The 50 Best Movies Directed By Women

The 50 Best Movies Directed By Women

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Over the past couple of years, the number of women working in film has skyrocketed to an all-time high. And yet, female directors remain consistently underrepresented at award shows and “best-of lists”. Just consider that in the Oscar’s ninety-two years of existence, only one woman – Kathryn Biglow, the director of The Hurt Locker – has ever won Best Director, and that wasn’t until 2010. Facts like these reflect a gender divide that exists way beyond Hollywood, and the people who end up missing out are the cinema lovers who are hungry for fresh perspectives. So to balance it out, we’ve rounded up the best movies directed by women that are available to stream.

10. Booksmart (2019)

best

9.0

Country

United States of America

Director

Female director, Olivia Wilde

Actors

Adam Krist, Austin Crute, Beanie Feldstein, Ben Harris

Moods

Easy, Feel-Good, Funny

Do you keep re-watching Superbad when you’re hungover? Next time you are, try the film that has been praised as ‘the female Superbad”: the amazing Booksmart. Yes, it’s coming-of-age comedy, but, like Superbad, it tried something a little different. Like its two main characters, one could say it’s a bit smarter than Greg Mottola’s seminal bromedy. Molly (Beanie Feldstein, incidentally, Jonah Hill’s younger sister) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) are best friends, class presidents, and academic overachievers. Nice girls, too. With excellent grades in their pockets, they head off to college only to find that the same in-crowd from high school that was doing nothing but partying, now goes to the same college as them. Why, oh why, did they choose academic success over partying, when, clearly, they could have had both? On their last day in high school, now here’s a trope, they decide to make up for all the years of lost partying on one night. This sets off a raucous, raunchy, and wildly entertaining ride. And with a feminist twist!

9. Capernaum (2018)

best

9.0

Country

Cyprus, France, Lebanon

Director

Female director, Nadine Labaki

Actors

Alaa Chouchnieh, Boluwatife Treasure Bankole, Cedra Izzam, Farah Hasno

Moods

Depressing, Discussion-sparking, Dramatic

Capernaum is both the highest-grossing Middle Eastern movie of all time and the highest-grossing movie in Arabic of all time. Lebanese director Nadine Labaki was the first female Arab director to be nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. Capernaum is thus duly considered a masterpiece, as it follows an angry 12-year-old kid in Lebanon, who leaves his negligent parents and tries to make it in the streets on his own. It’s a tale of grinding poverty as experienced by a boy with a good heart, who meets many kindly people on the way as well as sinister characters. An acting tour de force by the fierce child actors, especially Zain Al Rafeea, Capernaum is harrowing, emotional, and, maybe, a touch melodramatic. However, it doesn’t compromise when asking some hard questions about parental failure and love, putting them into the context of the bigger regional picture. It can be a tough watch, but the furious acting and pitch-black humor, ultimately, make this an uplifting movie, likely to stir up some debate.

8. Divines (2016)

9.0

Country

France, Qatar

Director

Female director, Houda Benyamina

Actors

Bass Dhem, Déborah Lukumuena, Farid Larbi, Houda Benyamina

Moods

Character-driven

Winner of a Camera d’Or, the debutant’s prize at the Cannes Film Festival, Director Houda Benyamina’s first feature film is fast-paced and full of energy. Deep in the impoverished suburbs of Paris, the infamous banlieues, it tells the story of Dounia (played by Oulaya Amamra), a mouthy teenager who is not content with what society is prepared to hand out to her. She’s angry; she wants more. And so, together with her best friend Maimouna (Déborah Lukumuena), she decides to finally make some cash as a runner for a drug dealer. While there’s obviously some feminism in there somewhere, that’s not at the heart of what this film is about. It’s about the economic reality in a world of poverty and about two friends and their desire for freedom—no matter what the cost. An exhilarating and thought-provoking debut helped along by Amamra’s amazing acting.

7. Enough Said (2013)

9.0

Country

United Kingdom, United States of America

Director

Female director, Nicole Holofcener

Actors

Amy Landecker, Anjelah Johnson-Reyes, Barry Jenner, Ben Falcone

Moods

Easy, Emotional, Feel-Good

You know you’re in for a treat when you see Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini heading the cast of a sweet and slightly goofy comedy. Steadily going beyond his persona in The Sopranos, you see James Gandolfini playing a role that his fans have probably always imagined him playing: a nice, funny guy with an endearing personality. Directed by Nicole Holofcener, Enough Said almost has a sit-com feel to it: a divorced single parent and masseuse, Eva (Louis-Dreyfus), is looked up by a guy, she briefly met at a party, Albert (Gandolfini). Upon finding out they have much in common, the two start dating. At the same time, she meets Marianne (Catherine Keener), who she becomes friends with and who cannot stop talking ill of her apparently awful ex-husband. You guessed it: it’s her new, promising date, Albert. Things get muddy and very funny as she starts to doubt, whether she has made a big mistake. Hilarious, romantic, and smart, it’s very much like we expected: a real treat.

6. Blackfish (2013)

best

9.0

Country

United States of America

Director

Female director, Gabriela Cowperthwaite

Actors

Anderson Cooper, Carol Ray, Dean Gomersall, Gabriela Cowperthwaite

Moods

Challenging, Thought-provoking

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.

