by Ryan Simpkins
I love lady movies. About ladies, yes, duh. But directed by ladies? Wowzers. My heart flutters.
This list is critical, personal, and most certainly incomplete. Some films I intentionally omitted, due to either my lack of interest, my concern with their politics, or my not having seen them. I’m sure you will read this and find flaws, be it my selection being too western, too white, or that you’re simply not seeing your personal favorite on here. And that is 100% valid. I haven’t seen every film ever made, and while I’m working on it, I would very much love for you to express necessary considerations to add to my ever growing list of films by female directors! I am but an amalgamation of the films I’ve seen and my thoughts on them. I would love for you to help me grow.
That being said, I hope you enjoy my thoughts on some of my favorites and check out at least a few.
Little Women (1994) dir. Gillian Armstrong
Winona Ryder is gay, and I’m in love.
Zero Dark Thirty (2012) dir. Kathryn Bigelow
I feel I must mention this force of nature of a film, while I cannot necessarily recommend anyone to watch it. It’s intention and themes are heavily debated. I personally see it as a film on the determination of the West to terrorize. The film stars Jessica Chastain as a government agent who does bad things that ultimately lead to a “justifiable good” (“good” defined by the state, for the state, a “good” one cannot justify as such given the context). Some biopics centered on a female lead dealing with war would sacrifice complexity for an idealized characterization. This creates a character who is perfect, "woke", a role model. This idealized role model is unfair and unjust, spreading a harmful logic on the nature of (white western) women involved in war while making a bad movie (i.e. Mary Queen of Scots). Zero Dark Thirty does not do this, but instead paints a brutal image of a brutal figure desperate to win a fight she cannot bear to handle the full implications of.
(Note: I should say this was my interpretation of the film. I did not see Bigelow’s most recent film Detroit, but from what I’ve heard about the film’s confused and overtly violent content as well as it’s questionable intention coming from a white filmmaker, this makes me reconsider my initial understanding of Zero Dark Thirty.)
Lost in Translation (2003) dir. Sofia Coppola
Look. I’m not a big SofCop gal. Her movies are very white with themes that range from borderline to straight up racist. Plus, they’re often boring. I know that. I stand by and fight for that. That. Being. Said. Lost in Translation is one of my favorite films, quietly capturing a young woman observant and ignored. In Japan, she meets an older man who promises to see her for who she is. Two negative people fall in love because they understand their negativities as valid realities. Yes, a white romance with the backdrop of Japan serves a white girl’s feeling of overwhelming introversion, literally lost in translation. Still, I have never felt more seen by a movie as I did when I was 17 watching this one.
Mustang (2015) dir. Deniz Gamze Ergüven
Turkish film about sisters dealing with being sold off as child brides. Not only a well done take of a political conversation made entirely personal but aesthetically serene. Like Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation or Virgin Suicides, Ergüven uses hazey soft light and brightened natural colors to create a dreamy femininity, capturing a girlhood while the content is often somber. This is an aesthetic very popular among white women with Pinterest boards, perhaps due to Coppola’s influence. Ergüven applies this organic and feminine style taken by white women and uses it to make a film centered on Turkish politics.
Little Miss Sunshine (2006) dir. Valerie Faris (and Jonathan Dayton)
The invention of quirk.
Lady Bird (2018) dir. Greta Gerwig
Every single character featured in this film could have an entire film dedicated to them and I would watch each and every one.
Leave No Trace (2018) dir. Debra Granik
Easily one of the greatest films of 2018. Granik continues her legacy of discovering young female talent as Thomasin McKenzie is a joy.
American Psycho (2000) dir. Mary Harron
Men suck and women get that, dope.
Clueless (1995) dir. Amy Heckerling
Another one that’s morally complicated once you think about it, but hey, so is high school.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018) dir. Marielle Heller
I’m a strong believer in Melissa McCarthy. She’s obviously brilliant in Bridesmaids and in her SNL cameos as Sean Spicer, but she also makes a lot of shitty movies. Most of these films are directed by men (often her husband), and they’re simply not good. That being said, McCarthy is always able to shine through, exhibiting moments of personal intimacy so bold you’ll be like “why is this woman crying in a film about Paula Deen teaming up with girl scouts who start a girl scout terf war, and why am I crying watching it?”
