Focusing specifically on films directed by women as well as those featuring strong female lead characters and female-centric stories, AWFJ’s Team #MOTW has endorsed 31 exceptional films during 2017, to date. Because we pick only one film for our Movie of the Week endorsement, we’ve actually had to pass up a good number of other superb films that qualified, but were not our collective top choice. Now that we’ve arrived at the midway point in this year’s release schedule, we’re pausing to look back at all the films we’ve considered for #MOTW endorsement, and we are pleasantly surprised to note the volume of wonderful films made by and about women. Continue reading…
Although we haven’t done any statistical studies about the number of female-directed and/or female-centric films topping box office charts, nor have we kept track of stats related to the number of women working behind the cameras in various capacities, and we understand from recently released well-researched reports that numbers pertaining to women working in film still lag seriously, we have seen what seems to be a profusion of fine films by and about women — films of all styles and genres, films with a wide range of themes and subjects that entertain and enlighten, and seem to respectfully represent and serve the interests of women audiences. Thus far, the 2017 catalog of films made by and about women presents a rich and satisfying array of female talent, skill and artistic accomplishment. We’re taking advantage of this midway mark to celebrate feminism in film by having the members of Team #MOTW pick and write about their favorite female-directed and/or female-centric film of 2017, to date — choosing films that were selected for our #MOTW feature or, perhaps, those that were bypassed. — Jennifer Merin
Team #MOTW’s Picks for Best of 2017, to Date:
Susan Wloszczyna: With Their Finest, Danish director Lone Scherfig has finally delivered a worthy femme-forward follow-up to her 2009 Oscar-nominated An Education with another portrait of a London-based young woman adapting to an era of social upheaval. But instead of a British schoolgirl in the ‘60s, Catrin Cole (a glowingly rosy-cheeked Gemma Arterton) is a displaced Welsh lass looking for a way to pay the rent during the Blitz, when most men were otherwise preoccupied by war. Her wordsmith skills land her a job writing scripts for propaganda films that aim to lift morale and instill pride. While initially tasked with inventing women’s dialogue – dubbed “the slop” – she is soon recruited to take the lead on penning a civilian rescue-mission adventure featuring patriotic twin sisters as heroes. Lo and behold, it happens to involve stranded soldiers on Dunkirk Beach. Take that, Christopher Nolan! Meanwhile, sparks fly between her and a cynical fellow scribe Tom (Sam Claflin, duly intellectualized with specs and a ‘stache), although I wished that Arterton – who knows how to pretty-cry as well as anyone — would have instilled her character with some Jean Arthur-ish snap and crackle. But a terrific supporting cast – especially the always-invaluable Bill Nighy, who easily slips into his part as a hammy and haughty aging actor – picks up any slack. (Their Finest was #MOTW for March 24-31)
MaryAnn Johanson: I’d like to highlight a film that is among my favorites of the year, and is also, unfortunately, among the littlest-seen movies of the year. The Girl with All the Gifts — which got a major theatrical release in its home country of the UK in 2016 but only a tiny, all but ignored one in the US in early 2017 — is difficult to discuss without spoiling it. Suffice to say that it is one of the most humane works of speculative fiction I’ve come across on film, a genre-busting movie full of horror and wonder and a redefinition of what it means to be human that may challenge some viewers. But the reason it belongs under discussion here is because in a genre rife with problematic depictions of women, this one stakes out extraordinary new ground with its 12-year-old protagonist (newcomer Sennia Nanua), a girl the likes of which you have never met before, who is finding her place in a world that, we see from her perspective, isn’t quite postapocalyptic but rather mid apocalypse. And she is surrounded by women who are more sure of their place in this world, and yet may find that they are wrong about that: a kindly teacher (Gemma Arterton) and a stern scientist (Glenn Close). This isn’t a movie about girls and women, per se: it’s a story about humans, one in which the majority of characters are NOT played by white men and yet there is no question about its universality. Read full review.
Dorothy Woodend: Like the best science fiction, Tomorrow Ever After functions as a refractory lens through which to better see our own time and place. References to other works of fiction and film, including John Sayles’ Brother from Another Planet, and Marge Piercy’s Women on the Edge of Time are clear. (There are even faint echoes of The Wizard of Oz upon occasion.) But the quality that Ms. Their’s film most reminded me of was the early work of Henry Jaglom and Jim Jarmusch. Thier possesses the same lightness of tone, and nimbleness of idea and thought, as well as profoundly humanist approach to character and story. In the midst of watching the haplessly sweet Shaina bumble through our world, talking endlessly and earnestly to anyone who will listen, something profound begins to happen. Namely, that you recognize yourself and your own behaviour in the world she is forced to contend with. It is a rare film that insinuates itself so gently into your consciousness, and then opens up like a stealth bomb inside your mind and heart. I felt very different after watching Tomorrow Ever After, and that is a very good thing. (Tomorrow Ever After was #MOTW for April 28-May 5)
Sheila Roberts: Atomic Blonde is my favorite femme-driven movie of 2017, to date. It’s a remarkable piece of filmmaking with lots of visual flair directed by David Leitch (co-director behind John Wick) from fresh source material based on a graphic novel. Set in 1989 Berlin, this spy actioner features a tantalizing premise, a high body count, and stars sexy badass Charlize Theron who does nearly all of her own stunts. It’s a ton of fun watching her go atomic. Noteworthy is the film’s amazing seven-minute-long action sequence on treacherous stairs stunningly choreographed by second-unit director Sam Hargreave. There’s also a strong supporting cast that includes James McAvoy, Eddie Marsan, and John Goodman.
