399 Best Movies to Watch by Female director (Page 2)

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Orcas killing people? Saving whales? There was indeed a time when these issues were frontpage news and that might be the reason why this sounds like a 90s cliché to you. You might agree that this issue should be staunchly dealt with once you've watched Gabriela Cowperthwaite's 2013 documentary. Orcas still being held captive by marine parks like SeaWorld to perform stunts and to parade around swimming pools to entertain ticket-buying families. Blackfish is the story of one of them in particular: a bull Orca named Tilikum, who has killed several people as a result of their immoral imprisonment. Similar incidents tend to be covered up by the parks' operators and management. They are, however, attributable to the fact that the animals are quiet simply driven mad by the unnatural conditions they are subjected to. They are not born as killers, they are turned into them. First-hand accounts by former whale trainers and experts deliver fascinating truths about Tilikum and the species as whole, elaborating on their remarkable intelligence and social behaviors. For those unaware of this, this passionate documentary makes for a chilling watch.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Anderson Cooper, Carol Ray, Dean Gomersall, Gabriela Cowperthwaite, James Earl Jones, John Hargrove, John Jett, John Sillick, Mark Simmons, Mercedes Martinez, Samantha Berg, Tamarie Tollison, Tilikum, Whoopi Goldberg

Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite

Rating: PG-13

In All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, documentarist Laura Poitras (Citizenfour, My Country, My Country) lends her empathetic and incisive lens to a subject so passionate and imaginative, she ends up collaborating with Poitras to co-create the documentary about her life. The subject is Nan Goldin, one of the most influential photographers of the late 20th century. 

The documentary captures Goldin’s work as a queer artist and anti-opioids activist, intertwining both aspects to tell a nuanced and incredibly important story about freedom, identity, and self-expression. This incredibly complex, encompassing, and vibrant feature won the top award at the Venice Film Festival, besting 19 other films from around the world.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Bernard Herrmann, Cookie Mueller, Harry Cullen, John Waters, Leonard Bernstein, Nan Goldin, Patrick Radden Keefe

Director: Laura Poitras

In Aftersun, Sophie recalls a holiday she took as an eleven-year-old in the ‘90s with her father. Video recordings help jog her memory, but she’s looking for more than just a blast from the past. Rather, she seems to be seeking answers to fill in the gaps between who she knew as her father and who he really was: an immensely nice but deeply troubled man.

At first, Aftersun looks like a simple but beautiful story about father and daughter bonding over the course of a summer trip. But within minutes, it’s clear that there are layers to Aftersun, emotionally and editorially, that aren’t always explained but nonetheless enrich the movie with profound meaning. Stirring, complex, and surprisingly inventive, it’s not surprising that Aftersun is one of the most beloved films of the past year. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Celia Rowlson-Hall, Frankie Corio, Paul Mescal, Sally Messham, Sarah Makharine, Spike Fearn

Director: Charlotte Wells

Rating: R

Sit back, relax, and wait for the feels. With amazing performances from an ensemble cast, including Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, and Annette Bening, as well as excellent directing; The Kids Are Alright is a highly realistic yet entertaining take on families, growing up as children, and growing as parents. Moore and Bening play a gay LA couple, whose two kids meet their biological father, a goofy, laid-back sperm donor, portrayed perfectly by Ruffalo. Nominated for four Oscars and awarded with two Golden Globes, The Kids Are Alright is an arresting, authentic, and astute indie comedy-drama, and a pleasure to watch. Director Lisa Cholodenko and her talented cast have really created something special here!

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Amy Grabow, Annette Bening, Diego Calderón, Eddie Hassell, Eric Eisner, James MacDonald, Joaquin Garrido, Josh Hutcherson, Julianne Moore, Kunal Sharma, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Rebecca Lawrence Levy, Sasha Spielberg, Stuart Blumberg, Yaya DaCosta, Zosia Mamet

Director: Lisa Cholodenko

Rating: R

Persepolis is the true story of Marjane Satrapi, the writer and illustrator whose graphic novels of the same name the film is adapted from. It details in vivid animation the trials of growing up in war-torn Iran, but also, crucially, the joys of being raised by a loving family and the significance of forming one’s own ideals and identity. In between revolving dictatorships and tightening restrictions, Marjane comes into her own and discovers what it means to live a meaningful life.

