Award season is upon us yet again. It has been nearly a year since Kathryn Bigelow made history as the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director with her film The Hurt Locker. While the cynical me finds it is very unlikely for such esteemed recognition of female directors’ achievements to become a regular pattern, the optimistic me is very excited about the number of amazing films that were made for/by/about women this year and has hope that 2011 will continue this trend. Strong female leads certainly became a running theme in big 2010 pictures, from Black Swan to Robin Hood to I am Love to True Grit. Furthermore, last year in both the mainstream and independent/experimental/small budget circuits as well the American and international communities, women directed like crazy and even received some attention for it. Here is a cursory list of ten such films.
Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right, which depicts a family of two moms (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore), an eighteen year old girl (Mia Wasikowska) and fifteen year old boy (Josh Hutcherson) living and loving just like any other, has captured the hearts of viewers and critics alike. On January 16th it took away two Golden Globes, and it is expecting at least one or two Academy Award nominations in the near future.
Meanwhile, In A Better World, the Danish family drama directed by Suzanne Bier, won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film in an upset that surprised the audience and director alike. The film is premiering in the United States at this week’s Sundance Film Festival. When We Leave (Germany) is another foreign film currently receiving high critical acclaim. Two weeks ago GAB editor Kyle Buchan was fortunate enough to interview director Feo Aladag about the picture, its depiction of honor killings and the difficulties she faced in getting the picture made; you can read it here.
Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone, which follows the struggles of a seventeen year old woman (Jennifer Lawrence) as she takes on the adult responsibilities of dealing with extended family, a local gang, neighbors and the law in order to keep the roof over her family’s heads, is also receiving a fair amount of recognition. The newbie Lawrence’s performance is absolutely phenomenal.
Git Along, Little Dogies, an experimental MFA thesis film directed by Kate Lain, is by far my favorite film of the year. Working out of a passion for gender theory and canonical feminist filmmaking, Lain uses humor in this semi-autobiographical film to comment playfully on the stereotypes, expectations and experiences of women seeking to live outside of gender norms. I had the opportunity to see the film at the American Cinematheques’s 6th Annual Focus on Female Directors screening earlier this month. It was one of eight short films directed by women shown that night. Also exceptional from the bill was Shawneé & Shinwell Gibbs’ animated proverbial short Sule and the Case of the Tiny Sparks and Born Sweet, Cynthia Wade’s documentary about arsenic poisoning in Cambodia.
Also excellent though not receiving their deserved hype are Sofia Coppola’s father-daughter tale Somewhere, Floria Sigismondi’s seventies rock band biopic The Runaways and Nicole Holofcener’s dark family comedy Please Give. All three highlight the complications of American female teenage hood, capturing all that is fun, difficult and awkward about being 13-17.