250 Best Women Stories to Watch (Page 15)

Staff & contributors

Gender representation in film is severely lacking. In any year, the top 250 movies have less than 5% of cinematographers, 10% of directors, and 20% of writers who are women (Study of Women in Television and Film).

Ultimately, this means that women’s stories get told less where it matters: in movies that get the most exposure. The goal of this section is to shine a light on women’s stories in movies that are available on popular streaming services.

The disturbing conceit of a housewife swallowing inanimate objects may push some away, but those that can stomach it will find a searing exploration of patriarchal control over women’s bodies - an issue more relevant than ever in the US, as anti-choice zealots push closer to overturning abortion rights nationwide. 

An odd twist towards the end, and a tone-deaf bit about a Syrian refugee, make the film uneven. But, the edge of the seat suspense, sumptuously colorful cinematography, and Haley Bennet’s resonant performance make this worth seeing nonetheless. 

Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller

Actor: Alyssa Bresnahan, Austin Stowell, Babak Tafti, David Rasche, Denis O'Hare, Elise Santora, Elizabeth Marvel, Haley Bennett, Laith Nakli, Lauren Vélez, Luna Lauren Velez, Maya Days, Myra Lucretia Taylor, Nicole Kang, Olivia Perez, Zabryna Guevara

Director: Carlo Mirabella-Davis

Rating: R

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, 2015

This  exploration of the complex and loving relationship between a mother and her son will take you through a variety of emotions: it's uplifting, disturbing, provocative, sad, and hopeful. We don't get many of these middle-class-budget films anymore, and this one might be one of the category's best.

A kidnapped girl (Brie Larson) has a son after being raped by her abductor. She tries to provide a "normal" environment for the kid in the room where they're being held captive until they can escape. Brie Larson won an Oscar for Best Actress in Room, so make sure to also check out Short Term 12, an equally impressive performance by her in an equally amazing movie.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Amanda Brugel, Brie Larson, Cas Anvar, Chantelle Chung, Graeme Potts, Jack Fulton, Jacob Tremblay, Jee-Yun Lee, Joan Allen, Joe Pingue, Justin Mader, Kate Drummond, Katelyn Wells, Matt Gordon, Megan Park, Ola Sturik, Randal Edwards, Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll, Rory O'Shea, Sean Bridgers, Tom McCamus, Wendy Crewson, William H. Macy, Zarrin Darnell-Martin

Director: Lenny Abrahamson

Rating: R

Miranda’s Victim often feels like two different movies smushed into one. On the one hand, it tells the story of how Trish finds the courage to speak up against her abuser, who happens to be a person of color. On the other hand, it shows us the legal intricacies that led to the founding of what we now know as Miranda Rights. In better hands, these two stories (one emotional and one technical) could’ve worked well together, and they would’ve spoken to the intersectionality at the heart of this complicated case. But instead of going for nuance, instead of exploring the complex racial and gender politics that inform this case, Director Michelle Danner goes in all sorts of odd directions as if herself confused about what the focus should be. 

Breslin is heartbreaking and powerful as Trish, but she’s only given so much to act with. Despite being based on a real person, her character is reduced to trauma and tears—a caricature of abuse—and nothing more. The movie is at its strongest when it converts into pure courtroom drama by the third act. Suddenly, it’s brisk and intelligent, bolstered by the compelling one-two punches of the judge (a commanding Donald Sutherland) and the two lawyers (Ryan Philippe, a revelation, and Luke Wilson, only slightly better here than in his earlier turn in Legally Blonde). As a story about violation and abuse, there’s surprisingly little compassion to be found, despite the title. But as a legal drama, it’s as informative as it can be. 

