On this first day of 2018, I’m thrilled to announce my addition as a member of AWFJ, the Alliance of Women Film Journalists. An official invitation and close scrutiny of my work was required, and I’m quite thrilled I made the cut, and that I’m now part of such a great, talented group of female writers. My reviews will appear on their site throughout the year, and I’ll be a voting member, which means I get to vote in their annual EDA Awards. This non-profit women-focused organization hopes to expand awareness and shine a light on women both in front of and behind the camera, so I couldn’t be more aligned with their goals!
In celebration of this wonderful honor, this first post by Cinema Siren in 2018 will be the Best Films of 2017, but ONLY include films directed by women. It’s thrilling to say most of these would already be on my top ten, and that is definitely a sign of the times. There are several films that were released from within the Hollywood studio system, and that’s also good news. Still, women are smart, so they know that often it’s better to go the independent route, not least because their vision, as often both the writer and director of their films, is not only kept firmly intact, but celebrated by their collaborators.
Congratulations to Netflix, who are leading the charge in supporting woman creators, and who backed both First They Killed My Father and Mudbound. Remember, as I’ve mentioned before, they also promote women’s vision for the small screen, with, for example, the all-female directed second season of Jessica Jones coming up, as well as the all-female led show Harlots, which has female stars, writers, creators, and directors.
Here is my top ten list of 2017, in no particular order. Watch them all. You will not be disappointed! Now, can we depend on the Academy to celebrate these great films, which landed in what was dubbed “The Year of the Women”? Only time will tell.
(if I’ve reviewed the film, you can click on the title for my review on CinemaSiren.com)
Greta Gerwig wrote and directed this coming-of-age film about a girl entering adulthood with Catholic guilt and big dreams in tow. The movie didn’t suffer from the significant edits required of Gerwig’s over 800 page original draft. Saoirse Ronan embodies the awkwardness and bruised optimism of the lead character with such authenticity, we are all thrown back into our own 17-year-old bodies. In theaters now.
It feels like Dee Rees can do no wrong. How long before Hollywood hands someone with her talent a huge project along the lines of Star Wars? Perhaps she’s just happy creating achingly beautiful portraits of family struggle, as in the wonderful film Mudbound, which she co-wrote. Expect every bad thing to happen to the two families, one black, one white, both poor, each dealing with the PTSD their beloved child returns with from WW2. Racism, since it’s the South, plays an important, and awful part. On Netflix now.
Need a cheerful, intense, and deeply heartfelt documentary about cats and how much they inspire? Kedi, from producer/director Ceyda Torun will be a perfect fit. Did you know that cats have been an essential part of the fabric of Istanbul for thousands of years? Find out why and be moved in watching a film that will start your year off with optimism. On YouTube and GooglePlay now.
If like me, you daily sing the praises of actors David Oyelowo and Rosemund Pike, the biopic in which they starred in 2017 A United Kingdom is for you. Even if you don’t, Amma Asante’s feature about the real story of Seretse and Ruth Khama, who forever changed Botswana with their unwavering love for each other and their country is a film that will remind you standing up for your beliefs can ultimately lead to lasting changes. For rent on Vudu, iTunes, and Amazon Video now.
Released under the title “Grave”, writer/director Julia Ducournau proves once again that the horror genre has ample room for powerful, fearless women. It’s always been a place where outsiders could find a voice and make statements of political and social significance, and the film Raw is a successful example of that. Starring relative newcomer Garance Marillier, it examines the pressures of young adulthood, matriculation, and finding acceptance. also there’s cannibalism. For rent online on Vudu, iTunes, and Amazon Video.
For those of you who have lived under a rock in the last year, one of the top grossing films of 2017 was a little movie called Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins. It’s just one of a number of movies centered around a female lead that rocked the box office, but this film in particular broke all sorts of records for women directors. Good news? Sure…but what took Hollywood so long? Those of us in the know are well aware of the talented female directors who want a chance directing a blockbuster. Hey, DC! Here’s what happens when you hand it over to a woman. Will it change things for women in Hollywood? They did sign Jenkins to the sequel, but not before a long, drawn-out negotiation. Gal Gadot as Diana Prince shows she can save the world just as well or better than any male superhero, and do it with a dash of compassion. Available for purchase on DVD and now playing on HBO.
