Tag Archives: female directors

Let The Sunshine In

Juliette Binoche is extraordinary, really. Behind those gorgeous, liquid brown eyes, there’s a bit of a mystery. There’s a natural sensuality to her, but under the direction of Claire Denis, that turns into a raw eroticism, and Denis knows just how to turn that up.

Isabelle has many lovers but no loves. And maybe she’d like one, a true love, a forever love, but the truth is, she can barely manage the one night stands. She’s exceptionally MV5BNWJhY2UwOTEtMjMzYi00MjBkLWEwNDgtY2QzYmVkNzllNDQzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjk1Njg5NTA@._V1_bad at choosing men. They’re all unavailable. Her best effort is a married man who’s bad in bed AND rude to waiters. Nothing going for him! He’s not even cute! And he’ll never be hers. So why then is she so hurt when he continues to never leave his wife, as promised? Why does she cry over men who don’t deserve it? She’s a beautiful woman, a tender, open artist. Everyone is entitled to one bad boyfriend. But a string of them starts to look like a pattern, and you’re the one picking the wallpaper. So what the hell is wrong with Isabelle?

She cries at night, every night. She’s miserable. She’s suspicious of men. She moves too quickly and is even quicker to anger. She’s ricocheting between men, wracking up a score, but she never wins the prize. As much as I can dislike Isabelle, Binoche gives her a vulnerability that is hard to hate entirely. She tries too hard, she wants it too much. She’s so desperate she goes to see a psychic (Gerard Depardieu) for advice. And she’s the type who wants so badly to believe him. Her tears guide him into saying exactly what she wants to hear. We all have that friend who just keeps screwing up her love life – we can see it coming a mile away, so why can’t she, an otherwise intelligent woman? Isabelle is that woman and Claire Denis knows her intimately.

 

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Top 10 Female-Directed Movies 2018

10. The Land of Steady Habits: Nicole Holofcener directs some layered, complex performances, especially from Ben Mendelsohn, who plays a man flexing his cringe-worthy mid-life crisis. The film ends up achingly authentic and deeply bittersweet.

9. Blockers: Kay Cannon is the woman behind one of the few comedies I laughed at in 2018, and its box office makes clear I wasn’t the only one. It’s both a teen comedy and an empty-nest one, and manages to be funny, irreverent, and modern about both. Cannon’s cast is loose, and the jokes land handily, the script smart and quick.

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8. Outside In: Lynn Shelton gets some moving and tender performances out of Jay Duplass, who plays a man just released from prison, and Edie Falco, who plays his high school teacher who hastened his release. Their story is absorbing and empathetic, and Shelton teases some naked tension out of it, keeping us in her grip.

7. Private Life: Tamara Jenkins sneaks us behind closed doors to see witness adulthood and marriage as they are rarely seen. In the throes of fertility struggles, Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti give truly fine, heartbreaking performances.

6. What They Had: Elizabeth Chomko delivers a film that’s hard to look away from. Blythe Danner plays a woman with Alzheimer’s while her family (Robert Forster, Michael Shannon, Hilary Swank), swell and melt around her. It’s a real family drama that’s familiar and necessary.

5. The Kindergarten Teacher: Sara Colangelo justifies her American remake by packing a real punch and eliciting a wonderful performance from Maggie Gyllenhaal. This is one film that kept unfolding itself even after it was over, as it stayed in my thoughts for days.

4. A Wrinkle In Time: Ava DuVernay bravely adapted a beloved children’s book and ended up modernizing it, giving it relevance, and making an enduring, beautiful film that can be enjoyed by audiences of all ages.

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3.You Were Never Really Here: Lynne Ramsay deals us a real swift punch with her gutsy, bold film, and proves she has a bracingly unique cinematic eye. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is riveting.

2. Leave No Trace: Debra Granik dares to mold this dramatic story into a quiet, low-key film that demands little yet accomplishes much – everything. Leads Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie have terrific chemistry that sprinkles the film in authenticity.

1.  Can You Ever Forgive Me: Marielle Heller promises a lot with her premise, but manages to deliver even more. This movie worked for me on so many levels. The story is compelling. Melissa McCarthy is at her very best. It’s frequently laugh-out-loud funny. It’s a platonic LGBTQ love story with the unlikeliest, unlikable heroine, yet she’s always treated with dignity and empathy, and we can’t help but adore her, even in her crankiness.

 

 

I’ll Be Home For Christmas

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Well, it was 1998, and we thought they were pretty good, but looking back, it’s 100% cringe. What were we thinking?

It’s hard to even imagine a world in which Jonathan Taylor Thomas, the middle brother from Home Improvement, could break out into movie stardom, but Disney did right by its ABC stars, making Tim Allen the voice of Buzz Lightyear and Thomas the voice of Simba. In fact, if you watch I’ll Be Home For Christmas, also a Disney movie, closely, you’ll see some similarities to Lion King. Thomas plays Jake, a college kid who’d rather go to Mexico with his girlfriend than home for the holidays. His girlfriend Allie (Jessica Biel), however, is more family-minded, and Jake’s father (Gary Cole) bribes him with a Porsche. So suddenly Jake is motivated to get home for Christmas, but a rival for Allie’s affections gets in the way of things. Jake comes to in the middle of a desert, and the scene closely mirrors Simba’s own desert scene, down to the turkey vultures squawking at him.

