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Erik At The Movies: Directed By Women


Women constitute just over half of the global population, but they have historically been oppressed, only gaining basic human rights such as suffrage in the last century. While there is a rich history of female performances dating back to the earliest days of cinema, women have historically been excluded from jobs behind the camera. In honor of women’s history month, I have created a list of 12 notable movies that were directed by women. My thoughts on them are down below, so please enjoy!

The Hurt Locker (2008) =The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug.” This is actually the first movie to have been directed by a woman to have won Best Picture. It was helmed by Kathryn Bigelow, who previously directed Point Break, and became the first woman to also win the Oscar for Best Director (defeating her ex husband James Cameron for Avatar in the process). While the Iraq War may have been a pointless conflict, the movie manages to show how our soldiers who bled and died for our country still fought for something. It follows a bomb disposal tech played by Jeremy Renner during his deployment in Iraq. The film utilizes very tense and frenetic handheld camera work, and the bomb disposal scenes had me on the edge of my seat. However, the film also has a lot to say about how we treat our veterans. They are completely unprepared to reenter society, and the government does nothing. A well made film that deserved its win. 8/10.
The Hurt Locker is currently streaming on Apple TV+.

Lady Bird (2017) =Anyone who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento.” Greta Gerwig is one of the most successful female directors of all time. While her most popular film, Barbie, came out just last year, I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at her debut feature to see how much she has grown as a filmmaker. Set in Sacramento in 2002, we follow Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (played by Siorse Ronan), a high school senior who often quarrels with her mother (played by Laurie Metcalf). While the pacing may be slow, it enables Gerwig to explore the full depth of her characters and let them interact with very witty retorts. The film was nominated for Best Picture, and Best Director, and it’s not hard to see why. Even though her later works are far superior, this was still an enjoyable look into her evolution as an artist. 7/10.
Lady Bird is currently streaming free on Kanopy.

Little Women (2019) =Life is too short to be angry at one’s sisters.” This is the most recent adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s iconic novel, and it was helmed by Greta Gerwig. The story follows the four sisters of the March family: Jo, Amy, Meg, and Beth, as they go through their teenage years and enter into adulthood. They meet and interact with their neighbor Laurie, who becomes extremely close with Jo. Later, it shows everyone as adults, and Jo’s attempts to get her novel published. The production design and costumes were both excellent, and really captured the Civil War era period that the film was set in quite well. The film was nominated for Best Picture, but ultimately lost to Parasite / 기생충. If you are at all interested in seeing this amazing movie, I highly recommend it. 10/10.
-Little Women is available for purchase and rental on demand.

Portrait Of A Lady On Fire / Portrait de la jeune fille en feu (2019) (FR) =Do all lovers feel like they’re inventing something?” This is one of those rare movies that really understands the power of images. To not simply create them on screen, but to fundamentally delve into how fleeting, beautiful, and important they truly are. The story follows a painter named Marianne, who is commissioned to paint a portrait of a young woman Héloïse, who is to be sold and married off to a Milanese gentleman. Because of Héloïse’s reluctance to marry, and a possibility for her suicide, Marianne must create this portrait in secret, with nothing but fleeting glances. However, the two soon become quite close, and fall in love. They both know that their romance is forbidden, but for a brief moment, they are at least whole. I do not wish to go into anymore spoilers for the plot, as this is a film that truly deserves to be watched blind. A true masterpiece. 10/10. –Portrait Of A Lady On Fire is available from the Criterion Collection, and currently streaming on Hulu.

