Latest posts by Lena Wilson (see all)
- Your Complete Guide to Every Movie Directed by a Woman in 2016 - January 3, 2017
- A Feminist Film Review: The Handmaiden - December 10, 2016
- 5 Guilt-Free Horror Movies to Watch This Halloween - October 31, 2016
It’s no secret that Hollywood has a gender problem, both creatively and administratively. But, while gendered representation has been a hot topic for some time, Hollywood’s issue with directorial diversity continues to be swept under the rug. Kathryn Bigelow was the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director, in the show’s 82nd year, and things are not looking up after six more years.
With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of the films released in 2016 that were directed by women and received a limited or wide release. You’ll notice there are only 27 films on this list, and less than a third of those were widely released. Many of these films are also some of the most compelling and well-reviewed of the year, though you probably haven’t heard of most of them. In an attempt to right that lack of recognition, here is every woman-directed film from last year.
An asterisk (*) denotes films that saw a wide release.
A Tale of Love and Darkness
Directed by Natalie Portman
Synopsis: Based on an autobiography by one of Israel’s most famous authors and written and directed by Natalie Portman, A Tale of Love and Darkness explores the young author’s upbringing and his relationship with his mother. Set in the 1940s, the film partially takes place during the First Arab-Israeli War.
Should I Watch?: There are a few cool things about this film — it took Natalie Portman eight years to write, and she insisted it stay in the original Hebrew — and a few uncool things, depending on how you feel about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Not high on my list, personally, but potentially interesting for someone who likes a unique period piece.
Directed by Sophia Takal
Synopsis: This Tribeca thriller tells the tale of two best friends whose trip to Big Sur is rocked by jealousy and competition. An intense confrontation changes the two women’s lives forever.
Should I Watch?: The absurdly talented and underestimated Mackenzie Davis plays a lead role, and the film takes on Hollywood misogyny with a pointed meta-narrative. That is to say: yes. Watch it now.
Directed by Andrea Arnolda
Synopsis: A teenage girl travels the Midwest with a team of magazine salesmen, experiencing young love and hard partying along the way.
Should I Watch?: This film won director Andrea Arnold a Cannes Jury Prize, and introduced the world to incredible newcomer Sasha Lane (who will star in this year’s adaptation of The Miseducation of Cameron Post). It’s a must-see 2016 film, and you should look out for it as award nominations come to light.
As I Open My Eyes
Directed by Leyla Bouzid
Synopsis: Set in Tunis, Tunisia, just before the Jasmine Revolution, As I Open My Eyes tells the story of 18-year-old Farah as she rebels against her conservative family. Between singing in a political rock band to exploring the city’s nightlife, Farah discovers herself as her country slowly dissolves into a police state.
Should I Watch?: Yes. Was that synopsis really not enough for you? Fine, it has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Convinced yet?
Bridget Jones’s Baby *
Directed by Sharon Maguire
Synopsis: The third (and likely final) Bridget Jones movie follows Bridget as she must decide between old flame Mark Darcy and new heartthrob Jack Qwant. Things get complicated when she becomes pregnant, and is unsure which of them is the father.
Should I Watch?: I will not judge you if you decide not to watch Bridget Jones’s Baby, in which the leading lady meets one of her love interests in a yurt at an Ed Sheeran concert.
Directed by Kirsten Johnson
Synopsis: Traveled documentarian and cinematographer Kirsten Johnson uses her own archival footage to piece together a stunning memoir that spans oceans and decades.
Should I Watch?: The camera department is notoriously male-dominated, and female cinematographers are even less common than female directors. Film lovers will undoubtedly appreciate this thoughtful exploration of one woman’s career. That said, some could find its depictions of non-Western cultures to be problematic, so it’s up to your discretion.
Directed by Kelly Reichardt
Synopsis: Certain Women explore the lives of three women in a small town. Laura, a lawyer, must deal with a deranged client. Gina navigates the difficulties of marriage and a conflict with a neighbor. Ranch hand Jamie is unsure how to process her feelings for another woman.
Should I Watch?: Yes. Kelly Reichardt is one of the most underappreciated filmmakers of our time, and her understated style leaves ample room for each stunning performance in this film to shine.
The Edge of Seventeen *
Directed by Kelly Fremon Craig
Synopsis: Teenager Nadine grapples with relationship troubles and her own self-image. Between her traitorous best friend, her unstable mother, and her insufferable brother, Nadine has a lot on her plate — and her sardonic mentor isn’t much help.
