250 Best Women Stories to Watch (Page 5)

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.

A wonderful, witty teen comedy—possibly the best the genre has known in a long time! In a powerhouse performance, Hailee Steinfeld plays Nadine, a high school junior at peak angst and awkwardness. Her roller coaster journey through family, friends, lovers, or lack thereof, gives her that all-too-common impression for people her age that life is unbearable. Things get more complicated when Nadine's dad passes and her only friend hooks up with an unexpected person. Her temperament and humor will help her see past her demons to understand what's important in life, putting you in privileged spectator mode to this highly smart and exciting coming-of-age story.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alexander Calvert, Ava Grace Cooper, Blake Jenner, Chris Shields, Christian Lagasse, Christian Michael Cooper, Daniel Bacon, Eric Keenleyside, Hailee Steinfeld, Haley Lu Richardson, Hayden Szeto, Jena Skodje, Katie Stuart, Kavandeep Hayre, Kelly Fremon Craig, Kirsten Robek, Kyra Sedgwick, Laine MacNeil, Laura Ward, Lauren K. Robek, Lina Renna, Lyle Reginald, Meredith Monroe, Nesta Cooper, Woody Harrelson

Director: Kelly Fremon Craig

Rating: R

Feminism has made plenty of strides in multiple areas, but even in the era of free love, talking about sex was difficult, and certain figures were dismissed just because of it. The Disappearance of Shere Hite reexamines the titular forgotten feminist figure that simply focused on the female orgasm, giving a second look at her immediate rise and fall in the American media, and the reasons for her leaving the country. With Dakota Johnson’s soft voice, an excellent selection of archival footage, and Hite’s deeply personal words, the film paints a portrait of a mild-mannered, self-possessed woman, but it also reveals the heartbreakingly repetitive vitriol that affects these open discussions today.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Dakota Johnson, Shere Hite

Director: Nicole Newnham

There’s no easy way to talk about racism – it’s a nebulous set of ideas that shift and change and manifests in numerous ways that many people can’t even identify as racism because of how prevalent it is. But Dr. Ibram X. Kendi has been able to write down a fairly comprehensive narrative that outlines key historical moments that shaped the world’s concept of race and Blackness, and this narrative is brought to the screen through vivid animations and strategic sequencing by director Roger Ross Williams in new Netflix release Stamped from the Beginning. It’s a provocative, passionate investigation, and it’s one that should be required viewing.

Genre: Animation, Documentary

Actor: Alexa Rachelle Jennings, Angela Davis, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, Ibram X. Kendi, Jennifer L. Morgan, Julian Joseph, Rafa Marinho

Director: Roger Ross Williams

Rating: R

In 2017, the New York Times published a groundbreaking report by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey that detailed, for the first time, Harvey Weinstein’s atrocious history of sexual abuse. The New Yorker would release Ronan Farrow’s report five days after, prompting multiple survivors to share their own stories—and the rest, as you know, is history. Following Kantor and Twohey (played by Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan, respectively), She Said sheds light on how this pivotal moment in the establishment of the #MeToo movement came to be.

Based on Kantor and Twohey’s book of the same name, the film reveals the specific journalistic processes involved in writing this expose—a seemingly impossible feat, considering Weinstein’s hold over multiple industries, including the press. Because it’s a newsroom drama, there’s a lot of talking, but there’s also a lot of listening. Gripping, empathetic, and (even now) necessary, She Said makes for a thrilling watch.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Adam Shapiro, Alex Hurt, Anastasia Barzee, Andre Braugher, Angela Yeoh, Ashley Judd, Carey Mulligan, Celia Au, Dalya Knapp, Davram Stiefler, Elle Graham, Frank Wood, Gregg Edelman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Harvey Friedman, Hilary Greer, Jennifer Ehle, John Mazurek, Judith Godrèche, Katherine Kendall, Keilly McQuail, Lola Petticrew, Makia Martin, Marceline Hugot, Mike Houston, Molly Windsor, Patricia Clarkson, Peter Friedman, Roxanna Hope, Ruby Thomas, Safia Oakley-Green, Samantha Morton, Seán Cullen, Shirley Rumierk, Tom Pelphrey, Traci Wolfe, Zabryna Guevara, Zach Grenier, Zoe Kazan

