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Female Filmmaker Friday: 8 great female-directed films you may have missed

Hey, did you know it’s International Women’s Day?

In honor of today I’m highlighting some of the best movies directed by women that you may have missed last year. Behind the camera, women are empowered to bring their unique perspectives to the big screen and tell beautiful stories in a way that only a woman can. Wanting to celebrate some great female artists? Check out these titles.

Leave No Trace

This quiet drama from Debra Granik (Winter’s Bone) came and went when it was released in the summer of 2018. Holding at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, you’d think such a widely loved movie would see some awards attention at the end of the year. Despite showing up on many “best of” lists from critics and fans, the film never did see any major recognition from the awards bodies.

The story is based on real events and follows a father, a war veteran suffering from PTSD, and his teenage daughter as they live off the grid in Forest Park in Oregon. Besides going into town for occasional food and supplies, they live in complete isolation. When they are discovered by a jogger, they’re forced to reacclimatize to society and are each faced with questions of belonging. It’s an important film about mental health and the hard realities that come with growing up.

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The Tale

I wasn’t able to watch The Tale straight through. I had to take breaks. It’s a heavy theme to be sure, but it’s also the most realistic depiction of predatory sexual abuse I’ve ever seen. The authenticity stems from the fact that the director, Jennifer Fox, is telling an autobiographical story about her own abuse at the hands of her equestrian coaches as a young girl. This film straddles narrative and documentary style in a way that transcends both genres.

It’s a stunning film though hard to stomach at times. Laura Dern gives a career-best performance and even though The Tale isn’t for all viewers, it has something important to say and it’s one of the most raw intersections of life and art from a female director.

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Can You Ever Forgive Me?

If you’ve only come to expect raunchy comedies from Melissa McCarthy, you’ve underestimated her. Can You Ever Forgive Me? is one of the best films of last year and even though it got an original screenplay Oscar nomination, it deserved much more. McCarthy really makes the movie and gives an uncharacteristic dramatic performance that makes you question whether she should ever go back to comedy. She portrays a washed up novelist who turns to forgery to pay her bills and save her cat.

Marielle Heller who’s directing this year’s Fred Rogers movie, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, brings a unique style to this film that paints a complicated picture of a protagonist we don’t normally get to see- an aging woman who cares more about her cat than people. Heller’s unique directing style draws out a nuanced performance from McCarthy and this film is not to be missed.

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You Were Never Really Here

You Were Never Really Here defies what most people would expect from a female director. It’s bloody and intense and portrays one of the most complex male protagonists of the 2018 lineup. Director, Lynne Ramsay, and Joaquin Phoenix are a match made in Indie film heaven.

This story about an ex-soldier turned contract killer somehow manages to walk a delicate line of savagery and tenderness in a way that makes you cringe and marvel at the beauty of the scenery and characters at the same time.

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Blockers

Blockers is about three parents trying to stop (cockblock) their daughters from having sex on prom night…BUT HEAR ME OUT! What seems like a terribly predictable premise for a movie is actually an incredibly moving film. Kay Cannon, whose background writing for shows like 30 Rock and New Girl set her up perfectly for this movie, nails the genre while also adding a subtle through-line that actually makes you care about the characters and care about what the characters care about (AKA their daughters).

It might not top the list of technically crafted films, but it sure is a good time and it has a lot of heart.

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The Rider

Chloé Zao gave us a great gift when she directed The Rider. Not only did she capture one of the most stunning films of last year, she also shared the story of real people impacted by real tragedy. After meeting Brady Jandreau, the films’ star, Zao knew she wanted to portray his life on the big screen. The dynamics of the cowboy culture in South Dakota fascinated her. It wasn’t until Brady suffered a head injury while bull riding that Zao decided (with Brady’s permission) it was time to tell his story.

Wrestling with identity and purpose and all of the complicated emotions that accompany a tragedy on the level that Brady experiences it, are all subtly captured in Zao’s telling of his story. It’s a beautiful film that stars real people (Brady’s actual dad and sister also star) and leaves audiences with plenty to think about after watching.

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RBG

There’s always a lot of talk about Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the news. Usually it’s something along the lines of another awesome thing she did and how we should all be more like her. When the cultural phenomena of RBG took hold, I didn’t understand the hype. It wasn’t until I watched this documentary that I realized that the hype is deserved.

Ginsburg has always been breaking barriers on a sociopolitical level. She’s also just a cool person who inspires so many women, so it’s fitting that two women would tell her story and give us a glimpse of the real RBG. Whatever you think you know about her, there’s even more to uncover and Julie Cohen and Betsy West do her story justice in this film.

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Private Life

I’ve done quite a bit of ranting and raving about Private Life since it was released last year, and it still stands as one of my favorites in 2018. Similar to Jennifer Fox, Tamara Jenkins provides an unflinching semi-autobiographical story. If you haven’t had a chance to catch it on Netflix yet, watching this film is a great opportunity to celebrate one of the most important female filmmakers of our time.

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Hannah Lorence