First Cow (2020) ★★★★1/2
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. . .
Read the rest over at The Common
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.
Continue reading “Review: Emma.”
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.
Continue reading “Review: The Assistant”
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.
Continue reading “2020 Movies Directed or Written by Women”
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.
Continue reading “Female Filmmakers at Sundance 2020”
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 . . .
Continue reading “Favorite Women-directed Films of 2019”
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) ★★★★1/2
Writer & Director: Céline Sciamma
In 1770, Brittany, France, a young female painter, Marianne, is hired to paint a wedding portrait of a noblewoman. But the assignment is unusual: she must make the painting in secret because the bride, Héloïse, is reluctant to marry. Héloïse and her mother live in an isolated seaside estate, and her mother explains to the young painter that the portrait is necessary to entice the bridegroom, who lives in Milan. Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) is arrestingly beautiful, and I can imagine many movies that might begin with the groom’s approving gaze upon receiving Héloïse’s portrait, kicking off a storyline that would take viewers into Milanese high society. But Portrait of a Lady on Fire instead focuses on the two weeks that Héloïse and Marianne spend together in a nearly empty house by the sea (the bridegroom in question never appears on screen). Written and directed by French filmmaker Céline Sciamma, and with a nearly all-female cast, Portrait is both a romantic story of two people falling in love, and a sensitive depiction of a female painter’s life and artistic practice in the eighteenth century.
(Read the rest over at The Common. . .)
My love of Christmas movies started when my husband and I first moved in together and we spent our first holiday season together watching cheesy Christmas movies every weekend. Actually, maybe my love of the holiday genre started with It’s A Wonderful Life, which is one of my favorite movies of all time. I’ve probably seen it thirty times and it never gets old. I like the low stakes of Christmas stories, the predictability, the winter fashions, and I also appreciate how most holiday movies have an ensemble cast, so you can watch them over and over again and notice all the little moments between the minor players that you may have missed the first time.
This list includes a couple of my favorites, as well as some that I haven’t seen yet and am adding to my list for this year. Enjoy!
Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)
Director: Sharon Maguire
Writer: Helen Fielding
This is a personal favorite. The book is hilarious and the film captures its zany energy. Also, it’s perfectly cast, despite worries at the time that Renee Zellweger was not sufficiently British enough to pull it off. I don’t know if it officially falls into the Christmas Movie category, but it starts and ends with holiday parties, so it counts in my book.
Continue reading “Holiday Movies Directed or Written by Women”
Director: Alma Ha’rel
Writer: Shia LeBeouf
I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a movie more steeped in therapeutic concepts than Honey Boy. It’s the semi-autobiographical story of actor Shia LaBeouf’s abusive upbringing as a child performer in thrall to his alcoholic father; his subsequent struggles with addiction; and his recovery in rehab. To a certain degree, it’s also a movie that reflects on its own making. LaBeouf wrote the script, or at least started it, while undergoing exposure therapy for PTSD, and he stars in the film playing a character based on his own father.
Continue reading “Review: Honey Boy”
Writer & Director: Nia DaCosta
Little Woods has been on my list of movies to see since April, when it was briefly in theaters. It’s a small, independent film with a first-time female director, Nia DaCosta, who also wrote the screenplay. I heard good things about it coming out of film festivals, and it also stars Tessa Thompson, who I really liked in Sorry To Bother You. This is all to say that I was primed to like this movie, but halfway through I was ready to turn it off. It was boring, despite having a relatively distinctive story with high stakes. The screenplay felt overwritten and conventional, especially in the second act as complications arose to force the protagonist to make a particular choice. I knew, intellectually, that I was supposed to feel that the main character was backed into a corner, but instead it felt like a narrative slog I had to wade through to get to the third act. And I wasn’t holding out hope that it would even be worth it.
Continue reading “Review: Little Woods”