AWFJ Summer 2018 Movies Watch List

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First compiled for Women’s History Month, the list of women-centric films we suggest for summer viewing celebrates women’s working in film. Ranging from mirth-filled comedies to truth-based stories of feminist activism, from gal pal road trip scenarios and inspiring biopics to exposes of the heinous evils of sexism and racism, these are films that illuminate, educate and entertain. Despite their diverse subjects and styles, these recommended films have one thing in common: they are all about women and they respectfully represent women’s perspectives on the social and political issues that we all face in daily life. Each film is a powerful reminder of how far we’ve come — and how much further we need to go. Make this a #MeToo summer of movie watching.

The films are listed in alphabetical order, but that’s not necessarily the recommended sequence for viewing. We suggest reading our capsule reviews and making your own viewing schedule, or randomly selecting one-a-day. The list is a long scroll, but stick with it. We promise that each film on it will give you something interesting and illuminating to ruminate. Here’s the list:


accused posterThis film about sexual assault, written by Tom Topor and directed by Jonathan Kaplan, is not just about a gang of rapists, the perpetrators, but also about the callow and craven men who cheered on the penetrators. The D.A. (Kelly McGillis) sets out to prove that, although the victim, played by a tough Jodie Foster, had taken drugs and was flirting, sashaying, and prick-teasing, she did not deserve to be so brutally raped. Thus, the tag line: “The first scream was for help. The second is for justice.” — Martha Baker

ALIEN (1979)

Because it’s the movie that is inevitably the first one mentioned in rebuttal whenever complaints about the lack of female representation onscreen are raised (“But Ripley!”). It’s a dispiriting indication of how few really great female protagonists we get, if a 40-year-old film is the first that springs to the minds of so many movie fans. But it’s also a testament to the power of Sigourney Weaver’s performance and presence in Alien. — MaryAnn Johanson


Mélanie Laurent has proven herself to be a multi-faceted personality. Not only is she a superb actress, she’s also a skillful storyteller with her work behind the camera. Her feature length directorial debut, The Adopted (Les Adoptés), is tender and touching, bursting with earned emotion. Her sophomore feature, Breathe (Respire), is equally as feminine and authentic, but demonstrates far more assured filmmaking. breathe posterIn the resonant film, teenager Charlie (Joséphine Japy) instantly becomes best friends with Sarah (Lou de Laâge) the new, rebellious cool girl in school. However, this friendship that burns so bright, is destined to flame out when an inevitable (but never predictable) betrayal occurs. The emotional bandwidth Laurent taps into ranges from charming, to disarming, to completely unnerving – yet it continually feels right in line with a universal female experience. It pierces the soul. The way she harnesses light to color these characters is breathtaking. She captures the pair’s dreamy, lazy days and vulnerable confessions to each other, without any manipulation or pretentiousness. The nuance she fuses visually with the narrative to contextualize Charlie’s unravelling world is staggeringly on point. Coupled with magnetic, dynamic performances from the leading ladies, this is cinema to inhale. — Courtney Howard


The best family movie you never heard of is waiting for you to discover it! Saoirse Ronan, Bill Murray and Toby Jones are part of the wonderful ensemble. This enchanting science-fiction story has a female protagonist who’s so courageous and smart you’ll wish she were your daughter. — Linda Cook


A stunning, unusual story about aging. The star, Juliette Binoche, was given so much creative freedom by director Oliver Assayas, that in many ways this is more her film than his. — Martha Nochimson


daughters of dust posterJulie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust made in 1991 has long been considered an extraordinary film make within a story space perfect for the range of what cinema can do beyond merely recording moving figures. Daughters of the Dust is about the descendants of the salt water slaves from Africa, the Gullah and members of a small community on St Helena Island who have decided to go up north and leave their 88 year old matriarch Nana Peazant (Cora Lee Day) and remaining members behind. The story is told through the voice over of The Unborn daughter of Eula Peazant (Alva Rogers), and Nana Peazant. Dash proclaims that the narrative construction of conventional films is not suited for the oral traditions of Africa – that salt water slaves passed down their heritage to their enslavement lands through these stories, so the film is created with many voices that weave and join with the other passages of history. Most of the film takes place on a Sunday picnic on the beach prior to the departure of some of the settlers up north. — Moira Sullivan


