The New York Times recently found that only about 10 percent of the films they reviewed in 2009 were directed by women. Of course, women make up much more than 10 percent of the world’s population. The lack of female movie directors isn’t a new phenomenon, nor are news articles in the mainstream press pointing that out. What the statistic in the Times tells me is that this is a global issue. Sexism in Hollywood is a large-scaled and many-faceted problem, but women’s opportunities abroad don’t look any better.
Addressing why this is and what can be done about it probably requires more work than I can do in the space of a blog post. However, I noticed a number of good films this year directed by women, so I thought I’d list them below. Since the Times article came out, two other movies with women at the helm (It’s Complicated and Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel) have come out and raked in money at the box office. Let’s hope that this starts a trend of more female directors getting the chance to make our cineplexes a more diverse place, and to make better stuff than Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel.
1. An Education (dir. Lone Scherfig): This isn’t the first time I named a movie by a female filmmaker as the best of the year. Part of what amazed me about this was finding out that Scherfig could direct in more than just one style. That flexibility bodes well for her future prospects.
2. The Hurt Locker (dir. Kathryn Bigelow): For anybody who still thinks women should only direct movies about women’s issues.
3. The Beaches of Agnès (dir. Agnès Varda): A pioneer among women filmmakers manages to do some of her best work at the age of 81. That’s an inspiration to all of us, male and female.
4. The Headless Woman (dir. Lucrecia Martel): Pay very close attention to this movie about a wealthy housewife who kills either a dog or a little boy (she’s not sure which) in a hit-and-run. Details tucked into the corner of the frame reveal a highly complex drama addressing subjects of class and race in Argentinian society, ones with resonances for us. The third film by a director with an almost mystical command of the medium.
5. Humpday (dir. Lynn Shelton): Just noses out I Love You, Man as the best movie of 2009 about male friendship, and it was written and directed by a 43-year-old woman working in the “mumblecore” movement, which tends to favor younger filmmakers. The scene where the wife finds out that her husband plans to do gay porn is as funny as anything I saw at the movies this year.
6. Afghan Star (dir. Havana Marking): I mentioned this earlier. My heart goes out to those female contestants who received death threats just for performing on the TV show. I hope they’re okay.
7. Treeless Mountain (dir. Kim So-yong): A Korean-American filmmaker went back to the land of her birth to make this delicate drama about two sisters trying to make sense of the world while being shipped from relative to relative during a time of family upheaval. The insight into the minds of these girls (ages 6 and 4) is amazing.
8. Jennifer’s Body (dir. Karyn Kusama): I think a lot of the animosity towards this movie comes from the fact that Kusama and screenwriter Diablo Cody told this story from an unabashedly female point of view, something that those of us who watch horror movies simply aren’t used to. That viewpoint is exactly what I found fascinating about it.
9. 35 Shots of Rum (dir. Claire Denis): This opens in Dallas on the 15th. I don’t understand the cult following for Claire Denis, but I probably need to see more of her stuff. I appreciated the craftsmanship that went into this soft-spoken French domestic drama without being moved by it as many other critics were.
10. Julie & Julia (dir. Nora Ephron): Gee, it’s a shame that the real-life Julie Powell turned out to be so profoundly messed up. That doesn’t dim the luster on this food movie by a foodie director that pays tribute to the unconventional spirit of two women in different eras finding their own way of expressing themselves.
Honorable mention: Jane Campion’s Bright Star, Christine Jeffs’ Sunshine Cleaning, Jennifer Baichwal’s Act of God, Drew Barrymore’s Whip It