250 Best Women Stories to Watch (Page 6)

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.

Even before Agnès Varda pivoted to documentary filmmaking, she was a pioneer of French cinema. Her film Sans toit ni loi (Vagabond) is one of her most harrowing dramas. 

Varda’s sensibilities as a burgeoning documentarian are apparent as the film opens on the corpse of a woman lying dead in a snow-covered ditch. Through flashbacks, we trace the titular vagabond’s steps to uncover how she ended up alone and dead. The camera follows its subject from a safe distance, as if tracking a wild animal. Alongside the woman, we hitchhike across the French countryside, encountering hostile men, treacherous winter weather, and occasional glimpses of hope, connection, and familiarity. Vagabond succeeds at portraying a complicated woman—Varda understood that women, above all else, are people, with dark interiors, difficult choices, and uncertain impulses. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Agnès Varda, Macha Méril, Sandrine Bonnaire, Stéphane Freiss, Yolande Moreau

Director: Agnès Varda

Rating: Not Rated

Good movies usually aren't lengthy movies, unless we're talking about cases like Toni Erdmann. It's a supremely smart German-Austrian comedy that depicts the story of a Father-Daughter tandem in light of life’s weirdest, most inconvenient moments. Deciding to visit his daughter on a whim after his dog dies, Winfried (Peter Simonischek)—a man known for his outrageous pranks and many a disguise—flies to Bucharest. Ines (Sandra Huller), the daughter, buzzing with work to the brim in a very challenging job, to say the least, isn’t impressed. This leads to even more uncomfortable encounters as the estranged father poses as the title character, life coach to the disapproving daughter’s boss. On top of being a shrewdly observed and relevant movie, the brilliant writing by Maren Ade crafts something thoroughly enjoyable and heartfelt here, highlighting the importance of family bond in an oddly sweet way, and criticizing modern-day work ethic and the toll its taking on us. The beginning is a bit slow, but if you're a bit patient you will be surprised how much this movie will reward you.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alexandru Papadopol, Andrei Mateiu, Bryan Jardine, Cezara Dafinescu, Cosmin Pădureanu, Dana Marineci, Daniel Filipescu, Hadewych Minis, Hans Löw, Hartmut Stanke, Ingrid Bisu, Ingrid Burkhard, Irene Rindje, John Keogh, Julischka Eichel, Jürg Löw, Luana Stoica, Lucy Russell, Manu Sabo, Manuela Ciucur, Michael Wittenborn, Miriam Rizea, Nicolas Wackerbarth, Niels Bormann, Ozana Oancea, Peter Simonischek, Radu Bânzaru, Ruth Reinecke, Sandra Hüller, Sava Lolov, Thomas Loibl, Trystan Putter, Ursula Renneke, Valentin Popescu, Victoria Cocias, Victoria Malektorovych, Vlad Ivanov

Director: Maren Ade

Rating: R

This drama was the first feature written and directed by an out Black lesbian, Cheryl Dunye, and it is an absolute joy: a cheeky faux-documentary that ingeniously blends lesbian dating life with a historical dive into Black actors in 30s Hollywood.

Dunye plays Cheryl, a self-effacing version of herself, an aspiring director working at a video store who begins to research an actress known as the Watermelon Woman for a documentary. The more Cheryl dives into her research, the more she sees parallels between her subject and her own relationship. 

As incisive as it is funny, The Watermelon Woman shares some common ground with other major indie debuts of the era like Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It and funnily enough Kevin Smith’s Clerks, but Dunye’s style is wholly her own and a dazzling treat to experience.

 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Brian Freeman, Camille Paglia, Cheryl Clarke, Cheryl Dunye, David Rakoff, Guinevere Turner, Irene Dunye, Lisa Marie Bronson, Sarah Schulman

Director: Cheryl Dunye

The Last Duel propped high expectations as the Closing Film at the 2021 Venice Film Festival, but its theatrical release later that year proved to be a flop. Ridley Scott blamed it on millennials, but both critics and streaming audiences have been much more favorable than moviegoers. As a film, it's a rather monumental project: quite a dark period piece set in Medieval France, dealing with harsh and offensive themes. Or better said, it deals with ethics and morality through these harsh and offensive themes. There are many ways where this could have gotten wrong—and it's evident from the labels that have been circulating from the very beginning, that Scott has made his "MeToo" movie—but the truth is much more nuanced. From Eric Jager's 2004 book to a script co-written by Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and (most importantly) the astute Nicole Holofcener, The Last Duel is really the best of both worlds: action-packed and devoted to the right side of history.

