2020 Movies Directed or Written by Women

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Here is my preliminary list of 2020 movies written or directed by women. I’ve included specific dates when available, but as you’ll see, there are several 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 a lot, and I’ll be updating as the year goes on. If you have any suggestions, please leave a comment.

Last updated: 1/18/20

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Female Filmmakers at Sundance 2020

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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 in spring and summer. (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.

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Review: Clemency

clemencyClemency (2019) ★★★1/2
Written and directed by Chinonye Chukwu

Clemency looks closely at the bureaucratic processes and day-to-day workplace politics behind the administration of the death penalty. In doing so, it powerfully argues that the death penalty is psychologically cruel to the prisoners who receive it as a sentence, the prison workers who carry out the executions, and even the families of those victimized by crime. It’s one of the most intellectually engaging movies I’ve seen over the past year, one that forced me to sit with a lot of difficult questions that went beyond whether or not the death penalty should exist.

The movie opens on the evening of an execution, overseen by the Prison Warden, Bernadine Williams (Alfre Woodard). Warden Williams is pensive as she manages the people who will join her in the execution room: a priest, a security officer, her deputy, and a medic who will give the convicted man with a lethal chemical injection. Everyone seems tense as they strive to follow set procedures. When the medic has difficulty finding a good vein, the injection goes shockingly wrong, resulting in a cruel, painful death that leaves everyone shaken.

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Favorite Women-directed Films of 2019

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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 . . .

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Three Movie Reviews, or: Two Love Stories and a Mr. Rogers Episode

Wow, this month has gone by quickly. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks catching up on movies in order to vote for the OAFFC awards and also to compile my own list of year-end favorites. I’m holding off on sharing that because I haven’t yet seen Little Women, and from all the advance raves, I have a feeling it might make my list. We’ll see. In the meantime, here are some brief reviews of three movies I saw recently . . .

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Atlantics (2019) ★★★1/2
Director: Mati Diop
Writer: Mati Diop and Olivier Demangel
Streaming on Netflix

I heard someone describe Atlantics as a zombie movie, but it’s more like a ghost story. Really, it’s a love story, with a classic structure that follows two clandestine lovers who are briefly together only to be torn apart. They spend the rest of the movie trying to find their way back to each other. The story is set in an unnamed port city in Senegal, where a giant, futuristic glass-and-steel tower is under construction. The film opens upon a group of angry construction workers, who have stormed their foreman’s office to complain about three months’ of wages still owed to them. They set off to Spain in search of paying work, only to drown in the Atlantic Ocean. One of the lost sailors is Souleiman, the secret boyfriend of a young woman, Ada, who is engaged to marry a wealthy businessman, Omar. When Souleiman reappears on Ada’s wedding night, a series of strange, supernatural events are set into motion.

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Review: Portrait of a Lady on Fire

portraitPortrait 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. . .)

Holiday Movies Directed or Written by Women

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-colin-firth-renee-zellwegerBridget 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 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.

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