Bird Watching – Ten Awesome Films by Women to Stream Right Now
I very much believe it is the duty of a true film fan to look around on a regular basis and make sure that the films you’re consuming represent a variety of voices. It is, obviously, one of the reasons I write this column. In that spirit, I actively encourage every person reading this right now to make sure that this week, you watch at least one film by a woman. I’m going to make it very easy on you and make a list of great options available on Netflix Instant Watch right now! (Of course, there are many more amazing women-directed films available online, whether on Netflix’s rotating selection or for purchase on iTunes or Amazon or what have you. I look forward to making more lists like this in the future.)
Though it preceded the definition of the loathsome “manic pixie dream girl” stock character by a good six years, the late Adrienne Shelley’s film manages to skewer that very concept. Ally Sheedy’s character could have been someone’s real MPDG, but instead she runs into a guy who’s so depressed with his own life that before she can inspire him to be better, his very negativity and cruelty shatter her and send her into a spiral where she’ll need some magic of her own to be resurrected. With Shelley’s usual unpredictability, oddball adventures ensue.
2. Down to the Bone: the gritty indie drama
In 2004, before she really came to everyone’s attention with her amazing film Winter’s Bone, Debra Granik told another story of an economically struggling woman portrayed by an actress on the verge of a skyrocketing career. In Down to the Bone, Vera Farmiga stars as a wife and mother who’s also battling a cocaine addiction. And the way Granik builds her story creates the best, most un-melodramatic character study of an addict I’ve ever seen. Granik respects her characters as individuals rather than archetypes, and it’s one of the things that makes her a stunning filmmaker.
Lately, I just want to keep talking about how amazing Agnès Varda is. I keep bringing her up, whether here on the MacGuffin, on my personal blog, or on my Twitter feed. None of her films are quite like any of the others, and her background as a photographer combined with her storytelling ability makes for engrossing film experiences. In the mid-1970s, she turned her camera on her own Paris neighborhood. When I take my own first trip to Paris in a couple of months, I’m tempted to find the neighborhood in question and explore it. But I know that so much will have changed…Varda’s worries for her community, displayed here, will have come true.
4. Children of a Lesser God: the award-winning drama you’ve maybe never bothered to watch
Though Randa Haines’s Children of a Lesser God in some ways has not aged well, in that mid-1980s huge emotional drama kind of way, nothing can take away from Marlee Matlin’s Oscar-winning performance. I love that this film explores the life of a woman who is truly angry; though it does do it through her romantic relationship with a man, William Hurt is so deft in his role that it works without offense. Haines manages to keep scenes moving in such a way that the viewer doesn’t much question Hurt speaking aloud to a character who is deaf, and Matlin is truly entrancing. What a talent, and what a shame that more roles aren’t tailored for her.
5. The Trouble With Angels: the family classic
Besides being a fine actress, particularly in Golden Age comedies, Ida Lupino made a name for herself as a director when few women could do so. Her 1966 film starring Hayley Mills as a scheming student at a boarding school run by nuns was a childhood favorite of mine that holds up well into adulthood. (I still sometimes use the film’s signature line: “I’ve got the most scathingly brilliant idea!”) The sublime Rosalind Russell is the Mother Superior dealing with all the hijinks at hand, and she anchors the action whenever it threatens to get too crazy. Overall, it’s a very fine family film that continues to be fun in the same way Mills’s The Parent Trap is, as a solid crowd-pleaser for audiences of mixed generations.
Besides those five films, here are another five that I’ve actually praised on this site before, that are now available to stream via your magic Netflix machine: Ava DuVernay’s I Will Follow, a well-acted and emotionally effective indie drama; Miranda July’s The Future, a surreal dramedy that was one of the very best films of 2011; Grace Lee’s American Zombie, one of the more creative faux-documentaries I’ve seen; Jane Campion’s marvel The Piano, recently on the Sight & Sound full 250-film poll (but too low, far too low); and Susanne Bier’s crushing After the Wedding, which I will never stop championing as one of the greatest films of the 2000s.