Genre: Action, Drama, History

Actor: Adam Driver, Adam Nagaitis, Alex Lawther, Ben Affleck, Bosco Hogan, Brontis Jodorowsky, Bryony Hannah, Caoimhe O'Malley, Chloe Harris, Christian Erickson, Clare Dunne, Clive Russell, Harriet Walter, Ian Pirie, Jodie Comer, John Kavanagh, Julian Firth, Marton Csokas, Matt Damon, Michael McElhatton, Nathaniel Parker, Oliver Cotton, Paul Bandey, Peter Hudson, Sam Hazeldine, Serena Kennedy, Shane Lynch, Simone Collins, Tallulah Haddon, Thomas Silberstein, Tyrone Kearns, William Houston, Zeljko Ivanek, Zoé Bruneau

Director: Ridley Scott

Rating: R

Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuse (The Gleaners and I) is one of the late Agnès Varda’s great documentaries. The film follows “gleaners”—scavengers and collectors of discarded garbage or abandoned items—from the French countryside into the city. The first of Varda’s subjects recalls, “Gleaning, that’s the old way,” marking a clear distinction: old versus new, rural versus urban, wasted versus repurposed.

Fans of Varda will recognize the signature tenderness with which she approaches both her subjects and their objects. Those new to her work will be sure to find something familiar in this documentary: a film largely about loss, but which approaches its ideas of modernization and time with humor and lightness. Among the rubble, there is joy yet to be found—and in this documentary, there is a great comfort, too, to be gleaned.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Agnès Varda, Agnès Varda, Bodan Litnanski, François Wertheimer, François Wertheimer

Director: Agnès Varda, Agnès Varda

Rating: 0, Not Rated

The Breadwinner is as beautiful as it is heartbreaking. The animation is magical as it seamlessly jumps back and forth between Parvana's stark reality and richly detailed fantasy. It's a wonder to just look at, but it's a tapestry brought to life by the story at the center of it. 

Set in 2001, at the height of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, the film follows Parvana, a young girl driven to desperate measures to keep her family alive. Because of the violent restrictions imposed on women (they’re not allowed to buy, sell, study, or practically do anything without a male chaperone), Parvana disguises herself as a boy so she can work for a living. The more she gets away with it, the bolder her attempts get. It's a story of survival and standing up, but it's also a sobering reminder of what fundamentalism is capable of doing (or more accurately, ruining). As long as cruel systems like this are taking place in the world, Breadwinner remains essential viewing for all.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Family, War

Actor: Ali Badshah, Ali Hassan, Ali Kazmi, Kawa Ada, Laara Sadiq, Noorin Gulamgaus, Nora Twomey, Saara Chaudry, Shaista Latif, Soma Bhatia, Soma Chhaya

Director: Nora Twomey

Rating: PG-13

Artist and filmmaker Clio Barnard put herself on the map of new British talents with her 2010 debut The Arbor, a daring, genre-bending biopic about Bradford-born playwright Andrea Dunbar and her tragic personal and impressive artistic life. Coming from a poor working class family with seven siblings, Dunbar wrote her first play age 15. She died in 1990, aged 29, and left a legacy of three plays in total. Knowing how under-appreciated her work has been, Barnard decided to revive the life that imbued Dunbar's creations. Rather than staging a conventional documentary, the director features interviews with family and friends, performed and lip-synced by actors in front of the camera. She also adds re-enactments of the plays that feature the estate where Dunbar grew up, as well as archival footage of her TV appearances. The Arbor is an experimental documentary, but that doesn't prevent it from being touching, humane, and a special tribute to art flourishing in adverse circumstances.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Christine Bottomley, Danny Webb, George Costigan, Jimi Mistry, Jonathan Jaynes, Josh Brown, Kate Rutter, Kathryn Pogson, Kulvinder Ghir, Manjinder Virk, Matthew McNulty, Monica Dolan, Natalie Gavin, Neil Dudgeon, Robert Emms

