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The 100 All-Time Greatest Films Directed by Women

Films by Julie Dash, Chantal Akerman, Chloe Zhao, Forough Farrokhzad, Jennifer Lee, and many other female filmmakers made the list.

The 100 Greatest Films Directed by Women

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90. “35 Shots of Rum” (Claire Denis, 2008)

"35 Shots of Rum"

“35 Shots of Rum”

Snap Stills/REX/Shutterstock

The endlessly versatile Claire Denis’ attempt at her version of an Ozu family drama is sublime. Early in production, Denis smartly abandoned trying to mirror the Japanese master’s static wide shots, and liberated the camera and cinematographer Agnes Godard to probe the natural loosening of the bond between a father and his young adult daughter. Denis regular Alex Descas is never better as a widowed father coming to terms with his daughter starting a life of her own at the very moment he – an African immigrant, married to a German woman – is also realizing that his entire existence revolves around a public transportation job he’ll likely lose to forced early retirement. Denis’ eye for the social and historical implications of her story is particularly sharp here, but never didactic or forced. The film contains a dance scene, set to the Commodores’ “Nightshift,” that is incredibly empathetic, sensual, and bittersweet – the essence of the film boiled down to four swaying bodies and averted glances without a word being spoken. In other words, Denis at her purest. –CO

89. “Near Dark” (Kathryn Bigelow, 1987)

"Near Dark"

“Near Dark”

Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock

Kathryn Bigelow couldn’t get her revisionist Western funded, so she rode the 1980s vampire wave to make this unique genre hybrid. A gorgeous, gory, and (romantically) gooey film set in a small midwestern town, “Near Dark” is a complicated love story about a vampire Mae (Jenny Wright) and Caleb (Adrian Pasdar), the boy she falls in love with and bites one very eventful evening, but whose essence proves to be non-violent, making her fall for him that much more. Bigelow’s nomadic vampire tribe, however, is violent and the director brings visceral brutality in a bar scene that is anything but romantic. All of this capped off with one of those ’80s-inflected Tangerine Dream scores that transports audiences to an entirely different headspace. For those who wish Bigelow never left genre for prestige, this film is a reminder of how dense her “less serious” films were right from the start. –CO

88. “Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance” (Alanis Obomsawin, 1993)

"Kanehsatake"

“Kanehsatake”

Channel Four

The Oka Crisis lasted 78 tense days in 1990, leaving two dead and bringing to light the dispute between the Mohawk people and the Canadian government. Alanis Obomsawin captured it vividly in “Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance,” which was produced by the National Film Board (and remains available to watch in its entirety). Made under difficult conditions — Obomsawin recorded the sound herself, and a police perimeter made it all but impossible to see beyond their barricade — the documentary captured history in the making with a sense of urgency that remains rare in nonfiction filmmaking. —MN

87. “The Souvenir” (Joanna Hogg, 2019)

"The Souvenir"

“The Souvenir”

A24

There isn’t much of a story in Joanna Hogg’s Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning, and wholly heartfelt and searingly honest, “The Souvenir.” The British director, somehow a breakthrough talent for the last 30 years, has always been less interested in plot than condition. Nevertheless, this elliptical, semi-autobiographical study of creative awakening lands with the weight of an epic. Set in the early 1980s, shot with the gauzy harshness of “Phantom Thread,” and named after an 18th century rococo painting by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Hogg’s most affecting work to date charts the doomed romance between a young filmmaker (the remarkable Honor Swinton Byrne) and the troubled older man (Tom Burke) who sparks her potential.

More than just a tender self-portrait, “The Souvenir” becomes a diorama-esque dissection of that volatile time in your life when every molecule feels like it’s restlessly vibrating in place, and even a brief encounter with another person has the power to rearrange your basic chemistry; when you’re so desperate to become yourself that you’ll happily believe in anyone else you happen to find along the way. It’s a masterpiece from a filmmaker who’s been major from the start. —DE

86. “Gas Food Lodging” (Allison Anders, 1992)

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Cineville Inc/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5873774e) Fairuza Balk Gas Food Lodging - 1992 Director: Allison Anders Cineville Inc USA Scene Still Drama

“Gas Food Lodging”

Cineville Inc/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

For her sophomore feature, Anders wrote and directed this charmingly well-observed $1.3 million family drama based on Richard Peck’s young adult novel “Don’t Look and It Won’t Hurt” about Nora, a truck stop waitress (Brooke Adams) raising two teenage daughters, Trudi (Ione Skye) and Shade (Fairuza Balk) in a New Mexico trailer park. Trudi defies her protective mother to drop out of school and waitress, and hooks up with a man (Robert Knepper) who gets her pregnant; she moves away to have the baby. Shade falls in and out of crushes while trying to set her mother up with a man (Chris Mulkey) who she has already dated. “Gas Food Lodging” played Sundance and Berlin and broke out Anders as a filmmaker; Balk took home the 1993 Independent Spirit Award for best female lead. —AT

85. “Something’s Gotta Give” (Nancy Meyers, 2003)

"Something's Gotta Give"

“Something’s Gotta Give”

Columbia Pictures

It’s a testament to the well-furnished, white-turtlenecked genius of Nancy Meyers that the most Nancy Meyers film ever made is also the best Nancy Meyers film ever made; the fact that “Something’s Gotta Give” often feels like a deranged parody of the rom-com writer-director’s ultra-charming wealth porn is part of the reason why it works so well (other reasons include the nuclear-grade chemistry between Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton, the decision to cast Keanu Reeves as a hunky Hamptons doctor, and a scene where a dozen Nicholson look-alikes flash the camera their prosthetic butts).

