250 Best Women Stories to Watch (Page 7)

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.

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. 

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Georges Cardona, Jasmine Ng, Jasmine Ng Kin Kia, Sandi Tan, Sophia Siddique Harvey

Director: Sandi Tan

Rating: TV-14

Whether or not you’re familiar with director Pedro Almodóvar’s body of work, Parallel Mother stands as a gorgeous melodrama, a striking story about motherhood and our ties to the past. On one level, it’s a simple but engaging drama about a misunderstanding that ensues between two women. But on another, it’s a deep dive into a nation’s cruel history, as well as an observation of people’s commitment to never letting that part of themselves go. 

The film references Almodóvar’s past films but it also works as a standalone, a perfect starting point for moviegoers interested in exploring his oeuvre. Of course, Penelope Cruz continues to be a powerhouse, each line delivery an emotional gut punch, while relative newcomer Milena Smit is stirring, a true revelation, as her director calls her.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adelfa Calvo, Agustín Almodóvar, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, Ana Peleteiro, Arantxa Aranguren, Carmen Flores, Chema Adeva, Daniela Santiago, Inma Ochoa, Israel Elejalde, José Javier Domínguez, Julieta Serrano, Milena Smit, Penélope Cruz, Rossy de Palma

Director: Pedro Almodóvar

Rating: R

While not its only cause, the increase of conflict and civil wars has spurred a global refugee crisis. Millions of refugees have been displaced from their homes, taking dangerous journeys to a hopefully safer place. Nowhere, now on Netflix, showcases one possible journey. Escaping a future totalitarian Spain, the film is centered on leading lady Anna Castillo, whose excellent performance pulls most of the tears here. With her character Mia’s ingenuity, she maximizes her shipping container’s resources and takes steps to ensure her survival. While some of the backstory can feel thin, after all, for most of the runtime Mia has only herself to talk to, this new one-location survival film is a thrilling addition to the genre. It’s a chilling reminder of what could be happening to the millions of refugees seeking safe haven around the globe.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Anna Castillo, Antonio Buíl, Emma Sánchez, Irina Bravo, Kaabil Sekali, Lucia Soria, Mariam Torres, Said El Mouden, Tamar Novas, Tony Corvillo, Victoria Teijeiro

Director: Albert Pintó

Rating: R

Emily (Evanna Lynch), a strange, unique girl does not receive the long awaited letter from her father on her birthday. Sick of worrying, she decides to break away from home to visit him in the psychiatric institution where he stays. The plan requires the help of Arden (George Webster), a boy from school who is ready to drop everything and accompany her on a journey that quickly becomes as adventurous as it is heartfelt. In this film, director Simon Fitzmaurice take will take you on a trip through the beautiful Irish landscape to find nothing else but simple and true love.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Ali White, Ally Ni Chiarain, Barry McGovern, Cathy Belton, Declan Conlon, Deirdre Mullins, Evanna Lynch, George Webster, John Travers, Martin McCann, Meghan Jones, Michael Hough, Michael Smiley, Millie Donnelly, Stella McCusker

Director: Simon Fitzmaurice

Rating: Not Rated

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.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Al, Annie Corley, Brett Rice, Bruce Dern, Bubba Baker, Catherine Mangan, Charlize Theron, Christian Stokes, Christina Ricci, Cree Ivey, Glenn R. Wilder, Jesse Stern, Jim R. Coleman, Kaitlin Riley, Kane Hodder, Lee Tergesen, Lyllian Barcaski, Magdalena Manville, Marc Macaulay, Marco St. John, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Romonda Shaver, Rus Blackwell, Scott Wilson, Stephan Jones, Tim Ware

Director: Patty Jenkins

Rating: R

The idea of representation in movies is often limited to superficial gestures of putting on screen people who look a certain way. Kokomo City is a reminder of cinema's possibilities when one really tries to queer filmmaking itself, with genuine queer voices driving a production. This documentary is messy and incredibly playful in its style—in ways that might read to some as lacking cohesiveness, or as tonally inconsistent. But the way director D. Smith is able to capture the dynamic energy of a series of conversations makes these powerful, funny, tragic anecdotes and dialogues feel truly grounded in people's everyday experiences, and makes the plea for protection of trans lives all the more urgent.

