A2P Cinema - Female Directed Films of the Past 20 Years


With the 2017 release of Sofia Coppola's The Beguiled, an excellently calculated remake of Don Siegel's 1971 film, I was reflecting upon the many great female filmmakers that have emerged over the past 20 years. Coppola (for good reason) has become a household name, but few others have earned the recognition of their male contemporaries despite contributing to world cinema as equally significant.

Here is a list of A2P Cinema's great female-directed films for each of the last 20 years.

Two rules: 1) One film per year since 1997. 2) No director will be included more then once! (So for example, though a filmmaker like Claire Denis has made many great films since 1997, only one of those films will be featured here).


2017… Raw
Directed by Julia Docournau, France / Belgium / Italy

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4954522

What elevates Raw is the unique manner it brings up so many ideas (be it socially, sexually, or psychologically). French filmmaker Julia Ducournau clearly is using this character and film as an erotic meditation on primal hungers. It is a gruesome work made with a stylish almost exploitative approach, Raw also has some wonderful richness and narrative surprises that make it a memorable and chilling film.


2016Always Shine
Directed by Sophia Takal, United States
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4392770

Sophia Takal's study of a two aspiring LA actresses is less concerned with satire then it is on feminine identity. It develops tension before a tonal shift in the second half. Its easy to think of Ingmar Bergman's Persona or David Lynch's Mulholland Drive here, but Takal has a voice with this tense and unsettling film.


2015… The Invitation
Directed by Karyn Kusama, United States
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2400463

Beautifully paced and building, The Invitation is an intelligent and layered character ensemble. Karyn Kusama did well with Diablo Cody's script in the underrated genre-piece Jennifer's Body. Here she's working on another level and establishes herself as a significant artist. There is such an intensely building atmosphere of dread and its a thought provoking film.


2014… The Babadook
Directed by Jennifer Kent, Australia

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2321549

Not a perfect film but The Babadook is a film that I absolutely adore. Its stunning visuals are filled with influences of early cinema and classic fairy tales. You are never really sure what is real here and the film never gives direct answers. Like the greatest horror films, The Babadook is carried by its chilling atmosphere but there are also some terrific psychological performances by the mother and son protagonists (played by Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman). This will stand as one of the great horror films of its decade!


2013Sun Don't Shine
Directed by Amy Seimetz, United States
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2023714

Amy Seimetz's eerie feature debut, Sun Don't Shine is excellent in the way it absorbs through it's mood and tone. There are moments both menacing and tender. Most of the emotional tension and panic is bottled and building. The central performances deserve much of the credit for how effective this is, with Kate Lyn Sheil especially terrific - in both her quiet expressions and emotional rage.


2012… Zero Dark Thirty
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, United States

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1790885

Kathryn Bigelow's 2009 film The Hurt Locker was among the best films of the previous decade and her follow-up Zero Dark Thirty is another brilliant achievement in filmmaking. Bigelow has such control of the film and its focus lies solely of it's craft - both in the technique and the honest characterization. With a phenomenal lead performance from Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty has a perfect narrative rhythm of character and action. This is what made The Hurt Locker so successful and here the lead performance is even more notable. Zero Dark Thirty is gripping without forcing the issue or telling its audience how to react and feel. This is old-fashioned filmmaking at its best.


2011… Tomboy
Directed by Céline Sciamma, France

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1847731

Tomboy opens to an expressive shot of a girl being held up by her father as they drive. Seemingly free from the conformity of the world in this moment, as sounds of the wind are evident in the backdrop. The girl is quickly returned to society but this moments lingers throughout this remarkably touching and heartfelt masterpiece. Tomboy is that rare film that evokes layered human depth all with a seemingly effortless touch. So many thoughts and ideas are evoked but they seem to be raised through the simplicity and naturalism of the filmmaking here. Celine Sciamma's directs the film with a delicate compassion that transcends any direct messages it may provoke. This of course is heightened by the incredible performances, mostly notably from the two young girls Zoe Heran (playing Laura) and Malon Leavanna as her younger sister. The moments these two share together on screen are simply magical.


2010… Winter's Bone
Directed by Debra Granik, United States

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1399683

Debra Granik's Winter's Bone is that rare film that finds a spiritual sense of inspiration while being both brutal and sensitive. The films lyrical form is masterful, even indirectly echoing shades of the great Yasujiro Ozu or more distinctly the gritty masterpieces of the 1970s. It's great strength is the lack of self-awareness instead focused on it's poetic tone, realist humanism, and bleak landscapes (of which the culture and characters of the film are reflected upon). Of course the core of the film is that of it's inspirational heroine Ree Dolly - flawlessly performed by Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence delivers a complex truth in the way she balances Ree's vulnerability with moments of courage and at times brutality. She is self-sacrificing of personal desire and determined - as she follows her decisions against all pain or struggles with profound internal strength and resilience. Winter's Bone is a beautifully layered film that grows with repeat viewings.


