410 Best Movies to Watch by Female director (Page 6)

Staff & contributors

The acting... oh the acting! Your Sister's Sister is a fantastic comedy which makes great use of the amazing talents and suitability of its cast, including the criminally underused Emily Blunt. Far smarter, quicker and grown-up than most other Rom-Coms, it's a film built on secrets, lies and, yes, love, sex and family.

Genre: Comedy, Romance

Actor: Emily Blunt, Jeanette Maus, John Lavin, Kate Bayley, Mark Duplass, Mel Eslyn, Mike Birbiglia, Rosemarie DeWitt

Director: Lynn Shelton

Rating: R

Third World Romance is what it says in the tin– it’s a love story that blooms in the rundown side of the capital of a developing country. The plot is familiar, especially for people familiar with Filipino rom coms, but writer-director Dwein Baltazar approaches this with a grounded approach. With fancy dinner dates substituted with shared packed rice meals and emotional apologies interrupted by their shifts in the grocery, Bree and Alvin carve out a love that still feels passionate, perhaps made even more so, as they navigate a city where they are disenfranchised. Charlie Dizon and Carlo Aquino’s excellent performances keep their characters’ struggles real, but also make their love feel joyful in spite of that.

Genre: Comedy, Romance

Actor: Ana Abad-Santos, Archie Adamos, Carlo Aquino, Charlie Dizon, Donna Cariaga, Gardo Versoza, Iyah Mina, Jun Jun Quintana

Director: Dwein Ruedas Baltazar

This fun comedy-drama is about a New York playwright called Radha who never hit big. When she turns 40, she decides to reinvent herself as RadhaMUSPrime, a rapper.

And it’s all a personal affair: Radha Blank plays the main character (named after herself) and is also the writer, director, and producer.

The story is about rap and theater, but being so connected to reality, it feels like it’s about Blank making the movie itself. Its very existence feels like a triumph against the pressure of age, the misunderstanding of others, and the weight of unreached goals.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music

Actor: Antonio Ortiz, Ashlee Brian, Haskiri Velazquez, Imani Lewis, Jacob Ming-Trent, Oswin Benjamin, Peter Kim, Peter Y. Kim, Radha Blank, Reed Birney, Stacey Sargeant, T.J. Atoms, Welker White, William Oliver Watkins

Director: Radha Blank

Rating: R

This Oscar-nominated drama tells the story of the events leading up to the Srebrenica massacre, in which 8372 Bosnian Muslims were killed. It focuses on one U.N. worker who was caught between trying to protect her family, herself, and helping people in need.

The film is as horrific as it is relevant: up until the actual killing starts, people are constantly being assured that everything is under control and that there is no reason to panic. This gives an eerie feeling of resemblance to the tone many minorities in distress receive nowadays.

Still, Quo Vadis, Aida? stops at depicting any of the acts that were committed that day. Instead, it focuses on Aida’s unrelenting race against the clock to save whatever she can.

Genre: Drama, History, War

Actor: Alban Ukaj, Boris Isaković, Boris Ler, Dino Bajrović, Dražen Pavlović, Emina Muftić, Emir Hadžihafizbegović, Ermin Bravo, Ermin Sijamija, Izudin Bajrović, Jasna Đuričić, Job Raaijmakers, Joes Brauers, Johan Heldenbergh, Juda Goslinga, Micha Hulshof, Raymond Thiry, Reinout Bussemaker, Rijad Gvozden, Sanne den Hartogh, Sol Vinken, Teun Luijkx

Director: Jasmila Žbanić

This unique romance is set during a time when a man would be sent the painting of the woman he was to marry before the wedding could take place. Héloïse, secluded with her mother and a maid on a remote island, doesn't approve of her upcoming wedding and refuses to be painted. Her mother sends for a new painter, Marianne, to try to paint her without her noticing. Marianne has to take on this near-impossible task when she starts having feelings for Héloïse. This makes for a riveting romance where Marianne has to choose between her heart and her art while keeping a huge secret from her love interest.

Genre: Drama, History, Romance

Actor: Adèle Haenel, Adèle Haenel, Armande Boulanger, Christel Baras, Clément Bouyssou, Clément Bouyssou, Guy Delamarche, Luàna Bajrami, Luàna Bajrami, Michèle Clément, Noémie Merlant, Noémie Merlant, Valeria Golino

Director: Céline Sciamma, Céline Sciamma

Rating: R

Kill Bill meets Bend It Like Beckham in this wild ride about a martial arts-obsessed British-Pakistani teenager who views her older sister’s impending marriage as a catastrophe to be averted at all costs. Aspiring stuntwoman Ria (Priya Kansara) can’t stomach the idea of free-spirited Lena (Ritu Arya) giving up on her creative dreams to marry a nauseatingly perfect man — not least because art school dropout Lena is her hero for refusing to conform to their community’s traditional ideas about respectability and success.