Jake is wearing a Santa suit, and finds that his beard and hat are glued to him. He has no Jake-Wilkinson-763712money, and since it’s 1998, no cell phone. He does know people’s phone numbers though, which is weird, so he’s able to call people collect from a gas station payphone. Nobody comes to his rescue. So now he’s got a cross-country road trip to make, relying on the kindness of strangers, in order to get home by 6pm on Christmas Eve and claim the keys to the Porsche.

Thing is, Jake is not exactly the kind of guy who inspires kindness from strangers. He’s well known for his sweet-talking but he’s a flake and he’s selfish, so he wears out his welcome quickly. Jonathan Taylor Thomas does his best Christian Slater impersonation throughout the movie, and it never, not once, works for him. But since the rest of the cast is also rather talentless and annoying, I guess it blends in?

This isn’t exactly a classic Christmas movie, and it probably won’t win any new fans – basically, unless you had JTT centrefolds from Tiger Beat magazine on your walls as a kid, you’ll probably never get around to this movie, and that’s totally fine. On the other hand, it’s probably the only Disney movie with the world ‘butthole’ in it, so maybe that’s something?

 

Bird Box

Imagine threatening very small children with their lives. Imagine threatening your own children with their deaths, their painful deaths, by your own hands if necessary. Can you even imagine a situation so dire that you would tell your kids you would kill them IF?

If you’re a fan of Josh Malerman’s post-apocalyptic horror novel, Bird Box, the good news is,  you can always reread it. Netflix has adapted this “unfilmable” book (how many books have we said that about now?), and turned it into something bibliophiles will scarcely recognize. But that doesn’t meant it’s bad.

Malorie (Sandra Bullock) is in the impossible situation. She’s pregnant at the end of the world. This particular nightmare is the inverse of The Quiet Place – they had to stay silent in order to not die, and in Bird Box, they have to not see. The sight of something is causing people to almost immediately become homicidal and ultimately, suicidal. It’s a plague killing millions, killing billions, killing everyone around the world. The only way to survive is to not see, to never see. But food and water and resources inside are finite. MV5BMjE5Nzk1ODgwMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjU5MTE2NjM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_Malorie is living with a small group of people, strangers, really, who don’t always agree on the best way to exist together, or how to stay alive. Malorie’s not even the only pregnant one – Olympia (Danielle Macdonald) is expecting too, right around the same time. The house’s other inhabitants (Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich, Jacki Weaver among them) will have to make all kinds of hard choices to ensure the group’s survival. As you probably guessed, ultimately, Malorie will need to leave the relative safety of their shared home – and worse than that, she may have to sacrifice one child to save another. Doesn’t that sound like a fun little jam to be in?

Yeah, this is a horror movie, in case you’re not picking up on the obvious. The unknown, horrible, unseeable things remain unseen by us, but they’re a constant threat. Director Susanne Bier understands it’s way creepier to only suggest the worst, and let our own imaginations prey on our fears. A newborn baby is of course the most vulnerable creature in the world. What else could heighten a dangerous situation like a helpless baby? But what else would pose a greater danger? A baby, unable to look away, unable to understand, a baby who will only need need need, and take take take, and attract attention while putting everyone at risk. A baby, two babies, normally a blessing, but in this scenario, the worst possible thing.

Bier creates a tense atmosphere and Bullock keeps us riveted. Rather than jump scares, Bier gives us a character study, and Malorie’s humanity and the children’s inherent weaknesses gives some real meat to the film’s anxiety. But the film strays quite far from the book, and to no real advantage. Since this film streams for “free” on Netflix, it’s a no-brainer if you can take the heat (or rather the chill, the frisson). Squeeze your eyes half shut.

Nancy

Nancy is as complicated a protagonist as we’ll meet in a movie, and perhaps only an indie movie like this could pull it off. Between online forums and meeting strange men in diners, Nancy weaves a story about lost and/or current pregnancies, and it’s unclear if (and perhaps unlikely that) any of it ever happened.

After years of taking care of her mother, Nancy (Andrea Riseborough) is at odds when she dies suddenly, leaving Nancy alone in a house she hates, and shards of a life she andrea-riseborough-im-nancy-1mostly resents. One night, she hears a story on television about a little girl, Brook, who disappeared 30 years ago. An inkling is all it takes, and soon Nancy is contacting and visiting Leo (Steve Buscemi) and Ellen (J. Smith-Cameron), the little girl’s parents, believing or half-believing or half-willing herself to be the kidnapped child, now grown up.

The only person who wants it to be true more than Nancy does is Brook’s mother, Ellen. Leo is much more skeptical, and admits they’ve had false hopes before. A DNA test is quickly procured but as they await the results, Nancy movies in and cozies up and Ellen can’t help but get attached. Ellen has been a mother without a child for 30 long years; she’s got a spot underneath her wing that’s Nancy-sized, to say nothing of the hole in her heart.

