289 Best Movies to Watch by Female director (Page 4)

Staff & contributors

Understandably, Mimmi, Rönkkö, and Emma, the teenage girls who lead this Finnish coming-of-age drama, are bursting with emotional urgency. On the cusp of adulthood, they plunge into house parties and romantic affairs in the hope that exploring love, sex, and adventure leads them closer to being self-aware adults. 

Of course, that’s a lifelong process, but they don’t need to know that just yet. For now, they’re explosive and ecstatic and awkward and angry. They’re at a point in their lives where falling head over heels is still an endearingly fresh experience and not a frustratingly repeated mistake. 

The film is intense in this way, but it’s leavened by a beautiful naturalism that’s seen in the young cast’s performances, the setting’s soft lighting, and the camera’s boxy ratio and grainy finish, the latter of which recall a disposable camera capturing the indiscriminate moments shared between teens. Girl Picture is an intimate and authentic portrait of girlhood—see it if you can.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Aamu Milonoff, Amos Brotherus, Bruno Baer, Elias Westerberg, Linnea Leino, Mikko Kauppila, Oona Airola

Director: Alli Haapasalo

Eve’s Bayou is a Southern Gothic tale of spirituality, family, secrets, and the ties that bind them together. The story follows the awakening, both spiritual and emotional, of young Eve Baptiste. The middle sibling of the Baptiste family, 10-year-old Eve, navigates childhood while enduring the tumultuous relationship between her mother and father. 

What lurks beneath a seemingly ordinary marital conflict is an insidious betrayal that could tear her entire family apart. Eve’s Bayou should be considered one of the greatest Black American epics of the past 25 years. I adore this film because it is unflinchingly real - and honest about the sometimes rocky reality of familial bonds. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Allen Toussaint, Billie Neal, Branford Marsalis, Carol Sutton, Debbi Morgan, Diahann Carroll, Ethel Ayler, Jake Smollett, Jurnee Smollett, Leonard L. Thomas, Lisa Nicole Carson, Lynn Whitfield, Marcus Lyle Brown, Meagan Good, Roger Guenveur Smith, Ron Flagge, Samuel L. Jackson, Tamara Tunie, Victoria Rowell, Vondie Curtis-Hall

Director: Kasi Lemmons

Rating: R

In Cameraperson, documentarian and cinematographer Kirsten Johnson creates an incredible patchwork of her life—and her life’s work. Johnson has been behind the camera of seminal documentaries like Citizenfour, The Invisible War, and The Edge of Joy. Here, Johnson stitches together fragments of footage, shot over 25 years, reframes them to reveal the silent but influential ways in which she has been an invisible participant in her work. 

In one segment, Johnson places the camera down in the grass. A hand reaches into the frame briefly, pulling up weeds that would otherwise obscure the shot. Cameraperson is a must-see documentary that challenges us to reconsider and reflect upon how we see ourselves and others through the camera lens, and beyond it.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Jacques Derrida, Kirsten Johnson, Michael Moore, Roger Phenix

Director: Kirsten Johnson

Rating: Not Rated

The Kings of the World is a surreal coming-of-age movie that follows Rá, Culebro, Sere, Winny, and Nano, street kids who are on their way to claim land that’s rightfully theirs. Their one goal is to finally make a home after living without one for so long, but they’re hindered by the inevitable tragedies that befall kids of their kind: impoverished, alone, and abandoned.

The title is ironic, but it also hints at their state of mind: these boys are unstoppable, rabble-rousers who live like there’s no tomorrow. They tear down private property and invade inns not out of spite, necessarily, but out of a knowledge that whatever they do they’re gonna be put down anyway, so they might as well live without rules.

Tackling powerful themes like land restitution and youth neglect, The Kings of the World is one of the most agonizing movies you'll ever see. It’s also Colombia’s official Best Foreign Language Film entry in the 2022 Academy Awards.

Genre: Adventure, Drama

Actor: Brahian Acevedo, Carlos Andrés Castañeda, Cristian Campaña, Cristian David Duque, Davison Florez

Director: Laura Mora

Rating: TV-MA

Prophet’s Prey is a documentary on the sect known as Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints and its leader, Warren Jeffs. Claiming to have inherited a direct connection to God, Jeffs has used this pretext to control a closed society of thousands of individuals on a shockingly personal level, as well as marry dozens of underage girls and harvest the community’s financial resources on behalf of “the church.”

The subject is deftly handled by filmmaker Amy Berg (Deliver Us From Evil). Here she presents most of the story via interviews with the people whose tenacity was instrumental in exposing  Jeffs. Woven throughout the film, too, is the haunting, disembodied voice of Jeffs himself, in recorded words to his followers, along with film footage of present-day FLDS communities. What emerges is the picture of a terrifying madman who still wields a disturbing amount of power over thousands of active congregants. Absolutely riveting.

Genre: Crime, Documentary, History

Actor: Nick Cave

Director: Amy J. Berg

Rating: TV-14

This stagelike historical drama is about a meeting between Malcolm X, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, and Muhammad Ali, the night Ali became world champion and announced he became Muslim.