All of Meyers’ usual tropes are jacked up to 11: Palatial kitchens, rich people resisting their feelings for each other, zesty lines of dialogue that combine the wit of Billy Wilder with the wisdom of someone who knows why a sixtysomething woman might find herself shouting “I DO like sex!” From the Crazy Town needle drop that opens the film to the Parisian showdown that bids it adieu, “Something’s Gotta Give” takes place in a total fantasyland where love is the only luxury no one can afford, and having sex with someone half your age is just the first step toward finding true happiness with her mother. But the deeper Meyers dives into this alternate dimension, the more sense that it all starts to make. And by the time Nicholson looks Keaton in the eye and says, “Erica, you are a woman to love,” well, you know exactly what he means. —DE

84. “One Way or Another” (Sara Gómez, 1974)

"One Way or Another"

“One Way or Another”

Sara Gómez

A pioneering figure of Cuban cinema, Sara Gómez was one of the first women filmmakers to work under the supervision of Cuba’s post-Revolutionary film bureau. The 16mm “One Way or Another” (“De cierta manera”), her only feature film, was the first by a Cuban woman filmmaker and remains one of very few films made by an Afro-Cuban director. A romantic drama told docu-drama style, the love story unfolds amid a community of marginalized Afro-Cubans shortly after the Revolution of 1959, while serving as a critique of the Revolution from the point of view of Cubans of African descent, to demonstrate how accepted views of race, class, and gender in Cuban culture pose threats to the far more momentous goal of creating a truly equal society. Sadly, Gómez died during post-production of the film, at age 31, and would not see its full realization. A film that was as provocative in its form as in the subject matter it dared tackle, “One Way or Another” would be finished by colleagues several years later.—TO

83. “Crossing Delancey” (Joan Micklin Silver, 1988)

"Crossing Delancey"

“Crossing Delancey”

Getty Images

Nebraskan-turned-New Yorker Silver launched her feature directing career in 1975 with an authentic portrait of 19th-century Jewish immigrants in Lower Manhattan, “Hester Street,” starring Oscar nominee Carol Kane. Silver gives New York Jewish culture an ’80s update in charming romance “Crossing Delancey,” starring Amy Irving as 30ish Upper West Side yuppie Isabelle Grossman, a bookstore staffer with literary pretensions. She loves schlepping down to the Lower East Side to visit her Bubbe (Reiz Bozyk), who insists on hiring a matchmaker (hilarious Sylvia Miles) for her rapidly aging granddaughter. When Isabelle is set up with Sam, who inherited his father’s pickle shop in Bubbe’s neighborhood (Peter Riegert), she finds him charming but backs away from his profession. But Sam won’t take no for an answer when it comes to the woman he loves. —AT

82. “Appropriate Behavior” (Desiree Akhavan, 2014)

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Parkville/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5877575d)Desiree Akhavan, Rebecca HendersonAppropriate Behavior - 2014Director: Desiree AkhavanParkville PicturesUKScene StillComedy

“Appropriate Behavior”

Parkville/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Loosely based on Desiree Akhavan’s own sexual coming-of-age, the Sundance hit is a startlingly open and honest examination of owning up to one’s desires, even when those same desires threaten pretty much every other facet of life. Written by, directed, and starring Akhavan as the newly single Shirin, “Appropriate Behavior” charts the Brooklynite’s wacky decline back into the dating scene, complicated by reappearances by her beloved ex, a family who is shaken by revelations about her sexuality, and a new (and very odd!) job teaching children.

Oh, and it’s funny. Akhavan’s knack for putting her characters into insane situations and then forcing them out the other side is truly inspired (the film features perhaps the most uncomfortably amusing threesome in modern cinema). It’s shaggy and fun in all the very best ways, but it also gets to the heart about how hard it can be to be yourself, and why it’s always worth it. —KE

81. “After the Wedding” (Susanne Bier, 2006)

"After the Wedding"

“After the Wedding”

Zentropa/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Denmark’s Susanne Bier has had a titanic impact, with an Oscar for “In a Better World” and her recent “Bird Box” becoming an international sensation. Her initial Danish films brought her to attention, parallel to Lars von Trier’s Dogme movement but with a style of their own. Like many women directors, she focused on family situations with a keen eye. But “After the Wedding” was unconventional and subversive on its own. Mads Mikkelsen played a manager of an Indian orphanage who returns to unexpected personal complications as he tries to sustain funding. The theme of parenthood often seen in female-directed films is in the forefront here, with Bier skillfully subverting it to create a compelling drama that also satirized Danish norms. —TB

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