Written by: Fiona Underhill, CC2K Staff Writer
I watched 68 films (which I hadn’t seen before) directed by women last year, about half of which were 2018 releases. Many were in my Top 40 of the year – they cross the whole range of genres, budgets, countries of origin and stories that you can imagine. Unfortunately, based on the precursors of the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs and the DGAs, it is looking increasingly likely that not a single woman will be nominated for Best Director at the Oscars this year. Think what you will about the Academy Awards, but one of their primary positive functions is to draw attention to films that may otherwise escape the notice of the wider viewing public. And we’re going to have yet another year where they largely ignore the exceptional work made by women and crucially the skill of the direction itself. Here is my list of films which deserve the attention of the Academy voters, especially the directing branch.
Madeline’s Madeline (dir. Josephine Decker DP. Ashley Connor)
A brutally uncomfortable but fascinating exploration of a drama student and her relationship with both her mother (played by Miranda July) and mentor (played by Molly Parker). The cinematography deservedly has an Independent Spirit Awards nomination. Once you’ve seen this film, some of the imagery will never leave you.
For Your Consideration: Helena Howard (Best Actress) Molly Parker (Best Supporting Actress), costumes, production design, as well as direction and cinematography.
Skate Kitchen (dir. Crystal Moselle)
A naturalistic portrayal of a gang of skater girls with wonderful performances and a dynamic shooting style.
For Your Consideration: direction, writing, cinematography.
Nancy (dir. Christina Choe DP. Zoe White)
Andrea Riseborough’s second shot at the ‘titular role’ this year couldn’t be more different from Mandy. Riseborough is a chameleon with breath-taking range and one of the best actors working today. J. Smith-Cameron has an Independent Spirit Awards nomination for Best Supporting Actress. This film explores the intriguing contemporary themes of loneliness and imposters.
For Your Consideration: Andrea Riseborough (Best Actress), writing and direction (both by Choe).
The Miseducation of Cameron Post (dir. Desiree Akhavan DP. Ashley Connor)
A much more high-profile and ‘Oscar-bait’ film has come out this year on the topic of conversion therapy. Only one has been written and directed by a LGBTQ woman however. Featuring amazing supporting work from Sasha Lane, Forrest Goodluck, Jennifer Ehle and John Gallagher, this film follows Cameron (Chloe Grace Moretz) being sent away to a religious ‘camp’ to try to change her lesbian ways.
See also: Akhavan’s sublime comedy Appropriate Behavior
For Your Consideration: direction and writing.
All About Nina (dir. Eva Vives)
Following stand-up comedian Nina as she moves from New York to Los Angeles and tries to break through, whilst also negotiating her love-life. Becomes surprisingly heart-breaking at times.
For Your Consideration: Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Best Actress), Common (Best Supporting Actor), direction and writing (both by Vives).
I Think We’re Alone Now (dir. Reed Morano DP. Reed Morano)
A post-apocalyptic film which dispenses with the zombies and instead focuses on the human drama.
For Your Consideration: Peter Dinklage (Best Actor)
Leave No Trace (dir. Debra Granik)
Probably the film with the best chance of a directing nomination. This story follows a veteran father trying to keep his teenage daughter ‘off the grid’ and in the wild.
See also: Granik’s Winter’s Bone
For Your Consideration: Best Actress (Thomasin McKenzie), direction and writing.
I saw these at festivals during 2018 but as far as I know, they haven’t been picked up for release yet. Hopefully this will happen in 2019, so keep your eye out for them.
Wild Nights with Emily (dir. Madeleine Olnek DP. Anna Stypko) – seen at Outfest
A period biopic like none you’ve ever seen. This hilarious and heart-breaking film about Emily Dickinson is original, fresh, risky and amazing.
For Your Consideration: Molly Shannon (Best Actress), costumes, direction and writing (both by Olnek).
Little Woods (dir. Nia DaCosta) – seen at LA Film Festival
This film works beautifully as a companion piece to The Rider. Following two sisters (played by Tessa Thompson and Lily James) trying to cope with healthcare issues whilst living in poverty and the extreme lengths they must go to in order to escape and survive.
For Your Consideration: Tessa Thompson (Best Actress), direction and cinematography.
