264 Best Women Stories to Watch (Page 8)

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 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, Diana Nyad, 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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This South Korean coming-of-age story, an award-winning debut from Lee Su-jin, is centered around a high school student named Han Gong-ju. There's a dark aura surrounding our teenage protagonist, as she avoids making new friends and closes herself off from the world. More than anything, she is afraid that people will discover the secret behind her shy persona, and the past events that changed her life forever. This is an intricate and truly devastating tale, sensitively told, and is likely to leave even the most hardened viewers filled with rage at those who have wronged Han Gong-ju.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Baek Ji-won, Baik Ji-won, Beom-taek Kwon, Chun Woo-hee, Dong Hyun-bae, In-seon Jeong, In-sun Jung, Ji Soo, Jo Dae-hee, Jung In-sun, Kim Hyun-joon, Kim Ji-soo, Kim Jung-pal, Kim So-young, Kimchoi Yong-Joon, Kwon Beom-taek, Kwon Bum-taek, Lee Young-lan, Min Kyung-jin, Oh Hee-joon, Oh Hee-jun, So-young Kim, Woo-hee Chun, Yeong-ran Lee, Yim Dong-seok, Yoo Seung-mok, Young-lan Lee

Director: Lee Su-jin, Su-jin Lee

Rating: R

Frances (Greta Gerwig) lives in New York – but not the glamorous NYC of Woody Allen movies. Taking place primarily in the gritty and rapidly gentrifying North Brooklyn, the black and white film paints a picture of an extended adolescence. Focusing on the goofy and carefree Frances, who loses her boyfriend, her best friend and her dream of being a dancer. She moves in with two guys, both of whom are more successful than her, and becomes even more determined to fulfil her goals, impractical as they may be. Fans of HBO’s Girls and other odes to not being a “real person” yet will love this film.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Adam Driver, Britta Phillips, Charlotte d'Amboise, Christine Gerwig, Cindy Katz, Daiva Deupree, Dean Wareham, Eleanor Smith, Finnerty Steeves, Gibson Frazier, Gordon Gerwig, Grace Gummer, Greta Gerwig, Hannah Dunne, Isabelle McNally, Josh Hamilton, Juliet Rylance, Justine Lupe, Laura Parker, Lindsay Burdge, Marina Squerciati, Maya Kazan, Michael Esper, Michael Zegen, Michelle Hurst, Mickey Sumner, Noah Baumbach, Patrick Heusinger, Peter Scanavino, Ryann Shane, Teddy Cañez, Vanessa Ray

Director: Noah Baumbach

Rating: R

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The film for which Kristen Stewart became the first American actress to win the César Award. The Twilight star turned indie prodigy plays next to another award favorite, Juliette Binoche, as her assistant. When rehearsing for the play that launched her career many years earlier, Binoche's character, Maria, blurs the line between fiction and reality, her old age and her assistant's young demeanor, and the romance story portrayed in the play and her own life. The movie itself is stylized as a play, adding another interesting layer of artistic creativity to the complex plot line. A film for film lovers.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Aljoscha Stadelmann, Angela Winkler, Benoit Peverelli, Brady Corbet, Caroline De Maigret, Chloë Grace Moretz, Claire Tran, Gilles Tschudi, Hanns Zischler, Jerry Kwarteng, Johnny Flynn, Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Luise Berndt, Nora von Waldstätten, Nora Waldstätten, Ricardia Bramley, Sean McDonagh, Steffen Mennekes

Director: Olivier Assayas

Rating: R

Led by Rosy McEwen's commanding performance brimming with fear and self-loathing, Blue Jean pours all of the anguish and defiance felt by the LGBTQ+ community under Margaret Thatcher's administration into a single character. Writer-director Georgia Oakley keeps her plot light, but through conversations with other beautifully portrayed queer women (especially those played by Kerrie Hayes and Lucy Halliday), she piles on one conflicted emotion after another about what this lesbian woman's responsibility is toward herself and her community when they find themselves threatened. But even as the film takes a definite stance, it validates every response as authentic—borne out of a need to protect the people whom one loves.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Amy Booth-Steel, Aoife Kennan, Deka Walmsley, Edmund Wiseman, Farrah Cave, Kerrie Hayes, Lainey Shaw, Lucy Halliday, Lydia Page, Rosy McEwen, Stacy Abalogun