2009Bright Star
Directed by Jane Campion, Australia

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0810784

Master of the innovative and cinematic language-defining films Sweetie (1989) and An Angel at My Table (1990), Campion gives the period costume formula a rare sense of feeling. Above all this is a film that you can feel (be it in moments of beauty, of heartbreak, of romance or of humor). The production values (sets, costumes and most especially the cinematography) are extraordinary and the performances are strong (notably a career-defining role from Abbie Cornish who is already well acclaimed in her native Australia for performances in Somersault and Candy). Telling the story of a love affair between a young Romantic poet John Keats played by Ben Whishaw and his next-door neighbor Fanny (played by Cornish), Bright Star is a film that requires the lyrical touch of a gentle and detailed artist with a great understanding of feelings and mood. In addition, one of the unique qualities that sets this film apart from the standard period drama is Campion's trademark visual camera framing and storytelling. There is no doubt Campion can frame a shot and her manner of storytelling gives the typical period romance a refreshing and quiet beauty.


2008Wendy and Lucy
Directed by Kelly Reichardt, United States

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1152850

Kelly Reichardt follows up her excellent 2006 film Old Joy with this beautiful and heartbreaking film that shares much of the same minimalist style and social reflections. With Wendy and Lucy, Reichardt takes us in even closer emotionally and it is amazing how much she achieves with such a simplistic touch. Simple yet carefully made the film makes great use of its location (Pacific Northwest) and its parallel tracking shots (which contrast each other in the opening and closing of the film). Michelle Williams is nothing short of superb as a vulnerable woman caught in the devastating realities of poverty in American society. To see Williams and her her joy, hope, sadness, fears, and uncertainty effortless converge without sentiment in the final moments is truly a masterful performance. Wally Dalton gives a touching performance as the security guard who befriends Wendy, and of course it is also a pleasure to Old Joy collaborators Will Oldham and Lucy the dog (played by Reichardt's own dog) return as well as an effectively creepy cameo by cult horror director Larry Fessenden. Wendy and Lucy is a simplistic film with real unforced texture.


2007… Away From Her
Directed by Sarah Polley, Canada

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0491747

Written and directed by actress Sarah Polley in her debut, who adapted the film from a short story by Alice Munro ("The Bear Came Over the Mountain"), Away From Her is a heartrending film of memory, and of marriage. The film is beautifully structured like a poem, drifting in a non-linear journey of the past and present. The film opens with a series of shots that are poignantly rendered, as we subtly observe three different perspectives of a couple cross-country skiing (together, on separate paths, and then together again). Polley effectively plays with time, skillfully heightening the films treatment of memory- much in a similar style of the films co-producer Atom Egoyan (who directed Polley in his 1997 masterpiece The Sweet Hereafter). Only 28 years old, Polley shows the grace and wisdom of a filmmaker far ahead of her age in the way she finds the perfect little details of a 44-year old marriage. A love that after 44-years has grown stronger through memory. So what happens when Fiona (played by Julie Christie in a career-defining performance) suffers Alzheimer's disease? Can their love persevere? When Fiona tells her husband Grant that she "is beginning to disappear", she agrees to be submitted to Meadowlake Nursing Home, a place that seems destined to erase memories of the past, even a 44-year marriage. By Meadowlakes policy (which as a nurse states is probably more convenient for the staff), Grant must be away from Fiona for 30 days. The films title seems to reflect both husband and wife, as they are taken away (he from her, and her from herself) from the loss of shared memory. Carrying the emotional weight of the film without an ounce of sentiment is the incredible performance from the always reliable Julie Christie. As Fiona, Christie is heart-wrenching, but in a way that is perfectly subtle and underplayed. Away From Her is an incredibly moving film. It is heartbreakingly sad, but ultimately hopeful in its graceful observation of acceptance, and of selfless love.


