100 Films Made By Women – Part One

And so it begins. One hundred films directed by women. We’ve come a long way to get here, so listen up film industry, with the help of some truly movie-loving friends, this is how to shine the light on the female filmmaking talent out there. Not difficult at all. You are simply not looking hard enough, these women scream loud, stand tall, and you will find they are making / have made better, more important movies than a lot of the mediocre you are fed. A hundred is a very small number by the way, we’ve missed a hundred more here, a hundred more there, another hundred who knows where. These 100 Films Made By Women (in 10 parts) might not be the all-time greatest films that women have directed, might not be Oscar winners, or being talked about in coffee shops – but every single one is essential. Here is your starter for 10:

Obvious Child (2014) – Gillian Robespierre — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

There are no fewer that four women writers involved here – give or take a short film or story credit here or there (Gillian Robespierre, Karen Maine, Anna Bean, Elisabeth Holm). And the film itself is about a woman – the magnetic and naturally funny Jenny Slate, who plays Donna, a young woman not afraid to speak her mind (unapologetic in her stand-up routines), but is at a loose end cross road in her life. Spontaneous fun and frolics with a rather nice, homely, young man resulting in accidental pregnancy might be the last thing she needs. Oops. The ensuing dilemma facing Donna is handled with remarkable assurance, balancing some emotive moments with plenty of awkward, genuine comedy. At the helm of Obvious Child, Gillian Robespierre whizzes the narrative along, taking it in a direction you might not have anticipated. Her vision is straight forward and effectively snappy, so much so the movie (at less than ninety minutes) is over before you know it. Short and sweet this is, even with some delicate adult issues. The final scene is reassuringly tender, a kind of wake-up call that romantic bonds can perhaps flourish from the seemingly hopeless, tougher decisions we have to make in this life.

Near Dark (1987) – Kathryn Bigelow –— Marshall Flores @IPreferPi314

The 80s had its share of vampire films, e.g. The Hunger, The Lost Boys, and Fright Night. For me, however, one film stands out among its many fanged brethren of that decade: Near Dark. Long before she became the first woman to win a Best Director Oscar, Kathyrn Bigelow crafted a stylish thriller that blends vampires and westerns into a potent, often bloody cinematic cocktail. Near Dark centers on roving clan of vampire drifters (chief among them Bill Paxton, Lance Henrikson, and Jeanette Goldstein – all borrowed from Bigelow’s then-husband James Cameron’s Aliens), and their reluctant new addition Caleb (Adrian Pasdar), who must choose between his love for vampire beauty Mae (Jenny Wright) and keeping his humanity. Exquisitely shot by cinematographer Adam Greenberg, Near Dark has a lush, phantasmal texture on screen, which is then married to an equally beautiful, hypnotic soundscape of a score by Tangerine Dream. Bigelow paces the film thoughtfully, allowing her ensemble to shine with solidly sympathetic performances. That said, Bigelow pulls no punches with displaying violent vampire mayhem as needed – the infamous bar massacre scene remains one of the most intense, “finger-lickin’ good” sequences in Bigelow’s entire film repertoire. Near Dark is an underrated vampire classic — an essential viewing that demonstrates the rare, cinematic talent that Kathryn Bigelow has exhibited since the beginning of her career.

Somersault (2004) – Cate Shortland —— Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

Somersault crash landed into my line of sight when I saw it won a record 13 of it’s 15 Australian Film Institute Awards. Produced by Jan Chapman (Best Picture Oscar nominee for The Piano), the low-key, magnetic little gem is directed by Cate Shortland, from her own screenplay. Leaving her home and taking to the road to be quickly faced with her own promiscuity and vulnerabilities, teenager Heidi (Abbie Cornish, a star was born right here) soon meets Joe (Sam Worthington, the Avatar guy), who has not quite decided his own sexual preference. Shortland allows us to trek the isolated girl, both by foot and emotion, wondering where they’ll take us or how we’ll end up feeling. Not much is resolved in Heidi’s life by the end, her sexual escapades and impulsive judgment may have caused quite a bit of friction with others, but have also somehow redeemed a part of her. Her own revelations about her feelings towards the troubled past goes a long way to offer Heidi some real hope for the future, not at all unhindered by a fragile, illuminating performance from Cornish.

The House is Black (1963) – Forough Farrokhzad — Asif Khan @KHAN2705

“I said, if I had wings of a dove I would fly away and be at rest. I would go far away and take refuge in the desert. I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest. For I have seen misery and wickedness on Earth.” The feminist and modernist Iranian poet Forough Farrokhzad died in 1967 at the age of 32 in a car accident. She only made one film in her life, a short documentary about life inside a leper colony. Arguably the greatest Iranian film, this is a cinematic essay that shows the inherent and true beauty where it’s not believed to exist. People with leprosy live miserable existence undoubtedly, it’s a horrible condition that isolates individuals from other human beings, including their own families. Yet in this miracle of a film, an iconic a powerful statement of the utmost kind, Farrokhzad focuses on the similarities. Similarity of existence, of life and creation. It uses verses from Old Testament, the Quran and Farrokhzad’s own poetry juxtaposed to incredibly edited and photographed footage. The result as I mentioned is nothing less than a miracle, a merger of poetry and cinema unlike any. A stunning depiction of the inner most human beauty, resilience and ordinary emotions in an extraordinary way.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) – Amy Heckerling — Al Robinson @Al_Rob_1982

Every year, several hundred films are produced and released. The majority of them are directed by men. But a few of them are directed by women, and one such film is 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High. It was directed by Amy Heckerling, who is also known for European Vacation, Look Who’s Talking, and Clueless. The film was also written by a young and unknown writer-director named Cameron Crowe. Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a simple story that follows a year in the life of several students who deal with mundane, and sometimes not-so mundane issues. Its main characters are the traditional type of people you knew in high school – the cool guy, the cool girl, the wanna-be cool girl, the hipster, the geek, and the stoner. That stoner is played by an unforgettable Sean Penn, who I think steals the movie. Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a great mix of comedy meets drama that never feels too strong in either direction. The thing that ultimately makes this film work so well is that director Heckerling took Crowe’s script about these ordinary young lives, and made them interesting and fun to watch.