This 2013 documentary (directed by Chiemi Karasawa) about the entertainment legend is not just a look back at Stritch’s formidable career, but an honest look at aging, performing and a certain type of celebrity. In addition to performance footage both old and new, the film takes an honest look at what many other subjects would prefer not to reveal, most notably her struggles with memory loss, her health issues and her active but un-admitted alcoholism. — Kristen Page Kirby


Cowritten and starring Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha is the movie that gets what “best friend” means to women better than any other movie I’ve ever seen, and also offers a cinematic space for a young woman to just be herself, unapologetically. — MaryAnn Johanson


Claudia Weill’s 1978 story of two female friends (Melanie Mayron is exceptional) is a loose and likable indie that was way ahead of its time in portraying the humor, heart and complexities of women’s lives and friendships. Sex in the City and Girls owes a huge debt to this film, even if they don’t know it. — Loren King

hester street posterHESTER STREET (1975)

Director Joan Micklin Silver has made many wonderful movies, ranging from “Crossing Delancey” to “Between the Lines,” but again, this one really speaks to me. My Jewish forebears came to the U.S. several decades before Hester Street‘s Gitl does, but watching what she goes through reminded me that feminism isn’t a new thing. The film helped me realize how far we’ve come, baby — and, of course, how far we still have to go. It also explores the self-determination and inner conflicts of a smart, courageous and ambitious woman who has been raised within a culture that has always positioned women as second-class citizens. — Carol Cling


Hidden Figures is the truth-based narrative that pays long overdue tribute to the brilliant and dedicated African American woman who did the math for NASA’s early space shots but who were discriminated against and disrespected by their employer and professional peers to the extent that they were not permitted to use the whites-only washrooms in NASA’s Texas headquarters. Brilliant performances by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae and a first rate ensemble make this a not to be missed revelation and righting of American herstory. — Jennifer Merin


Way ahead of its time, Imitation of Life portrays the myopia of white privilege without demonizing anyone. But it’s a ten hanky, so be prepared. — Martha Nochimson


Shedding light on a previously little-known period in sports and women’s history, this funny, heartfelt WWII-era story about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League is packed with memorable performances and relatable women of every stripe. And, boy, can they play baseball! — Betsy Bozdech

love and basketball posterLOVE & BASKETBALL (2000)

Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, one of Hollywood’s most underrated female filmmakers, this romantic coming-of-age film starring a young Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps is narratively broken into four quarters, just like a basketball game. It follows the two main characters, Monica and Quincy, as they grow from little neighbors playing hoops in their front yards to high school, college, and professional players who fall in love with each other as desperately as they do the game that initially brings them together. With help from a brilliant supporting cast of on-screen parents (Alfre Woodard, Harry Lennix, Debbi Morgan, and Dennis Haysbert,) and a fantastic R&B and neo-soul soundtrack, this is a feminist, funny, and tender love story. — Sandie Angulo Chen


made in deg poster 2Preceding her stellar performances in The Shape of Water and Maudie, Sally Hawkins played Rita O’Grady in Made in Dagenham, director Nigel Cole’s narrative feature about the 1968 all-female factory worker strike against the Ford Auto Company in Dagenham, England. Hawkins’ stirring portrayal of the demure car seat seamstress who reluctantly assumes the mantle of union leader, standing strong against her bosses and family, is the focus of the film. The truth-based story is one of feminist solidarity. Labor Minister Barbara Castle, played by Miranda Richardson, supports O;Grady and her coworkers. And, Rosamund Pike plays the wife of a Ford top executive who defies her husband and champions the women’s cause. Historically, the Ford sewing machinists’ strike set off a chain reaction that drew attention to unfair discrepancies between men’s and women’s wages in the United Kingdom. It paved the way toward the UK’s entry into the European Community prompting equal pays laws. Strongly suggested as a double bill with Norma Rae, a similarly inspiring story about a woman unionizer in the US, and offering a fascinating comparison of social and working conditions for n British and American working women. — Sarah Knight Adamson


