192 Best Movies to Watch by Female director (Page 7)

Staff & contributors

In this documentary by Bianca Stigter, a three-minute home video of a nondescript Jewish town in Poland is examined in great detail to reveal the history and humanity behind it. Taken just before the Holocaust, it’s one of the few remaining proofs of life the town has before its population was decimated in the war. And so the footage is repeated and stretched in this documentary, because as the narrator puts it, “as long as we are watching, history is not over yet,” and the people have yet to be gone.

Glenn Kurtz, the grandson of the person who shot the home video, takes it upon himself to investigate the history of the town and its citizens: what they were and what became of them. The results are often grim and unsettling, and the eerie editing matches them with great effect. But when it's not haunting, the film is oddly hopeful—for a future that remembers its past and preserves it in meaningful ways. Couple this sentiment with the narrator’s own poetic observations, and you get a powerfully moving elegy about loss and memory. 

This is a half-hour documentary about Cuban-American artist Carmen Herrera. She is one of the oldest artists working today, close to being 100 years old. Her story is fascinating because she only became successful in her 80s, although she never stopped working her whole life. There are many reasons as to why her work went unnoticed for so long and they’re all examined here. But the best thing about this movie is Herrera’s outlook on life and what drives her every day.

In the early 1990s, Singaporean teens Sandi, Jasmine, and Sophie set out to make the country’s first indie movie. Incredibly, in between college, day jobs, and very limited funding, they manage to do just that with the help of their wise but mysterious mentor, Georges. Shirkers, as the project came to be called, seemed primed to revolutionize the burgeoning Singaporean film industry. It was ambitious and bonkers, unlike anything the country has seen before, and it lovingly contained tributes to the makers' cinematic heroes (among them Wim Wenders and David Lynch). But before it could see the light of the day, before it could even be viewed and edited by the girls who conceptualized it, Shirkers’ raw footage was whisked away by Georges, who fled the country without a trace. 

The potentially pioneering film was never to be seen again—that is, until 20 years later when it resurfaces in near-mint condition (sadly, the audio could not be recovered). Fascinated by the journey of the lost film and mystified by Georges’ motives, Sandi decides to remake Shirkers as a documentary. The result is an artistic and personal interrogation into what made their small beloved film possible, how its loss affected the people behind it, and how this all led to Shirkers, the documentary, which is a testament to how art always prevails in the end. 

Monster is a biographical depiction of Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron), a prostitute and serial killer who murdered seven men in Florida between 1989 and 1990. The film follows the burgeoning relationship between Wuornos and young Selby Wall (Christina Ricci, in a role based on Wuornos' real-life girlfriend Tyria Moore), as she grows increasingly desperate to provide for her young companion financially. Her desperation and her rage against men, brought on by years of both childhood and adult abuse, leads her down a dark path of murder and theft, even as she struggles to shield Selby from the horror of her crimes. The overwhelming highlight of the film is Theron’s mesmerizing performance as Wuornos—a role that won her a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Actress in 2004. She’s almost unrecognizable and altogether phenomenal as the volatile and increasingly unstable Wuornos, whose ferocity is interwoven with surprising affection for young Selby. This unexpected tenderness lends the film an air of tragic poignancy, and provides a bittersweet portrayal of a severely troubled woman. Very much intended for mature audiences only, Monster is a fascinating recreation of a disturbing yet compelling chapter in the annals of true crime in America.

This Canadian drama is directed by, written by, and stars first-time director Agam Darshi. It’s a labor of love about a 30-something woman who takes care of her sick father while trying to become a writer.

Mona (the character) comes from an immigrant Indian family, and she is proudly the black sheep of the bunch. When a visitor greets her with “God is Truth” in Punjabi, she replies in English with “Merry Christmas”, and when aunties catch her smoking she gives them the middle finger. Not to mention she is sleeping with a married man.

And yet the way the movie is made it works as a universal story - one about finding purpose in taking care of one’s parents while navigating complex family dynamics.

Even if you’re a huge Broadway fan, you’ve probably never heard of the “industrial musical." While it no longer exists in practice, in the 1970s industrial musicals were shows that corporations commissioned for some of the biggest Broadway names to produce. The script would be based on the company’s offerings and history, and privately performed by real Broadway actors to audiences made up exclusively of company and factory staff.

Now, a documentary about industrial shows doesn’t scream “entertaining,” but to describe Bathtubs Over Broadway in such a manner would be selling it way short. It’s really about Steve Young, a comedy writer for David Letterman, and how his life changed when he found his first industrial musical LP when leafing through a crate of old records for a Late Night segment he was working on.

Ultimately, what makes this such an enjoyable watch is the protagonist’s enduring passion over what at first appears to be nothing but a niche obsession. But with time, as he connects with other collectors and the people who were involved in the original industrial musical productions, his passion breeds community and lifelong bonds. Even if you’re no fan of Broadway, this makes for a great pop culture documentary and an unexpectedly touching story of human connection.