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Abigail Breslin, Andy Garcia, Brent Sexton, Dan Lauria, Donald Sutherland, Emily VanCamp, Enrique Murciano, James Healy Jr., Jann Ellis, Joshua Bowman, Kyle MacLachlan, Luke Wilson, Mireille Enos, Najah Bradley, Nolan Gould, Ryan Phillippe, Taryn Manning

Director: Michelle Danner

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I'm still stuck between calling The Tour 23 a clever marketing trick or a feast for the senses. Contradictions have always nested at the heart of the brand, between beauty and its toxic standards, so it's self-aware of them to highlight that in an audience-facing film. It's undeniable that the VS shows have held spectacle in high regard and cultivated a fanbase that outnumbers the actual consumers, but this film will feel like a treat even if you don't care for luxury wear. Even more, it's perhaps a bit too likable: it's lush without being kitschy, it's woke without the overt politics, it's fun, but not a joke, and most of all, it brings us closer to the visions of creators from around the world who have so much more to give than what they've given Victoria's Secret.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Adriana Lima, Adwoa Aboah, Candice Swanepoel, Doja Cat, Emily Ratajkowski, Gigi Hadid, Hailey Bieber, Imaan Hammam, Julia Fox, Lily Aldridge, Naomi Campbell, Sui He, Winnie Harlow

Director: Cristina Sánchez Salamanca, Korty Eo, Lola Raban-Oliva, Margot Bowman, Umi Ishihara

Two months after its premiere in TIFF, Quiz Lady arrived on streaming this November. The comedy film has a sort-of buddy cop dynamic, with an anxiety-ridden, tightly-wound Awkwafina as Anne, and a chaotic Sandra Oh that lets loose with free-spirited Jenny. The film does take its time to get to the good part, and in certain scenes, it feels like it’s torn between the heartfelt and the humorous, but the leads’ acting smooths over some of the awkward writing. Quiz Lady still leads up to a fun watch, though better pacing and writing could have made this charming comedy a classic.

Genre: Comedy

Actor: Alan Heitz, Ammie Masterson, Amy Tolsky, Angela Trimbur, Atul Singh, Awkwafina, Betsy Holt, Camrus Johnson, Charles Green, Charlie Talbert, Choppy Guillotte, Christine Lin, Davina Reid, Derek Roberts, Eddy Lee, Holland Taylor, Jane Yubin Kim, Jason Schwartzman, Joe Chrest, Jonathan Park, Jophielle Love, Justiin A. Davis, Larry Weissman, Maria Bamford, Matt Cordova, Ned Yousef, Nicole Marie Appleby, Paul Reubens, Phil LaMarr, Sandra Oh, Shirley Chen, Summer Selby, Tawny Newsome, Tony Hale, Will Ferrell

Director: Jessica Yu

Rating: R

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While marketed as a family drama, Long Live Love! plays out more like a romance film between parents Sati and Meta. Where Meta has dived in, and accepted her role as a wife and mother, former model Sati still clings to the immature lifestyle he’s used to, to the glimmers of fame that he used to have. The premise is genius– there’s something poetic in the way someone who’s constantly obsessed with the look of a photo now has to go on the quest for its behind-the-scenes. There’s something here that questions previous portrayals of toxic masculinity and of marriage primarily because of how they’ll be perceived. However, there seems to be some missing sequences that could have made the ending more devastating.

Genre: Comedy, Romance

Actor: Araya A. Hargate, Becky Armstrong, Bhumibhat Thavornsiri, Niti Chaichitathorn, Nopachai Jayanama, Panissara Arayaskul, Pannawit Phattanasiri, Paweenut Pangnakorn, Sadanont Durongkhaweroj, Sunny Suwanmethanon

Director: Piyakarn Butprasert

Like the action thriller Cellular (2004), Unseen plays with the idea of saving someone only through a phone. This time, however, Yoko Okumura’s directorial debut has video call instead of just audio, with video used to help nearly blind Emily run away from her kidnapper ex. Through split screen shots, occasional open hazy irises, and tiny phone screens, Unseen takes us on a desperate escape, an escape made possible by Emily’s connection with random stranger Sam. While some parts feel absolutely ridiculous, the thriller still feels like a wild ride, especially when focused on its two leads. It’s still enjoyable, if you can accept its silliness and the shallow way it approaches certain themes.

Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Jolene Purdy, Michael Patrick Lane, Midori Francis, Missi Pyle, Nicholas X. Parsons, Ren Hanami

Director: Yoko Okumura

Rating: NR

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Inspired by the real-life Hepta Group, Phenomena is an entertaining, though familiar supernatural horror comedy. As the three women in the Hepta Group take on a case that took down their leader, Sagrario, Paz, and Gloria can’t help but bite and snap at each other affectionately, even just before conducting a seance. But it’s their chemistry that keeps the predictable plot entertaining. It’s a bit old school, and at times, inconsistent, but the technical aspects are decently executed. Big horror fans and viewers looking for a creepier thrill might not enjoy this lighthearted seance, but it might be a fun watch for viewers new to the genre.

Genre: Comedy, Horror, Thriller

Actor: Antonio Pagudo, Belén Rueda, Emilio Gutiérrez Caba, Gracia Olayo, Ivan Massagué, Jesús Puente, Lorena López, Miren Ibarguren, Óscar Ortuño, Pedro Casablanc, Toni Acosta

Director: Carlos Therón

The atmosphere communicated within the title Hurricane Season comes off incredibly clearly on screen: this is a film that just feels humid and full of foreboding for a coming storm, with people feeling all manner of guilt while secluded in their own homes. Cinematographer María Secco's gorgeous colors and brown tones fill the 4:3 aspect ratio nicely, and director Elisa Miller lets events unfold with the stately pace of a long novel. There's something fascinating here about how each new "chapter" or perspective doesn't really lead to more answers, but simply to more anguish closing in from all sides.

So it would be understandable if some may be put off by how unrelentingly dark Hurricane Season is, especially as the trans woman whose death becomes the central event never enjoys the kind of characterization everybody around her gets. Apart from how the film illustrates that discrimination against women, against repressed "taboo" sexuality, and against access to proper reproductive health only threatens to grow under poverty, it can be difficult to grasp what point the movie is trying to make. Social realism certainly has its place in cinema, but the different perspective in this particular film still don't add up to more than the sum of its parts.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Andrés Cordaz, Edgar Treviño, Flor Eduarda Gurrola, Guss Morales, Kat Rigoni, Paloma Alvamar, Said Sandoval

Director: Elisa Miller

Rating: R

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What seems like The Good Mother's biggest asset is actually its downfall. Yes, the three main actors (Swank, Cooke, and Jack Reynor as the civil servant son, Toby) are all good at what they do, but they're incapable of resuscitating a script that's never truly come to life. These casting choices, obviously made to give some clout to a very mediocre project, feel even more disappointing because the disconnect between actor and character is way too big. For example, Swank is not the alcoholic, fed-up mother we need her to be in this case, and its hard to see this as something else than a derogatory take on her previous more tender and glam roles. Director Miles Joris-Peyrafitte's Sundance-winning As You Are carried a whiff of fresh air, The Good Mother is drained out of all its energy, avoiding reflective depth at all costs, not to mention skirting around the ambivalences of motherhood. 

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Dilone, Hilary Swank, Hopper Penn, Jack Reynor, Karen Aldridge, Larry Fessenden, Laurent Rejto, Norm Lewis, Olivia Cooke

Director: Miles Joris-Peyrafitte

Rating: R

Right off the bat, Bad Things looks gorgeous. Shot in 16mm, it plays with dreamy pastels and 1970s aesthetics, all while having its all-queer cast roam around the hotel’s haunted halls in mesmerizing ways. The setup is straightforward, but not too obvious: Ruthie’s problems with her girlfriend and her mother are exacerbated by the hotel’s strange and haunted aura. At this point, Bad Things hints at being an arthouse, slasher, and psychological thriller all at once, fueling anticipation for what’s to come. But as it moves along, nothing noteworthy happens. The awkward chase scenes and the overdramatic reveals kill whatever momentum the film has built, but the real problem is that it tries to juggle too many things at once. It’s creepy, but never achieves true-fright status. It’s bloody, but never fully commits to the gore. It’s smart and weird, but never goes beyond answering the very questions it poses. It’s happy to leave a lot of things unanswered, which in turn leaves us all confused, much less satisfied with what we’ve just sat through. 

Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller

Actor: Annabelle Dexter-Jones, Gayle Rankin, Hari Nef, Jared Abrahamson, Molly Ringwald

Director: Stewart Thorndike

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Painfully intimate and told with very, very little dialogue, All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt resembles the experience of flipping through a photo book and pausing to admire every page. Which is to say that this is a film that requires not only one's complete attention but—like many other arthouse dramas—a willingness to sit with the mundane until it reveals something more profound. The nearly silent nature of its storytelling can be a little awkward, given how lifelike the rest of the movie is, but one should hopefully get used to the idea that this is an attempt to represent something closer to memory than reality. Whether or not the experience sticks or strikes an emotional chord, it's all beautifully put together, with lush cinematography, impeccably detailed sound design, and thoughtful sequencing of one image after another.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Charleen McClure, Chris Chalk, Kaylee Nicole Johnson, Moses Ingram, Reginald Helms Jr., Sheila Atim, Zainab Jah

Director: Raven Jackson

Rating: PG

Made to commemorate Toei Studio’s 70th anniversary, The Legend & Butterfly seemed like a good choice for this purpose. As a historical epic about the first Great Unifier of Japan, the film could have enabled the production company to show off their studio’s best in production design, set pieces, costumes, and score, through a familiar story Japanese audiences would care about. And with Nohime having a near blank slate in history, it gives enough creative freedom for the team to craft a heartrending romance. While the design aspects definitely succeeded, the romance did not. On top of this, the film’s focus on the romance takes away time, effort, and emotional resonance from the large-scale spectacular war battles that epics like these are known for.

Genre: Drama, History, Romance

Actor: Ai Mikami, Daisuke Honda, Haruka Ayase, Hideaki Ito, Hio Miyazawa, Hirotaro Honda, Ichikawa Somegorō VIII, Jun Hashimoto, Kinya Kitaoji, Kokoro Morita, Manabu Hamada, Mansaku Ikeuchi, Masato Wada, Miki Nakatani, Shuichiro Masuda, Takuma Otoo, Takumi Saitoh, Takuya Kimura, Toshinori Omi, Tsutomu Takahashi

Director: Keishi Otomo

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Parenting is hard by itself, but it’s moreso hard when done alone, especially if there was supposed to be a partner alongside the journey. Thank You, I’m Sorry depicts this through Sara, who has to deal with her husband’s absence and difficulties in connecting with her husband’s family in his stead, on top of her pregnancy, but it’s her connection with her estranged sister Linda that can make or break her journey. The dynamic between the sisters is what drives the film. Sanna Sundqvist and Charlotta Björck manage to depict the strained yet clearly loving relationships naturally, and it’s lovely to see the mundane ways they reestablish their bond. It’s a unique story, though it does feel rushed and some of the humor can be totally off-putting.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Charlotta Björck, Ia Langhammer, Jonatan Rodriguez, Sanna Sundqvist, Ville Virtanen

Director: Lisa Aschan

Rating: PG-13

Suzzanna: Kliwon Friday Night is the second part of a trilogy dedicated to Indonesia’s queen of horror, billed as Suzzanna New Generation. The trilogy recreates three of Suzzanna’s iconic films, and the second installment is based on the 1986 film Malam Jumat Kliwon. The supernatural horror isn’t exactly scary– the film takes a bit too long between the scares, and there are moments that are downright hilarious. However, fans of the original scream queen would appreciate Luna Maya’s take on her demonic role, shifting the sundel bolong into a woman rightfully out for revenge.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Horror

Actor: Achmad Megantara, Baron Hermanto, Clift Sangra, Egy Fedly, Ence Bagus, Luna Maya, Max Yanto, Sally Marcelina, Taskya Namya, Tio Pakusadewo, Yurike Prastica

Director: Guntur Soeharjanto

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