June 16, 2015

The Best Movies By, And About, Women

By Erica R. Hendry

 Actress Melissa McCarthy introduces a special "Spy" screening at Regal Atlantic Station on March 30, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Actress Melissa McCarthy introduces a special "Spy" screening at Regal Atlantic Station on March 30, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Most box office hits have at least one thing in common: They star men.  In 13 of the last 30 years, NPR’s Bob Mondello writes, none of the top 10 grossing films featured a female lead.

2015, though, is a different story. Already, half of the year’s top hits are movies featuring strong female characters: Melissa McCarthy in “Spy”; Dakota Johnson in “50 Shades of Gray”; Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson in “Pitch Perfect 2”; Lily James and Cate Blanchett in “Cinderella,” among others. More blockbusters are expected this summer, too, from both studios and film festivals.

You don’t have to wait for all of them to hit Netflix, though. Melissa Silverstein, founder and editor of Women and Hollywood, and Washington Post critic Ann Hornaday said there are plenty of great films featuring women — or written, directed and produced by them — if you know where to look. Here are their recommendations on where to start.

Melissa Silverstein and Ann Hornaday both recommend:

  1. Pariah (2011)– “A Brooklyn teenager juggles conflicting identities and risks friendship, heartbreak, and family in a desperate search for sexual expression,” writes director Dee Rees.
  2. Bend it Like Beckham (2002) Gurinder Chadha wrote and directed this story about “Jess” (Parminder Nagra), the daughter of orthodox Sikh who runs away from her family to play soccer in Germany.
  3.  Selma (2014): Ava DuVernay tells the story of Martin Luther King Jr.’s march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965.

Melissa Silverstein’s picks

Female-Directed Movies with Female Protagonists

  1. Fish Tank (2009) Written and directed by Andrea Arnold, the UK drama follows 15-year-old Mia as she deals with her mother’s new boyfriend.
  2. Real Women Have Curves (2002) Directed by Patricia Cardoso, this movie — based on a play by Josefina Lopez — stars America Ferrera as Ana, a first generation Mexican-American teenager.
  3. Whale Rider (2002) Niki Caro directs this book-turned-film, a coming-of-age story about a girl named Maori.
  4. Boys Don’t Cry (1999) Hilary Swank has a memorable performance in this movie from Kimberly Peirce, which follows the journey of Teena Brandon as she becomes a man and tries to find love.
  5. Winter’s Bone (2010) Debra Granik wrote and directed this drama about an Ozark Mountain girl (Jennifer Lawrence) on a mission to find her drug-dealing father.
  6. Frozen River (2008) Courtney Hunt tells the story of two single mothers — one white, one from the Mohawk reservation — who find themselves in the border smuggling business.
  7. Tomboy (2011) Another coming-of-age tale, this time from Celine Sciamma, “Tomboy” follows a 10-year-old transgender child who, in a new neighborhood, gets to introduce himself as a boy for the first time.
  8. Belle (2013) A British period film from Amma Asante tells the story of a mixed race girl being raised by her great uncle in 18th century England.
  9. Wadjda (2012) Haifaa al-Mansour tells the story of a Saudi girl competing in her school’s Koran recitation competition.

Female Protagonists

  1. Short Term 12 (2013) Brie Larson plays a 20-something supervisor of a residential treatment facility.
  2. Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) Six-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) has to learn to fend for herself, as her father’s health fails and her bayou community is engulfed by water.

Directed by Women

  1. The Hurt Locker (2008) Kathryn Bigelow directed this story about Sergeant in Iraq whose maverick leadership style is putting him at odds with his squad.

Ann Hornaday’s picks

Movies By And About Women

  1. My Brilliant Career (1979) When she moves to her family in Germany, Sybylla Melvyn (Judy Davis) announces she won’t marry. Instead, she’ll pursue a career.
  2. Beyond The Lights (2014) Superstar singer Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) struggles with fame.
  3. Zero Dark Thirty (2012) Kathryn Bigelow directed this film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
  4. Stories We Tell (2012) Sarah Polley weaves this tale of myth, memories and family secrets.
  5. Middle Of Nowhere (2012) Also from Ava DuVernay (Selma), this movie follows Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi), a woman who drops out of medical school after her husband is sent to prison.
  6. Mad Max: Fury Road (Out Now) Charlize Theron is stealing the spotlight as the lead in the latest from the Mad Max franchise.
  7. Spy (Out Now) Melissa McCarthy is getting glowing reviews for her role as a CIA analyst-gone- undercover arms dealer.
  8. Inside Out (Opening June 19) Amy Poehler stars in this animated film as Riley, uprooted from her Midwest home for a life in San Francisco.

What are your favorite films about (or by) women? Share in the comments. 


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