MOVIE OF THE WEEK: Best Femme-Helmed, Femme-Centric Films of 2017, November Update

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motw logo 1-35Focusing 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 more than 40 exceptional films during 2017, to date. Because we pick only one film per week for #MOTW endorsement, we’ve had to pass up a good number of superb films that qualified, but were not our collective top choice. In August we paused to list the Best Femme-Helmed, Femme-Centric Film of 2017, to Date, including #MOTW selections and others we’d particularly liked. Now that awards season is beginning, we’re updating that list to include films released from August through the end of October. Continue reading…

Although we haven’t conducted 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 been pleasantly surprised to see 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 hope they will see their fare share of appreciation during awards season. — Jennifer Merin

Team #MOTW’s Picks for the Best of 2017 to Date November Update:


first they killed my father poster Angelina Jolie’s uncompromising new film, First They Killed My Father, based on human rights activist Loung Ung’s bestselling memoir, is Cambodia’s official Oscar entry and her best work to date as a director. It’s a must-see that deserves all the buzz it’s getting. Jolie takes an unflinching look at the Cambodian genocide through the eyes of a child and her harrowing experience. The film features riveting performances by first-time actor Sareum Srey Moch, Phoeung Kompheak, Sveng Socheata, and an all-Cambodian cast of non-professionals who do a phenomenal job capturing their characters’ heartache, raw emotions, and personal trauma. Jolie’s passionate directorial effort is supported by high production values and uniformly excellent work by DP Anthony Dod Mantle, production designer Tom Brown, costume designer Ellen Mirojnick, editors Xavier Box and Patricia Rommel, and composer Marco Beltrami. Acclaimed Cambodian director and documentary filmmaker Rithy Panh, whose family died under the Khmer Rouge government, serves as one of the film’s producers. Jolie’s adopted son, Maddox Jolie-Pitt, who was a Cambodian refugee, is also a producer. Jolie has dual U.S.-Cambodian citizenship. — Sheila Roberts:


faces places poster In Faces Places, Legendary 88-year-old filmmaker Agnes Varda teams up with 33-year-old photographer and street artist JR for an idiosyncratic and glorious road trip to make an enchanting documentary that affirms the octogenarian’s buoyant vitality and her youthful companion’s inspired art, huge murals that are as ephemeral as life itself. As the two travel from village to village, typically in JR’s van, which doubles as photo studio and large format printer, we are privy to the everyday people they meet on their trip, from former miners to dockworkers and their wives to goat farmers to a shy cafe waitress surprised to find herself her town’s star tourist attraction when JR pastes her picture, many times life sized to the side of a building. The film provides an uncommon peek into common lives while also letting us eavesdrop on these two artists, one nearing the end of her road and the other in full flower. It’s a warm, teasing relationship–Varda really, really wants JR to take off his dark glasses and reveal himself–animated by their mutual affection, their curiosity about people, and their enthusiasm for their art, and captured gloriously in this glorious film. — Pam Grady


STEP POSTER Documentaries that focus on a competition are a genre unto themselves. But Step is a soul-stirring, foot-stomping and inspirational step beyond most in that its final showdown is only the beginning of a path towards a brighter future for the participants—namely, members of a step team who are about to become part of the first graduating class of the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women. The result is both a buoyantly uplifting celebration of African-American womanhood and the dedicated educators who have their backs. The real prize here isn’t a trophy but the assurance that each and every senior will head off to college despite the obstacles they face in their daily lives. Filmmaker Amanda Lipitz, a Broadway producer making her feature-length directing debut and a Baltimore native herself, focuses on three distinctly different members of the Lethal Ladies squad. But the breakout here is Blessin Giraldo, who — with her dimpled smile and innate sense of style (oh, the hairdos you will see) — is blessed with movie-star glamour, fierce determination, a palpable physicality and an outsized personality that immediately designates her as a leader. At a time when inner cities are too often characterized by their crime statistics, Step instead provides abundant hope for the future. — Susan Wloszczyna


florida project posterSean Baker’s portrait of a little girl living in a Florida motel with her messed up but loving mother is one of the most extraordinary movies about childhood ever made: intimate, heartbreaking, yet often quite funny. It’s a rare story, too, about living in poverty, and its impact on childhood innocence. The Florida Project is one of the best movies of 2017. — MaryAnn Johanson

In The Florida Project, Willem Dafoe stuns in a role like you’ve never seen him play before, but two complete unknown actresses play the key characters in this extraordinary work. The film’s documentary feel gives the audience what is essentially a fly on the wall view of a segment of the country that is far too often ignored. Bria Vinaite plays a young mother who will do anything to pay the weekly rent as long as it keeps her 6-year-old with a roof over her head. Her con-artist scams, panhandling, and the like lead us to assume she’s a selfish woman, but this could not be further from the truth. Once the details of their stories are revealed you cannot help but fall in love with both of these ladies but for very different reasons. A crass mother begets a rambunctious and wildly endearing performance out of Brooklynn Prince. This little girl has enough spirit to out-act any grownup she shares the screen with. Her curiosity and innocence lend to one hell of a breakthrough performance. Vinaite and Prince’s chemistry makes Sean Baker‘s direction look like a breeze. You will, no doubt, be seeing much more of these two actresses for years to come. — Liz Whittemore


THE DIVINE ORDER POSTER Switzerland’s entry for the Best Foreign Film Oscar is a compelling political dramedy set in 1971 in a quaint rural village where Nora (Marie Leuenberger), a conventional housewife and mother, facing gender oppression on every front, champions a burgeoning suffragette movement that challenges political and religious leaders who cited the Divine Order as reason to keep women in their place. A strong ensemble cast brings the story to its inspirational conclusion when Swiss women finally secure the right to vote in 1971. The Divine Order is a heartfelt, captivating and often amusing film about women discovering their power and demanding their right to an equal voice. — Jennifer Merin


novitiate poster Novitiate is not just written and directed by a woman, Maggie Betts, but most of the crew and almost all of the performers were women as well. It takes us inside one of the few communities of, by, and for women, cloistered nuns in the pre-Vatican II era. It is respectful of its time, not expecting the women of the 1950’s to think the way we do, but respectful of its characters as well, each individual but together universal. — Nell Minow


AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: 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

A List of #MOTW Selections

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).