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  • Writer's pictureEllen Cheshire

A - Z of films Directed by Women

Updated: May 5, 2023

Following on from May's #30DayFilmChallenge where I enjoyed revisiting films in my collection which I'd not watched in some time, in June I gave myself another film watching challenge #AlphabetFilm.

In June each day I would watch films beginning with a letter of the alphabet, to make it doubly-fun/challenging one of them was to be a directed by a woman. Finding films directed by chaps in my collection was easy, for those directed by women many where new to me.

Between 1 - 26 June I watched 31 films #directedbywomen, 20 first-time watches. You can look at the full list of films I watched as part of my #AlphabetFilm month on my letterboxd.

Away From Her (2006, Sarah Polley). Fiona (Julie Christie) has developed Alzheimers and her husband (Gordon Pinsent) has put her in a home, but is struggling with his loss and her new friendships. Be prepared to have your heartbroken a million times. Outstanding screenpplay (adapted from Alice Munro's short story "The Bear Came Over the Mountain") and direction by Polley in her feature film debut.

Beaches (2017, Allison Anders). Made for TV remake of 1988 weepie, still works well as a film about female friendship. Idina Menzel fans will love it, as loads of songs from Yiddish to show tunes + Wind Beneath My Wings! Nia Long excellent in the less showy but tragic role.

La Cigarette (1919, Germaine Dulac). A museum Curator suspects that his much younger wife is having an affair & plans an elaborate suicide mirroring ones he has unearthed for his ancient Egyptian exhibition. Well made romantic melodrama with two good central performances.

Daughters of the Dust (1991, Julie Dash) This is why film matters. Gives us a window into a world 100+ yrs ago/1000s of miles away. “Witnessing” 3 generations of Gullah women living on St Helena Island, South Carolina at a time when some of them decide to leave. Beautiful/authentic.

Euphoria (2017, Lisa Langseth). This is the Swedish director’s English language debut which perhaps explains the awkward exchanges between the sisters (Eva Green and Alicia Vikander), staff (Charlotte Rampling and Adrian Lester) & other residents (Charles Dance) at this end of life clinic.

The Father of My Children (2009, Mia Hansen-Løve). As 'Que Será, Será' plays out over the end credits you realise that the film could have taken any turn at the mid-way point as the family unit built up over the first half, are sent reeling my a single act by the 'Father'. Great.

Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami (2018, Sophie Fiennes) Filmed over 10 years but not presented in chronological order or with any clear narrative. Just allows you to wallow in the rich material, from stunning stage performances to the humdrum of the life on the road. A wild ride!

Honey Boy (2019, Alma Har'el) Screenplay by Shia LaBeouf which he wrote whilst in rehab, about his childhood with his father. If only half of what is in the film is what LaBeouf experienced you can see why he’d end up in rehab. Shia LaBeouf plays his father who’s exploiting/abusing/challenging him.

I Feel Pretty (2018, Abby Kohn/Marc Silverstein). Renee (Amy Schumer) struggles from low self-esteem, working for a make-up company doesn't help. Believing a wish to be beautiful was granted she transforms & achieves career&romance goals. Its intentions were good but didn’t work for me.

The Jane Austen Book Club (2007, Robin Swicord), from Karen Joy Fowler’s novel about the changing dynamics of a group of six who meet monthly to discuss Jane Austen’s six novels. Their romantic up and downs and characteristics have some mirroring to Austen’s originals. Pleasant enough, just what you expect/want.

K-12 (2019, Melanie Martinez). The film written, directed and starring Melanie Martinez is a companion piece to her 2nd album, Martinez plays Cry Baby the character from her 1st album. An ambitious project. The film is weak on plot/character but has a strong dream-like fairytale aesthetic and musical numbers well executed.

Little Miss Sunshine (2006, Jonathan Dayton/Valerie Faris) When Olive (Abigail Breslin) enters a beauty pageant her family make a road trip to get her there. Fab cast (Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Paul Dano, Alan Arkin) playing fully rounded characters. Funny and touching.

Michael (1996, Nora Ephron). Tabloid editor (Bob Hoskins) wants a big Christmas story, so when reporters (William Hurt and Robert Pastorelli) hear rumours that the Archangel Michael (John Travolta) is on Earth they are sent with a new recruit (Andie MacDowell) to investigate. Has a certain charm.

Madness of the Dance (2006, Carol Morley) A hypnotic stylish short in which Maxine Peake reveals different cases of mass hysteria throughout history. A number of them feature groups of teenage girls, a topic Morley returns to in The Falling (2014). (Watched this as part of a group watching day of all of Carol Morley's film, see twitter #MorleyMarathon)

A New Leaf (1971, Elaine May) Elaine May stars as Henrietta a multi-millionaire botanist who is wooed by Henry (Walter Matthau) a selfish playboy who has burnt through his millions. One of the better black comedies featuring a husband daydreaming about how to bump off his wife! Perhaps due to Elaine May wrote it too!

