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Whether it’s romantic dramas, war stories, action films, dark comedies, or illuminating the stories of marginalized women and girls, there’s no denying that female directors have shown their cinematic range. Of course, there’s still a lot of work to be done in widening opportunities, and completely shattering the glass ceiling, but female directors continue to make strides that have shifted the landscape.
The last three years have seen an uptick in women director’s helming box-office hits, and the numbers continue to increase. Despite the start of the global pandemic that crippled the movie theater industry but boosted the streaming world, 16 percent of the top 100 films in 2020 were directed by women. The figures are up slightly from 12 percent in the previous year, and 4 percent in 2018.
But it’s not just about female directors bringing in big bucks at the box office. “Wonder Woman” director Patty Jenkins, who became the first woman to direct a comic book film at a major studio, spoke to the ripple effect that occurs when women are in the director’s chair.
“I am so honored to have been a part of [‘Wonder Woman’] and its success, and everything is wonderful about that success and all it has done for women,” Jenkins said in 2017. “But I also really want to continue that story by having women all over the world become the heroes that we need to save the day, as they already are, because I think we need women more than ever. We’ve never needed women to not only be equal, but leading the way in so many ways.”
The way that we consume movies may have changed, and movie theaters may not be fully back by 2022, but there are plenty of women directors with projects on the way. Women filmmakers, including Nia DaCosta, Chloé Zhao, Domee Shi, Elaine Bogan, and Robin Wright, are leading more than a dozen major studio films scheduled for release in 2021, and 2022.
To celebrate Women’s History Month, and International Women’s Day, we rounded up some of the best films from women directors that you can buy on Blu-ray. See our list below.
More than a decade after its release, “The Virgin Suicides” is still regarded as one of Sofia Coppola’s most celebrated films. Adapted from the 1993 novel of the same name, “The Virgin Suicides” explores the story of five sisters raised by overprotective parents in suburban Michigan. The story is a present-day reflection told through the men who grew up with the sisters.
Released in 2016, Kelly Reichardt’s “Certain Women” explores the intersecting lives of four women spread throughout Montana. The emotionally compelling drama is split into three parts (the film was adapted from three short stories) and features compelling performances from Michelle Williams, Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, and Lily Gladstone.
Mr. Rogers’ passion for kindness shines through in “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” Directed by Marielle Heller, the 2019 drama stars Tom Hanks stars as the lovable TV personality. Heller “excels at pulling heartstrings from sturdy foundations, injecting smart and insightful details into material that could easily default to sentimentality,” said IndieWire’s Chief Film Critic Eric Kohn “While her first big studio effort lacks the edginess of ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’ and ‘The Diary of a Teenage Girl,’ Heller works backward by digging into the gooey material and mining for substance in surprising places.”
For a film released 35 years ago, Donna Deitch’s “Desert Hearts” still resonates today. The groundbreaking lesbian romance drama stars Helen Shaver and Patricia Charbonneau. Set in the ’50s, “Desert Hearts” is about an NYU college professor, Vivian (Shaver), who moves across country in hopes of speeding up her divorce. She settles in Reno, Nevada, where she falls in love with a free-spirited, confident artist named Cay (Charbonneau). After Vivian’s divorce is finalized, she convinces Cay to start a new life with her in a familiar place: New York City. The screenplay, written by Natalie Cooper, was adapted from the 1964 novel “Desert of the Hearts.”
Greta Gerwig put a personal touch on Louisa May Alcott’s celebrated novel “Little Women.” Gerwig’s adaptation, released in 2019, splits the popular novel in half, exploring two time periods of the March sisters’ lives. “[I wanted] to play with the iconography of ‘Little Women’ because if I’ve rearranged the time and we ground it in adulthood then when we do some of the warm, cozy scenes of ‘Little Women’ that everyone knows — they’re gathered around the fire and reading a letter from Pa — it’s given another layer of meaning because it’s the ache that it’s gone,” Gerwig said in 2019. “Whatever that moment was, it is also gone, which is, for me, also the position of the writer: you are always writing the thing that’s already passed.”
Women directors have been at the forefront of cult classics, too. Amy Heckerling made her feature film debut with the ‘80s comedy “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” which stars Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Brian Backer, and Phoebe Cates. Written by Cameron Crowe, the coming-of-age film about a group of hormone-crazed, partying high school students was adapted from Crowe’s book of the same name (Crow actually went undercover at a San Diego high school to write the book).
Mary Harron takes a polarizing look inside the life of a fictitious serial killer in the dark comedy “American Psycho.” The gory film debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in 2000, and became an iconic role for Christian Bale, even though he wasn’t the first in line for the role. Harron revealed that she was “fired from the film for a while” after she passed on Leonardo DiCaprio as the lead. “They couldn’t agree on the script, so they brought me back and I was able to cast Christian,” Harron shared with IndieWire last year, for the film’s 20th anniversary.
In retelling the story of the infamous 1955 March on Selma, Alabama, Ava DuVernay wanted to give a wide spectrum of the civil rights movement. Although Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s fight to get the voting rights act passed plays as a central theme, DuVernay made sure to focus on other facets of the movement. “We were always trying to deconstruct the genre and also to get underneath to the people of Selma,” DuVernay said. “It’s called ‘Selma.’ It’s not called ‘The King.’ It was really important that we adorned him in the film with this band of brothers and sisters who really made it happen. You can be a leader, but if there’s no one following you, then what are you doing? So, that was the core of what we really tried to attack every day with the images and the narrative. All the acting and the craftsmen and artists rallied around that idea… I wanted to get into the texture of people and deconstruct the statue and the speech and the holiday. That is just not enough. It’s not the full story.”
Letting go of a loved one isn’t always easy, but Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell” is a beautiful depiction of dealing with grief. The plot follows a Chinese family’s decision not to tell their grandmother about her terminal illness. Instead, the family family throws a celebration, disguised as a wedding, to honor their beloved matriarch. Wang shot “The Farewell” in just under a month, and despite a few financial struggles, she refused to compromise in centering the Asian American experience. “In making ‘The Farewell,’ I learned the power of saying ‘no,’” she said. “I said no to a lot of opportunities to make the film because we didn’t share the same vision.”
The 2002 biopic based on the life of Frida Kahlo tells of the turbulence endured by the legendary Mexican painter. Directed by Julie Taymor, “Frida” stars Salma Hayek as the fiercely creative, but complex Kahlo. From the catastrophic bus accident that nearly claimed Kahlo’s life as a teen, to her tumultuous marriage to fellow artist Diego Rivera, to her bisexuality, and medical struggles that ultimately led to her death in 1953, “Frida” doesn’t shy away from hitting the high — and low — notes in Kahlo’s story.