Cinema, The Watermelon Woman is the first feature by legendary queer filmmaker Cheryl Dunye. Like much of New Queer cinema, The Watermelon Woman is as important for its formal and artistic innovation as it is for its political significance. The film follows the journey of the protagonist Cheryl (played by Dunye herself), as she tries to uncover the history of a Black lesbian actress from an old film. The film is a commentary on how challenging it can be to uncover the history of marginalized groups whose stories have been suppressed. It is also an innovative take on the Mockumentary genre, pushing the form in a way that many others have failed to fully capture. It is often hard to tell what is real and what is not, as the film blurs the line between fiction and reality. The Watermelon Woman’s editing, cinematography, structure, and writing all work to convey a sense of “fictional nonfiction,” pushing the limits of the Mockumentary to make a point that this fictional story still very effectively represents a lot of peoples’ lived realities. (Steven Greenwood)

Wendy-and-Lucy

Wendy and Lucy
Directed by Kelly Reichardt

A young woman named Caroll (Michelle Williams) is on a personal journey to Alaska with her dog Lucy. The drive up takes them through Oregon where her situation, already precarious considering she has but 500 dollars left as a total budget, worsens. Not only is she accused of shoplifting but Lucy vanishes without a trace during her time in police custody. Her desperate search for her one true friend begins.

It seems as though, so far as Kelly Reichardt’s place in independent American cinema is concerned, there is the pre-2008 phase and the post-2008 phase. The funny thing about that sort of assessment is that she had only made two films prior to ’08, Old Joy and River of Grass, and only one film since, Meek’s Cutoff. Nevertheless, with Wendy and Lucy, the utterance of her name produces tremendous admiration amongst film nerds and for good reason. Wendy and Lucy was undoubtedly one of the best films of 2008. Michelle Williams is front and centre, giving arguably her greatest and most accomplished performance, but above all the film is touching, even heartbreaking, without ever feeling forced. Director Reichardt demonstrates her knack for opening windows for audiences into the worlds of very ‘off the grid’ characters, people whom nobody really pays attention to on an everyday basis and when they do, it is often for the wrong reasons (the shoplifting incident exemplifies this).Despite it all, Wendy and Lucy is never sappy, far from it in fact. The emotions, the characters, the tone, everything about the film is palpably real and thus accessible. Reichardt excels at that sort of storytelling, when the emotional stakes are incredibly high yet the entire films feels completely realistic, even in the depiction of said emotional turmoil. Wendy and Lucy is not only her best film, it is a great film in its own right. (Edgar Chaput)

We-Need-to-Talk-About-Kevin

We Need To Talk About Kevin
Directed by Lynne Ramsay

Meticulously realised, Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s best-selling book of the same name alters the novel’s non-committal approach to its title character, instead offering a narrative rooted in subjectivity and emotion-fuelled recollections of the past. As such, the film’s past-set sections offer what is perhaps the most gut-wrenchingly effective, slow-building horror cinema of recent memory, alongside a strong examination of trauma and a mother whose very waking moment is now defined by a son’s single act. With exemplary sound design, scoring (by Jonny Greenwood), colour palettes, cinematography (by Seamus McGarvey), and editing, We Need to Talk About Kevin is an admittedly repetitive work on occasion but no less haunting. The anchoring, complex performance of Tilda Swinton, meanwhile, is nothing sort of superb. (Josh Slater-Williams)

Winters-Bone

Winter’s Bone
Directed by Debra Granik

Debra Granik’s adaptation of Daniel Woodrell’s novel of the same name belongs in the modern tradition of the anti-western, along with Meek’s Cutoff and Martha Marcy May Marlene. The story of Ree (Jennifer Lawrence in her breakout role) trying to find her vacant father to keep her home is one that is tied to the land and the poverty of the small Ozark community with an atmosphere that is barely on the right side of suffocating. Just like the mysterious outsider is belittled in the western so too is Ree when she ventures to find answers. Thematically Winter’s Bone is fantastically interesting and multi-layered, covering the futility of poverty, good transcending evil, generational hate, drug culture’s influence on the social fabric and teenagers replacing parents. Likewise the genre’s it bounces between are as varied as the messages Granik is trying to communicate, darting between mystery, noir, gangster, thriller and the mistrust and paranoia of horror. In the hands of a male director, chances are this would be more focused on the anger of the Ozark community. In the hands of Granik, Winter’s Bone is a film about the small victories and the importance of family in nothing less than a sympathetic light, which in a film with such an oppressive and bleak atmosphere is nothing short of miraculous. Just as was the case with Kelly Reichardt’s Meek Cutoff, Winter’s Bone takes tropes and genre style that have been suffocated with machismo for decades and presents them with a feminine insight, such perspectives keeps the unfashionable fresh. (Robert Simpson)

Wuthering-Heights

Wuthering Heights
Directed by Andrea Arnold

Andrea Arnold created a sensory marvel in Wuthering Heights. Her attention to the minutiae of life—the textures, sounds, and feel of the Victorian moorland—is astonishing and beautiful. Films have two senses at their disposal, but Arnold’s rural northern England is so richly drawn and lush a depiction it manages to evoke senses that film can’t possibly entertain—we can nearly feel the damp in the fabric, nearly smell the game birds hanging from the rafters, and nearly taste the blood on Heathcliff’s back. Arnold has rescued the best book of the Brontë sisters from the sentimentality of those who misread Romanticism as romance. Wuthering Heights is an unflinching portrayal of intimate cruelty, exactly as it should be. (Dave Robson)

XXY movie

XXY
Directed by Lucía Puenzo

A shining light out of South America, Lucía Puenzo’s directorial debut XXY is a quiet and affecting portrait of an intersex teenager faced with the decision of which sex to embrace to show to the world and perhaps escape the stigma that has forced their family to move from Argentina to Uruguay. Inés Efron delivers an effortlessly androgynous physical performance as Alex alongside a strong ensemble that brings the film’s themes out with sensitivity and grace.

While the title is a misnomer, medically, the film has an application beyond the specifics of Alex’s condition to the broader idea of gender and sexual identity and performance, or even just the establishment of identity that takes place during adolescence. As is often the case for
intersex and transgender individuals, puberty is a looming presence that makes a decision necessary even before one’s identity is fully formed. (Erik Bondurant)

Editor’s note: This article was originally published under our old brand Sound On Sight. We’ve updated the list over the years.

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