Throughout Kokomo City, this collection of individuals goes off on various tangents that never become difficult to follow. They speak about the nature of sex work, hidden desires felt by traditionally masculine male clients, and various degrees of acceptance within the Black community. And between these statements alternating from impassioned to emotional to humorously candid, Smith injects cheeky cutaway footage, layers text on screen, and plays an eclectic rotation of music throughout. It's about as real and as three-dimensional as these trans lives have ever been shown on screen.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Daniella Carter, Dominique Silver, Koko Da Doll, Liyah Mitchell, XoTommy

Director: D. Smith

Rating: R

There's a remarkable harshness to every moment of I Have Electric Dreams, even if it doesn't seem like much is happening. Beautiful textures in its cinematography and the dreamlike movement of its editing can't mask the pain that protagonist Eva feels, as she drifts through the ruin of her own family in search of any shred of comfort or anything she can still call her own. There's tension in every interaction she has, as this messy divorce has torn down any divide between parent and child—revealing Eva to be both more mature and more naive than she realizes, and revealing her parents as still stuck in their own insecurities. It's frequently difficult viewing that gets surprisingly graphic, but the film's ear for character is undeniable.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Daniela Marín Navarro, José Pablo Segreda Johanning, Mayté Ortega, Reinaldo Amien Gutiérrez, Vivian Rodríguez Barquero

Director: Valentina Maurel

, 1997

In this powerful exploration of suppressed desires and societal constraints, Fire delves deep into the lives of two women trapped in loveless marriages. Radha's husband has banished all desires from their marriage due to Radha's infertility, while the newlywed Sita knows her husband still sees his lover. As they live their stifling lives being dutiful wives and taking care of their paralyzed matriarch on their own, they begin to find solace in each other—eventually igniting a forbidden romance that challenges what they thought living truly was. The performances by Nandita Das and Shabana Azmi are captivating, as they find renewed passion in each other's arms even as they question how tradition doesn't hold a women's benefit in mind. Fire is a bold and groundbreaking film that provokes reflection on love, freedom, and the courage to defy societal norms.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Alice Poon, Javed Jaffrey, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Laurence Côte, Nandita Das, Ram Gopal Bajaj, Ranjit Chowdhry, Shabana Azmi, Vinay Pathak

Director: Deepa Mehta

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.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Agam Darshi, Huse Madhavji, Kim Coates, Sandy Sidhu, Stephen Lobo

Director: Agam Darshi

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Watching Carol is like reading a really interesting book while relaxing on a Sunday afternoon. It is one of those movies that you probably heard about during its Oscar run, and have since delayed actually viewing it. Well now that it is on Netflix and other streaming services you have no excuse! It’s refreshingly unique, incredibly charming, and features a kind of story that hasn’t been told very often – a love story between two women. Both characters played by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara attempt to live true to their own principles while facing unjust yet severe backlash from society. If you are open to it, the love story in this will stay with you forever.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Amy Warner, Anita Farmer Bergman, Annie Kalahurka, Carrie Brownstein, Cate Blanchett, Chelsea Carnder, Christine Dye, Cory Michael Smith, Deb G. Girdler, Douglas Scott Sorenson, Giedre Bond, Greg Violand, Jake Lacy, John Magaro, Ken Strunk, Kevin Crowley, Kk Heim, Kyle Chandler, Michael Haney, Michael Joseph Thomas Ward, Mike Dennis, Nik Pajic, Rooney Mara, Ryan Wesley Gilreath, Sadie Heim, Sarah Paulson, Tanya Smith, Taylor Marie Frey, Todd Haynes, William Cross

Director: Todd Haynes

Rating: R

Stoic, unflinching, and almost near silent, Ballerina takes a fitting approach to enact its protagonist’s revenge. Within its lean 90 minute runtime, ex-bodyguard Ok-ju single-mindedly searches for answers, through following the lead from her friend’s suicide note. The film shares nothing personal, no doubts, worries, or fears from Ok-ju – except for her affection for best friend Min-hee. Instead of capitalizing on Ok-ju’s tears, or on the violence inflicted on Min-hee, writer-director Lee Chung-hyun relies on action, on stunning cinematography, and on Jeon Jong-seo’s performance to create a spectacle that doesn’t hold back from the gruesomeness, but somehow still incredibly restrained. Jeon Jong-seo delivers Ok-ju’s bloody revenge, a fitting retribution to all perpetrators of sexual violence.