Liz Whittemore: It might be my favorite film of 2017. In Band Aid, multi-talented Zoe Lister-Jones writes, directs, produces, and stars in her intimate portrait of a marriage on the verge of divorce. Adam Pally plays her mutually quirky husband who agrees to work through their resentment in music form. With the help of Fred Armisen as their oddball neighbor, The Dirty Dishes are born. They gift us some of the most incredible indie rock songs that are somewhere between Kate Nash, The Band of Horses, and Weird Al. Equal parts hilarious and touching, you will no doubt laugh and cry and laugh and cry again. The script is filled with wit and the performances are nothing less than impeccable. Zoe Lister-Jones’ use of an all female crew is an awesome example of the kind of art that can be created with literally like-minded individuals. The future of female filmmaking is looking pretty fantastic if this is any indication. Band Aid is unafraid to peek into the lives of a modern 30-something couple whose narcissism is a mask for their own grief. (Band Aid was #MOTW for June 23-30)
Jennifer Merin: A thoroughly engaging film focusing on three strong women who are striving to take charge of their inner and outer environments, 20th Century Women features exuberant performances by Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning, who are perfect in their blend of pathos and quirkiness. Pure heart. The film is a must see — more than once. (20th Century Women was #MOTW for January 20-27)
Anne Brodie: I’m going for the big commercial success story, not because we’re a mainstream crew but because Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman made and continues to make movie history. Wonder Woman is now the second highest grossing film of 2017 right after that of other spunky gal, Belle of Beauty and the Beast. This is a watershed moment, a super hero film starring a woman is finally a viable thing. Isn’t it amazing? How many super hero films with men to date? Wonder Woman has resuscitated the homogeneous super hero genre altogether with a heroine who is kind, compassionate, strong, brave and goes without saying, powerful. She comes from a nation where a woman’s power is earned and given open heartedly, where women fend for themselves against a harsh world and abide for generations. Who could have imagined this state of affairs from big Hollywood even a year ago? Its time to celebrate because Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot broke through the glass ceiling and they’re still rising.
Leba Hertz: Wonder Woman: Gal Gadot — beauty, brawn and brains and one damned fun movie to watch!
Cate Marquis: It’s a tough choice between Wonder Woman, which featured such a wonderful character, and this film, but my choice is Sophia Coppola’s The Beguiled. There are several reasons for that choice. First, Coppola took a story that had been adapted into a rather sleazy, seedy B-movie set in the Civil War and remade this low-budget bit of male titillation into a stylish, atmospheric kind of thriller, in part by changing the point of view to a female one, and partly by assuming the women had brains as well as lust. In the 1971 film, the women and girls at an isolated Southern young ladies boarding school are driven mad with desire by the mere presence of soldier Clint Eastwood. In Coppola’s film, the women and girls are coping with the 19th century restrictions on women as well as their circumstances of being on their own in the midst of the Civil War. While the film has its shortcomings, that transformation is a bit of magic on Coppola’s part. On top of that, the film also features terrific, complex performances by Kirsten Dunst and Nicole Kidman, transform those characters into interesting women, as well a strong performance by Colin Farrell as the handsome soldier. Just a totally unexpected film, and a clever way to way to take a bad film and making it something worth seeing by changing it to a woman’s point of view.
Pam Grady: My pick is Landline. Writer/director Gillian Robespiere and her Obvious Child star Jenny Slate continue their collaboration with this lively, loving recreation of Clinton era Manhattan. Slate is the eldest daughter in a suddenly imploding clan that includes frustrated writer John Turturro, high-powered EPA executive Edie Falco, and teenage Abby Quinn. Family dysfunction is played for laughs, but there is also a lot of warmth in this story of people pulling together even as they fall apart.
Betsy Bozdech It may be a “tale as old as time,” but there’s plenty that’s new and fresh in Disney’s live-action take on Beauty and the Beast, one of folklore’s most enduring opposites-attract stories. Emma Watson’s Belle is smart, confident, courageous, and feisty, and then there are the brand new songs by Alan Menken, plot tweaks that address certain gaps in the animated original (i.e. the fate of Belle’s mother), and the this-is-2017-so-how-can-it-possibly-still-be-controversial matter of Gaston’s sidekick LeFou’s sexual orientation. But lest those whose affection for the Best Picture-nominated 1991 Disney classic worry that too much has changed, rest assured: This version of “Beauty” is still the romantic, charming musical you love. (Beauty and the Beast was #MOTW for March 17-24)
MORE ABOUT MOVIE OF THE WEEK
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Thelma Adams, Anne Brodie, Betsy Bozdech, Cynthia Fuchs, Pam Grady, Leba Hertz, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sheila Roberts, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna, Jeanne Wolf, Dorothy Woodend
Written by Dorothy Woodend and Betsy Bozdech, edited by Jennifer Merin