Director: Clio Barnard

, 2004

Kristen Stewart stars as Melinda, a girl entering the gauntlet of freshman year in high school who is also carrying a heavy secret: after suffering an assault over the summer at a party, she has become determined to speak as little as possible. Melinda’s subjective experience is presented without mediation, melodrama nor moralism, but rather as life through her eyes: teachers are puff-chested bullies; parents are mumbling, ephemeral strangers; whispering girls are talking about her, all the time. It is a realistic portrait of the inner life and experience of a young woman whose sudden introversion, academic decline, and loss of social connections appear to go completely unnoticed, while she struggles to process and unburden herself of the weight of trauma. It’s an empathetic story well-served by Stewart’s understated performance and the film’s quiet pace.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Allison Siko, Arron Kinser, Caitlyn Folley, D. B. Sweeney, Elizabeth Perkins, Eric Lively, Hallee Hirsh, Kristen Stewart, Leslie Lyles, Michael Angarano, Robert John Burke, Steve Zahn, Susan Gardner

Director: Jessica Sharzer

I love when a misunderstood woman reclaims her narrative with her own words, and that’s exactly what Pamela: A Love Story is too, a tell-all documentary told by Pamela Anderson herself.

The documentary bares it all—the scandalous sex tape, Anderson’s troubled past, the disgusting misogyny that continues to tarnish her career. She even touches on the Hulu miniseries made about her demise (which Netflix must feel so smug about). But this isn’t a pity party. Just the opposite, the documentary is a testament to resilience. “My life is not a woe-is-me story,” Anderson says at one point, and truly, this is an inspiring and humanizing story about a woman taking charge of her own life. An absolute must-see.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Barry Anderson, Brandon Thomas Lee, David Hasselhoff, David Hogan, David Letterman, Douglas Schwartz, Jimmy Kimmel, Julian Assange, Kelly Slater, Michael Berk, Pamela Anderson, Ruby Wax, Tommy Lee, Tony Curtis, Vivienne Westwood

Director: Ryan White

Rating: TV-MA

Bill Forsyth, an acclaimed Scottish director best known for his films Local Hero and Gregory’s Girl, directs an underrated masterpiece with the 1987 drama Housekeeping. Adapted from Marilynne Robinson’s outstanding novel, Housekeeping is the story of two sisters, Ruthie and Lucille, who are orphaned and raised by their peculiar Aunt Sylvie. 

As the young sisters grow apart, Ruthie gravitates toward her transient aunt. This is a movie about not quite fitting in—about feeling like your life exists just outside of modern time, somewhere off to the side of railroad tracks running over frozen water. Sylvie shows Ruthie that there is more to life than their small, cold town of Fingerbone. In fact, there is a whole world out there, calling to misfits like them.

Housekeeping is deftly directed, balancing both humor and tragedy. Christine Lahti’s performance is also, with no exaggeration, one of the greatest of all times, as she conveys so much of Sylvie’s yearning to go, go, go with as little as a glance toward the beckoning horizon.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Andrea Burchill, Anne Pitoniak, Betty Phillips, Bill Smillie, Christine Lahti, Dolores Drake, Georgie Collins, Karen Elizabeth Austin, Margot Pinvidic, Sara Walker, Sheila Paterson, Wayne Robson

Director: Bill Forsyth

Rating: PG

You live in a strange world. Or at least, that's what the generation before you thinks. Eight Grade is a movie that follows a girl going through her generation's strange world. Social media, selfies, Youtube; you name it. But also, the weight of her expectations (as shaped by the internet) versus her reality. Written and directed by famous comedian Bo Burnham, it's a gentle and often funny look at our anxieties and how they shape our growth. Prepare for a lot of cringes.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Andrew Geher, Brenna Parker, Catherine Oliviere, Daniel Zolghadri, Deborah Unger, Dylan Vonderhorst, Elsie Fisher, Emily Robinson, Frank Deal, Fred Hechinger, Gerald Jones, Greg Crowe, Imani Lewis, J. Tucker Smith, Jake Ryan, Jalesia Martinez, Josh Hamilton, Kendall Seaman, Kevin R. Free, Kylie Seaman, Luke Mulligan, Luke Prael, Marguerite Stimpson, Missy Yager, Natalie Carter, Nora Mullins, Phoebe Amirault, Shacha Temirov, William Koo

Director: Bo Burnham

Rating: R

Even when it necessarily tackles the difficulties that are part and parcel of same-sex love in the 20th century, there’s something pleasant about the way A Secret Love is told. The documentary puts Terry and Pat’s love above all else, so even though we hear about how they had to tear the bottom pages of their letters to avoid getting caught, or how they had to split from close family members after coming out, things never feel too heavy or dire because at the end of the day, they’re still together, their decades-old companionship a beautiful example of how love wins. And aside from giving us an intimate look at this rare win for elderly closeted couples, A Secret Love serves as an insightful portrait of elderly life. Terry and Pat, with their perseverance and unyielding support, make aging look beautiful rather than scary. 