Directed by the co-director of The Secret of Kells, Nora Twomey, The Breadwinner follows the strong, determined Afghan girl Parvana as she disguises her in boy’s clothing so she can work to provide for her family. Visually stunning and culturally meaningful, it is written for film by Deborah Ellis, who also wrote the book. Animation can and does make political statements and it does open the eyes of its audiences to life’s struggles. Look for this film to make a splash at the Oscars. It won’t win against the Pixar behemoth, but you should still see this awards-worthy feature. In Theaters now.
First They Killed My Father
Directed by Angelina Jolie, who is becoming increasingly known for the director part of her actor-director-producer hyphenate, First They Killed My Father is a biographical narrative that takes place in 1975 and follows 7 year old Cambodian girl Loung Ung as she gets trained as a child soldier. Co-written by Jolie and Ung, and is based on Ung’s memoir of surviving the Khmer Rouge regime. The film is the official Oscar submission by Cambodia for Best Foreign Film. It is heartbreaking, gorgeous to look at (after all, Cambodia was quite a tourist destination before it got ripped apart by war) and fascinating. On Netflix now.
I had no idea what to expect when I started watching this film, which is in Hebrew and directed and written by Rama Burshtein, and is about a woman who gets jilted one month before her nuptials, but plans it anyway, expecting God to bring her the man of her dreams before the wedding. What Israeli-American director Rama Burshtein offers is a great education in what independent, free-thinking Orthodox Jewish women in Isreal experience as they search for love. Lead actress Noa Keller won the Isreali equivalent of an Oscar playing 32-year-old Michel, and she is aided by two delicious Israeli superstars, actor Amos Tamam and musician Oz Zehavi. This is a rom-com for the ages. Available for rent on YouTube, Amazon Video, and Vudu.
I am Not a Witch
Welsh-Zambian director Rungano Nyoni had her feature debut with I Am Not a Witch, about 8-year-old girl Shula, in Zambia, who gets accused of witchcraft and after a quick trial gets carted off to a traveling witch camp. She is threatened with being turned into a goat if she tries to escape. This modern magical realist fable is all about misogyny, gender, and superstition. It is strange, wonderful, and will captivate you completely. See it now. Available online in the UK and Ireland. http://www.iamnotawitch.com/watch-at-home/
There are two films that were co-directed by women, and I wanted to mention them here, because they are both wonderful and should be seen:
Co-directed by beloved filmmaker Agnes Varda and JR, this documentary won the L’Oeil d’or award at Cannes. Varda and JR travel around France creating portraits of people they encounter. It is charming and poignant in equal parts, and you will be moved. Still playing in festivals, coming soon online.
This animated feature was created by building it, painting by painting, until the sum of its parts, oil paintings, became a complete film. Co-directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman invented a number of techniques in order to complete this passion project, which is a mystery based in the last several weeks of Van Gogh’s life. Invention and creativity should always be rewarded, especially when they glean such spectacular results. Available to pre-order on Amazon, releasing on January 16th, 2018.
Also, if I were including films directed by men in this best of list, it would definitely include Blade Runner 2049, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and Call Me By Your Name, which are my three favorite films of the 2017.
I’ll be writing about the films to put on your radar in 2018 that will be female-focused and/or directed and written by women, so stay tuned for that. In the meantime, let’s all celebrate creativity in all its forms, and hope 2017 built the groundwork FINALLY for women to be given a seat at the table when major studios in Hollywood consider who to hire to direct and work on the films that have huge profiles. All successful studio films help the directors and crew create the other films that live in their hearts.
Best of 2018 to us all, and keep watching movies!