City Of God / Cidade De Deus (2002) (BR) =If you run, the beast catches you; if you stay, the beast eats you.” Coming from the slums of Rio de Janeiro, this Brazilian crime drama has been hailed as one of the greatest films of all time. The story follows the growth of organized crime in the “City Of God” favela, and how a gangster named Li’l Zé managed to monopolize violence and expand his drug empire. Then, we learn about an aspiring photographer named Buscepé who becomes involved with Li’l Zé and is forced to make a difficult decision on whether to leak photographs to the press and gain fame or guarantee his continued well being. The film was actually co-directed by a woman named Kátia Lund, and there was a large controversy when The Academy nominated her male counterpart, Fernando Mierelles, for Best Director but ignored her. They both did an incredible job, with their direction having an absolutely frantic yes calculated pace. The use of extreme violence is thankfully not glamorized, and showing the true human cost of gang warfare, and the fact that it was adapted from a true story makes this all the more haunting. 9/10.
City Of God is currently streaming on Showtime.
P.S. I normally don’t feel the need to provide this warning, but there is a scene of a rave that may be an epileptic trigger. You have been warned.

Nomadland (2020) =One of the things I love most about this life is that there’s no final goodbye. You know, I’ve met hundreds of people out here and I don’t ever say a final goodbye. I always just say, “I’ll see you down the road.” And I do.” Due to the pandemic, most of the movies planned for release in 2020 were delayed to the following year, which somehow let this painfully bland film walk away with the award for Best Picture. The director, Chloé Zhào (who would later direct Eternals) did a fine job, but her direction did not strike me as being worthy of an Academy Award. This is a very artsy film with beautiful cinematography and direction but it ended up falling flat. There is literally no plot and it feels like a collection of pretty scenes. Most of the people in the film were actual nomads, which explains their naturalistic but engaging performances. So, a fine film that just isn’t for me. 5/10.
Nomadland is currently streaming on Hulu.

The Matrix (1999) =This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” When discussing The best years in film, the year 1999 always shows up. Possibly due to the Y2K scare and a general sense of anxiety going into the new millennium, the films made in this year capture a very specific sense of unease. Whether it is Office Space, Being John Malkovich, The Sixth Sense, The Green Mile, American Beauty, Eyes Wide Shut, or Fight Club, you will always feel this existential disconnect permeating every scene. But The Matrix is arguably the greatest example of this, depicting a hellish future where humanity is enslaved by machines and used for battery power. The film is extremely relevant in pop culture, with the famous red-pill scene, the quote “there is no spoon”, and bullet time all becoming iconic. While the film’s various sequels may not be up to the same quality as the original, I still thoroughly enjoyed The Matrix, and I recommend it. 8/10.
The Matrix is currently streaming on Max.

American Psycho (2000) (US/CA) =There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman; some kind of abstraction. But there is no real me: only an entity, something illusory. And though I can hide my cold gaze, and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable… I simply am not there.” I was very surprised to learn that this movie, which is championed by ‘film-bros’ as an example of peak ‘sigma-masculinity’, was directed by a woman. However, the more I think about it the more this movie makes sense. The story follows a yuppie named Patrick Bateman (played by Christian Bale) who deals in mergers and acquisitions at Pierce & Pierce along with his many other colleagues. He is mentally unstable and proceeds to kill Paul Allen (played by Jared Leto) in his apartment. While many men who enjoy this film focus on the superficial aspects of the financial success and ultra violence that Patrick Bateman experiences, the whole narrative is actually a rather genius parody of consumer culture and hyper masculinity. The director Mary Heron purposely cast Christian Bale because he was the only actor who viewed the movie as ridiculous. When viewed from the correct lens, the film becomes both a lot more meaningful, and far more hilarious. The famous business card scene and the death of Paul Allen are both supremely hilarious, and demonstrate how pathetic everyone in the movie is. For anyone who has not seen this film yet, I highly recommend it. 9/10.
American Psycho is currently streaming on Peacock.

Lost In Translation /『ロスト・イン・トランスレーション』(2003 / 平成十五年) (US/UK/日本) =For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.” Sofia Coppola is a failed actress and the epitome of Hollywood nepotism, she is also a fantastic visionary and filmmaker which proves that nepotism is sometimes justified. While her debut feature The Virgin Suicides received great critical acclaim, it took her next film, Lost In Translation, to break into the mainstream. The story follows a washed up actor named Bob Harris (played by Bill Murray) who flies to Tōkyō to film a whisky commercial, and a lonely woman named Christine (played by Scarlet Johansson). They meet and bond over their shared sense of loneliness and alienation, and become close friends. While the movie derives almost all of its humor from Japanese stereotypes and gives almost no time countering these racist myths, the film doesn’t aim to be malicious, and instead presents these for shock value and to create a sense of “other”. However, it is impossible to refute that the film has aged quite poorly, so keep that in mind if you decide to watch the movie. The writing, despite these issues, is still fantastic, and it absolutely deserved its well earned Oscar. 8/10.
Lost In Translation is currently streaming on Peacock.