Should I Watch?: Though this film features some unfortunate lines (including an off-color incest joke), it’s overall a refreshing take on the coming-of-age narrative, which rarely gets to focus on girlhood. Hailee Steinfeld and Woody Harrelson shine as the film’s most likable misanthropes, and the narrative is funny and compelling.
Elvis & Nixon
Directed by Liza Johnson
Synopsis: The most-requested photograph in the National Archives is one in which a dumbfounded Elvis, in full Elvis-wear, shakes the hand of President Richard Nixon. This film tells the true story behind that meeting.
Should I Watch?: This humorous take on an especially weird moment in American history is a good one for any history buffs, but it will probably be a pretty ho-hum watch for anyone else (especially if, like me, you can’t stand Michael Shannon’s face). Instead, you should check out Liza Johnson’s debut feature, Return.
Directed by Meera Menon
Synopsis: A senior investment banker must unravel an intricate web of corruption in order to avoid a financial scandal.
Should I Watch?: It’s definitely refreshing to see a financial thriller (an actual film sub-genre) that focuses on women trying to make it in a man’s profession, and Anna Gunn of Breaking Bad is a perpetually incredible actor. That said, it’s not an overwhelmingly intriguing picture, especially if you don’t care about the financial world.
Directed by Anna Rose Holmer
Synopsis: Eleven-year-old Toni tries to fit in with a dance troupe, despite her tomboyishness. She struggles to understand what’s making members of the team suddenly suffer from fainting spells and fits.
Should I Watch?: Is there a stronger word than “yes”? Definitely. Absolutely. Please do! This debut from Holmer is a coincidental yet poignant allegory for the Flint water crisis wrapped in an artful coming-of-age story. This contemplative film deserves more attention, much like its real-world mirror, if only because lead Royalty Hightower gives an awesome performance.
Directed by Clea DuVall
Synopsis: Four couples meet for a weekend getaway, but unbeknownst to one of them, the meeting is an excuse to hold an intervention for their marriage.
Should I Watch?: Ehhhh. I wish I had something better to say about the directorial debut from indie film BDOC Clea DuVall, but I don’t. The film is a good-but-not-great take on the indie dramedy, and it features this unfortunate exchange between the only LGBT couple. If you want to pass on this one, I won’t tell Clea.
Into the Forest
Directed by Patricia Rozema
Synopsis: Two sisters must survive in their remote woodland home, despite increasingly hostile surroundings, after a continent-wide power outage.
Should I Watch?: Into the Forest is based on Jean Hegland’s novel of the same name, which acts as a feminist allegory for gender inequality. That should be more than enough reason to watch this wonderfully unsettling drama, much less add phenomenal (and LGBT-identified) leads Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood.
Directed by Karyn Kusama
Synopsis: A man attends a dinner party at his ex wife’s house with his new girlfriend. After some time there, he begins to fear his ex and her new husband have something menacing in mind for their guests.
Should I Watch?: This SXSW debut got too little attention, despite positive critical response. Nobody can tell a creepy tale quite like Karyn Kusama, if her 2009 film Jennifer’s Body is any indication. The Invitation is on Netflix now, and definitely worth a watch.
Kung Fu Panda 3 *
Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson and Alessandro Carloni
Synopsis: Po faces two new hurdles: a new family, and a supernatural threat.
Should I Watch?: Kung Fu Panda 3 isn’t exactly requisite viewing, but it is an enjoyable animated romp that’s worth a watch with family or friends.
The Love Witch
Directed by Anna Biller
Synopsis: This feminist shout-out to 60s pulp follows a modern witch as she uses magic to entice men.
Should I Watch?: Yes, da, ya, sí, oui. A technicolor tribute, The Love Witch is an exploration of the femme fatale archetype by feminist filmmaker Anna Biller. This feast for the eyes is requisite viewing for any film nerd, especially those looking for some feminist commentary mixed in with their artistic history.
Directed by Rebecca Miller
Synopsis: Hapless control freak Maggie decides she will do anything to become a mother, but her plans are interrupted when she falls for married professor John Harding. The resulting affair finds Maggie tangled up in a screwy web of weirdness with John and his ex wife, Georgette.
Should I Watch?: This lighthearted movie isn’t exactly the most compelling, but it’s harmless fun, and Julianne Moore’s ridiculous performance more than makes up for Greta Gerwig’s…Greta Gerwiggishness.