And here is the thing: Malcolm X and Muhammed Ali have been portrayed many times in film, but never with this much nuance. Their relationship with each other is often frictional and their relationship to their faith is recognizable: they're not always sure about it, and they take breaks.

Ali smuggles alcohol without Malcolm knowing, Malcolm is accused of being obsessed with celebrity (and later of colorism), Jim Brown is insecure about being an actor, and Sam Cooke wishes he wrote a Bob Dylan song.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Aaron D. Alexander, Alan Wells, Aldis Hodge, Ashley LeConte Campbell, Beau Bridges, Christian Magby, Christopher Gorham, Derek Roberts, Dustin Lewis, Eli Goree, Emily Bridges, Hunter Burke, Jason Ament, Jeremy Pope, John Curran, Kevin Reid, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Lance Reddick, Lawrence Gilliard Jr., Leslie Odom Jr., Mark Allan Stewart, Matt Fowler, Michael Imperioli, Nola Epps, Randall Newsome

Director: Regina King

Rating: R

In a different change of pace, this biopic focuses on John Lennon’s reckless adolescence and family life instead of his soon-to-be iconic music. It brings an epic rockstar many of us have known our entire lives down to a more relatable level. The young Aaron Taylor-Johnston gives a very angsty performance which feels a little over the top at times. Anne-Marie Duff does comes off too flirtatious for a newly formed mother-son relationship but Kristin Scott Thomas outshines them all with her steely demeanor.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Andrew Buchan, Angela Walsh, Angelica Jopling, Anne-Marie Duff, Baillie Walsh, Chris Coghill, Colin Tierney, Daniel Ross, David Morrissey, David Threlfall, Jack McElhone, Josh Bolt, Kerrie Hayes, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lizzie Hopley, Ophelia Lovibond, Paul Ritter, Richard Syms, Sam Bell, Simon Lowe, Thomas Brodie-Sangster

Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson

Rating: R

There is so much power to this story based actor Shia Laboeuf’s life. As a kid, he lived with his father on the road during the filming of Even Stevens and other star-making roles. His dad was a war veteran who goes to bikers’ AA meetings and who had a brief acting career himself.  He was full of anger that made Laboeuf later suffer from PTSD, but which he was able to perceive in a fascinating way. 

Putting Laboeuf’s fame aside, this is an incredible movie on emotionally abusive parent-child relationships. It’s a universal story. With Shia Laboeuf as his father and Lucas Hedges as current-day Laboeuf. 

 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Al Burke, Ben Maccabee, Byron Bowers, Clifton Collins Jr., Craig Stark, Dorian Brown Pham, Eli Santana, FKA Twigs, Giovanni Lopes, Graham Clarke, Greta Jung, Kara C. Roberts, Kingston Vernes, Laura San Giacomo, Leana Chavez, Lucas Hedges, Ludwig Manukian, Maika Monroe, Martin Starr, Natasha Lyonne, Noah Jupe, Paulina Lule, Sandra Rosko, Shia LaBeouf

Director: Alma Har'el, Alma Har'el

Rating: R

Fire of Love is a documentary that follows Maurice and Katia Krafft, a scientist couple who’ve dedicated their entire professional lives to studying (and marveling at) volcanoes. The two met at university and have been inseparable ever since, chasing explosions around the world until their death at the Mount Unzen eruption in 1991. 

The fiery passion the title refers to is as much about Maurice and Katia as it is about their dedication to volcanoes. Like any love story, it tracks how they were first wonderstruck by the formation and how that awe shaped their lives and led them to each other, as well as how they came to discover hard truths about it and dealt with the heartbreak that soon followed. 

Combining the breathtaking footage the couple left behind with lovely writing and artful animation, director Sara Dosa creates a moving documentary about passion, adventure, and the world itself. 

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Alka Balbir, Katia Krafft, Miranda July

Director: Sara Dosa

Rating: PG

The gorgeous grain of Falcon Lake’s lush 16mm cinematography instantly gives it an air of nostalgia, as if the movie is an intimate reflection on a precious formative summer. That effect is confirmed over the film’s runtime: it takes place from the perspective of Bastien (Joseph Engel), a 13-year-old French boy whose family is being hosted at a Quebec lake cabin by their friend and her 16-year-old daughter Chloe (Sara Montpetit). The woodland setting could be idyllic or eerie, a duality brought explicitly to the fore by Chloe, whose interests lean towards the macabre.

It’s not long before Bastien becomes smitten with the assured older girl, and it's their dynamic that gives Falcon Lake its profoundly captivating effect. Though the movie’s gothic undertones do give it a troubling air of tension, the way they come to the surface in its ending feels a little inharmonious to the delicate human drama that the teens have built up until then. Both actors turn in performances so extraordinarily nuanced and naturalistic that Falcon Lake doesn’t need that twist — it already stands as a deeply affecting coming-of-age portrait, one in which tenderness and betrayal are raw new pleasures and pains to be discovered.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Romance

Actor: Anthony Therrien, Arthur Igual, Éléonore Loiselle, Jacob Whiteduck-Lavoie, Jeff Roop, Joseph Engel, Karine Gonthier-Hyndman, Lévi Doré, Monia Chokri, Pierre-Luc Lafontaine, Sara Montpetit

Director: Charlotte Le Bon

This groundbreaking documentary follows the USA Olympics sexual abuse case that made headlines in 2015. Through interviews with Olympians, their families, and investigative reporters, it’s also a documentary on the overall culture of abuse in gymnastics: sexual, physical, and emotional.

