Little Joe (2019) Writer & Director: Jessica Hausner
I was initially turned off of this movie –and maybe you were, too — when it first appeared in the U.S. in late 2019. It got mixed reviews, including a lot of pans, and I lost track of it in the rush of end-of-the-year releases. I was reminded of when it turned up on Pedro Almodovar’s list of the best movies of 2020 and then, when I saw that it was streaming on Hulu, I decided to give it a try, and I’m so glad I did. It’s an eerie story about the ways humans try to control the natural world, and at first it seems like it’s going to be a high-concept commentary on the danger of GMOS. But then it turns into a kind of meditation on the nature of perception and reality. I can see why a lot of viewers would find it frustrating, but I would have watched it for the color scheme alone.
For the past couple of years I’ve compiled an annual list of movies that are directed or written by women. This year is hard to predict, but here’s a preliminary list to get 2021 off to a good start. I’ll be updating every few weeks. Judging from how much the dates have changed in just the past few weeks I’m guessing these will move around a lot over the course of the year.
This was a good year for female directors. The cynical part of me wants to say that’s because the studios were more likely to release movies made by women in a year of cutting losses. But it may also be the result of efforts to boost equity in the wake of the Weinstein revelations, which occurred in late 2017. If a lot of female-directed/produced movies picked up for distribution after premiering at 2018 and 2019 film festivals, the majority of those titles would start coming out in 2020.
When I was writing this list, I wasn’t sure what should count as a 2020 movie, since the Academy Awards have been pushed back to April. Ultimately, I decided only to include movies that were available via VOD in 2020, so this list doesn’t include some big titles like Regina King’s One Night in Miami and Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland, although I plan to catch up with them when they are released later this month and in February. This list is a reflection of my year, and what I was able to watch on streaming platforms, “virtual” cinemas,” and via screening links. It’s probably a little quirkier than my previous best of lists in 2018 and 2019, but this was an odd year, and I’d guess that the next couple of years are going to continue to be unpredictable as Hollywood figures out what movie-going looks like in a post-COVID world.
There are a bunch of new movies coming out in November that are either written or directed by women–and they all look good to me. I’m going to try to see all of them, and since two will be available online, I think it’s do-able. A couple of them seem poised to do very well at the box office, as well as at the Oscars.
This straightforward documentary tries to answer the questions that kicked off my blog: 1) Why are there so few female directors? 2) What can we do to change that? Produced by Geena Davis’s Institute on Gender in Media, this in an activist work that concludes with a call to action for unions, studios, and individuals. For moviegoers, the challenge is to support female filmmakers by making sure that half the films you watch are either directed or written by women.
As someone who has been doing this for almost two years, I can tell you that it takes planning and deliberation to ensure that 50% of the movies you watch are made by women. You will have to seek them out, because they aren’t show in as many theaters as movies directed by men—and that’s one of the big reasons that women don’t advance in their directing careers. Their first films don’t receive as much publicity or distribution and then they don’t have a big box office. This makes it more difficult to secure financing for the second film or to be considered for studio jobs. Talent agencies are then less likely to promote female filmmakers. And so the vicious cycle goes.
I’ve been working on a novel so I haven’t had as much time for reviewing, but I have been watching. Here’s a quick round up of what I’ve seen over the past few months . . .
KNOCK DOWN THE HOUSE Director: Rachel Lears
I decided to watch this on Monday night in solidarity for AOC, who had deal with Trump tweeting racist comments at her all weekend. When it was over I felt like Trump’s tweets can’t even touch her, she’s too powerful, too gifted. She just doesn’t take the bait. I believe her response to Trump was something like, “he’s attacking me personally because he can’t defend his policies.” It’s incredible to see such clarity in someone so young. In this documentary, you meet AOC when she is just beginning her campaign, and even then, she has the ability to communicate in an authentic way very quickly and off the cuff.
I feel bad because I’m not mentioning the other women in this film, who also ran for Congress: Cori Bush, Paula Jean Swearengin, and Amy Vilela. They were all in equally difficult races, and unfortunately, they did not win, but seemed poised to unseat someone if they try again. I highly recommend this one for when you’re feeling discouraged by the Trump administration or if you just need to have a good cry.
The Souvenir, British director Joanna Hogg’s fourth feature film, is the first part of a two-part memory piece that focuses on a love affair that took place in Hogg’s early twenties, when she was in film school in London. Though not quite a memoir, the film is unabashedly autobiographical, and similar to Alfonso Cuaron’s recent Roma in how it seeks to reconstruct a particular period in the director’s life. To play a version of herself, a young woman called Julie, Hogg has cast Honor Swinton Byrne, a newcomer who at this point in her life is best known as Tilda Swinton’s daughter—though her performance in The Souvenir and next year’s sequel will likely change that. Swinton herself plays Julie’s mother, Rosalind, tamping down her usual charisma to embody a meek matron who rarely exerts her influence or reveals her knowledge of the world. It’s startling to see Swinton this way, especially with Byrne nearby, exuding youth and curiosity. With her height and her red hair, Byrne looks enough like Swinton to bring to mind her mother’s glamour, but also has a calm dreaminess that it is all her own.
I just updated my list of 2019 movies that are directed by women, and it gave me a chance to think about what movies to watch over the next few weeks–and also to get excited about what’s ahead for the year. So, here’s a preliminary last. Two of these, High Life and My Zoe are repeats from last year, because they didn’t end up being slated for release until this year–but I am still just as eager to see them. . .
This is an ensemble comedy, starring Marc Maron, Michaela Watkins, and Jon Bass among others. I like Shelton’s low-key movies, especially when she does comedy. I’m also a fan of Maron and his WTF podcast. So, I’m here for this one. In theaters March 8.
This sci-fi movie is French director Claire Denis’s English-language feature film debut. It revolves around a group of prisoners who have been sent into deep space as a way to shorten their sentences. Apparently, Denis has been trying to make this movie since 2002 and wrote the screenplay with Philip Seymour Hoffman in mind. After Hoffman’s death in 2014, Robert Pattison signed on for the lead. I’m intrigued by the premise and the trailer is so creepy I couldn’t finish watching. In theaters April 12.
Here is a preliminary list of 2019 movies written or directed by women, which I will update throughout the year, as more release dates become available. I’ll be using it decide which movies to see — I hope you will too!