So far I've watched 26 films by female directors for 2018 – my best year yet! And I know I say this every time, but this is a really strong group overall. (You can see the list I was working from here
.) There are no legends this time (no Varda or Akerman, sigh
). In fact, four of my top ten are feature debuts. To my chagrin, this is my first experience with five of the other six! (Yes, I know LEAVES told us to watch Rohrwacher, but I was lazy and I don't like bees, haha.) So Martel is the only one I've followed throughout her career. I'll definitely have to catch up with the others soon.
Here are the lists for 2017
Women of 2018
I already wrote about Zama here
, so I'll just say that Lucrecia Martel
is at the top of her very polished game. This is a haunting, atmospheric film shot through with absurdity and pathos – a perfect film in my book.
(pictured above) is the best movie (by any director) I've seen since Zama
. I think I may love it more than that one, despite its second place on this list. I didn't know what to expect, so I was astonished by its warmth and transcendence. (For that reason, I'm being very careful not to say too much. Though if you want to have a discussion in spoiler tags, I'm always up for that!) It's filmed to look like something old and treasured, an oft-read book, maybe, or an heirloom music-box, ha. In that, it's well served by the open, timeless face of non-actor Tardiolo. Alice Rohrwacher
boldly mixes ethnography, current events, and hagiography (the Catholic kind) to get something completely unique and mythic. People are constantly disappointing in this fable, but there's hope in it, too. This one definitely belongs on my angry optimism
list. More pics here
I Am Not a Witch
(pictured immediately below) is another fable with an timeless feel. Born in Zambia but raised in Wales, Rungano Nyoni
went back to Africa for her first feature, discovering a young, first-time actress with a wonderful face for the title role. This is a beautiful film about terrible things, exaggerated (but not too much) for effect. (The tourism, especially, feels depressingly real.) The film reminds me of the Sembene of Xala
, as the mix of folklore and biting satire gives us just enough distance to make the tragedy bearable.
Speaking of child actors, for Capernaum
, Nadine Labaki
found an amazing child actor who carries the whole film with a strenuous physical and emotional performance. This is a film about horrors, but we (though older and more cynical) hold onto hope simply because our young protagonist does. I can't emphasize enough how great this kid is!
is a clever film about communication using language and culture differences from Germany's Valeska Grisebach
. I wrote a little more about it here
Another film about young children in distress, Summer 1993
is Carla Simón's
lovely and poignant directorial debut about her own childhood struggle with grief. I wrote more about this one here
– Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
and Jimmy Chin and are a twist on the traditional husband-wife team, with the the woman behind the camera and the man in front. (Though obviously the difficult logistics were crucial behind-the-scenes work as well, and they both did that.) The filmmakers were extremely lucky in their subject; Honnold is an fascinating, articulate character, making the lead up (almost) as entertaining as his breathtaking climb.
brings us a cleverly written spin on the romantic comedy. All About Nina
takes the personal flaw trope and makes it the center of a psychologically authentic struggle with trauma. Add particularly strong performances by Winstead and Common, and you have a very impressive first feature!
is the story of a serious, studious girl in Iran whose relationship with her mother is miserable, nonetheless. In her feature debut, Sadaf Foroughi
ramps up the tension to show how high the stakes are for even the slightest rebellion, while a gut-punch moment near the end makes the mother's point of view horribly understandable.
(pictured below) is about another teenager/mother dynamic, this time complicated by a mentor who eagerly accepts the role of mother figure, and made visceral with a roving, agitated camera. More radically, Josephine Decker
plays with her own filmmaking process – a workshop where improvisation overlaps with the actress's real life – to give an uncomfortable and intense edge to the screen relationships.