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Chris Bolan, Diana Bolan, Jack Xagas, John Byrd, Kim Donahue, Marge Summit, Pat Henschel, Tammy Donahue, Terry Donahue, Yvonne Zipter

Director: Chris Bolan

Rating: N/A

This is a touching saga based on the plight of the women labelled as "fallen" that the Magdalene Laundries housed in Ireland. The movie grips you by the throat right from the first minute and the sense of injustice to women that characterizes the entire length of the film only rarely eases up to give you room to appreciate the emotional complexities that each individual character represents. The stories of Margaret, Bernadette and Rose and the people they meet inside the Magdalene Laundry will force you to ask time and again during the movie, "Why?" and "Who are they to?". You will share in Bernadette's sense of outrage, in Rose's compassion and Margaret's acute fear of the church, of speaking up and asking for justice. So much so, that you may even find yourself identifying with (or at least understanding) Crispina's questionable grasp on reality. Worst of all, the devout Catholic establishment that this was, hypocrisy and corruption ran through its every vein, adding to the shock and resentment that builds towards the, for the lack of a better word, captors of our protagonists. The Magdalene Sisters is a tribute to one of the forgotten chapters in a long history of injustice to women and an absolutely moving one at that. It does not fail to utterly horrify while it also warms your heart.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Anne-Marie Duff, Britta Smith, Chris Patrick-Simpson, Daniel Costello, Dorothy Duffy, Eamonn Owens, Eileen Walsh, Eithne McGuinness, Frances Healy, Geraldine McEwan, Mary Murray, Nora-Jane Noone, Peter Mullan, Phyllis MacMahon, Stephen McCole

Director: Peter Mullan

Rating: R

An arguably tough watch, The Accused fluctuates between crime and courtroom drama, eschewing any kind of sentimentality in its storytelling. No place for pity where trauma reigns: the fact that the film is based on a real case of as gang rape means little in a world were that's still a daily occurrence. The Accused knows it well and invests its two protagonist with all the anger in the world, hoping the justice system will be on the right side of history at once: that of women. Two amazing leads set the bar very high: Jodie Foster and Kelly McGillis who plays prosecutor Kathryn Murphy. Together, they make a powerful duo of heated performances that embody the contradictions of being a woman under patriarchy.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Allan Lysell, Andrew Kavadas, Ann Hearn, Antony Holland, Babs Chula, Bernie Coulson, Carmen Argenziano, Christianne Hirt, David Sheridan, Denalda Williams, Deryl Hayes, Frances Flanagan, Freda Perry, Garry Chalk, Garwin Sanford, Jerry Wasserman, Jodie Foster, Kelly McGillis, Kevin McNulty, Kim Kondrashoff, Leo Rossi, Linda Darlow, Michele Goodger, Mike Winlaw, Pamela Martin, Peter Van Norden, Rebecca Toolan, Rose Weaver, Scott Paulin, Stephen Dimopoulos, Stephen E. Miller, Steve Antin, Terry David Mulligan, Tom Heaton, Tom McBeath, Tom O'Brien, Veena Sood, Walter Marsh, Woody Brown

Director: Jonathan Kaplan

Rating: R

Based on the true story of the last French woman executed by guillotine, Story of Women depicts wartime survival under the Vichy regime. While men were sent to fight in the war, women in France stayed home, in a country occupied by the Nazis, with their government collaborating with the Axis powers they were supposedly at war with. Marie-Louise Giraud is one such woman. Like her country, she is pushed to do crimes forbidden by the state, first for kindness, but eventually for comfort, but only she gets the death penalty for 27 abortions, when only a few Vichy officials have been tried for crimes against humanity, which includes the deportation of seventy thousand Jews to concentration camps. The contrast is made much more poignant with Isabelle Huppert and Claude Chabrol’s creative partnership.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Caroline Berg, Dani, Dominique Blanc, Evelyne Didi, François Cluzet, Guillaume Foutrier, Henri Attal, Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Michel Noirey, Lolita Chammah, Marie Bunel, Marie Trintignant, Nils Tavernier

Director: Claude Chabrol