The Magdalene Sisters blew the lid off the horrible theocratic story of the Irish laundries where girls who misbehaved were incarcerated in the Sixties. The misbehavior might have been as innocent as cursing, necking, or talking back. The great Geraldine McEwan (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie) plays twisted Sister Bridget, and Anne-Marie Duff (Suffragette) plays one of three young “fallen” women on whom the film concentrates. Peter Mullan, currently seen acting in Hostiles, directed and wrote with unforgettable tension and historic fury. — Martha Baker


marie curie posterFrench director Marie Noelle breathed life and contemporary womanhood into Marie Skłodowska Curie, the only female two-time Nobel Prize-winning scientist (in physics and chemistry), drawing from her literally radioactive diaries. From Poland to France, Karolina Gruszka’s Curie is not only a brilliant, determined academic and research pioneer in the early 20th century boys’ club of science education and laboratories. She’s a passionate partner with her husbandPierre (Charles Berling), and as a widow establishes her own bona fides despite challenging social propriety in an affair with colleague Paul Langevin (Arieh Worthalter). All while juggling pregnancies, child care, and her mother in very modern ways that make her very relate-able for today’s women and STEM students and scholars. — Nora Mandel


This is an extraordinary film about grief, freedom and personal reinvention from UK filmmaker Lynne Ramsay. It concerns a young supermarket worker’s (Samantha Morton) response to her boyfriend’s death. This is a slow, strange, unforgettable film — potentially about the transformative power of art. Or maybe plagiarism? — Liz Braun

MULAN (1998)

Before Moana and Elsa — both strong, independent “princesses” in their own right — there was Mulan, Disney’s brave Chinese heroine who risked everything to save her father and cared more about learning how to fight than finding a guy to swoon over. Plus, she brought some welcome diversity to Disney’s bevvy of role models for young girls. — Betsy Bozdech


my brilliant career posterMiles Franklin’s semi-autobiographical novel seems more than a trifle influenced by Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, but this movie spoke to me even more, perhaps because there’s only one central character, Sybilla Melvyn, and her circumstances seem even more challenging than Jo March’s. For one thing, she’s stuck in the Australian bush, not the Transcendentalist hotbed of Concord, Mass. For another, nobody ever seems to consider the possibility that Sybilla might be able to realize her literary ambitions. (As one older-and-wiser character advises her — and I’m paraphrasing — “Loneliness is a high price to pay for independence.”) But Sybilla’s determination and belief in herself enables her to remain true to her goal, and herself … despite the temptations of life with dreamy Sam Neill. (Director Gillian Armstrong went on to direct a wonderful version of Little Women, too, but this is still my fave.) — Carol Cling

NORMA RAE (1979)

norma rae posterInspired by the real life story of Crystal Lee Sutton of Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, director Martin Ritt’s Norma Rae focuses on the brave activism of one woman who helped to unionize textile factory workers to protest unfair wages and hazardous health conditions in the work place — conditions that lead directly to the death of her father, who also works at the plant in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina. Watching Sally Field’s stellar performance as Norma Rae is like watching a master class in acting. Certainly Fields’ most powerful performance to date, it garnered her an Academy Award for Best Actress. The film was also nominated for Best Picture and five other awards categories. In supporting roles, Beau Bridges and Ron Leibman are also spot on. Crystal Lee Sutton’s fight for women’s rights and better working conditions is a reminder that the activism of courageous women has made a difference throughout the course of history. Strongly suggested as a double bill with Made in Dagenham, a similarly inspiring story about a woman unionizer in the UK, and offering a fascinating comparison of social and working conditions for n British and American working women. — Sarah Knight Adamson