2006Marie Antoinette
Directed by Sofia Coppola, United States

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0422720

Marie Antoinette is very representative of Sofia Coppola's cinematic style and themes. This is her third film and each of them have equally dealt with young woman trapped in a foreign world of isolation, loneliness, and boredom. While her other features were (at least to me) self-conscious and somewhat dull attempts of recreating Michelangelo Antonioni or Wong Kar-Wai, Marie Antoinette is a wonderful personal expression of an artist. Here Coppola captures the poetic expression of her imagery and sounds in a spirit that evokes the groundbreaking American pioneers of the 1970s (such as her father Francis Ford Coppola, or more specifically Terrence Malick). While not breaking cinematic grounds with this film, Coppola isn't conforming within any boundaries either, and the result is an epic film of artistic achievement with a free and personal vision. I loved this film in every way. I think because above all, it is one of feeling. Coppola is less interested in ideas (be it political, historical, or psychological). Her interest is in mood, in gestures, tones, themes, and sensibilities. Those looking for intellectual or historic depth may be left disappointed, because this is a film at its best when playful and silly. That is not to say the film is without meaning and importance (or focus). The film distances the viewer from the past and period drama through modern effects (such as the unexpectedly non-distracting new wave music, or the removing of language and accents), Coppola ultimately captures an emotional truth. At its core this modernized approach expresses the playful spirit of a young woman's emotional and physical state. A dreamlike world of being entrapped into an unfamiliar environment of loneliness, and the longing for teenage freedom and possession (as well as rebellion). Often dialogue is never needed here. Through dazzling visuals, set designs, costumes, and makeup Marie Antoinette pitch-perfectly evokes this emotional expression (of which is clearly very personal to Coppola as a filmmaker, who can certainly make some parallels). Based on a sympathetic biography of Maria Antoinette, Coppola is deeply compassionate towards her. Ultimately this is a film of Coppola's key expression, which is that of a lonely, imprisoned girl who retreats to her own private world of imagination but is destroyed by the uncontrollable desires within (being a young woman). Essentially Coppola is presenting this film as a dreamlike fantasy world through Marie Antoinette's own imagination as she grows from a teenager to a woman. This is why Coppola films the final moments of Marie Antoinette as she does. While on a narrative level it may be flawed, I find her ending perfectly fitting and the final shot a beautifully expressive and essential image that defines the emotional and physical state the character. See this film - TURN IT UP LOUD and let the cinematic expirence take you away!!


2005… The Ballad of Jack and Rose
Directed by Rebecca Miller, United States
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0357110

Not everything works in this film but The Ballad of Jack and Rose is thoughtful and very touching. Its the third film from Rebecca Miller, daughter of playwright Arthur Miller, and here she casts her husband Daniel-Day Lewis as the father of an isolated and confused 16-year-old daughter (played by Camilla Belle). The outstanding performances from Lewis and Belle really make this such an engaging film, and Miller makes great use of location and music (as well as time, which is reflective within the core narrative of the story).


2004Sahara
Directed by Naomi Kawase, Japan

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0363060

Naomi Kawase's astonishing 2003 film Shara is a truly great cinematic experience. Indeed to see this film is experience it - both in the way that it is detached yet intimate all at once. The film features a prominent use of handheld camera work and long handheld tracking shots as early as the visually atmospheric opening scene. These long lingering shots and camera movements heighten the atmosphere and feeling of the film to give it a rare energy that the narrative can not provide. Kawase has a very unique and personal approach to filmmaking often blending autobiography, documentary and fiction as one. Shara is set in Kawase's hometown of Nara (Japan's capital city in the 8th and 9th centuries) tells the story of family loss when a twin brother suddenly disappears one summer day. This film is one of grieving. The healing arrives in a devastating nearly 10-minute dance sequence that seems both improvised yet carefully composed. Either way it is full of energy and carries with it a touching emotion despite its simplicity. Kawase has created a marvelously unforgettable moment of cinematic rhythm and emotion. Shara, like many of Kawase's films, rings emotional and stylistic truth. While I would say there is an experimentalist approach, this is not a film made out of a plot or a genre, but rather one of people and emotions.


2003Thirteen
Directed by Catherine Hardwicke, United States
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0328538

Where Larry Clark's exploitation films of troubled kids fails is where this one succeeds to me. Both go for a sense of realism but what transcends Thirteen is expressed in the small quiet moments behind the "shock". The film finds a truth in the way it details the young girls possession of their own body, as well as the mothers struggle to find the balance between being a best friend or a mother. All this comes to a powerful conclusion in the films heartfelt final moments shared with mother and daughter, finally finding the deep connection needed (through a simple gesture of just holding one another). Credit to the films outstanding performances: Holly Hunter (as the mother), Evan Rachel Wood as the daughter, and Nikki Reed (who co-wrote the film when she was 13 years old) as the friend. Thirteen is an honest film that expresses alot of internal emotions (capped off beautifully in a final freeze frame shot that recalls the way Francois Truffaut masterfully expressed the adolescent of the young male in the classic 400 Blows). A great film!