Director: Georgia Oakley

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Inspired by the Spiniak case, Blanquita reimagines the infamous scandal through mirrored interrogations and disorienting viewpoints. Blanquita rewrites the original witness, whose fictional variant, in turn, rewrites the abuse faced by victims as her own. She is transformed from a clueless liar, into someone still a liar, but one that did so when every other possible witness has been discarded for being unreliable, for being too traumatized to go through the judicial process unflinchingly. The film takes on a provocative subject matter, at a time when real life sexual abuse allegations are treated with the same scrutiny Blanca faces. However, Blanquita does so in a way that gives its complexities the weight it deserves. It’s a fascinating thriller, a quandary that tests the idea of ends justifying the means… But it’s one that’s disturbing, given the consequences to each crime.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alejandro Goic, Alex Quevedo, Amparo Noguera, Claudio Troncoso, Daniela Ramírez, Hernán Lacalle, Jaime Vadell, José Luis Aguilera, Karen Bejarano, Laura López Campbell, Marcelo Alonso, Nelson Polanco, Nicolás Durán, Roberto Farías

Director: Fernando Guzzoni

More than a decade before she made Toni Erdmann, German filmmaker Maren Ade turned her eye on a small-town school, a socially awkward teacher, and the inarticulate in between. Even with her debut, Ade showcased a talent for spotting the hidden comic potential of situations that can be wounding, turning vulnerabilities into power through comedy. The Forest For the Trees is a dilemma-film, in the ways in which it both invites and rejects identification with Melanie. A frighteningly optimistic person, she misreads most if not all social cues and finds herself in embarrassing situations. Even more, her devotion to making it all work, after moving away from the big city for said teaching job, is something a lot of viewers can recognize and support, but her borderline unlikeability is sometimes too hard to ignore. However, a majestic finale crowns the film with a scene that is worth rewatching again and again, like a dream you wish to appropriate for yourself.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Daniela Holtz, Eva Löbau, Ilona Schulz, Jan Neumann, Robert Schupp

Director: Maren Ade

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Before her triumphant Oscar win for her role in Minari, Youn Yuh-jung starred in The Bacchus Lady as So-young, an aging sex worker strugglin to make ends meet. Youn brings a certain dignity to the role that’s rarely seen in typical depictions of sex work around the world. Her work isn't framed as something disgusting or immoral, but as something that's natural and normal. Writer-director E J-yong clearly sides with and respects the people that you don't normally see in K-dramas—characters that have been pushed aside in favor of the stereotypical “ideal” Korean. While meandering at times, the film's warm and bittersweet approach to these characters acts as a reprimand to Korean society on how they fail those at the margins.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Chon Moo-song, Hyun-jun Choi, Jeon Moo-song, Jo Sang-gun, Jung Jae-woong, Kim Han-na, Kim Hye-yoon, Moon-Song Chon, Park Gyu-chae, Seo Hyun-woo, Ye Soo-jung, Ye Su-jeong, Yeo-jeong Yoon, Yoon Kye-sang, Youn Yuh-jung

Director: E J-yong, Je-yong Lee, Lee Je-Yong

Rating: N/A, Not Rated

Sunday Beauty Queen starts with a basic but startling fact: there are about 190,000 Filipina domestic workers in Hong Kong. They toil for six days a week, with little breaks in between, but on Sundays, the one day they are given rest, they choose to take part in a fabulous beauty pageant.  

More than just a mere show, the pageant is a source of joy and relief for the migrant workers who, despite earning significantly more abroad than they would back home, are mired in a host of problems, including discrimination, loneliness, and underemployment. Because of the Philippines’ and Hong Kong’s stringent statutes, some helpers are also forced to go into hiding, unsure of who will protect them each time.

It’s to director Baby Ruth Villarama’s credit that the film feels both like a criticism and celebration of this migrant reality. She exposes the rotten system that forces these women to flee their country but doesn’t forget to highlight the humanity that keeps them going. This result of this deft balance is a story that is just as warm and exacting as any old home. 