Polite Society makes room to sensitively explore Ria’s disappointment and the loneliness of rebellion, but writer-director Nida Manzoor doesn’t stop there, throwing in a sharp allegory disguised as a zany twist. Rather than upending our expectations for upending’s sake, the surprise metaphor refigures the movie as perceptive cultural commentary on the age-old devaluation of women as mere vessels for the next generation. What’s more, Manzoor takes the analogy full circle to thoughtfully imagine how this kind of dehumanizing misogyny might have affected previous generations, suggesting that the real villains lie offscreen. Movies as inventive and intelligent as this don’t come around often, but one that’s this funny, visually bold, unabashedly feminist, and full of stars-in-the-making is rarer still.

Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Drama

Actor: Akshay Khanna, Ella Bruccoleri, Eunice Huthart, James McNicholas, Jeff Mirza, Jenny Funnell, Nimra Bucha, Rekha John-Cheriyan, Ritu Arya, Seraphina Beh, Shobu Kapoor

Director: Nida Manzoor

By remaining totally committed to its quiet, drama-free, observational style of documentary filmmaking, Mr. Bachmann and His Class ends up teaching us a whole lot about the way we view educational spaces and difficult students as well. While the titular German teacher is mainly there to teach language, the way he patiently handles disagreement and conflict—reorienting the immature or harmful beliefs they may have learned from home or from elsewhere—is truly inspiring to witness. We never see these home lives and the film's director, Maria Speth, knows better than to romanticize anybody in this classroom. But over the film's lengthy runtime, it really begins to feel like we get to know and understand each of these kids, and to root for their ability to change their views and become more open and appreciative towards one another.

Genre: Documentary

Director: Maria Speth

Margarita with a Straw is a bold and unflinching film that offers a sensitive and nuanced portrayal of disability, sexuality, and identity. The film follows the journey of a young woman with cerebral palsy as she navigates her way through life, love, and self-discovery. The film's honest portrayal of exploring sexuality, its rich and diverse cast of characters, and its raw and emotional story make it a deeply affecting watch. It's a triumph of representation and inclusivity, and a testament to the power of storytelling to challenge and change the way we see the world.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Andrew Hsu, Doug Plaut, Hussain Dalal, Jacob Berger, Kalki Koechlin, Kuljeet Singh, Malhar Khushu, Marco Torriani, Revathi, Revathy, Sayani Gupta, Shuchi Dwivedi, Tenzing Dalha, Vin Scialla, William Moseley

Director: Nilesh Maniyar, Shonali Bose

Rating: Not Rated

At times looking and sounding like a real Filipino action film from 50 years ago, while painstakingly edited to juggle storylines across several realities, Leonor Will Never Die is worth seeing for its originality and ambition alone. Among so many other films that function as sanitized "love letters to cinema," this one bears the distinction of still feeling charmingly scrappy and improvised even with how meticulously it's crafted. It doesn't simply pine for a bygone era of movies, but it actively explores what purpose movies serve to us as individuals and as communities. Where it arrives with regard to healing and acceptance and bringing people together feels entirely earned, even if it might not always be easy to understand.

Genre: Action, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy

Actor: Anthony Falcon, Bong Cabrera, Martika Ramirez Escobar, Miguel Almendras, Rea Molina, Rocky Salumbides, Ryan Eigenmann, Sheila Francisco, Victor Villanueva

Director: Martika Ramirez Escobar

Using the documentary form with supreme clarity and righteous fury, Lakota Nation vs. United States distills hundreds of years of American history into two powerful, consistently engaging hours of film. The information presented in this movie has always been available to the public, but directors Jesse Short Bull and Laura Tomaselli do an excellent job at allowing these historical accounts and more recent headlines to cumulatively take on a truly emotional—almost spiritual—resonance. The enormity of the losses that Native Americans have endured physically, culturally, and economically is genuinely horrifying, and every new obstacle that the Oceti Sakowin peoples face feels heavy with the struggle of all of their ancestors before them.

Short Bull and Tomaselli stick to a generally conventional structure, but are able to weave together together personal stories and factual legal arguments through archival footage, majestic shots of the frontier, and the poetry of Lakota poet Layli Long Soldier. The whole film, then, begins to take on more of a lyrical quality—as if every tragic moment has permanently become part of the tapestry of Native life, impossible to forget and always driving efforts for reparation forward. Still the Native struggle continues, but with much more hope than despair.

