100 Best Films That Center Womens’ Experiences

100 Best Films That Center Womens’ Experiences

May 22, 2024

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It’s time to shine a spotlight on the stories that resonate with women from all walks of life. These ten extraordinary films not only put women front and center but also delve deep into their struggles, triumphs, and journeys of self-discovery. Get ready to be moved, inspired, and captivated as we explore the best films that beautifully capture the essence of women’s experiences. These powerful stories will leave an indelible mark on your heart and remind you of the incredible strength and resilience of women everywhere.

21. Sink or Swim (1990)

8.6

Country

United States of America

Director

Female director, Su Friedrich

Actors

Jessica Meyerson

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Original, Thought-provoking

One of the most notable avant-garde filmmakers, Su Friedrich is both a tour-de-force of documentary filmmaking and queer cinema. In Sink or Swim, Friedrich explores the complicated dynamic between a distant, work-oriented father and young daughter longing for his attention, approval, and love.

At just barely 45 minutes, Sink or Swim is cinematic poetry. The movie slowly unfolds across six vulnerable vignettes, through which Friedrich invites the viewer to meditate on the past alongside her. Through photographs, archival footage, and loose narrative storytelling, Freidrich shows that storytelling is a way of both healing the past and learning to live with its ghostly figures.

22. Shiva Baby (2021)

best

8.6

Country

Canada, United States, United States of America

Director

Emma Seligman, Female director

Actors

Ariel Eliaz, Cilda Shaur, Danny Deferrari, Deborah Offner

Moods

Funny, Grown-up Comedy, Inspiring

A young bisexual woman attends a shiva, caught between her parents and their expectations, her ex, and her sugar daddy. Rachel Sennott’s Danielle is yet to find her path in life and everyone is determined to remind her of that. Taking place almost entirely in real-time, the film’s sharp wit is contrasted with constant anxiety, complemented by Ariel Marx’s horror-like score, full of discordant pizzicato that sounds like every last bit of sanity snapping. 

It’s a sex-positive take on 20-something life, treating bisexuality as wholly unremarkable and passing no judgment on Danielle’s sugar daddy income. Its specificities about Jewish customs and traditions are non-exclusionary, while its social claustrophobia is achingly universal. It’s comforting in the way it portrays the social horrors we all face, the feeling that everyone but you has life figured out, and that – ultimately – those who matter will pull through, eventually. One of 2021’s best.

23. Happening (2021)

best

8.6

Country

France

Director

Audrey Diwan, Female director

Actors

Alice de Lencquesaing, Anamaria Vartolomei, Anna Mouglalis, Cyril Metzger

Moods

Challenging, Character-driven, Dark

It’s heartbreaking to realize that Happening, a film set in 1960s France tracking a young woman’s journey to dangerously and desperately terminating her pregnancy, is still very much relevant and relatable to this day. Around the world, abortion is still inaccessible, if not completely illegal, and women still struggle to lay full claim to their bodies. A lot of girls grow up with pregnancy statistics meant to instill fear, but Happening brings all that to brilliant life in intimate and unrestrained detail. The fears and wants of our protagonist Anne (played precisely by Anamaria Vartolomei) are palpable throughout. Nothing is held back in this film, and if you find yourself sick in parts, then it has achieved its goal of realistically conveying what it’s like to stay alive in a society that fails to recognize your needs. 

 

24. Bound (1996)

best

8.6

Country

United States of America

Director

Female director, Lana Wachowski

Actors

Barry Kivel, Christopher Meloni, Gene Borkan, Gina Gershon

Moods

Character-driven, Gripping, Intense

Three years before the Wachowskis released The Matrix, their debut, Bound, was already one of the most visually stunning crime thrillers of the 1990s. If you look at the film as a straightforward genre piece, it’s as thrilling as the best of the genre: vulnerable heroines, suspenseful sequences taking place mostly in one enclosed location, and a plot driven by mind games and careful manipulation. Every scene is marked by one breathtaking image after another, from the atmospheric use of lighting and color to intelligently placed cuts linking the two protagonists together no matter how much they’ve been kept apart.

But Bound only takes on more meaning when you look at it through the queer and trans perspective that the Wachowskis undoubtedly placed over the film years and years before their own coming out. By focusing on how Violet and Corky (a captivating Jennifer Tilly, and a sensual Gina Gershon, respectively) use their femininity and their gender as tools to break free from these patriarchal gangster narratives, Bound becomes a timeless expression of queer yearning and freedom.

25. The Piano Teacher (2001)

best

8.6

Country

Austria, France, Germany

Director

Michael Haneke

Actors

Anna Sigalevitch, Annemarie Schleinzer, Annie Girardot, Benoit Magimel

Moods

Challenging, Dark, Depressing

Based on the Austrian novel, The Piano Teacher is as brilliant and as disturbed as its protagonist. The film follows Erika Kohut (Isabelle Huppert), the repressed masochist in question, and the trainwreck of a relationship that she develops with her student Walter Klemmer (Benoît Magimel). Their dynamic is undeniably toxic. Austrian auteur Michael Haneke frames each scene with clinical detachment, but it is absolutely brutal how the two characters try to assert control over each other, engage in sadomasochism, and repeatedly violate each other’s boundaries. Huppert’s heartrending performance fully commits to the merciless treatment Erika receives. But more tragic is the way Erika’s unusual relationship could’ve freed her, could’ve helped her process her abuse, and instead, reinforces her repression. It’s scary to make yourself vulnerable by admitting your desires, only for them to be used against you.

