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The 25 Best Films Directed By Women of the 21st Century, From ‘Lost in Translation’ to ‘Persepolis’

From "Lost in Translation" to "Persepolis," "American Psycho" to "No Home Movie," here are are the 25 best films made by female filmmakers of this century (so far).

5. “The Hurt Locker,” directed by Kathryn Bigelow (2008)

“The Hurt Locker”

It’s no coincidence that the film that made Kathryn Bigelow the first woman to ever win an Academy Award for directing would turn out to be a gripping war thriller. It’s almost as if, after years in the industry, Bigelow finally decided to give the men who run Hollywood what they want. And boy, did she deliver. Jeremy Renner is electric as Sergeant Will James, who approaches his bomb-diffusing duties with a blend of workmanlike precision and maniacal zeal. The opening scene is unforgettable; Bigelow begins at full blast and rarely slows down. The film avoids the kind of schmaltz emblematic of certain war sagas, carving its precision storytelling with a laser-like focus. Bigelow tackled the most masculine kind of film possible and made something that holds up against the greatest war films of all time. Now, that is something worth awarding. -JD

4. “American Psycho,” directed by Mary Harron (2000)

“American Psycho”

Deliciously freaky with notes of dark camp, Mary Harron’s pitch-black comedy is based on the novel of the same name by Bret Easton-Ellis. Harron landed the project after a harrowing development process, which tossed the movie from David Cronenberg to Harron to Oliver Stone and finally back to Harron. Riffing liberally on their source material, Harron and co-writer Guinevere Turner turned psychotic investment banker Patrick Bateman (Chrsitian Bale) into a perfectly coiffed portrait of unchecked greed and narcissistic American culture. “American Psycho” galvanized critics; even those who thought Harron played it safe, hiding comfortably behind her satire. But audiences loved the movie, and in time “American Psycho” became one of those rare horror films to achieve cult status outside of the genre. -JD

3. “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” directed by Lynne Ramsay (2011)

“We Need to Talk About Kevin”

Lynne Ramsay was well on her way to becoming one of the most distinct voices in cinema after “Ratcatcher” and “Movern Callar,” but her third feature confirmed her legacy as one of the best visual storytellers working today. “We Need to Talk About Kevin” stars Tilda Swinton as a mother coping with the terrifying decisions of her son, and in Ramsay’s hands it’s a horrific meditation on grief. She drifts between the past and present without any signifiers and stitches together an impressionistic nightmare. In one moment, the freedom of handheld camera movements embody the rush of Swinton’s Eva falling in love. In the next, a static close-up evokes the suffocating isolation of her mounting grief. It’s up to the viewer to put together the timeline, but Ramsay is always in complete control. Her ability to convey her character’s fragile emotional state through visuals and sound is so affecting it’s downright terrifying. She’s able to take a Spanish tomato stomping festival and turn it into a blood-splattered orgy. A simple drive through a suburban neighborhood on Halloween night becomes an unescapable stroll through hell. “We Need to Talk About Kevin” is Lynne Ramsay at the height of her directorial powers, and cinema is all the better for it. -ZS

2. “Toni Erdmann,” directed by Maren Ade (2016)

“Toni Erdmann”

Maren Ade’s howlingly funny Palme d’Or contender has everything: fake teeth, fraught familial relationships, a ton of really hip Bucharest restaurants, corporate intrigue, heartbreaking pet death, a Whitney Houston music moment, a giant hairy suit, nudity, so much nudity, did you hear about the nudity, something about oil, and that’s not even enough to touch upon a film that legitimately earns the designation of having heart and humor in equal measure. It’s nearly impossible to expound on all the tremendous charms of the nearly three-hour-long German-Austrian comedy (bet you never heard that before), but rest assured, it’s as richly rewarding as a film you’ve ever likely to see. Only Ade’s third feature, the Cannes competitor announced her as a major filmmaking voice, filled with vision and intensity and an absolutely uncanny knack for storytelling that tightropes between emotional beats with breathless ease. A towering, singular achievement, “Toni Erdmann” is the best film about emotional nakedness and actual nudity, full stop. -KE

1. “Lost in Translation,” directed by Sofia Coppola (2003)

“Lost in Translation”


Sofia Coppola has long been compelled by both complex female characters and the strange environments that inform them, and her 2003 Tokyo-set dramedy seamlessly combines the two into an immensely satisfying romance for the ages. Scarlett Johansson stars as the shiftless Charlotte, dragged halfway across the world by her celebrity-obsessed photographer husband (played by Giovanni Ribisi, who has one of the century’s most screamingly funny encounters with Anna Faris early in the film) to basically hang out in a sleek-lined hotel while the universe spins madly on. As chance encounters with the similarly lonely, Suntory-swilling-and-schilling movie star Bob Harris (Bill Murray) pile up, the pair begin to form a tenuous friendship that soon blossoms into one of the definition relationships of their lives. Coppola has always been obsessed with the concept of connection, and in her Oscar-winning feature, she found it — substantial, funny, messy, rich, real, and always yearning for more. -KE

Honorable Mentions: “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Bright Star,” “Take This Waltz,” “Fish Tank,” “Attenberg,” “Belle,” “The Diary of a Teenage Girl,” “Thirteen,” “Deliver Us From Evil,” “Winter’s Bone,” “An Education,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Me and You and Everyone We Know,” “American Splendor,” “Love & Basketball,” “Obvious Child,” “Appropriate Behavior,” and “Amreeka.”

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