The psychology of this movie is fascinating. It really explores the depths and nature of intimacy. Riseborough is fantastic. She’s got a haunted look about her; there’s a back story that’s simply implied in her downcast eyes, her uncombed hair. Smith-Cameron is also exceptional. Her shakiness and fragility are evident in every quaking breath. Her need is enormous. A talented cast really makes this story, well-crafted by writer-director Christina Choe, come alive.

Forever My Girl

It’s the best day ever: not many people can say their wedding day coincides with their first hit single hitting the radio, but Liam is just that lucky, and Josie is his beautiful bride. Almost the whole of their small Louisiana town has shown up to see these pretty young things get married – all but one very important person: the groom. Josie is left at the altar because Liam’s star is shooting upward, and I guess marrying your high school sweetheart just doesn’t jibe with his country heartthrob image.

MV5BNTY1N2I5MjEtZDNkZS00OTgxLWFhM2MtNTM0NGY0MzBmNjRhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDg2MjUxNjM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1497,1000_AL_Cut to: 10 years later, a mutual friend dies, and Liam, a mega star, leaves his world tour to go back to that small town, which he’s never really escaped. And wouldn’t you know it – Josie is the first person he runs into. Well, Josie and her kid.

Like all country music, lots of the sound track is incredibly on the nose. But there’s lots of it, so if obvious country music is your jam (and let’s be honest – is there any other kind?), then you might be in hog heaven. Or at least in pig purgatory.

Alex Roe is definitely a guy who can play a country singer – you know, a multi-millionaire who still wears a beat up ball cap and a pair of work boots even though the feet inside them are manicured, to manipulate you into thinking he’s a working guy with a broken heart, just like you, when really his stubble is carefully curated by half a dozen stylists and his heart doesn’t even get involved between the groupies and the blow. But his lyrics are all about pick up trucks and the love of his country. He strictly drives Mercedes of course,  and his flags are just accessories he trots out for music videos.

But Liam? Oh, Liam’s good people. I mean, yes, he abandoned the love of his life on their wedding day and then didn’t return her call for eight years, but he was young! And he wrote songs about it! Jessica Rothe plays the jilted girlfriend, and she’s as wallflowery as the character. The kid, however, is a bright spot. Precocious children usually drive me bananas, but Abby Ryder Fortson pulled it off. Too bad the grown-ups weren’t half as charming.

Dumplin’

Willowdean, aka Dumplin (Danielle Macdonald), feels like a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. Her aunt Lucy always had a knack for making her feel at home and helping her to navigate life greasier spots, but aunt Lucy is gone now. Thank goodness for her best friend Ellen (Odeya Rush), a fellow lover of all things Dolly Parton. Willowdean’s mother, Rosie (Jennifer Aniston), is practically a celebrity in their small Texan town. She was Miss Teen Bluebonnet 1991, and is the pageant’s current director. Their house looks like Miss America barfed all over it, except in aunt Lucy’s old room, still not empty of her belongings, but that won’t be true for long, if Rosie has her way.

MV5BNTIwODk1MjYzMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzQxMzU3NjM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1301,1000_AL_Dumplin’ is based on a novel by Julie Murphy, and it’s kind of like a Love, Simon for fat girls (we deserve love too!). Willowdean doesn’t have the perfect figure, a fact all the more noticeable standing next to her mother, a literal beauty queen, and the town’s image of perfection. So it’s a mystery to her when Bo, the heartthrob that works with her in the local diner, seems to be interested in her. That can’t be right, can it?

Overweight women struggle to find acceptance in the world, and remain almost invisible, undepicted, in Hollywood. Weight will be the last taboo, clearly. So when Willowdean enters the pageant, it’s an act of rebellion. Her mother isn’t thrilled and the pageant institution wants to preserve its ‘sanctity’, but when Willowdean shows up, she’s like the Joan of Arc of fat girls, inspiriting several other ‘unsuitable’ girls to sign up.

It’s interesting to watch Willowdean struggle, to know in her head that people’s judgement about her weight is complete bullshit, but also to have internalized it, to use that bit of self-loathing as as a defense mechanism. It takes a lot of strength to confront these stereotypes, and to have Willowdean do it as a high school student, so young and vulnerable, keeps our compassion levels high – as well as our concern. It makes us watch with a critical eye. Who is complicit? Store that sell a minimum of (small) sizes? Magazines that wrongfully equate weight with health? Movies that would have you believe that a boy who likes a fat girl is a hero? The pageant system itself, which celebrates a very narrow definition of beauty and weighs intellect and swim suit wearing equally?

There’s nothing in the rules that says “big girls need not apply” but all too often, fat girls see barriers everywhere. Sometimes they’re just barriers we just mentally put there ourselves after being conditioned by society to feel somehow inferior or unworthy. Dumplin’ is asking us not to buy into that – not of each other, and not of ourselves. A number on a scale is incapable of determining beauty, and it’s not even close to measuring a person’s worth. The film doesn’t follow the book’s exact plot, and it wisely edits a lot of the romantic drama, because this story is most of all about self-acceptance, as every story should be.