Here we are, on the very last day of the year, and I have for you my five favorite woman-directed movies of 2019. I was worried that this post was hopelessly late, but then I checked last year’s list and saw that I didn’t write it until January 21, so I’m actually ahead of myself. The truth is that many of the best movies come out during the last few weeks of December, so unless you have screeners, it’s hard to draw up lists like these before the year is over.
Over the past year, I saw 29 new movies directed or written by women, and 18 new movies directed and written by men. With only 29 movies to choose from, I decided to choose only five favorites — which meant I had to leave Little Women off the list. Which was surprising! With all the buzz, I thought for sure I’d adore it, but I’m not sure I like it any better than the 1994 version. I have more to say on that, and will be reviewing it for The Common, but I wanted to give it an honorable mention. Two other movies that also deserve a shout-out are Atlantics and The Farewell.
Before I dive into the list, I want to mention several movies that I didn’t get a chance to see that might have made the list: Fast Color, One Child Nation, Hail Satan?, Little Joe, and Varda by Agnès.
Okay, with those caveats out of the way, here we go, in no particular order, my favorite woman-directed films of 2019 . . .
Writer & Director: Joanna Hogg
I reviewed this for The Common and went to a sneak preview knowing very little about what I was about to see, only that it starred Tilda Swinton and her daughter. I walked out of the screening totally bewitched. I thought for sure others would be equally transfixed, but my husband couldn’t get through it and I notice it has a low audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. I think one problem is that it got framed as an addiction narrative and it’s not that. It’s also not really a coming-of-age story and I saw it described that way, too. I think it’s best to look at it as a memoir — something subjective, delicate, and crushing.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Writer and Director: Céline Sciamma
This dreamy and highly romantic love story also has a realistic side as it shows how a female artist might have made a living in the eighteenth century. I loved its rich color palette, spare interiors, crackling fires, and crashing waves. It’s the kind of movie you wish you could live in, at least for a while. (Full review at The Common.)
Queen & Slim
Director: Melina Matsoukas
Writer: Lena Waithe
Queen & Slim was somehow both mellow and suspenseful, a road trip movie and a romance. It reminded me of Thelma & Louise, because it follows two people on an unplanned cross-country trip that ends up being the most important and authentic time of their lives. I loved the lead performances — you really do feel as if you’re witnessing two people fall in love in real time — and I also liked the landscapes that were captured. It’s rare to see an American road movie that takes this particular route, from Cleveland, Ohio to the Florida Keys. This is one to see in the theaters if you can.
Directors: Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert
This documentary stayed with me, popping into my mind over and over again throughout the year. It just seemed relevant to everything in the news. By honing in on one factory in rural Ohio, directors Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert end up explaining how global capitalism works. And yet it’s also intimate and humane.
Written & Directed by Beyoncé
This documentary about Beyonce’s landmark Coachella performance is one of the most dazzling concert films I’ve ever seen. It’s basically a full-length musical performed for only two nights. Beyoncé chose to dress her dancers and musicias (and herself) in pink costumes one night and yellow costumes the other night, a simple change that allowed her to intercut the two nights and give viewers the sense that they are seeing a third, unique concert that was the essence of both.