Netflix has done well at supporting female filmmakers this year, including two very successful rom-coms; To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and Set it Up.
Private Life (dir. Tamara Jenkins)
This story follows a couple in their late 40s (Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti) and their struggles with IVF and surrogacy. Funny, poignant and extremely well acted.
See also: The Savages (with Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman)
For Your Consideration: Kayli Carter (Best Supporting Actress) and writing (also by Jenkins).
Nappily Ever After (dir. Haifaa Al-Mansour)
From one of very few women directors to have released two films in the last year, this film follows Violet (Sanaa Lathan) and her struggles with her identity, specifically surrounding her hair.
For Your Consideration: Best Actress (Sanaa Lathan), hair and make-up, writing.
Dumplin’ (dir. Anne Fletcher)
Dumplin’ is about an overweight teenager who decides to enter a beauty pageant, with the support of a group of drag queens and her muse Dolly Parton.
For Your Consideration: Jennifer Aniston (Best Supporting Actress)
Also from Netflix:
The Kindergarten Teacher (dir. Sara Colangelo)
The Land of Steady Habits (dir. Nicole Holofcener)
Bird Box (dir. Susanne Bier)
The Rider (dir. Chloe Zhao)
If I were forced to choose just one film from this list to be nominated for Best Film or Best Director, it would be this. Chloe Zhao has created something completely unique through immersing herself in a community (a reservation in South Dakota) and finding real people to build a story around, infused with what was really happening to them at the time. With breath-taking cinematography from Joshua James Richards, this film is both epic and intimate.
See also: Songs My Brothers Taught Me
For Your Consideration: Brady Jandreau (Best Actor), writing, direction and cinematography.
The Big Budget Extravaganza:
A Wrinkle in Time (dir. Ava DuVernay)
This film did not do well with the critics, but DuVernay pulled off the difficult feat of translating a complex book for the screen. Visually spectacular, filled with emotion and very well acted, this movie is well worth seeing.
See also: 13th (available on Netflix)
For Your Consideration: VFX, costumes, hair and make up.
Period Dramas and Biopics:
This genre of film is always popular with the academy and this is the area where some nominations are likely to be picked up. But no one seems to be remembering the DIRECTORS!
Mary, Queen of Scots (dir. Josie Rourke)
An unusual take on the period drama, with many refreshing touches which could have only come from the female gaze. There is a small possibility of acting nominations for Saoirse Ronan or Margot Robbie here and a greater likelihood of acknowledgement in the costume, hair and make-up categories. All of these are deserved, but the direction is the real strength of this film and it’s one of the most impressive debuts of the year.
For Your Consideration: Jack Lowden (Best Supporting Actor) as well as DIRECTION.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? (dir. Marielle Heller)
It is now looking very likely that both Melissa McCarthy and Richard E Grant will be deservedly nominated for their acting in this fantastic, funny biopic about literary forger Lee Israel. As Richard E Grant has been pointing out on the awards circuit, everyone is overlooking the skilled direction by Heller.
See also: Diary of a Teenage Girl – one of the best coming-of-age films about a young woman of all time
For Your Consideration: directing and the screenplay (co-written by Nicole Holofcener)
Where Hands Touch (dir. Amma Asante)
Unfortunately this has been mired in controversy and under-performed at the box office. I will say that this World War Two drama focusing on a teenage girl of dual-heritage in Germany is more nuanced than “the conversation” may have you believe and it is worth giving it a chance.
See also: the excellent period piece Belle
For Your Consideration: Amandla Stenberg (Best Actress)
On the Basis of Sex (dir. Mimi Leder)
This should have the Academy written all over it. The inspiring story of Ruth Bader Ginsberg and how she made her way from one of the very few women in her class at Harvard Law to taking on the Supreme Court.
See also: the acclaimed TV series The Leftovers
For Your Consideration: Justin Theroux (Best Supporting Actor), costumes, production design.
Mary Shelley (dir. Haifaa Al-Mansour)
Al-Mansour’s second entry on this list is a period biopic about Mary Shelley (Elle Fanning) and how she emerged from the shadow of her husband Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth) to, you know, invent science fiction. Some lovely directorial flourishes in this again and well-cast actors.
