I’d heard about this movie’s status as an under-seen classic but now, after seeing it, I have to believe it is one of the most influential movies of the 1970s. With its quirky, artsy, twenty-something female lead and documentary-style camerawork, it is strongly reminiscent of early-aughts mumblecore, even down to the set design. I can’t imagine Joe Swanberg’s films without Girlfriends, and I’m sure it informed TV shows like Sex & The City, Girls, and Fleabag. Its theme is female friendship, and it follows two roommates, Susan and Annie, whose lives go in different directions when Annie decides to get married and moves out to live with her husband. Meanwhile, Annie has to find a way to cover the rent while also pursuing a career in art photography. Frances Ha clearly borrows from its structure, so much so that I now see Frances Ha as something close to a remake of it, but that just goes to show how universal this story is. In an interview at filmmaker magazine, director Claudia Weill said she wrote it (with screenwriter Vicki Polon) because she didn’t see herself in movies, and apparently Weill had to carry around rolls of the film from studio to studio in order to sell it — just as Susan, a photographer, lugs around her portfolio from gallery to gallery.
The Forty-Year-Old Version (2020) Written & Directed by Rahda Blank Streaming on Netflix
I finally caught up with Radha Blank’s debut feature after hearing good things about it all year long on Twitter and elsewhere. It premiered at Sundance and the buzz that followed it reminded me of the excitement that accompanied Greta Gerwig’s Ladybird. As with Gerwig’s debut, I was rooting for it, but worried it wouldn’t live up to the hype. But a great movie has a way of making you forget the chatter and even your own expectations. From the first scene of this joyful, layered story of self-creation, I found it hard to believe that it was Blank’s first film. It is so assured, and wears its influences so lightly, that it feels like the work of a much more seasoned filmmaker.
Hillary (2020) ★★★1/2
Director: Nanette Burstein Streaming on Hulu
Ever since Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election, I’ve been somewhat obsessed with her, reading interviews and post-mortems, as well as Clinton’s own memoir about the 2016 campaign, What Happened? I also read Amy Chozick’s memoir, Chasing Hillary, about covering both of Clinton’s presidential runs for the New York Times. When I heard that Nanette Burstein had made a 4-hour documentary about Clinton’s life, I didn’t think I’d be interested in revisiting material that I already knew so well. At the beginning of the quarantine, I gave the first episode a try, but it didn’t grab me, especially when I saw how reliant it was on first-person interviews with Clinton, as well as Amy Chozick. I felt like I’d already heard from both of them and I wanted a new perspective.
I’m reposting this movie calendar, since a lot of the release dates have shifted over the past couple of months. The blockbusters and big-budget pictures have been delayed, but many independent films are having digital premieres. I’m hoping to catch with some of them over the next few weeks . . .
In the meantime, here’s my ongoing list of 2020 movies written or directed by women. These are mostly narrative films, but I’ve thrown in some documentaries, too. I’ve included specific dates when available, and some color-coding to help make sense of all the postponements and streaming changes due to quarantine.
BLACK= theatrical release/virtual theaters GREEN = originated in and/or intended for theaters, now available VOD PURPLE = originating on a specific streaming platform, i.e. Netflix, HBO, Disney +
Originally slated for SXSW, the New York Times is now streaming Hysterical Girl, a documentary short about Freud’s classic case study, Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria. Writer and director Kate Novack argues that instead of being a case study of sexual repression, Freud’s Dora is actually a classic example of how men ignore, misinterpret, and cover up reports of abuse from girls and women.
I just watched it and was impressed by how many ideas it crammed into 13 minutes. The movie is anchored by a dramatic monologue that uses Freud’s own notes to give voice to Dora’s side of the story. The monologue is illustrated by a rapid collage of hand-drawn animations, images and clips from classic films and TV shows, and snippets of news coverage about Anita Hill, Christine Blasey Ford, and other women who have stood up to men in power.
Directed by Kelly Reichardt
Written by Kelly Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond
The plain title of Kelly Reichardt’s eighth feature film belies a richly–detailed period piece set in 1820s Oregon Territory. But before immersing you in the past, Reichart opens in the present, with a shot of alarge industrial ship making its way down the Willamette River. Along a piece of undeveloped shoreline, a woman and her dog are walking when the dog’s playful digging uncovers a human skull. Curious, thewoman continues digging to reveal two full skeletons lying next to each another. As is typical of a Reichardt movie, this action unfolds wordlessly but with attention to the sounds of the natural world: the chirping of nearby birds, the dog’s panting and scuffling paws, and the river flowing by. This quiet, observational approach makes the discovery of two skeletons feel interesting, rather than ominous. However, I must admit that what I found most arresting about this scene was a lightweight pink scarf that the woman was wearing tied around her neck in a loose bow. It was the only warm color in a scene dominated by grays, blues, and greens, and as the woman’s scarf fluttered in breeze, I felt that it, as well as the skeletons, had a secret meaning. . .
Emma (2020) ★★★1/2
Directed by Autumn de Wilde
Written by Eleanor Catton, based on the novel by Jane Austen
I saw this a couple of nights ago and it was pure delight. My only regret is that I went to see it by myself and not with my husband or with a friend. I left it in a cheery mood, buoyed by the playful costumes, bucolic scenery, intelligent dialogue, and of course, the romantic ending when everyone is happily paired up — except, maybe, for Jane Fairfax. I felt bad for her, and I don’t remember her character from previous versions of Emma, though I must confess that I have never read Emma, so I don’t know if she is from the book or not.
The Assistant (2019)★★★★
Written & Directed by Kitty Green
When I wrote the heading for this review I thought to myself wow, am I really giving this movie four stars? It’s the unusual instance when using a star rating system is clarifying rather than frustrating, because my reasons for rating it as less than four stars were entirely superficial. In terms of its production, The Assistant it is a “small” movie, but in terms of its themes and emotional impact, it’s huge. It takes place over a short time period — one day — and involves only a handful of people in a few rooms, with its focus on Jane (Julia Garner), a junior assistant to a film producer. Very little happens and there is hardly any dialogue; there’s only one passage in the film in which two characters engage in extended back-and-forth discussion. All other verbal communication is limited to short or one-sided phone conversations, emails, and eavesdropping.
This is a ongoing list of 2020 movies written or directed by women, mostly narrative films, but I’ve thrown in some documentaries, too. I’ve included specific dates when available, but as you’ll see, there are many movies at the bottom of my list that are slated for 2020 but don’t yet have release dates. I’m sure I’ve missed some titles, so if you have any suggestions, please leave a comment.
Last updated: 4/23/20, I added color coding to help me make sense of all the postponements and streaming changes due to quarantine.
RED = postponed or unknown (to me) release date GREEN = premiering on video on demand and drive-in theaters BLUE = originated in theaters, now streaming or will soon stream on paid platforms PURPLE = originated on streaming subscription platforms
It may be that in a few weeks this color-coding will be obsolete because everything will just have a new streaming release date. Or it could be that I’ll have to have a new color for movies that are postponed but will be released in theaters in the fall.
In writing this blog, I’ve learned that the best way to find new female-directed films is by checking out film festival programs, especially Sundance, where a lot of movies get picked up for distribution. (Though I must admit it’s been disappointing to see the number of films that never get picked up.) For my 2018 and 2019 lists of female-directed films, I incorporated Sundance selections into my list of January releases, deleting them as they found distribution later in the year. This year, I’m going to keep the Sundance releases separate, in part because so many of the selections on the 2020 program are directed or written by women.