5. The Act of Killing (2012)

9.0

Country

Denmark, Finland, Germany

Director

Christine Cynn, Female director

Actors

Adi Zulkadry, Anwar Congo, Haji Anif, Herman Koto

Moods

Dark, Depressing, Discussion-sparking

Joshua Oppenheimer’s daring feat is a documentary unlike anything ever done. Despite it being one of the most difficult things to watch for any human being (or because of it), The Act of Killing received praise across the board, including an Academy Award nomination. Without Oppenheimer’s efforts, you might have never heard of the unspeakable events that happened when, in 1965-66, Suharto overthrew the then-president of Indonesia and a gangster-led death squad killed almost a million people. Did they pay for their crimes? Quite the contrary: said gangsters went on becoming political mainstays in modern-day Indonesia, are still now heralded as heroes, and admit to all these crimes with a smile and not a hint of regret. The gruesome twist of this documentary is that Oppenheimer asks them to re-enact the killings in surreal, sadistic snuff movies inspired by the murderer’s favorite action movies. You are forced to stand idly by as they re-create brutal mass murder and joke about raping a 14-year-old. However, somewhere amidst this terrifying farce, the killers, too, have fleeting moments of realization that what they’re doing is wrong. If you make it through this in one piece, try watching its more victim-focused follow-up The Look of Silence. Bone-chilling but very powerful stuff.

4. The Farewell (2019)

best

9.1

Country

China, United States of America, USA China

Director

Female director, Lulu Wang

Actors

Aoi Mizuhara, Awkwafina, Chen Han, Diana Lin

Moods

Depressing, Emotional, Inspiring

Many things clash in this beautifully layered, semi-autobiographical film of American director Lulu Wang: cultures, morals, and emotions. The result is a type of comedy that is complex and bittersweet⁠—and based on a true lie: this is the story of a Chinese grandma whose family won’t tell her that she is fatally ill. Instead, they organize a fake wedding in China, where everyone gets together to bid a farewell to the unwitting matriarch (played by Zhao Shuzhen). The fake wedding is, in fact, a premature funeral for a person unaware that she is going to die. Played by rapper and comedian Awkwafina, Billi, a New-York-based Chinese-American with a complicated relationship to China, embodies the cultural and moral question at the heart of this story: is it right or wrong not tell grandma? It is thanks to Wang’s deft writing and Awkwafina’s outstanding performance that The Farewell homes in on answers without ever being melodramatic. Warm, honest, and beautiful.

3. On Body and Soul (2017)

best

9.1

Country

Hungary

Director

Female director, Ildikó Enyedi

Actors

Alexandra Borbély, Ervin Nagy, Eva Bata, Géza Morcsányi

Moods

Romantic, Thought-provoking, Thrilling

On Body and Soul is the impeccably crafted winner of the 2017 Berlin Film Festival and an Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film. Is it possible that two people dream the same dream? And meet each other in that same dream? This unique drama directed by Hungarian filmmaker Ildikó Enyedi studies this possibility against the unlikely backdrop of a slaughterhouse. Middle-aged, inconspicuous manager Endre (Géza Morcsányi) can’t help but noticing a new girl at work, Maria (Alexandra Borbély), the abattoir’s new hygiene manager. They fall in love, but not, as you might suspect, during a fateful mandatory hygiene inspection, but in their dreams—in the shape of two deer in a mysterious, snow-covered forest. The Hungarian director had taken an 18-year break from making movies, which was probably the prerequisite for making something as striking and unconventional as On Body and Soul.

2. Honeyland (2019)

best

9.3

Country

Macedonia

Director

Female director, Ljubomir Stefanov

Actors

Hatidze Muratova, Hatidzhe Muratova, Hussein Sam, Nazife Muratova

Moods

Instructive

The first movie to be nominated for both the Documentary and Foreign-Language Oscar categories and the most awarded film of the 2019 Sundance Festival, Honeyland quietly accompanies the last wild beekeepers in Europe over three years. It portrays the lonely and primordial life of Muratova, which is centered around harvesting honey according to the rules of her ancient ancestors and caring for her ailing mother.

Originally planned as an environmental documentary, this film evolved into something completely different, as it often goes with immersive documentaries, when the Macedonian directors Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov met beekeeper Hatidže. The film takes another sudden turn when Muratova’s life is upended by a nomadic family settling next door, threatening her tradition, her way of life, and her natural environment.

This unbelievable cinematic journey is a feast for the eyes thanks to the amazing work done by cinematographer Samir Ljuma. However, despite the awe-inspiring imagery, Honeyland never imposes on its subject, creating an incredible intimacy with Hatidže’s life and her natural environment. Breathtaking!

1. After the Wedding (2006)

best

9.3

Country

Denmark, Norway, Sweden

Director

Female director, Susanne Bier

Actors

Anne Fletting, Christian Tafdrup, Claus Flygare, Erni Arneson

Moods

Character-driven, Dramatic, Emotional

Danish films somehow have a unique approach to emotions that are rarely matched and this Susanne Bier-directed drama is no exception. Its protagonist is Jacob Peterson, a driven idealist played by Mads Mikkelsen, who runs a fledgling orphanage in India. Close to giving up, Peterson returns to Copenhagen to meet a billionaire, who is offering to fund his charity project. However, there is a dark secret at the heart of this relationship, throwing Peterson into disarray. This elegant and Academy-Award-nominated Danish film has it all: fantastic cast, great direction, and a few special ingredients that turn a good drama into a thrilling one!

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