Anyways, the bitch is brilliant and never gets a chance to show it. Heller recognized this, connected with McCarthy, and gave us one of the greatest performances of the last year (followed by Richard E. Grant’s in the same film, an underrated artist now finally getting his recognition).
Wonder Woman (2017) dir. Patty Jenkins
Say what you will I loved this movie and got emo watching the Amazonians.
Me and You and Everyone You Know (2005) Miranda July
Weird and great.
The Babadook (2014) dir. Jennifer Kent
I once considered this the scariest film I ever tried to watch. Great metaphors on postpartum, widowing, and being a single mother. But so so scary.
Jennifer’s Body (2009) dir. Karyn Kusama
This is feminist and I have proof.
The Invitation (2015) dir. Karyn Kusama
The hardest hitting slow burn thriller I’ve ever seen. Kusama slaps.
Capernaum (2018) dir. Nadine Labaki
Harsh and long, but worth the watch. Gorgeous and left alone, like Sean Baker’s fictional documentarian style. Labaki is able to pull some of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen from children.
Big (1998) dir. Penny Marshall
Okay okay okay, this film is obviously flawed in a lot of ways if you think about it too much (too much being at all). But it’s an absolute classic and so here it is.
The Parent Trap (1998) dir. Nancy Meyers
I literally do not even have to say anything you don't already know.
Holiday (2006) dir. Nancy Meyers
An adorable female centric romcom that will make you crush on Jack Black. I showed this to my boyfriend and he cried.
Meadowlands (2015) dir. Reed Morano
Olivia Wilde loses her grip on her sense of self after the loss of a child. Brutal watch. Outstanding debut by director/cinematographer Reed Morano (of Handmaid's Tale fame). Decided to DP her first project as a director. Damn.
We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011) dir. Lynne Ramsay
There’s honestly too much to unpack here. Postpartum depression; women deemed “hysterical”; male ego, entitlement, and violence; a gr8 cast; eerie as fuck; just watch it.
Obvious Child (2014) dir. Gillian Robespierre
Romcom about abortion. Fucking cute and fucking funny. This movie made me unafraid of the realities of reproductive health that once paralyzed me. Must see.
Persepolis (2007) dir. Marjane Satrapi (and Vincent Paronnaud)
Adapted from the autobiographical graphic novel written by Satrapi. A delightful, grounded story on punk girlhood as we watch Satrapi grow to become an independent activist with the facts of war torn Iran surrounding her. This film is badass.
An Education (2009) dir. Lone Scherfig
I’m a slut for female centric films about age gap romance. And Carey Mulligan.
Shirkers (2018) dir. Sandi Tan
Inspiring and nostolic. Teenage girls can rule the world, having the ability to make a historical dent without anything to show for it. Will make you want to see the film that never was so badly.
Electrick Children (2012) dir. Rebecca Thomas
Phenomenal debut by a director capturing an accurate and personal focalization of an innocent teenage girl who wants to grow. Thomas’ résumé has been filled with promising projects (Looking for Alaska, The Little Mermaid) that have locked her in pre production for years, only having directed a poignant episode of Stranger Things and a short since her feature. Free Thomas’ Career!!!
The Matrix (1999) dir. Lana and Lily Wachowski
This movie is fucking wild, absolutely goofy, and totally cool, opening up people’s minds to simulation theory, androgyny, and those skinny 90s fashion glasses. As you may have read on any fan forum site, the film’s character Switch was originally written to transition from female to male upon entering the real world. This plot point was ultimately cut from the script by the studio, but the actress cast and character designed were very intentionally androgynous.
Cam (2018) dir. Daniel Goldhaber
Cam is a film about a sex worker written by a sex worker (the stellar Isa Mazzei). It’s funny, spooky, sex positive, and aware, completely tuned into its story, characters, and audience. Goldhaber is genderqueer, and I’ll do anything to recommend this super fun movie to people.