From rising stars like Kitty Green and Sian Heder to established talents like Lynne Ramsay and Tina Mabry, Netflix offers up a wide variety of female-directed features for the movie-consuming public.
Here are 10 you can stream right now.
Céline Sciamma’s 2014 festival favorite – it debuted at Cannes’ lauded Directors’ Fortnight, later making stops at Toronto, London, Hamburg, and more – is a highly relatable coming-of-age tale set against an indelible backdrop. The filmmaker was inspired by the various “girl gangs” she saw around the Paris suburbs, and “Girlhood” focuses on one such girl: Marieme (Karidja Touré, hailed for her breakout turn in the feature). Marieme’s circumstances aren’t great – she lives in a poor neighborhood, struggles in school, and has a real jerk for a brother – but when she joins up with a group of street smart girls, she finds a tight-knit gang that is as tough as they are loving. Sciamma’s film doesn’t romanticize Marieme’s new lifestyle (though there is at least one instant classic party scene set to a Rihanna jam that is super-cool), though it does shine a light on the intensity of female friendships in a way that is deeply heartening.
Lynne Ramsay’s high-wire psychological drama brilliantly adapts Lionel Shriver’s chilling novel of the same name to deliver a film that’s equally as insightful as it is just plain terrifying. The Cannes premiere features a banger of a performance from Tilda Swinton and a true breakout from Ezra Miller, facing off as adversaries, predator and prey, mother and son. Ramsay has always excelled at portraying the interior lives of complex characters, and “Kevin” provided her to do at even more heightened level than normal. It’s a chilling, unshakeable film, and one that only Ramsay could have made.
Niki Caro’s breakout 2002 feature set the “Zookeeper’s Wife” and upcoming “Mulan” remake director on her path to super-stardom (along with her star, Keisha Castle-Hughes, who became the youngest actress ever nominated for a Best Actress Oscar before being unseated a decade later) and announced her a huge talent to watch. A hit on the festival circuit, the film picked up the Toronto International Film Festival’s Peoples Choice Award (the fest’s primary accolade), the World Cinema Audience Award at Sundance and the Canal Plus Award at Rotterdam, and made clear Caro’s commitment to her craft and her actors. The coming-of-age tale is set in the Maori community of Whangara, New Zealand, and seamlessly blends together myth and modern concerns to tell a stirring story about a girl with big, big dreams.
Claire Carré’s inventive sci-fi launched a major sneak attack on the film world back in 2015, when it zinged through the festival circuit, seemingly out of nowhere. Blending some of the best bits of the genre, the future-set feature envisions a post-apocalyptic world in which survivors have been stricken with short-term memory loss (“Memento” much?) and then uses that intriguing premise to further explore notions of romance, desire, personal identity, existential yearning, and the unshakeable need to keep pushing forward, even in the midst of so much confusion and rot. On its own, “Embers” is exciting and fresh, but as an entry point into Carré’s (hopefully further expanding) oeuvre, it’s utterly unmissable.
Pair up “Girlhood” with Rebecca Johnson’s 2014 feature debut, and you’re in for a wholly original and illuminating double feature about the tangled lives of European teenagers on the cusp of something big (and potentially dangerous). Like “Girlhood,” Johnson’s film chronicles the journey of one young teen (Jessica Sula as Layla) as she gets involved with a local gang, all in hopes of finding her place in the world. But while “Girlhood” details a personal journey, Johnson uses her film to explore a real-life occurence that rocked London in 2009, when a South London teenager lured a former crush into a horrific trap that left him dead and sent her to jail for a decade. Johnson’s film stands on its own merits, however, and the true-crime element only adds another level to an impressive and nuanced debut.
Ava DuVernay’s latest documentary, the Oscar-nominated “13TH,” was always meant to be readily available to a large section of movie lovers, thanks to the filmmaker’s free-wheeling production and distribution deal with Netflix. Billed as something as a “secret” film, the Netflix deal allowed the “Selma” helmer to make her feature-length look at the American prison system with minimal intrusion over the course of nearly two years. While DuVernay’s film does not provide a roadmap for prison reform, it is awash in interviews with luminaries from both sides of the debate (including, somehow, both activist Angela Davis and Newt Gingrich, who admits some hard truths about his role in increased sentencing for drug dealers) who bring their own ideas to the table.
A pickup from this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Kitty Green’s documentary is a canny and unsettling hybrid affair that blends its ostensible focus (the murder of young JonBenet Ramsey) with a closer examination of how public perception colors infamous occurrences. Built around interviews with dozens of Colorado locals, all of whom are auditioning to play various roles in Green’s reconstruction of the crime, “Casting JonBenet” shuns genre convention at every turn. By no means a “traditional” documentary and hardly an examination of the Ramsey case at large, the film instead unearths different kind of truths in a bold manner, bolstered by Green’s big vision.
A snappy, super-fun teen caper that bowed at this year’s Sundance, Sydney Freeland’s comedy has a winning cast of both new and rising stars (Ashleigh Murray is now on “Riverdale,” Rachel Crow is one to watch, and it’s always nice to see Sasheer Zamata stretching her comedic chops outside “SNL”) and a freight-train pace that keeps things ticking right along. After the eponymous sisters’ mom is tossed in the slammer, Deidra and Laney cook up a plan to keep their family afloat: they’ll rob trains. Chockfull of amusing missteps and heart-pumping heist sequences, the film is both very funny and very sweet, and it keeps chugging along right to its amusing end.
Tina Mabry’s 2009 autobiographical saga follows a Southern family seemingly trapped in a never-ending cycle of abuse and trauma, an intimate story writ large by the sheer force of Mabry’s own experiences. Set in two different time frames, the film follows the three Peterson kids (siblings and cousins) as they attempt to come to grips with their family, their desires, and what it actually means to transcend circumstances. Big, bruising, and bold, it’s a deeply personal feature with wide-ranging implications that still land with a major punch nearly a decade on.
Sian Heder’s short film “Mother” beget “Tallulah,” the filmmaker’s first feature, which stars Ellen Page as a well-meaning loner who sort of, kind of, accidentally kidnaps baby and tries to pass it of as her own to her boyfriend’s unimpressed mother, played by Allison Janney. It’s a tricky film, and it’s one that Heder was repeatedly told couldn’t be made, but the final product ended up being a big hit at Sundance last year, and one that sold to Netlflix for a pretty penny. The film offers both Page and Janney (“Juno” reunion!) the chance to embrace “unlikeable” characters and a twisted story with ease and grace.