Thirteen (2003) – Catherine Hardwicke —– Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

Many years before Catherine Hardwicke and Nikki Reed worked together on Twilight, having known each other since Reed was knee high to a grasshopper, they ventured together on a screenplay that would far exceed their future projects. At least that’s what I think. Thirteen tackles the brutal truth of irrational, transforming teenage girls not afraid of trouble or breaking the rules. Directing the screenplay in a similarly fractious way, Hardwicke executes a compelling and frantic chunk of teenage life before our eyes. She never shies away from the more delicate issues of self-harm, hostilities towards parents, drug use, sex, and Hardwicke drags you around the turmoil and adventures like you have no choice. The movie also packs a punch with jittering camera and editing, a ferociously appropriate soundtrack, and some terrific acting. The real cherry on the top being Evan Rachel Wood, unleashing everything she has to show the rough edges of pleasure and pain teenagers believe they have. Hardwicke’s super-angsty, fragile teenagers here turned inside out are far more alarming and engrossing than her subsequent, flimsy young vampires ever were.

Titus (1999) – Julie Taymor — Steve Schweighofer @banjoonthecrag

Julie Taymor’s love of the theatrical is well-known, for better or worse, so when she takes on one of Shakespeare’s least popular and bleak plays, Titus Andronicus, she manages to inject it with considerable glee. On the page, the play is text-heavy and dark – if ever there was a Shakespeare work in need of modern subtitles, Titus Andronicus is it – but by way of Taymor’s considerable skill with visuals and movement, it becomes almost playful Grand Guignol fare of the sort that has entertained audiences from medieval puppetry smackdowns to Saw. Great, go-for-broke performances by Anthony Hopkins in the title role that would appall Sweeny Todd, and, especially, Jessica Lange as Tamora, the very horny Queen of the Goths. Sex, violence, vivisection, nudity, torture and cannibalism – all set in iambic pentameter with choreographed marching, jaw-dropping sets and costumes, and imagination sequences only Julie Taymor could come up with. Will Shakespeare knew how to please the cheap seats 16th Century horror fans; this time around, though, it’s Taymor who turns it into art.

Citizenfour (2014) – Laura Poitras — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

You kind of pay attention when intelligence agencies, and the National Security Agency (NSA), are revealed to be taking part in some rather unethical practices. Like it or not, this kind of effectual citing is like glue to the mind. Citizenfour dives straight into this, a documentary taking large chunks of it’s time in an interview far off in Hong Kong with a so-called whistle-blower for the time being shutting himself away from the world – including his nearest and dearest. Why? He has information about the whole access to information scandal that would land him in hot water too. Am I saying too much? Journalist Glenn Greenwald is at the center of reporting this back out to the world, a task I could have perhaps admired much more were I not still haunted by his more abstract and damaging involvement in the Zero Dark Thirty torture mud-throwing. Regardless, Citizenfour does have it’s fair share of blatant manipulative angles, as do many documentaries, but it is hard not to be compelled and intrigued by the direct involvement of director Laura Poitras and Edward Snowden, behind and in front of the camera respectively. It unravels quickly into something relevant, something worthy of attention, whichever side of the fence you sit.

Rosa Luxemburg (1986) – Margarethe von Trotta —  Paddy Mulholland @screenonscreen

Film lovers, historians and liberals could do far, far worse than to seek out the works of German writer / director Margarethe von Trotta, in particular a string of classics produced by the filmmaker in the 1980s, all of them desperately under-sung. One of several memorable collaborations with the iconic Barbara Sukowa is Rosa Luxemburg, an appropriately vivid, vital account of the work of the titular character in the early 20th Century. von Trotta’s film is politically acute, historically aware and both philosophically and psychologically sensitive, and Sukowa’s performance is characterized by a subdued radiance, a conviction that perfectly matches that of her extraordinary subject. It’s engaging enough to appeal to those not exactly jumping for joy at the prospect of sitting through a political biopic, and well-made enough to appeal to those on the right of the political spectrum also. An excellent, under-appreciated film from an equally excellent, under-appreciated filmmaker.

Waitress (2007) – Adrienne Shelly — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

Way, way too soon did the world lose the wonderful Adrienne Shelly in 2006, the very thought of which still stings with me. A heart-breakingly glowing screen presence (she famously had that poise in Hal Hartley’s terrific early work The Unbelievable Truth and Trust), Shelly also dabbled in writing and directing. Released just months after her untimely death, Shelly penned and directed Waitress, which took a bittersweet, funny, but also blunt, honest view of marital dysfunction. Primarily this appears to be a profitable platform for the splendid Keri Russell, as the pregnant pie baker of the title – a central performance so good, balancing the struggles of a crap marriage and a fat belly, with the red-faced blossom of new romance and ultimately a potential way out. Shelly was clearly capable of blending the reality of life and its lessons in her writing and directing, jumping back and forth between both sides of the drama / comedy wall. In a far quirkier subplot, Shelly cast herself as another waitress Dawn, and shines like she always does without stealing Russell’s thunder. Oh how I wished we could experience more of what you do, Adrienne – you are missed dearly.

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