26. The Joy Luck Club (1993)

best

8.6

Country

China, United States of America

Director

Wayne Wang

Actors

Andrew McCarthy, Chao Li Chi, Christopher Rich, Diane Baker

Moods

Emotional, Heart-warming, Tear-jerker

Before Turning Red and Crazy Rich Asians, there was The Joy Luck Club. Based on the bestselling novel, the film adaptation centers around the four Chinese-American women and their relationships with their mainland-born mothers. Explaining that the club isn’t particularly joyful or lucky, the film starts from June’s perspective, a perspective of a Chinese-American woman who’s lived all her life in America. However, through strategic screenplay structure and effective sequence arrangement, we learn the struggles of the founding club members, the struggles that brought them to another country, which forms the dynamics between them and their American daughters. Because of how comprehensive and layered the film is, this underrated film adaptation is a phenomenal take on the immigrant experience. Tears are inevitable with how they deal with difficulties, but so is hope.

27. Things to Come (2016)

best

8.5

Country

France, Germany, UK

Director

Female director, Mia Hansen-Løve

Actors

André Marcon, Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet, Edith Scob, Edward Chapman

Moods

Character-driven, Slice-of-Life, Slow

In Things to Come, life tests a philosophy professor on the very same subject she teaches. For Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert) — who has two grown-up children, a husband of 25 years, and a recurring publishing contract — the future isn’t something she gives much thought, because she assumes it’ll be more of the same. When her students protest against a law to raise the pension age, this middle-aged ex-anarchist can’t bring herself to engage with their apparently far-sighted cause; unlike them, all she can think about is the present. But then a series of events overturn her life as she knew it and she finds herself, at middle age, staring at a blank slate.

This is a movie about our surprising ability to deal with disaster — the instincts that emerge when we least expect them to. What’s more, it’s about the insistence of life to keep going no matter how difficult a period you’re experiencing — something that might initially seem cruel but that is, actually, your salvation. The film’s academic characters and philosophical preoccupations never feel esoteric, because Hansen-Løve’s gentle, intelligent filmmaking puts people at its center as it explores human resilience — not through stuffy theory, but an intimate study of someone coming to terms with a freedom she never asked for.

28. Our Little Sister (2016)

best

8.5

Country

France, Japan

Director

Hirokazu Kore-eda, Hirokazu Koreeda

Actors

Fukiko Hara, Haruka Ayase, Ichirō Ogura, Jun Fubuki

Moods

Slice-of-Life, Without plot

Hirokazu Koreeda can do no wrong. The director of Shoplifters and Still Walking is a master of dissecting complex family dynamics through a handful of events. In Our Little Sister, three close sisters who live at their grandmother’s house learn that their absent father has passed. They travel to the mountains to attend his funeral and meet their half-sister, Suzu, for the first time. Suzu is invited to live with the sisters and join their bond.

This movie is a true-to-the-form slice of life, it’s almost drama-free. This absence of plot is an absence of distractions: the sisters are all that matters to Koreeda. His only focus is on how this family becomes bigger, sees past grief, and how the group of close-knit sisters that grew up together can make room for a new addition.

29. Cameraperson (2016)

best

8.5

Country

United States of America

Director

Female director, Kirsten Johnson

Actors

Jacques Derrida, Kirsten Johnson, Michael Moore, Roger Phenix

Moods

Original

In Cameraperson, documentarian and cinematographer Kirsten Johnson creates an incredible patchwork of her life—and her life’s work. Johnson has been behind the camera of seminal documentaries like Citizenfour, The Invisible War, and The Edge of Joy. Here, Johnson stitches together fragments of footage, shot over 25 years, reframes them to reveal the silent but influential ways in which she has been an invisible participant in her work. 

In one segment, Johnson places the camera down in the grass. A hand reaches into the frame briefly, pulling up weeds that would otherwise obscure the shot. Cameraperson is a must-see documentary that challenges us to reconsider and reflect upon how we see ourselves and others through the camera lens, and beyond it.

30. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (2022)

best

8.5

Country

United Kingdom

Director

Female director, Sophie Hyde

Actors

Daryl McCormack, Emma Thompson, Isabella Laughland, Lennie Beare

Moods

A-list actors, Discussion-sparking, Dramatic

There are only two main characters in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande: Nancy, a retired teacher who was recently widowed, and Leo, an adept sex worker with a mysterious past. They’re almost always in one place and work on a single goal: pleasure. But despite the seeming monotony, the movie is crackling with wit and sensuality every step of the way. It doesn’t waste any time getting to the heart of the matter. Nancy and Leo go back and forth about their past, with Nancy divulging much about the stigma of aging and Leo about the stigma of sex work. They also dive into the shame attached to pleasure, ultimately revealing more than just their naked bodies to each other and to the audience.

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