For Your Consideration: Elle Fanning (Best Actress)
Genre – Action, Horrors and Crime Thrillers:
Genre films are the most overlooked by the academy, so these have virtually no chance but that won’t stop me banging their drum!
Revenge (dir. Coralie Fargeat)
A blood-soaked rape revenge horror movie featuring a blistering central performance from Matilda Lutz.
For Your Consideration: direction, cinematography, production design.
Destroyer (dir. Karyn Kusama, DP. Julie Kirkwood)
As with Can You Ever Forgive Me? this features a complicated central protagonist who isn’t here to win your approval. With a tour-de-force performance from Nicole Kidman, this is an intricately plotted LA Noir with an uncompromising score and harsh (but fitting) cinematography.
See also: The Invitation (available on Netflix)
For Your Consideration: Nicole Kidman (Best Actress), direction, writing, score, cinematography.
You Were Never Really Here (dir. Lynne Ramsay)
The brilliant Scottish director is back with a tale of a New York hitman having an existential crisis. With an intense score from Johnny Greenwood, amazing sound design and interesting cinematography from Tom Townend – this film is an immersive experience not to be missed.
See also: Morvern Callar (on Amazon Prime)
For Your Consideration: Joaquin Phoenix (Best Actor), direction, score, sound design, cinematography.
The Spy Who Dumped Me (dir. Susanna Fogel)
A fantastically funny action comedy, with glamorous international locations and great performances.
For Your Consideration: Gillian Anderson (Best Supporting Actress)
Shirkers (dir. Sandi Tan DP. Iris Ng)
An absolutely incredible story told in an extremely interesting way. You will fall in love with everyone involved in this story and want to be their best friends.
This film is available on Netflix and is one of the best films (of ANY type) of last year. Highly recommended.
Films in a Foreign Language:
I know it’s too late to push for these in the Foreign Language category but if even one person watches one of these amazing films because of this article, it will have been worth it!
Oh, Lucy! (dir. Atsuko Hirayanagi DP. Paula Huidobro)
A lonely hoarder in Tokyo accidentally starts taking English lessons from John (Josh Hartnett – I know!) and then goes to America to try to track down her niece.
For Your Consideration: Shinobu Terajima (Best Actress), Josh Hartnett (Best Supporting Actor), direction and writing.
Happy as Lazzaro (dir. Alice Rohrwacher, DP. Helene Louvart)
A young, naive farmworker is exploited by those around him due to his happy, optimistic outlook on life. He befriends the son of the Marquise and then things take a strange turn in this modern fable. Stunningly shot by cinematographer Helene Louvart (who also shot one of the best films of last year – Eliza Hittman’s Beach Rats), this film is on US Netflix.
For Your Consideration: Adriano Tardiolo (Best Actor), Alba Rohrwacher (Best Supporting Actress), direction, writing (also by Rohrwacher), cinematography.
Zama (dir. Lucrecia Martel)
Zama, an officer of the Spanish Crown born in South America, waits for a transfer from the town in which he is stagnating, to a better place. The years go by and the letter from the King never arrives. When Zama notices everything is lost, he joins a party of soldiers that go after a dangerous bandit.
For Your Consideration: direction, cinematography, costumes, production design.
Summer 1993 (dir. Carla Simon)
After the death of her mother, a troubled 6 year old girl is sent to live with relatives in the countryside. Featuring a heart-breaking central performance from Laia Artigas (how do Europeans get such good performances from children?!).
For Your Consideration: direction, writing (also by Simon), cinematography.
I Am Not a Witch (dir. Rungano Nyoni)
A mysterious 8 year old girl arrives in a village and is immediately branded a witch. She is sent to a camp to live with the other “witches”, who must be tied by a ribbon to a post so they don’t fly away.
For Your Consideration: direction, costumes, production design, cinematography.
So – to all of you out there who are part of the “awards conversation” and for those among you lucky enough to have voting privileges, please use your powers for good and to effect change and PLEASE LET’S REMEMBER THE OTHER 50% OF THE POPULATION!
Author: Fiona Underhill, CC2K Staff Writer
Brit living in Southern California.
Former teacher of Media and Film Studies.
Current film writer for jumpcutonline.com, moviejawn.com and others.