Near Dark (1987, Kathryn Bigelow). Stylish vampire-western-romance filled with horror, humour & love. Sexy vampire (Jenny Wright) turns farmboy (Adrian Pasdar) but his family are reluctant to see him go, as are the vampire gang led by Jesse (Lance Henriksen) he has just joined. Bill Paxton steals the show!

Out of Blue (2019, Carol Morley) A detective mystery with a metaphysical twist as Det. Hoolihan (Patricia Clarkson) is called in to investigate the death of astrophysicist (Mamie Gummer) which seems to have links to a series of historical murders & also triggers memories from her own past. Mesmeric. (Didn't get to watch it on the #MorleyMarathon day)

Prevenge (2016, Alice Lowe). Written by Alice Lowe, who was seven months pregnant when the film was shot. Lowe's directorial debut is a black comedy horror which turns the slasher movie genre on its head. But also has much to say about depictions of maternity in cinema.

Queen & Slim (2019, Melina Matsoukas) The incredibly charismatic Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith star in this devastating road movie which sees them on the run after they accidentally kill a cop. Stylishly shot + great soundtrack. Emotionally impactful.

Red Riding Hood (2011, Catherine Hardwicke). A medieval village has been plagued by a werewolf. They've been keeping themselves safe by sacrificing their livestock. When there's a sudden spate of killings, suspicions turn in on the villagers. Cast working hard, but material poor.

Sleepless in Seattle (1993, Nora Ephron) For most of the film 'the romcom couple' - widower Sam (Tom Hanks) and unhappily engaged Annie (Meg Ryan) are kept apart, so the witty banter comes via his son and their friends. Plays against, into and with the conventions of rom-coms.

Soundtrack to Sixteen (2019, HillaryShakespeare) who co-wrote this debut feature with her sister Anna Elizabeth Shakespeare (who also produced the film). With their A Levels only a few months away friends Maisy (Scarlett Marshall) and Ben (James Calloway) attempt to combine study and romance. Really rather sweet/charming London-set coming of age comedy.

Trouble the Water (2008, Tia Lessin and Carl Deal). At the height of Hurricane Katrina, Scott and Kimberley filmed their experiences. Two weeks later they return with a small film crew to document their changed neighbourhood and their attempts to rebuild their lives over the next few months.

Unforgettable (2017, DeniseDiNovi). An erotic thriller starring Katherine Heigl as a vindictive first wife who gaslights her ex-husband’s fiancée (Rosario Dawson). It needed to be either better or worse to be really good fun; sadly, it's just rather forgettable.

Viceroy’s House (2017, Gurindar Chadha) India 1947. Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville) arrives with his family, to oversee what he hopes will be the country's peaceful transition from British rule to independence. But finds himself instead overseeing a devastating partition, with far reaching consequences. Important history, well told.

The Wayward Girl (1959, Edith Carlmar) 17 year old Gerd (Liv Ullmann in her film acting debut) has a rather damaged reputation in her small town, but this doesn’t stop Anders from stealing his disapproving parents’ car so they can go away together. But their break isn't all they hoped. Gripping Norwegian thriller, ScandiNoiir before there was ScandiNoir.

With This Ring (2015, Nzingha Stewart). Three friends (Regina Hall, Jill Scott and Eve) make a vow that they are going to get married or engaged within the year. This vow gets in the way of friendships/work and sees them make rash decisions. High points include the inevitable bad-date montage, but does end with all conforming to societies expectations of what makes a woman's life complete.

XXY (2007, Lucía Puenzo). 15 year old Alex (Inés Efron) is an intersex person living as a girl, with her parents in remote Uruguay. When another family, with a teen son, come to stay it awakens Alex's sexuality-causing confusion/self-examination. Sensitive & authentic. Recommended.

Yentl (1983, Barbra Streisand). It’s 1904 Eastern Europe and all Yentl wants to do is study. But it’s prohibited for women, so she disguises herself as a man. Things get complicated when she falls in love with Avigdor (Mandy Patinkin) and marries Hadass (Amy Irving). Heartfelt, and a clear passion project for Streisand who also wrote the screenplay, star and perform all the film's songs. The BFI release has a lot of good extras.

Yes (2004, Sally Potter) May not be everyone's cup-of-tea, but I can't help but admire/love Potter's conceit to write the dialogue almost entirely in iambic pentameter and mainly in rhyme. And, yes, it has a plot too! With Joan Allen, Sam Neill, Shirley Henderson and Simon Abkarian.

Zipper (2015, Mora Stephens). Sam (Patrick Wilson) is a prosecutor tipped for political greatness. A case involving an escort leads him to sample such services and he's soon obsessed by this secret sexual activity. His wife (Lena Headey) and journalist (Ray Winstone) are suspicious. Wilson's performance grounds this otherwise fairly straightforward erotic thriller.

As I write this I'm planning a sneaky extra day of films which start with a number, and have lined up re-watches of Julie Delpy's double bill of 2 Days in Paris (2007) and 2 Days in New York (2012) and Ava DuVernay's powerful and important documentary 13th (2016) examining the U.S. prison system, which is currently free to watch on YouTube.

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