PARIAH (2011)

Mudbound director Dee Rees’s feature debut (which she also wrote) is a searing, sensitive look at a young lesbian’s coming of age. As she comes to embrace her sexual orientation, Alike (Adepero Oduye) also explores the meaning and presentation of gender and how it relates to sexuality. — Kristen Page Kirby


British director Terence Davies freed the great American poet Emily Dickinson from the rigid historical stereotypes of a shy recluse through the vibrant performance of her life story by Cynthia Nixon. This Dickinson is quick-witted, opinionated, emotional, and surrounded by friends and family, including a potential suitor. In a lovely recreation of the mid-19th century, her insistence on writing poetry is her rebellion against societal restrictions as a positive choice to use her time and intelligence creatively. The beautiful poems take center stage, bursting from her soul. Her talent is refreshingly appealing to today’s audiences. — Nora Mandel


Weaving together archive footage and contemporary talking heads, filmmaker Nancy Buirski creates a desperately moving portrait of the fight against injustice. Despite having occurred over 50 years ago, the rape of African American Recy Taylor by seven white men who ambushed her as she walked home from church vibrates with vivid anger and contemporary resonance. While Recy’s story may originate in violence, her response is nothing short of inspirational. Instead of cowering, Recy became determined to bring her attackers to justice. Teaming with Rosa Parks, she became one of legions of black women whose refusal to stay silent helped drive the civil rights movement. — Nikki Baughan


reelherstory posterFifty percent of the films made in Hollywood before 1925 were made by women. This is a little-known fact for the first histories of Hollywood written later in the 1940’s by male historians neglected to mention them or glossed over their careers. Frances Marion was one of them. Together with Mary Pickford, who selected her as her official scriptwriter, she won two Oscars for her the early 1930s. Mary Pickford was not only an actor also a director but studio boss, who together with Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, DW Griffith formed the movie studio: United Artists. They also were the creators of the Academy Awards. Research by Ally Acker, who has dedicated her life work to removing women in the business from obscurity is the subject of Reel Herstory: The Real Story of Reel Women that looks at women in Hollywood from 1896 until 2014. She discovered with Marc Wanamaker box of photographs at his studio Bison Archives of countless women working in Hollywood and the rest is herstory. These were women who were were filmmakers, producers, writers and editors. Hosted by Jodie Foster. — Moira Sullivan


Séraphine is a biopic about troubled primitive artist Séraphine Louis, also known in the art world as Séraphine of Senlis, the French town where she lived and worked privately during the first two decades of the 20th century. The unusual, self-taught artist emerges from obscurity in a film that is both illuminating and illuminated from within by the committed performance of Yolande Moreau in the title role. Among the film’s seven César awards from the Académie des Arts et Techniques du Cinéma were best picture and best actress for Moreau. Marilyn Ferdinand


Based on the true story of Karen Silkwood (Meryl Streep), a nuclear power plant factory worker who died mysteriously in a car crash while en route to deliver evidence of radiation contamination that she and her coworkers were suffering due to company negligence, this character-driven drama honors feminist courage and actvism. Directed by Mike Nichols with a script co-authored by Nora Ephron and Alice Arlen, Silkwood is an affecting reveal of how an ordinary hard-working woman drew upon her inner strength and courage, risking the loss of her job, friends and family — and her life — to become the whistle-blowing advocate for safety in the workplace. The film is a particularly relevant women’s history lesson with resonance in the current #MeToo initiative in which women are speaking up about harassment and other egregious conditions in their workplaces. — Jennifer Merin

STEP (2017)