It’s a testament to Satrapi’s many talents that Persepolis never feels too flat or cynical given its 2D style and bleak backdrop. The drawings impressively morph with Marjane’s every thought, as if the ink itself were alive, and her wit persistently comes through in sharp observations and dialogues. Equally impressive is the film’s commitment to portraying war and conflict in a nuanced manner. In an autobiographical tale that is about Marjane’s coming of age as much as it is about her country’s survival, it’s never been more true that the personal is political.

Genre: Animation, Drama, History, War

Actor: Arié Elmaleh, Catherine Deneuve, Chiara Mastroianni, Danielle Darrieux, François Jerosme, Gabrielle Lopes Benites, Mathias Mlekuz, Simon Abkarian, Sophie Arthuys, Tilly Mandelbrot

Director: Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud

Rating: PG-13

Nothing Compares weaves a poignant story about one of the most misunderstood artists of our time, Sinéad O’Connor. The iconoclast first made waves in the '80s with her catchy music, but she quickly reclaimed the reins of her own fame and used her platform to champion marginalized causes, long before pop stars were expected to do so. 

The documentary zeroes in on this part of O’Connor's life: what prompted her to music and how she used it as a tool of activism. The answers are multi-faceted and handled here with extreme grace. Like the many from her generation, O’Connor struggled with religion and abuse, such was the Catholic Church's hold on Ireland at the time time. 

The film contextualizes her once-shocking moments and reveals how they were all grounded on things she cared about. It’s a beautiful piece of work that reassesses and redeems a wronged artist who was ahead of her time.

Genre: Documentary, Drama, Music

Actor: Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Chuck D, George H. W. Bush, Joe Pesci, John F. Kennedy, John Maybury, Kathleen Hanna, Kurt Cobain, Michael Hutchence, Pope John Paul II, Sinéad O'Connor, Tim Robbins

Director: Kathryn Ferguson

Rating: Not Rated

Journalist LLoyd Vogel (Matthey Rhys) scoffs at the prospect of a profile commission, or a "puff piece", as he calls it. His self-respect and professional ruthlessness has driven people away and this assignment may well be a test from his editor. But it is serendipity that brings Lloyd to American TV host Mister Roger (Tom Hanks) and his child-oriented show, at a time when he, a new father, is confronted with his own paternal trauma. No heavy psychological lifting here, but A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood might be one of the most profound films about father-son relationships ever made. Notably, the film is directed by a woman, Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl). In her film as in his show, Mister Roger doesn't have to do much: he listens, he speaks, he suggests, and while his kindness may seem frustrating at times, it is truly radical. Additionally, Lloyd's character is based loosely on writer Tom Junod, whose encounter with Rogers ended up a profile in Esquire magazine.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Alex Pérez, Chris Cooper, Christine Lahti, Enrico Colantoni, Fred Rogers, Gavin Borders, Gregory Bromfield, Gretchen Koerner, Jessica Hecht, Joanne Rogers, Joe Fishel, Kelley Davis, Kevin L. Johnson, Khary Payton, Kitty Crystal, Krizia Bajos, Maddie Corman, Maryann Plunkett, Matthew Rhys, Michael Masini, Noah Harpster, Patrick McDade, Susan Kelechi Watson, Tammy Blanchard, Tom Bonello, Tom Hanks, Wendy Makkena

Director: Marielle Heller

Rating: PG

Still Walking, Shoplifters, Broker), who generously allows up-and-coming directors to take the helm on certain episodes, The Makanai feels at once light and hefty, comforting and challenging. We're seeing mundane events unfold before us as if we were bystanders, but we also understand that there is so much more happening than what meets the eye. A prolonged gaze, a lovingly prepped meal, an especially sharp wing-eye, all of these have much to say about the state of mind of these girls. 