2002Trouble Every Day
Directed by Claire Denis, France

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0204700

With a masterful career of films noted for their eroticism and meditative use of colors, sounds, textures, it is perhaps surprising that Trouble Every Day might be the most defining of its filmmaker. Here Denis adopts gene elements to find her trademark cinematic expressions of the human flesh and of blending or contrasting the brutally wicked with the hopefully joyous. The result is one of the most seductive, disturbing and hypnotic films of the last 20 years. It has gone on to be recognized as one of the early films of the New French Extremity, but that is hardly Denis' aim, making this part of the reason its such a fascinating achievement. Above all Trouble Every Day succeeds as a spiritual meditation on the damage of lust and the chaos stimulated by sexual feelings - all made with the slow poetic touch of a master filmmaker.


2001Take Care of My Cat
Directed by Jeong Jae-eun, South Korea

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0296658/

Take Care of My Cat opens with a group of five young friends celebrating their graduation. Within a moment we are taken out of this joyful celebration of youth and into the world of early adulthood. A world that grows far more complex and ultimately begins to divide friendship. Take Care of My Cat is an emotionally captivating film that takes on many layers despite being made with a master touch of simplicity. What could have been forceful or melodrama, becomes something beautiful and natural through the minimalist approach by Korean filmmaker Jeong Jae-eun, in his debut feature film. The emotions, expressions, and layers of the film are not explained, but rather they speak for themselves in a way that recalls the mastery of Yasujiro Ozu. The film is simplistic in that it does not rely on plot, yet there is a complexly structured depth to the film that allows the viewer to reflect upon and appreciate afterwards. We understand these characters experiences and we share in their humanity. The performances by the five women are each excellent, but it is Bae Doo-Na that is especially great. As Tae-hee, Bae finds herself alone and alienated from love and from family, always drifting into private thought. It is her friends that give her the connection and support she needs and Tae-hee struggles to reunite two of the friends that are drifting from each other (Hae-joo, an ambitious career-woman who’s moved to Seoul and Ji-young, a depressed orphan living in a broken down shack with her grandparents). Within the lives of these five woman is the cat Tee Tee who was found in an alley by Ji-young. Tee Tee moves through the hands of each character, becoming a reflection of their lives. Another minimalist expression of the film is the recurring use of cell phones and text messages, which serve to attempt to connect the friendship as it slowly drifts further apart. The cinematography of Take Care of My Cat is extraordinary, specifically in the way (without being forcefully “pretty”) it captures beauty and sadness in the most authentic manner. Take Care of My Cat is just a lovely film. I can not praise it enough except to say it is perfect and one of my favorite films!


2000The Gleaners & I
Directed by Agnes Varda, France

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0247380

The Gleaners & I is a wonderful and poetic documentary from the uniquely talented French filmmaker Agnes Varda. Not only does Varda capture gleaners, but she is more focused on blending in those connected to gleaners, and even adds personal touches of aging, and cinema. What else would you expect from this imaginative and visionary French New Wave filmmaker! Varda takes the subject and manages to make this rather standard documentary something rare and important. Ultimately the film becomes more personal, and experimenting and even examinations the role of the filmmaker. The Gleaners & I also manages to be a film that speaks politically as it essentially represents personal individuality amongst a society of conformity and expectations. It's pretty amazing how many levels such a simple film like this has and Varda should be applauded. The Gleaners & I is equally moving, interesting, poetic, and fun.


1999… Yukie
Directed by Hisako Matsui, Japan

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0247713/

Not a masterpiece by any means, but Yukie is deeply effected for the levels its aims to reach. Its a deeply touching romance about an American Korean War veteran (played by Bo Swenson) and his love for a Japanese nurse (Yukie, played by Mitsuko Baisho). They marry despite family forbidding. The film ultimately explores the effects of Alzheimer's disease on a marriage and a family.


1998… High Art
Directed by Lisa Cholodenko, United States

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0139362/

Lisa Cholodenko's 1998 debut feature High Art showcases her terrific gifts in finding truth in the characters and the performances. Of course I think she reached her filmmaking peak with expressing this gift in the family dynamic on her 2010 film The Kids Are All Right. But High Art is superb in the way its expresses characters and their feelings, not always settling for simple answers or plot points. Those looking for flawless structure and plotlines will be left with mixed feelings as this is centered around confused character emotions.


1997Oscar and Lucinda
Directed by Gillian Armstrong, Australia

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119843/

Oscar and Lucinda is a charming period epic set in early colonial Australia centered around the connection of an English priest (played by Ralph Fiennes) and the owner of a Sydney glassworks (played by the great Cate Blanchett in her first major screen performance), both of whom share a love for gambling. The films charm and wit comes from the quirky chemistry of its excellent leads. The film offers up lots of thoughts and ideas and uses significant visual symbols as symbols to express these ideas.