In one scene from the 1996 Olympics, gold medalist Kerri Strug has to run, vault, and land - all with a severe foot injury that was covered up by her coaches. She does this twice, limping between attempts and crawling off the mat on the second, crying. Meanwhile, her family, her coaches, the spectators - the World - is celebrating.

When she’s carried off, it’s Larry Nassar, the pedophile at the center of the documentary, who carries her.

Athlete A is groundbreaking exactly because it illustrates that the problem is not only with one doctor, or the 54 coaches who were also found guilty of sexual abuse, or the morally bankrupt leadership of USA Gymastics; it’s also about what went so wrong with society to see the abuse of young girls as cause for celebration.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Géza Poszar, Gina Nichols, Jen Sey, John Nichols, Maggie Nichols

Director: Bonni Cohen, Jon Shenk

Rating: PG-13

Not much happens in Women Talking, but what it lacks in action it more than makes up for in message. As the wronged women of an insular Christian colony decide whether they should leave or stay in their community, valuable points on each side are raised and debated fiercely. Are the men at fault or is there a bigger problem at hand? Is it sacrilegious to refuse forgiveness? Will leaving really solve anything? 

The women of this ultraconservative and anti-modern community may not know how to read or write, but years of toiling away on land, family, and faith have made them wise beyond their years, which makes their discussion all the more captivating and powerful. Relevant themes, coupled with director Sarah Polley’s poetic shots and the cast’s all-around stellar performances, make Women Talking a uniquely compelling and timeless watch.

Genre: Drama

Actor: August Winter, Ben Whishaw, Claire Foy, Eli Ham, Emily Mitchell, Frances McDormand, Jessie Buckley, Judith Ivey, Kate Hallett, Kira Guloien, Marcus Craig, Michelle McLeod, Rooney Mara, Sheila McCarthy, Vivien Endicott Douglas, Will Bowes

Director: Sarah Polley

Rating: PG-13

Based on a true story, The Whistleblower is the biography of a once Nebraskan police officer who volunteers for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in post-war Bosnia. Once there, she uncovers a human trafficking scandal involving peacekeeping officials, and finds herself alone against a hostile system in a devastated country. Rachel Weisz plays the whistleblower in a powerful lead role, but the true star of the movie is its director, Larysa Kondracki, who thanks to near documentary-style film-making delivers a perfectly executed political thriller with utmost authenticity.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Adriana Butoi, Alexandru Potocean, Alin Panc, Anca Androne, Anna Schafer, Benedict Cumberbatch, Catherine McNally, Coca Bloos, Danny John-Jules, David Hewlett, David Strathairn, Dorotheea Petre, Florin Busuioc, Geoffrey Pounsett, Jeanette Hain, Liam Cunningham, Luke Treadaway, Monica Bellucci, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Paul Jerricho, Paula Schramm, Pilou Asbæk, Rachel Weisz, Radu Bânzaru, Rayisa Kondracki, Rosabell Laurenti Sellers, Roxana Condurache, Roxana Guttman, Sergej Trifunović, Stuart Graham, Vanessa Redgrave, Victoria Raileanu, Vlad Ivanov, William Hope

Director: Larysa Kondracki

Rating: R

, 2017

One of the sharpest horror films of the last decade, Julia Ducournau’s Raw follows in the footsteps of films like Carrie by translating coming of age anxieties into visceral full-throated terror. Justine is a beginner veterinary student leaving home for the first time. After a brutal hazing ceremony forces this young vegetarian to eat meat, she develops an insatiable hunger for flesh that begins to consume her.

Raw is as much an intense body-horror (not for the squeamish) as it is an astute psychological drama. Underneath its nightmarish sheen, Ducournau layers social commentary on sexuality, patriarchy, and deviance using the school’s sadistic initiations as metaphors for larger structures. All of this depth is paired with striking cinematography, crisp pacing, and an unforgettable performance from Garance Marillier as Justine.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Horror, Mystery

Actor: Alexis Julemont, Alice D'Hauwe, Amandine Hinnekens, Benjamin Boutboul, Bérangère Mc Neese, Bouli Lanners, Charlotte Sandersen, Denis Mpunga, Ella Rumpf, Garance Marillier, Helena Coppejans, Jean-Louis Sbille, Joana Preiss, Julianne Binard, Laurent Lucas, Maïté Katinka Lonne, Marion Vernoux, Marouan Iddoub, Morgan Politi, Pierre Nisse, Rabah Nait Oufella, Sibylle du Plessy, Sophie Breyer, Thomas Mustin, Virgil Leclaire

Director: Julia Ducournau

Rating: R