Genre: Documentary, History

Actor: Candi Brings Plenty, Krystal Two Bulls, Layli Long Soldier, Nick Tilsen, Phyllis Young

Director: Jesse Short Bull, Laura Tomaselli

As courageous now as it was when it was first released domestically in the Philippines, Aswang stands as an essential act of bearing witness to a "war on drugs" that the government continues to deny or justify to this day. Director Alyx Arumpac remains firmly by the side of these ordinary people who have to live through the nightmare of their friends, relatives, and neighbors being slaughtered in the streets. There seems to be little editorializing on the part of the filmmakers, as they allow the people to walk us through their own stories—even if larger powers would have us believe that the poor are dangerous, volatile, and in need of disciplining through death. It's a harrowing watch that presents on-the-ground stories with clarity, tenacity, and a surprising level of polish to boot.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Ciriaco Santiago III, Ezra Acayan, Jomari, Orly Fernandez, Vincent Go

Director: Alyx Ayn Arumpac

Wendy (Michelle Williams) is a drifter driving up to Alaska in hopes of finding work. When her car breaks down, she and her dog Lucy are stranded and forced to scrounge for food and repairs, hitting one roadblock after another on her path to an uncertain dream. This sympathetic and solemn look at poverty from director Kelly Reichardt serves as a reminder of how easy it is to fall through the fragile American safety net.   

Reichardt’s uncompromising approach paired with Williams’s restrained performance makes the experience authentic and intense, recalling the work of Ken Loach. This natural sharpness makes for an engrossing watch that builds in power until the emotional release of the film’s heartbreaking conclusion. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ayanna Berkshire, David Koppell, Deirdre OConnell, Gabe Nevins, Jeanine Jackson, John Breen, John Robinson, Larry Fessenden, M. Blash, Marilyn Faith Hickey, Michelle Williams, Wally Dalton, Will Oldham, Will Patton

Director: Kelly Reichardt

Rating: R

You don’t have to be a theater kid to enjoy this feel-good mockumentary set in a summer camp for junior thespians. While there are plenty of in-jokes here for those who might have spent a summer or two somewhere like AdirondACTS, Theater Camp also good-naturedly lampoons every instantly recognizable stereotype of theater kids and the classic failed-performer-turned-teacher. 

Amongst the note-perfect ensemble, particularly hilarious standouts include co-writer Ben Platt and co-director Molly Gordon as camp instructors and best friends Amos and Rebecca-Diane. Both are Juilliard rejects with codependency issues and a classic case of actorly self-indulgence — as encapsulated in the moment they accuse a young attendee of “doping” for using artificial tears during a performance (“Do you want to be the Lance Armstrong of theater?”). But even seasoned performers like Platt and Gordon can’t pull the spotlight away from the film’s absurdly talented young ensemble, who are just as game for poking fun at their passion: standouts include Luke Islam, Alexander Bello, and Minari’s Alan Kim as a pint-sized “aspiring agent” who skips dance class to make business calls. All this self-satirising never obscures the movie’s heart, though; what begins as a self-deprecating ribbing of theater-heads ultimately becomes a rousing love letter to those very same misfits.

Genre: Comedy, Music

Actor: Alan Kim, Alexander Bello, Amy Sedaris, Ayo Edebiri, Ben Platt, Caroline Aaron, David Rasche, Dean Scott Vazquez, Donovan Colan, Jimmy Tatro, Kyndra Sanchez, Luke Islam, Max Sheldon, Molly Gordon, Nathan Lee Graham, Noah Galvin, Owen Thiele, Patti Harrison, Priscilla Lopez, Tyrone Mitchell Henderson

Director: Molly Gordon, Nick Lieberman

Rating: PG-13

It’s hard not to watch The Unknown Country and think of Nomadland: along with similarities in their Terrence Malick-inspired visuals, both films follow lone women seeking catharsis on the road as they grieve profound losses. But Morrisa Maltz’s debut feature is a decidedly lower-key, more spiritual affair — and is all the better for it.

The film is light on plot exposition, but it’s clear from her soft melancholy that Tana (Lily Gladstone) has set off on this road trip following a personal loss, a meandering journey that takes her from freezing Minnesota to Oglala Lakota reservations in South Dakota and down through Texas. Along the way, she reunites with loved ones and crosses paths with total strangers, all of whom are played by charismatic non-professional actors whose real life stories earn as much of the spotlight as Tana’s impressionistically shot journey. These moments of documentary, Gladstone’s naturalistic performance, Andrew Hajek’s contemplative images of lush American landscapes, and the film’s aversion to outright drama enrich the fictional elements by grounding them in earthy reality. There aren’t many more emotionally rewarding ways to spend 80-ish minutes than watching this poignant meditation on the tangled richness of human lives and the land we live on.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Devin Shangreaux, Lainey Bearkiller Shangreaux, Lily Gladstone, Raymond Lee, Richard Ray Whitman

Director: Morrisa Maltz

Rating: NR