Director: Maria Schrader

Rating: R

, 2014

The award-winning third feature by director Ava DuVernay, Selma, was released around the 50th anniversary of the historically significant marches (Selma to Montgomery) that aided the civil rights movement's efforts to assure African-American citizens can exercise their constitutional right to vote, harassment-free. The film has been celebrated not only as an artwork, but also as a historiographically accurate one. While it features the role Martin Luther King Jr. played in the marches, it does not reduce the activists' effort and struggle to make it come to fruition. With her uncompromising directorial approach, DuVernay crafts a thrilling period film that has all the markers of a well-done genre feature, but uses its mechanisms to tell an emotionally potent story about both the peaceful marches and the nation-wide outcry resulting from the violence they were met with.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Alessandro Nivola, Andre Holland, Carmen Ejogo, Charity Jordan, Charles Black, Colman Domingo, Common, Corey Reynolds, Cuba Gooding Jr., David Dwyer, David Oyelowo, Dylan Baker, E. Roger Mitchell, Giovanni Ribisi, Greg Maness, Harry Belafonte, Haviland Stillwell, Henry G. Sanders, Jeremy Strong, Jim France, Jody Thompson, John Lavelle, Kent Faulcon, Lakeith Stanfield, Ledisi, Lorraine Toussaint, Martin Sheen, Michael Papajohn, Montrel Miller, Niecy Nash, Nigel Thatch, Omar J. Dorsey, Oprah Winfrey, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Sammy Davis Jr., Stan Houston, Stephan James, Stephen Root, Tara Ochs, Tessa Thompson, Tim Roth, Tom Wilkinson, Tony Bennett, Trai Byers, Wendell Pierce

Director: Ava DuVernay

Rating: PG-13

The Fabella Hospital in the Philippines is clearly overburdened and understaffed, and though it offers some of the lowest pregnancy delivery rates in the country, it remains unaffordable to most of its patients. It has been dubbed the world’s busiest maternity hospital because of this, and its boundless flurry of activity is what Ramona Diaz tries to capture in her cinéma-vérité film Motherland. 

What’s interesting and ultimately heartening about the documentary is that despite the difficulties the subjects face, they are always presented with warmth and humanity. We don’t observe them from a strict or stylized distance, but rather, we move with them when they laugh, befriend each other, worry about their babies, curse their partners, and eventually leave. Indeed, the film is a land of mothers, filled with their authentic stories before anything else.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Anna Maxwell Martin, Diane Morgan, Ellie Haddington, Lucy Punch, Paul Ready, Phillipa Dunne

Director: Ramona S. Diaz

Rating: TV-MA

This 140-minute Brazilian drama is an epic and touching tale of two sisters torn apart. In 1950s Rio de Janeiro, Eurídice, 18, and Guida, 20, are inseparable, but their dreams soon take them away from each other, from their conservative family, and from Brazil.

After they are separated, each one of them believes the other is achieving her dreams when often the opposite was happening. Family betrayal, silence, and a suffocating social climate shatter the aspiration of the sisters but also highlight their strength.

Genre: Drama

Actor: António Fonseca, Carol Duarte, Cláudio Gabriel, Cristina Pereira, Eduardo Tornaghi, Fernanda Montenegro, Flávia Gusmão, Flávio Bauraqui, Gillray Coutinho, Gregório Duvivier, Izak Dahora, Julia Stockler, Luana Xavier, Márcio Vito, Maria Manoella, Nikolas Antunes

Director: Karim Aïnouz

Rating: R

As a crime thriller, Holy Spider is taut and terrifying, a modern noir that manages to unnerve despite the familiar moves it employs. The cat and mouse chase between serial killer and investigative reporter, for instance, is a classic tale, but that doesn’t make Holy Spider any less gripping. The film benefits from artful camerawork, considered acting (as the daring journalist Rahimi, Zar Amir Ebrahimi nabbed the Best Actress award at Cannes), and most of all a nuanced take on the situation in Iran. 