Genre: Action, Crime, Thriller

Actor: Jang Yoon-ju, Joo Hyun, Jun Jong-seo, Kim Ji-hun, Kim Moo-yul, Kim Young-ok, Kwak Jae-min, Park Hyeong-su, Park Hyoung-soo, Park Yu-rim, Shin Se-hwi

Director: Lee Chung-hyun

Rating: R

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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. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ísold Uggadóttir, Babetida Sadjo, Bragi Arnason, Gunnar Jonsson, Kristín Þóra Haraldsdóttir, Patrik Nökkvi Pétursson, Patrik Nökkvi Pétursson, Sólveig Guðmundsdóttir, Sveinn Geirsson, Þorsteinn Bachmann

Director: Isold Uggadottir

Rating: TV-14

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.

Genre: Drama, Family

Actor: Cliff Curtis, Grant Roa, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Mana Taumaunu, Rachel House, Rawiri Paratene, Tahei Simpson, Tammy Davis, Taungaroa Emile, Vicky Haughton

Director: Niki Caro

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Warm and nourishing as the film's cuisine, Soul Food is a celebration of the modern African-American family, represented here by the Josephs. The Chicagoan family has a longstanding tradition of making dinner together every Sunday—a ritual, we’re told, that's lasted for at least 40 years. However, when the matriarch Big Mama Joe gets hospitalized, the simmering tension between her daughters boils over and threatens to break them apart. Many of the struggles they go through are familiar but not cliché, as writer-director George Tillman Jr. draws from his own experiences in a close-knit, extended family. So even if some plot lines feel unresolved, the film is well-paced, soulfully scored, and evenly balanced between the three sisters. Like the food cooked on-screen, this movie will still leave you hungering for more.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Brandon Hammond, Gina Ravera, Irma P. Hall, Jeffrey D. Sams, John M. Watson Sr., Marcia Wright, Mekhi Phifer, Mel Jackson, Michael Beach, Nia Long, Vanessa Williams, Vivica A. Fox

Director: George Tillman Jr.

Rating: R

, 2023

After winning Oscars for their documentary work, filmmakers Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin make their narrative feature debut with Nyad. The move to narrative fiction isn’t a monumental jump for the director duo, whose cinematic documentaries (among them Free Solo and The Rescue) play like nerve-shredding action thrillers and intense human dramas. Nor does Nyad’s subject — another extreme feat of human daring and endurance — make this feel a million miles away from their most famous works.

The most obvious departures from the directors’ documentary strengths — Nyad’s flashbacks and hallucination scenes, for example — do sometimes highlight their newness to narrative filmmaking, however. These scenes feel shallow and therefore disconnected from the movie’s otherwise deeper treatment of its subject, just as the performances dip into outsized cliches at times. Mostly, though, Nyad manages to float above the trap of trying too hard to be an inspirational sports drama thanks to its confrontation of Diana’s prickly personality. This flips the film’s perspective onto that of Diana’s team (including her coach and former girlfriend, played by Jodie Foster), who ultimately suffer the consequences of her stubbornness. That refusal to submit to hagiographic impulses gives the film a documentary-like edge of truth, making the rousing moments here feel genuinely earned.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Anna Harriette Pittman, Annette Bening, Carolyn McCormick, Eric T. Miller, Erica Cho, Ethan Jones Romero, Garland Scott, Jeena Yi, Jodie Foster, Johnny Solo, Karly Rothenberg, Katherine Klosterman, Luke Cosgrove, Marcus Young, Melissa R. Stubbs, Nadia Lorencz, Rhys Ifans, Stephen Schnetzer, Tisola Logan

Director: Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin

Rating: PG-13

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