STEP POSTERStep is a soul-stirring, foot-stomping and inspirational step beyond most docs that revolve around a competition in that its final showdown is only the beginning of a path towards a brighter future for the participants — namely, members of a step-dance team who are about to become part of the first graduating class of the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women. This is both a buoyantly uplifting, intimate and, at times, tear-shedding celebration of African-American womanhood and the dedicated educators who have their backs. The real prize isn’t a trophy but ensuring that each and every senior will head off to college despite the obstacles that they face in their daily lives. It also might just be the most relevant and necessary doc you will see all year. — Susan Wloszczyna


their finest poster skinnyWith 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. Sparks fly between her and a cynical fellow writer Tom (Sam Claflin, duly intellectualized with specs and a ‘stache) and Arterton knows how to pretty-cry with panache when tears are required. — Susan Wloszczyna

WADJDA (2012)

This powerful film has so many messages about girls and women Wadjda, 10, lives in Saudi Arabia. More than anything, she wants a bike, But her mother thinks that society will frown upon a girl riding a bike – it threatens a girl’s virture. Wadjda’s mother also faces the possibility of her husband taking a second wife. There is not a bad moment in this compelling movie. — Linda Cook

WANDA (1990)

Barbara Loden’s 1970 low-budget, verite indie should be ranked with the best of John Cassavetes. Loden wrote, directed and plays the title character, a disaffected wife and mother who abandons her family in the coal region of eastern Pennsylvania and sets off on her own, meeting up with a petty criminal, and hitting the road. Loden died too soon, in 1980, but left the legacy of this rare, heartbreaking portrait of a simple soul stumbling through life with few options or resources.– Loren King


whale rider posterNiki Caro is not Maori, but the New Zealander writer-director made sure to conduct extensive research — by learning the language, spending time in the community, and forging friendships – to authentically tell the story of Paikea, a young indigenous girl who wishes she could inherit her grandfather’s role as Chief. Paikea, played in an amazing Academy Award-nominated performance by then-13-year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes, proves she’s just as worthy as a boy to lead her Maori tribe. Poignant and powerful, this unique family film is simply unforgettable. — Sandie Angulo Chen


Director Michael Ritchie’s film should’ve hit at the right time, what with more women entering back into the workforce in the 80’s, but didn’t thanks to a tepid reception from critics and commercial audiences alike. However, this story about a girls-track-coach-turned-inner-city-football-coach – whose abilities are underestimated by practically everyone – is an underappreciated, often misunderstood wildly feminist gem. Read full reviewCourtney Howard


without lying down posterFrances Marion was one of the most successful screenwriters in Hollywood, penning more than 200 scripts during her active years (1912-1940), winning two Academy Awards, and enjoying the confidence and friendship of frequent collaborator Mary Pickford, easily the most powerful woman in Hollywood at the time as one of the founders of United Artists. The title of this 2000 documentary comes from a quote from Marion: “In the picture business, you can spend your life looking for a man to look up to without lying down.” Marion’s biographer, Cari Beauchamp, collaborated with this film’s director, Bridget Terry, on the screenplay for Without Lying Down, and its messages of inspiration and hope could not have come at a better time. — Marilyn Ferdinand


The story of the Navy Seal Team that took down Osama bin Laden is actually the story of one woman’s (Jessica Chastain) persistence. Kathryn Bigelow‘s tense thriller is worth seeing again just to be reminded how brilliant Chastain is in this role of single-minded operative. — Liz Braun

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks to AWFJ members Sarah Knight Adamson, Martha Baker, Nikki Baughan, Betsy Bozdech, Liz Braun, Sandie Angulo Chen, Carol Cling, Linda Cook, Marilyn Ferdinand, Courtney Howard, MaryAnn Johanson, Loren King, Nora Mandel, Martha Nochimson, Moira Sullivan, and Susan Wloszczyna for your excellent contributions to AWFJ’s Women’s History Month Movies Watch List.

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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).