Iceland is a country of vast lands but limited population - only about 300,000 people can call themselves Icelandic. On the other hand, 8 million people have connecting flights through Iceland every year. 

In this setting of mass movement, a single mother dealing with poverty is offered a chance to turn things around - a job as a border agent. One of her first days, she comes across an asylum seeker on a connecting flight from Guinea Bissau to Canada, trying to cross with a fake passport. 

Their stories don’t only intertwine as border agent and asylum seeker, but as two mothers. And Breathe Normally is about struggling with poverty both in Europe and coming from a place like Guinea Bissau. It’s a beautiful, plot-heavy statement on the importance of solidarity and of seeing the human behind the country of origin or race. 

The story that Whale Rider tells is a familiar one: that of a young girl challenging the expectations of a patriarchal community in order to claim her rightful place in a position of authority. But this isn't a superficial girl-power movie; writer/director Niki Caro maintains the utmost reverence for this Māori community, even if its customs might not appear fair to an outsider's point of view. It's a film full of realistically flawed people, whose struggles are all borne from a common love for their culture in their little corner of the world. What could have been generic and simplistic is made beautiful—especially thanks to a truly moving performance from Keisha Castle-Hughes, who at the time became the youngest nominee for the Best Actress Oscar.

After neglecting previous invitations, Leyla, a lawyer and a poet, decides to take an overnight train to finally attend a school reunion. On the train, she meets Canan, a young nursing student who dreams of becoming an actress. The two of them form a unique connection that will lead them to an unusual journey. 

Something Useful is about how, when dealing with pain and disappointment, art—and especially poetry– can help by revealing the beauty behind everyday moments. It's a wonderful film with beautiful photography and impressive performances. 

What Lynne Ramsay's Ratcatcher intentionally refuses to give you by way of plot or resolution, it more than makes up for in sharp visuals, a beautifully sparse score, and an unscratchable feeling of restlessness. It's a downer for sure, watching 12-year-old James hounded by guilt as he navigates the mundane bleakness of his everyday life. But in every detail and in every interaction he has in this rundown scheme in Glasgow is a window into the simple joys James wishes he could be enjoying. The more trouble the boy walks into, the more the guitar string tightens, and the more you wish something could finally break the cycle. There's still beauty even in these conditions, Ratcatcher tells us—but it isn't right that anyone should have to live like this.

Stressed by adolescence, 16-year-old Craig Gilner checks himself into a mental-health clinic. Unfortunately, the youth wing is closed, so he must spend his mandated five-day stay with adults. One of them, Bobby, quickly becomes his mentor -- and him his protege, while Craig finds himself drawn to a fellow teen, Noelle, who just may be the cure he needs to forget an unrequited crush. Starring Keir Gilchrist and Zack Galifianakis, It's kind of a Funny Story is based on a novel of the same name.

Two misfits, an immigrant and a traveling cook, team up to start an unlikely enterprise in this slow but captivating drama. The story, set in 19th century Pacific Northwest, evolves around the arrival of the first cow to that part of the world. This presents a unique opportunity that the two main characters try to benefit from. 

First Cow is a mix between a Western and a modern-day plot-less indie drama.  It has likable characters, stunning scenery, and a fascinating look into how social outcasts lived back then.

The performance of a pot-bellied Joaquin Phoenix is nothing short of perfection. He brilliantly portrays a hitman down on his luck who happens to rescue a kidnapped teenage girl. It’s a tight movie, running a short 89 minutes. It makes a point that sticks. Pure entertainment, pure acting, and amazing directing by Lynne Ramsay (who also directed We Need to Talk About Kevin).

When filmmaker and actress Mélanie Laurent (Breathe, Inglorious Basterds) was pregnant with her son, she learned about a study that predicted that climate change would cause human civilization to crumble by 2050. Like many soon-to-be parents, she worried about what it means to bring a child to a world where that’s a scientific forecast.

Instead of despairing, she chose to make this movie about solutions. She traveled the world with an activist friend documenting how human ingenuity is getting in the way of the situation worsening. The documentary goes to 10 countries to investigate solutions on five levels: agriculture (food), energy, economy, education, and democracy.

The World of Us is a vibrant, colourful movie that follows the story of Lee Sun, a shy and sweet fifth grader who meets Ji Ah, a new girl in town. The movie is innocent, light and relatable, centered around two new friends playing in the summertime. But behind its vibrant colors, there is a very realistic commentary on how children can grow up to realise they are not of equal wealth and social status. The World of Us is not only about the fun of childhood, but also shows its bitterness. It perfectly captures the feeling of being left out by the ones who are supposed to be our friends. The movie shows that children can feel pain and jealousy toward others too, and it encapsulates the highs and lows of being young in the best way possible.