Me Before You *
Directed by Thea Sharrock
Synopsis: A paralyzed man falls in love with his quirky caretaker, despite his plans to request an assisted suicide.
Should I Watch?: There was deserved controversy surrounding this film, since it not only shows a romantic relationship between a disabled person and his caretaker, it also shows that disabled person committing suicide just because he is disabled. If you’re morbidly curious, check it out. Otherwise, this film is just evidence that a female director does not a good movie make.
Directed by Lorene Scafaria
Synopsis: A lonely mother follows her daughter to Los Angeles, only to frequently intervene in her daughter’s life.
Should I Watch?: This movie is a wonderful exploration of family dynamics, and a standout performance from the always-effervescent Susan Sarandon makes it even stronger. This is a good one to watch with your mom, as long as you’re potentially willing to share a cry with her, too.
Miracles from Heaven *
Directed by Patricia Riggen
Synopsis: A young girl is cured of a terminal disease after a near-death experience. Her family thinks God is responsible.
Should I Watch?: If you like Christian propaganda, I guess. If not, you’re fine just wondering how on earth Jennifer Garner ended up in this movie.
Money Monster *
Directed by Jodie Foster
Synopsis: A financial TV host and his producer are put to the test when a loyal viewer violently ambushes them, seeking retribution for his own losses after a faulty tip from the show.
Should I Watch?: Man, I wish Jodie Foster’s films were more interesting, but even Money Monster‘s star power can’t save it. Critics agree: this one is a snoozer.
Directed by Cynthia Mort
Synopsis: This film is a biographical take on the life of Nina Simone, a famous black musician and civil rights activist. It primarily explores her relationship with her manager, Clifton Henderson, and her mental and physical illnesses.
Should I Watch?: No! Cynthia Mort sued her producers for the final result of this movie, and who can blame her? Not only does it feature Zoe Saldana in heavy blackface as the lead role (warning for images of blackface in that link), it reduces the life of a great singer to a love story and a run-through of some of her worst moments. Why, Cynthia? Why?
Directed by Penny Lane
Synopsis: This documentary follows the life of Dr. John R. Brinkley, who made a name for himself in the late nineteenth century when he claimed he could cure impotence by transplanting goat glands into men’s testicles. An animated biography in parts, the movie details Brinkley’s roller-coaster life from start to finish.
Should I Watch?: This was one of the best documentaries to come out this year, and perhaps the most inventive use of the medium in the last decade. Lane uses the film to intentionally deceive the viewer, leading them to believe Brinkley’s cure could in fact be real. Watch the movie, then read her notes, where she breaks down how she deceives through documentary (which, she points out, all documentarians do — they’re just not honest about it).
Queen of Katwe *
Directed by Mira Nair
Synopsis: A Ugandan girl, Phiona, learns chess and attempts to use her newfound skill to bring her mother and siblings out of a life of poverty.
Should I Watch?: Queen of Katwe is likely up for a few big awards, potentially even some Oscars, and it certainly tells a story that deserves that level of recognition. Despite being a Disney film, Queen of Katwe offers heart that doesn’t read as disingenuous or schmaltzy — and you can never go wrong with Lupita N’yongo.
Things to Come
Directed by Mia Hansen-Løve
Synopsis: Nathalie, a philosophy teacher, must deal with the death of her mother, a major career change, and an unfaithful husband.
Should I Watch?: This French-German collaboration has received critical acclaim, winning Hansen-Løve the Berlin International Film Festival award for Best Director. Veteran leading lady Isabelle Huppert acts with all the subtlety and emotion required of her role, making this foreign feature one to watch.
Directed by Maren Ade
Synopsis: A goofy father attempts to repair his relationship with his daughter by creating an eccentric alter ego, Toni Erdmann, to act as her CEO’s life coach.
Should I Watch?: Historical French film magazine Cahiers du cinéma called this the best movie of 2016. It’s nice to see compelling characters in any movie today, and it’s just a bonus that one of them is a woman. This is definitely one to check out.
Directed by Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegman
Synopsis: This documentary depicts Anthony Weiner’s New York City mayoral campaign, two years after he resigned from Congress because of a public sex scandal.
Should I Watch?: This is a compelling exploration of American politics and humanity, one that rightfully earned the Grand Jury Prize at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. If you’re looking for an entertaining film that revives the fly-on-the-wall documentary style, this is the one for you.
And there you have it! Happy viewing, and may 2017 result in a much, much longer list.
Header image: Director Karyn Kusama