Despite having a clear stance against violence and corruption, nothing in Holy Spider is black and white. Contradictions abound, and even when presented with brief moments of justice, we’re left scratching our heads looking for more. Such is the case when the system, and not just an individual, is the true pest. 

Genre: Crime, Drama, Horror, Thriller

Actor: Ariane Naziri, Majd Eid, Mehdi Bajestani, Nima Akbarpour, Sara Fazilat, Sina Parvaneh, Zar Amir Ebrahimi

Director: Ali Abbasi

Biographical documentaries tend to depict exceptional people– people who are so great that everyone wants to know about them, and people who are so terrible that they serve as a warning. Great Photo, Lovely Life depicts a serial sexual abuser in photojournalist Amanda Mustard’s family, able to get away with nearly all his crimes each time he skips over state lines. It’s not an easy film. It’s deeply uncomfortable. There are certain interviews that will trigger anger, despair, and bewilderment over how someone so evil can remain out of bars all his life. Great Photo, Lovely Life doesn’t provide any easy, comforting sequence as a balm to sexual abuse survivors around the world, but it’s an urgent reminder of the consequences of maintaining silence.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Amanda Mustard

Director: Amanda Mustard, Rachel Beth Anderson

, 2022

Based on a true story, Darin J. Sallam’s controversial debut feature Farha is, at heart, a brutal coming-of-age film. Set in 1948, the film is about a girl who gets locked into her family’s storeroom at the start of the Nakba, the Palestinian Catastrophe. Sallam’s choice to limit most of the film’s perspective to that small storeroom is brilliant – in some ways, it echoes the surrounding discussion about the conflict. Most of what the world knows of Palestine is limited due to having to deal with censorship, lost records, and only hearing word-of-mouth stories from ancestors who just barely survived. But what we see is already too horrific to begin with. And what the film knows is the tragedy of losing your home - having to leave childhood, leave your dreams, and leave a vibrant and living culture in order to survive.

Genre: Drama, History, War

Actor: Ali Soliman, Ali Suliman, Ashraf Barhom

Director: Darin J. Sallam

Rating: TV-14

, 2022

The film unfolds in the rhythm of a cow’s life: birth, mating, feeding, milking, checkups. Soon, these events become regular occurrences. Instead of showcasing the more ‘spectacular’ parts of these animal lives in order to build a narrative that's engaging in a more conventional sense, British director Andrea Arnold opts for intimacy through banal instances. Even if female cows are symbolic of labour (reared for milk, meat, and reproduction), the actual cows in the documentary are not actors in a traditional sense. Yet, Cow opens up the dialogue about the on-screen role of animals beyond the call for activism. In it, the protagonists dictate the camera movements and positions just as any other human subject would, but since Arnold is an intuitive and sharp filmmaker, she embraces the opportunity to challenge cinema's status quo. A beautiful addition here is the presence of pop music needle drops, through which the film jolts us into being more attentive, helping us to experience everything we consume in everyday life unperturbed (milk, meat, or pop songs) anew.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Lin Gallagher

Director: Andrea Arnold

A razor-sharp script and beautiful scenery make this one of the best road movies in recent memory. When their cynical best friend dies, Seph and Alex embark on a journey to scatter his ashes over four spots he wants to go back to. Tupperware of ashes in the glove-box, they start their big adventure. Burn Burn Burn, an expression their friend quotes from Kerouac, is a chance for the two friends to escape their hectic city life and to discover themselves. It’s a beautiful movie.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alice Lowe, Alison Steadman, Chloe Pirrie, Eleanor Matsuura, Hannah Arterton, Jack Farthing, Jane Asher, Joe Dempsie, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Kyle Lima, Laura Carmichael, Matthew Kelly, Melanie Walters, Nigel Planer, Owen Findlay, Sally Phillips, Susan Wokoma