Marie Antoinette (2006) (US/FR/日本) =I think perceived austerity must be encouraged; but, I’m afraid the Queen has a somewhat artistic temperament which needs nourishing.” After the success of her previous film, Lost In Translation, Sofia Coppola decided to turn her attention toward one of the most famous women in history: Marie Antoinette. It depicts her life in the palace of Versailles and her marriage to King Louis XV of France, and their long struggle to produce an heir. The film paints her in a very sympathetic light, and has been criticized for not properly highlighting the excesses of the French monarchy. However, where the movie really shines is in its juxtaposition of the lavish period setting, and its punk soundtrack. It really gives the film a modern edge that most other period pieces lack. The main inspirations for the look of the film were Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon and Miloš Foreman’s Amadeus, which are some of my personal favorites. A very enjoyable work. 9/10.
Marie Antoinette is available for purchase and rental on demand.

The Piano / Te Piana (1993) (NZ/AU/FR) =There is a silence where hath been no sound. There is a silence for no sound may be in the cold grave, under the deep deep sea.” Jane Campion is one of the few women to have ever won the Academy Award for Best Director, doing so in 2021 for The Power Of The Dog, but that was the culmination of a long and successful career. Her most acclaimed and successful film is The Piano, a historical drama following a mute woman named Ada (played by Holly Hunter) and her daughter (played by Anna Paquin) who move from Scotland to New Zealand when they are married off to a cruel landowner (played by Sam Neill). Ada mostly keeps to herself, except for when she plays her piano, but her husband trades the piano away to a retired sailor named George (played by Harvey Keitel) in exchange for some stolen Māori land. George is willing to let Ada play her piano, in exchange for some lessons, and they soon fall in love. The film was actually quite successful at the Oscars, winning both Actress awards and for its Screenplay. It was also nominated for Best Picture, but lost to Schindler’s List, which was the right choice. Still, this is a true masterpiece. 10/10.
The Piano is available from the Criterion Collection.

Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975) (BE/FR) = I normally consider one of the worst things a film can be is boring. If a movie is either a transcendent masterpiece or an abomination that should be wiped from the face of the earth, it has at least successfully engaged your emotions. To be boring is to disengage the audience, causing them to immediately forget what they just saw and move on with their lives. But this film is that one exception, purposely using boredom and repetition to not just engage, but enthrall the audience. The movie follows a widowed Belgian housewife named Jeane Dielman who lives at 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 in Brussels. She spends her days doing mundane tasks like cooking, cleaning, running errands, and engaging in sex work in order to make ends meet for her family. This process then repeats itself for 3 days, letting you notice each and every deviation from her routine, and it is riveting. By highlighting the mundanity and boredom of everyday life, Chantal Akerman is able to shine a light on how society expects women to behave, subservient to man and forced to solve his every little problem. The film has been called one of the greatest of all time, and topped the prestigious Sight and Sound poll in 2022. While the 31⁄2 hour runtime acts as a very strong deterrent, the film more than deserves your attention for managing to capture something that is all too real to so many women across the globe. Please (if you have one), tell your mother that you love and appreciate her, they work so hard. 9/10.
Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles is available from the Criterion Collection, and is currently streaming on Max.

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Erik Larson
Erik Larson, Staff Writer
Hello! My name is Erik Larson and I am currently a staff writer at The Ville who specializes in reviewing the latest and greatest in film. In the words of game director Hideo Kojima: “70% of my body is made of movies.” You can find more of my movie reviews here at my Letterboxd: https://boxd.it/4N1v5

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