Just because awards ceremonies are snubbing them, doesn’t mean the rest of us should – here are just some of the terrific films directed by women over the last year.
Awards seasons are rarely if ever without controversy and it seems that 2020 finds BAFTA in the firing line after the release of their nominations. Given the distinct lack of female directors, we’re trying to turn towards the positive, and are using this opportunity to highlight just a selection of the excellent films directed by women, released over the past 12 months. Just because awards bodies have overlooked them doesn’t mean the rest of us have to. Without further ado…
Always Be My Maybe
Always Be My Maybe announced its presence to the world the best way a film can: by ending its trailer with Keanu Reeves blowing slow motion kisses to the audience. He appears as himself in the film, wooing Ali Wong’s Sasha, who has recently reconnected with best friend and brief old flame Marcus, played by Randall Park. Sasha and Marcus might rekindle their teenage romance, but both fear that her career and his lack of ambition might get in the way. It’s written by Wong, Park and Michael Golamco, and directed by Nahnatchka Khan in such a light and breezy fashion that it’s hard not to get swept up in the film’s infectiously fun atmosphere.
I refer you back to Keanu Reeves’ slo-mo entrance.
Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut stars Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever as two best friends on the cusp of high school graduation who decide to let loose for one night of mayhem before they depart for their summer plans. The writing team of Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, and Katie Silberman crafted a witty, emotional coming-of-age film that takes in everything from awkward first experiences to crushes that may or may not be requited. The two leads are wonderful, but it is Billie Lourd, however, who steals the show as the high school kook, Gigi. She pretty much quite literally pops up in the most unexpected of places.
Robert Pattinson stars as Monte in Claire Denis’ first English language film as one of a group of criminals, also featuring Juliette Binoche and Mia Goth, who are sent on a mission to research a distant black hole. High Life begins with him repairing the ship and taking care of his baby daughter, before revealing what happened to his team and how he came to be alone. It won’t be a film for everybody, but there’s an extraordinary exploration of humanity in Monte’s story, one which finds it at its most base as well as exalted.
Little Women is probably the film that has garnered the most attention on this list. Hot off the back of her Oscar nomination for Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig turned her attention to Louisa May Alcott’s classic tale of the March sisters.
The cast is full of up and comers like Florence Pugh and Eliza Scanlan, experienced hats like Laura Dern and Meryl Streep, and anchored by Gerwig’s previous collaborators Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet. It breathes new life into the beloved classic and has been receiving rave reviews, even if that hasn’t so far translated into awards success.
Director Julia Hart enters the superhero movie game with Fast Color, starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Ruth, a woman with the kind of seizures that trigger earthquakes. She’s making her way across a future American Midwest, suffering a drought of disastrous proportions. Unfortunately, she’s also being pursued by scientists who wish to experiment on her, as they are wont to do. It’s a more intimate look at superpowered beings as well as maternal relationships; Ruth’s story is tied in very much with her daughter and her mother. It’s also now available on Netflix UK.
Lily James and Tessa Thompson star as estranged sisters who find themselves in dire circumstances after the death of their mother in Nia DaCosta’s directorial debut. The two stars are just the tip of an excellent cast, with Lance Reddick, James Badge Dale, and Luke Kirby in supporting roles. DaCosta also wrote the screenplay and crafts a dark tale that examines how institutional restrictions and costs can force people to make desperate decisions. DaCosta is behind the upcoming Candyman reboot and if Little Woods is anything to go by, it’s going to be a treat.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Shirley Jackson adaptations are in vogue with Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House series and this adaptation of her classic We Have Always Lived in the Castle from writer Mark Kruger and director Stacie Passion. It stars Taissa Farmiga as Merricat Blackwood and Alexandra Daddario as her sister Constance. Constance was acquitted for murdering their parents by poisoning, but she is treated as a pariah. When their cousin Charles, played by Sebastian Stan, comes to visit, the sisters’ careful isolation is threatened.
Gurinder Chadha directs the movie of Safraz Manzoor’s memoir Greetings From Bury Park. Blinded By The Light expertly balances Bruce Springsteen fandom with an accessible, often difficult story of a young Pakistani teenager growing up in 1980s Luton. Packed with characters who are well drawn to the point where you sit there wanting a movie about each of them too, the film is led by two brilliant turns from newcomer Viveik Kalra and the experienced hand of Kulvinder Ghir. It’a feelgood treat, with a very human, challenging core.
Another debut here from Mati Diop with Atlantics, the first film by a black woman to compete at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019. It’s a romance with a dollop of the supernatural. In Dakar, Ada (Mame Bineta Sane) is in love with Souleiman (Ibrahima Traoré) but is already betrothed to another man. Though events conspire to keep Ada and Souleiman apart, the two aren’t quite done with their relationship just yet. The film would go on to win the Grand Prix at Cannes and has been enthralling audiences ever since.
Given the incredible critical reception so far, Joanna Hogg’s film The Souvenir feels like the most glaring omission from the British Film category at the BAFTAs. Honor Swinton Byrne stars as Julie, a film school attendee who finds herself in gradually toxic relationship with an older man, played by Tom Burke. Though he encourages her ambition, he has secrets of his own that threaten to derail her. Swinton Byrne is stunning in her first starring role as Julie, trying to navigate that relationship as well as trying to find her own way in the world.
Awkwafina just made history as the first Asian-American woman to win the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy. Based partly on director Lulu Wang’s experiences, The Farewell follows a family who learn that their grandmother hasn’t got long left to live and decide not to tell her before organising a family gathering. Awkwafina’s performance has been widely praised as has that of the cast around her, bringing a light comedy to the film’s inherent melancholy and ensuring that the emotional beats land as effectively as the laughs.
And there you have it. Just a flavour of the terrific films directed by women in the last year. Feel free to leave more recommendations in the comments…
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