It’s a supremely gentle and culturally rich show with a tender heart; a truly great watch on all accounts.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Ai Hashimoto, Aju Makita, Arata Iura, Jyo Kairi, Kairi Jo, Kanji Furutachi, Keiko Matsuzaka, Keiko Toda, Lily Franky, Mayu Matsuoka, Momoko Fukuchi, Nana Mori, Natsuki Deguchi, Ryota Suzuki, Takako Tokiwa, Toshinori Omi, Win Morisaki, Yukiya Kitamura

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda, Hiroshi Okuyama, Megumi Tsuno, Takuma Sato

Rating: TV-14

Many films have tried to decipher the indecipherable bond between mothers and daughters. Lady Bird, Everything Everywhere All at Once, and Turning Red, to name a few, center on this particular relationship, which to outsiders may seem strange at best and dysfunctional at worst. How can mothers yell at their daughters one second and coddle them the next? How can daughters treat mothers like their best friend and enemy all at once? 

One of the best films to explore this complexity is Petite Maman, a fantasy-like film that brings together mother and daughter in a unique situation, forcing them both to regard the other in otherwise impossible ways. It succeeds where others haven’t precisely because it accepts that this relationship is beyond dissecting, and the only way to honor it is in the poignant, poetic, and otherworldly way that it does. It’s a quiet film that manages to say a lot, not least of which is that it’s okay to feel and love and hurt as much as one does.

Genre: Drama, Family, Fantasy

Actor: Joséphine Sanz, Margot Abascal, Nina Meurisse, Stéphane Varupenne

Director: Céline Sciamma

Based on Virginia Woolf’s novel, Orlando is a fitting adaptation for a groundbreaking story. Changing from man to woman, the titular time traveler is portrayed by the incomparable Tilda Swinton, breaking the fourth wall as if daring anyone to question her casting. But Swinton’s androgynous look and stellar acting make her the perfect choice for this. Her gaze is the anchor that we hold on to as the film glides through the novel’s multiple themes with ease. Through director Grace Potter’s indescribable vision, they create a fantastic film that blurs gender, sex, identity, and time together with the original novel itself.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy

Actor: Anna Farnworth, Anna Healy, Barbara Hicks, Billy Zane, Charlotte Valandrey, Cyril Lecomte, Dudley Sutton, George Antoni, Heathcote Williams, Jerome Willis, Jessica Swinton, Jimmy Somerville, John Grillo, John Wood, Kathryn Hunter, Lothaire Bluteau, Martin Wimbush, Mary MacLeod, Matthew Sim, Oleg Pogodin, Olivia Lancelot, Peter Eyre, Quentin Crisp, Robert Demeger, Roger Hammond, Sara Mair-Thomas, Sarah Crowden, Simon Russell Beale, Thom Hoffman, Tilda Swinton, Toby Jones, Toby Stephens, Viktor Stepanov

Director: Sally Potter

Rating: PG-13

Though it’s without a plot, Faya Dayi nonetheless weaves a stunning, expansive narrative about khat and the people who farm it and chew its leaves for their hallucinogenic effect. The documentary seems to take place in the same hazy dreamlike stupor that khat-chewers chase: shot in luminous black and white, the film is set to a reflective rhythm that floats from folklore to contemporary stories of romantic heartbreak, migration, and oppression.

Largely featuring members of Ethiopia's Oromo community — a marginalized ethnic group — including the farmers and workers involved in khat production, Faya Dayi is a portrait of economic hardship, emotional pain, and transcendent escape that hits straight in the chest for all the rawness and yearning it depicts. (As disembodied voice-overs put it, “people chew to get away” to the khat-induced “empty and lonely hideout where no one can ever visit you, your own dark and lonely world.”) Full of textures and images that evoke all of the senses, this is virtually a 5D movie, a hypnotic out-of-body experience that floats an astonishing expanse of ideas into your head — no talky explanations needed.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Biniam Yonas, Destu Ibrahim Mumade, Hashim Abdi, Mohammed Arif, Urji Abrahim Mumade

Director: Jessica Beshir

Like all great documentaries, Angry Inuk is about way more than its tagline. At first glance, it's about how anti-sealing activism has been harming Inuit communities since the 1980s, to the point of instituting the highest rates of hunger and suicide anywhere in the "developed" world. But beyond, it's about the complicity of the government of Canada. A crushed seal-based economy means that the Inuit have to agree to oil and uranium mining in the Arctic.

