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Best Films Directed by Women, Reaching Consensus

Best Films Directed by Women, Reaching Consensus

While we pore over the latest Sight & Sound film critics poll of the Top 50 Movies of all time, it’s not surprising that most of the films are directed by men. The notable exception is Chantal Akerman’s “Jeanne Dielman,” which I saw in college but barely remember. On the other hand, I recall every frame of Maya Deren’s “Meshes in the Afternoon.” The poll, as many have commented, is dominated by older films, most of them pre-1960, a time when few women were directing, unless they were Ida Lupino, Dorothy Arzner or Leni Reifenstahl, who did not make the S & S list. Even the great French and Australian women filmmakers–accepted and supported by their culture in a way that American filmmakers are not– didn’t get going until the 70s.

Many of the directors who made the S & S list had built up critical consensus around their top titles. Those who didn’t got left off the list–such as Howard Hawks, Sam Peckinpah, Preston Sturges and others. It’s almost a PR issue–who gets written about the most, which movies stay extant in the conversation, retaining currency and relevance? So few films directed by women have become actual classics. When Cannes collected all the best filmmakers for a recent anniversary grouping, they included one woman: Jane Campion.

So let’s collect the best movies directed by women. Give them some ink. Get the conversation, if late, at least started. So few women have directed Hollywood films of any size, and so many have made personal independent ventures. And so few have built longlasting careers with steady ouput. So many of the best foreign films have not been widely seen. It’s the way it is. Please write in any notable films or filmmakers I have left off this list. I’ve picked each directors’ best film, but you may differ. Then we’ll come up with a poll for you to vote in. (Women in Hollywood is also doing this; they have their own list.)

1. Jane Campion The Piano

2. Kathyrn Bigelow The Hurt Locker

3. Julie Taymor Frida

4. Susanne Bier After the Wedding

5. Deba Granik Winter’s Bone

6. Lena Wertmuller Swept Away

7. Barbra Streisand Yentl

8. Mira Nair Monsoon Wedding

9.  Lisa Cholodenko The Kids Are All Right

10. Gillian Armstrong High Tide


Chantal Akerman Jeanne Dielman

Suzana Amaral The Hour of the Star

Allison Anders Gas Food Lodging

Andrea Arnold Fish Tank

Dorothy Arzner Dance Girl Dance

Drew Barrymore Whip It

Hava Kohav Beller The Restless Conscience

Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini American Splendor

Antonia Bird Priest

Catherine Breillat 36 Fillett

Vera Chytilova Daisies

Niki Caro Whale Rider

Martha Coolidge Rambling Rose

Sofia Coppola Lost in Translation

Julie Dash Daughters of the Dust

Claire Denis Beau Travail

Maya Deren Meshes in the Afternoon

Marguerite Duras India Song

Nora Ephron Sleepless in Seattle

Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton Little Miss Sunshine

Anne Fletcher The Proposal

Jodie Foster  Home for the Holidays

Marleen Goris Antonia’s Line

Randa Haines Children of a Lesser God

Mary Harron American Pyscho

Amy Heckerling Fast Times at Ridgement High

Agnieszka Holland Europa Europa

Nicole Holofcener Walking and Talking

Ann Hui Boat People

Courtney Hunt Frozen River

Patti Jenkins Monster

Tamra Jenkins  The Savages

Angelina Jolie In the Land of Blood and Honey

Miranda July Me and You and Everyone We Know

Nicole Kassell The Woodsman

Kasi Lemons Eve’s Bayou

Phyllida Lloyd Mamma Mia!

Barbara Loden Wanda

Ida Lupino Outrage (for On Dangerous Ground, she filled in for sick Nicolas Ray,  uncredited)

Penny Marshall Big

Lucrecia Martel The Headless Woman

Elaine May The Heartbreak Kid

Deepa Mehta Water

Marzieh Meshini The Day I Became a Woman

Nancy Meyer What Women Want

Rebecca Miller Peronsal Velocity

Euzhan Palcy Sugar Lane Alley

Kimberly Pierce Boys Don’t Cry

Sarah Polley Away from Her

Sally Potter Orlando

Gina Prince-Bythewood Love and Basketball

Lynne Ramsay  We Need to Talk About Kevin

Dee Rees Pariah

Kelly Reichardt Meek’s Cutoff

Leni Riefenstahl Triumph of the Will

Marjane Satrapi Persepolis

Nancy Savoca Household Saints

Lone Scherfig An Education

Lynn Shelton My Sister’s Sister

Larisa Shepitko  The Ascent

Joan Micklin Silver Hester Street

Penelope Spheeris Wayne’s World

Agnes Varda One Sings, The Other Doesn’t

Anne Wheeler Bye Bye Blues

Juanita Wilson As If I Am Not There

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