Director: Chanya Button

Rating: N/A

Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig, and many other big names star in this comedy-drama directed by Mike Mills (Beginners, Thumbsucker.) The story spans multiple generations but starts in 1979, where Dorothea Fields (Bening) is finding it increasingly difficult to raise her son alone. She enlists the help of two other women, one her son’s age and the other a New Yorker in her twenties who is very active in the punk scene. The three women, of three different generations and personalities as well as takes on the concept of “only a man can raise a man,” play different roles in this kid’s life. 20th Century Women is based on director Mike Mill’s own upbringing in Southern California.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alex Wexo, Alia Shawkat, Alison Elliott, Annette Bening, Billy Crudup, Britt Sanborn, Cameron Gellman, Cameron Protzman, Christina Offley, Christopher Carroll, Curran Walters, Daniel Dorr, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Elle Fanning, Eric Wentz, Finn Roberts, Gareth Williams, Greta Gerwig, J. Francisco Rodriguez, John Billingsley, Joshua Burge, Kai Lennox, Kirk Bovill, Laura Slade Wiggins, Lucas Jade Zumann, Matthew Cardarople, Matthew Foster, Mike Mills, Nathalie Love, Olivia Hone, Paul Messinger, Paul Tigue, Randy Ryan, Rick Gifford, Thea Gill, Toni Christopher, Victoria Bruno, Victoria Hoffman, Vitaly Andrew LeBeau, Waleed Zuaiter

Director: Mike Mills

Rating: R

, 2019

Antoneta Kastrati’s debut feature film Zana follows Lume, who appears guarded and subdued as she goes about her daily routine: milking the cows, harvesting crops and flowers, hanging laundry out to dry. Part of Lume’s routine also includes visits to the doctor, accompanied by her mother-in-law and husband, who pressure her to conceive.

When conventional medical advice does not yield a viable pregnancy, Lume is brought to a witch doctor, and later a televangelist. The former suggests Lume may be cursed, while the latter insists she is possessed by a supernatural creature called a jinn. Lume appears largely apathetic, at least outwardly. But slowly, she starts to unravel—and with her undoing comes the reveal of the war that traumatized her. 

Kastrati’s family drama has elements of horror, but the real terror here is psychological. It makes for an important exploration of a deeply patriarchal society that is only beginning to heal the collective traumas of a complicated war, and how its violence continues to ripple through time and into domestic life. 

 

Genre: Drama, Horror

Actor: Adriana Matoshi, Alketa Sylaj, Astrit Kabashi, Bislim Muçaj, Çun Lajçi, Ilire Vinca Çelaj, Irena Cahani, Mensur Safqiu, Rozafa Celaj, Shengyl Ismaili, Vedat Bajrami

Director: Antoneta Kastrati

With the nostalgia and the twin love triangle, at first glance, You & Me & Me seems like nothing new. However, this Thai coming-of-age drama is done so well that it feels entirely unique. Taking inspiration from the childhood of twin writer-directors, You & Me & Me brings us to a summer vacation in Isan, north Thailand, where the twins, distinguishable only by a mole and by dual-sided acting of Thitiya Jirapornsilp, encounter a boy named Mark. Amidst test taking, phin lute playing, and rowing in lotus filled lakes, their summer evokes some nostalgia, but also some drama, as their first forays into love threaten their bond. While the pacing is slow, and it does focus on the love triangle, You & Me & Me cares about each twin as they start to delve into new experiences outside of their duo. The film is a sweet and nuanced tale of twin sisterhood, but also a love letter to the Hongvivatanas’ childhood summer home.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Anthony Buisseret, Karuna Looktumthong, Natee Ngamneawprom, Supakson Chaimongkol, Thitiya Jirapornsilp, Yasaka Chaisorn

Director: Wanweaw Hongvivatana, Weawwan Hongvivatana