Angry Inuk is also about the corrupt behavior of animal rights organizations like Greenpeace: seals are actually not on the endangered animal list but NGOs focus on them because they make them money.

It's an infuriating but incredibly important documentary. One that is not about how Canada has a bad history, but about how Canada is harming the Inuit right now.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Aaju Peter, Alethea Arnaquq-Baril

Director: Alethea Arnaquq-Baril

This bittersweet little documentary about a Parisian newsstand will change the way you look at a kiosk forever: they’ll no longer seem like transitory stops on the way to somewhere, but a destination themselves. Director Alexandra Pianelli, whose family has run this particular newsstand for four generations, shoots from inside the tiny cabin, from where she and her mother dispense newspapers, magazines, directions, and friendly conversation with anyone who stops by.

Anyone who’s seen Agnès Varda’s Daguerréotypes — her fond portrait of the traditional shopkeepers of Rue Daguerre, the street she lived on — will recognize the same warmth and humane curiosity in The Kiosk, which documents a quickly fading way of life and the community that clings to it. As Pianelli movingly shows us, the kiosk is an invaluable fixture in the lives of an assortment of locals: regular customers (particularly elderly ones, who perhaps visit more for the company than the magazines), a big-hearted homeless man, and fellow vendors like Islam, a Bangladeshi asylum-seeker and fruit-seller who uses the kiosk to hide his merchandise so that French police don’t confiscate it. The decline of printed material that the film documents isn’t just a threat to the family business, then, but the very concept of a truly joined-up society itself.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Aliénor de Nervaux, Damien Fourmeau, Gérard Jacq, Marcel Cierniak, Marie-Laurence Fay

Director: Alexandra Pianelli

The concepts of roads not taken and domino effects have received plenty of cinematic attention in their showier forms by way of multiverse comic book movies and dimension-hopping films like Everything Everywhere All At Once. But, though there’s no hint of sci-fi in Past Lives, Celine Song’s gentle film can count itself as one of the best treatments of that universe-spawning question: “what if?”

When her family moves from Seoul to Canada, teenage Na Young bids a loaded farewell to classmate Hae Sung and changes her name to Nora. Years later, they reconnect online and discover the spark still burns between them. This is no idealistic romance, though: Past Lives is told with sober candor. Song acknowledges real obstacles standing in the way of a relationship between the two — those pragmatic (distance) and, more painfully, personal (evolving personalities, American husbands).

Those two threads — unrealized romance and the transmutation of identity that so often takes place after migrating — are expertly entwined in Past Lives to produce a sublime, aching meditation on memory and time, practical love and idealistic romance, and all the complex contradictions that exist in between. That Song communicates so much and so delicately in only her first film makes Past Lives all the more stunning.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: An Min-yeong, Chang Ki-ha, Chase Sui Wonders, Choi Won-young, Emily Cass McDonnell, Federico Rodriguez, Greta Lee, Hwang Seung-eon, Isaac Powell, Jack Alberts, Jane Yubin Kim, John Magaro, Jojo T. Gibbs, Kristen Sieh, Moon Seung-a, Moon Seung-ah, Seo Yeon-woo, Teo Yoo, Yim Seung-min, Yoon Ji-hye

Director: Celine Song

Rating: PG-13

What starts out as as a summer camp of teenage boys not taking anything seriously grows into a rousing portrait of their hopes and dreams for the future. You wouldn't expect a documentary like this—shot like a reality TV show—to carry so much weight, but Boys State knows how to unearth the values that drive each of its incredibly well-rounded characters. So by the time these young men have assembled their mock governments and are casting their votes, it feels like the spirit of an entire generation is on the line. This is powerful, entertaining, and ultimately tear-jerking filmmaking that shows us how much work we still have to do and how much hope there still is.

Genre: Documentary, Drama, Family

Director: Amanda McBaine, Jesse Moss