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Cherrie Mae Bretana, Hazel Perdido, Leo Selomenio, Mylyn Jacobo, Rudelyn Acosta

Director: Baby Ruth Villarama

Rating: 0

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Named after the Celtic concept of heaven, Summerland is a rare queer period drama that feels hopeful rather than despairing. The film takes us to the countryside in World War II, where our protagonist, the reclusive writer Alice Lamb (Gemma Arterton), studies the folklore about Summerland. We know that her isolation wasn’t fully chosen; her refusal to marry causes adults to gossip and causes children to speculate that she’s a witch. But this all changes when a young evacuee is entrusted to Alice’s care.

Gemma Arterton shines as a reluctant guardian stifled by repressed grief, and she makes Alice’s dynamic with Frank (Lucas Bond) and her former lover Vera (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) incredibly believable. And while it would have been lovely to see more of Vera, even just their first meeting easily captures that heady sense of pure enchantment with another person. It’s no wonder that Alice has to cling to folklore the same way we do. For many of us, it’s the only way we can express our hopes, fears, and dreams.

Genre: Drama, Romance, War

Actor: Amanda Lawrence, Amanda Root, Casper Allpress, Daniel Eghan, David Ajao, David Horovitch, Dixie Egerickx, Fergal McElherron, Gemma Arterton, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Jessica Gunning, Joshua Riley, Lucas Bond, Martina Laird, Nimmy March, Penelope Wilton, Rakhee Thakrar, Sally Scott, Siân Phillips, Thomas Coombes, Toby Osmond, Tom Courtenay

Director: Jessica Swale

Rating: N/A, PG

This coming-of-age story starts in the present time, where Elle Marja, now a grandmother, reluctantly goes to her sister's funeral held by her old indigenous Sámi community in Northern Sweden. Understanding her reluctance requires going back to when Elle Marja was 14 and was preparing to go to boarding school with her little sister. These schools were racist establishments meant to integrate the Sámi children into Swedish culture and language, while at the same time limiting their prospects of seeking further education. Elle Marja and her sister chose to respond to this discrimination in two completely different ways that this movie explores without judgment. The central performance of the young girl is incredible.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ánne Biret Somby, Maj-Doris Rimpi, Olle Sarri

Director: Amanda Kernell

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This fun comedy-drama is about Bridget, a 34-year-old who hasn't quite got it all figured out, but at least she’s trying: after terminating an accidental pregnancy, she gets herself a summer gig as a nanny for a fearless six-year-old by the name of Frances. 

Tackling a myriad of "taboo" topics including abortion, menstruation, and depression, the movie visually normalizes human experiences that remain underrepresented in mainstream cinema. And writer Kelly O’Sullivan, who also plays Bridget, has a screenplay that manages to do it all without feeling didactic.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Bradley Grant Smith, Charin Alvarez, Courtney Rioux, Danny Catlow, Francis Guinan, Hanna Dworkin, Jackson Evans, Jim True-Frost, Kelly O'Sullivan, Lily Mojekwu, Mary Beth Fisher, Max Lipchitz, Meighan Gerachis, Ramona Edith Williams, Rebecca Buller, Rebecca Spence, Rebekah Ward, Roger Welp

Director: Alex Thompson

Rating: N/A

When categorizing Lars von Trier's oeuvre, critics speak of a "Depression Trilogy" bookended by Antichrist and Nymphomaniac, but Melancholia is the one that really embodies the concepts and worries nested at the heart of this project. The Danish director may be known for his provocative approach to filmmaking and disregard of taboos, but with this film, he makes room for vulnerability. On the character of Justine (Dunst) he places the weight of the world, only after allowing her to be weak, small, and socially unacceptable at her own wedding celebration. A rather subversive decision, but vesting these expectations in someone as wide-ranging as Kirsten Dunst assures an absolute win, even if there remain some questionable characteristics that align too well with abstract male fantasies of what a woman in distress would look like.

Genre: Drama, Science Fiction

Actor: Alexander Skarsgård, Brady Corbet, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Charlotte Rampling, Christian Geisnæs, Jesper Christensen, John Hurt, Katrine A. Sahlstrøm, Kiefer Sutherland, Kirsten Dunst, Stellan Skarsgård, Udo Kier

Director: Lars von Trier

Rating: R

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