Hunt for the Womenpeople: 2016 Films by Female Directors

Lots of 2016 top movie lists have been flying around the internet in the last couple of weeks. Me, I want to talk about the best movies that came out this year directed by women. Not a lot of women get hired to direct Hollywood movies – only about 9% of movies released are directed by women. And despite the work of those who do break through, few female directors are considered “auteurs” by the mostly male film critics who appear to decide such things.

Believe me, it’s not because women don’t make great movies. I made a conscious decision to watch more films by women this year. And I did, but honestly, it was annoying how hard it was to do so. I saw a lot of movies this year – 37 during the two weeks of the Vancouver International Film Festival alone! – and only 13 of the 2016 films I watched were directed by women. These are (for the most part) small movies with limited distribution. If you don’t live in a big city with a festival or an art house theatre, access is tougher and you might never have even heard of them.
The films listed below are not “women’s movies” or “chick flicks.” They may have been made by women, but they were made for wide audiences and represent a multitude of genres, perspectives and messages. These films are worth watching. Pay to see them if you can – they need the numbers more than the latest blockbuster.

1. Cameraperson – Kirsten Johnson
Compiled of unused footage from 15 years-worth of documentary cinematography and home movies, Johnson has essentially created a whole new documentary form – the visual memoir. For all its pieces and time jumps, it has a beautiful and coherent flow. This movie is brilliant. I laughed, I cried, I even forgot to breathe in one scene! Amazing, amazing, amazing. I can’t stop thinking about this film.

2. The Fits – Anna Rose Holmer
Coming of age film that captures that pre-adolescent combination of longing and fear related to growing up. A young tomboy joins a girls’ dance troop and one by one the girls succumb to a mysterious illness. The tension and mystery are the perfect metaphor for the cusp of adolescence and Royalty Hightower, the young lead, is extraordinary.

3. 13th – Ava Duvernay
Documentary examining the over-incarceration of African American men in the US. Traces this phenomenon from the 13th Amendment (the abolition of slavery included an exemption – forced labour was still allowed for anyone convicted of a crime), through Jim Crow, the beginning in the 1970s of political campaign scare tactics on crime and public safety that facilitated the targeting of poor, black neighbourhoods, and finally the explosion of the private prison industry in the US. I’m still blown away that she managed to tie all of these threads together in such a clear, coherent way. Must see. And on Netflix so it’s easy to find.

4. American Honey – Andrea Arnold
It’s no accident that she uses Rhianna’s “We Found Love in a Hopeless Place” more than once in this soundtrack – this film finds beauty in some very ugly places. It’s kind of like Harmony Korine’s Kids on a roadtrip but less depressing. A little less depressing. You’re still watching a group of kids getting ripped off by their employer while they make questionable choices. There are some definite uncomfortable bits. But unlike Kids, there is joy and heart and empowerment too. Sasha Lane is amazing.

5. Toni Erdmann – Maren Ade
A father visits his workaholic adult daughter unannounced to check up on her. When he is worried she is unhappy, he stays on with a wig and false teeth and pretends to be a life coach to try to inject some humour and fun into her life. At first she is horrified, then begins to buy into the joke. Full of absurd comedy, but ultimately about an alienated and estranged father and daughter who find their way back to each other and to themselves.

6. Prevenge – Alice Lowe
Dark black comedy/horror about a pregnant woman whose unborn baby encourages her to kill people. She plays with so many tropes about pregnancy and womanhood and subverts all of them. Not for the squeamish but if you like very black comedy, you will dig this.

7. The Love Witch – Anna Biller
Talk about your female auteurs! Biller did almost everything on this film – writing, production and costume design, directing, editing… This is absolutely her own vision. Visually stunning, super campy, subversive film about love and relationships.

8. Things to Come – Mia Hansen-Love
This is a quiet film about change, loss, and resilience. Isabelle Huppert is genius and she gives us a beautifully rounded character who is strong and intellectual as well as compassionate and emotional. Nathalie is a philosophy teacher whose life is turned upside down by a number of major life changes that happen all around the same time.

9. Koneline – Nettie Wild
Some beautiful footage of parts of Northern BC most of us will never see in person. Wild wanted to take a more poetic, fluid look at the contested places and actors in a region where industry and the health of residents and the environment are often at odds, leaving viewers to draw their own conclusions about where they stand.

10. All This Panic – Jenny Gage
Dreamy camera work and frank discussions in this doc capture that period of discovery and uncertainty as three girls try to figure out who they are and what they want while under pressure to decide their whole futures by the end of high school. They escape into college or drugs or relationships and vacillate wildly between egotism and insecurity. Challenges our nostalgia and our ideas about the younger generation.

11. Sonita – Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami
A documentary about a young Afghani girl whose family’s desire to sell her into marriage threatens her dream of becoming a rapper. We need more films like this to introduce us to the experiences of women and girls in other parts of the world. This film also shows us an interesting conundrum for filmmakers: if the subject of your documentary needs your help, financial or otherwise, do you help or maintain an observational distance?

12. The Invitation – Karen Kusama
A man and his girlfriend are invited to his ex-wife’s dinner party. Is something not quite right? Or is it all in his head? This is a very slow burn until the last 20 minutes but i think that contributes to how effective it is.

13. The Intervention – Clea Duvall
Fluffy Big Chill-inspired comedy/drama with a loveable cast. Scored points from me for reuniting But I’m a Cheerleader’s Clea Duvall and Natasha Lyonne – my favourite movie lesbian couple of all time.

Other 2016 movies directed by women that I haven’t seen yet but desperately want to:
Certain Women – Kelly Reichardt
We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice – Alanis Obomsawin
Window Horses – Ann Marie Fleming
The Bad Batch – Ana Lily Amirpour
Maggie’s Plan – Rebecca Miller
Queen of Katwe – Mira Nair
Weiner – Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegman
Paint it Black – Amber Tamblyn

Row Three Favorite Films of 2016

Here are all of RowThree’s contributors top lists for 2016. You are welcome.

Each contributor is listed below – just start scrolling – or you can jump directly to any individual member of the group with a click of their name provided below.

Thanks to everyone who has stopped by the site, listened to any of the great podcasts hosted here and/or took the time to leave some comments in a post somewhere and some time throughout the year. We really appreciate each and every one of you. See you all in 2017!


Andrew James
Kurt Halfyard
Marina Antunes
Corey Pierce
Matthew Brown
Bob Turnbull
David Brook
Matt Gamble
Bryan Dressel
Matt Price

Consensus

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Review: Silence

Time and again throughout history, humanity has been lost due to hubris. There is a spiritual arrogance that we are often guilty of that has a way of taking a delicate situation and making a quick mess of it. This pride comes from a deep place in our guts and hearts – a place that believe it knows. It has listened to teachings, studied the supposed Truth, and parlayed that word into action.

People believe, people testify, and people suffer in the faith that they are doing the right thing. But how do they know for sure? Silence is a seventeenth century quest for Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson).

As the story begins, his brother missionaries back in Portugal are learning of his committing apostasy in Japan after his followers are tortured by the ruling class. His status and whereabouts are now unknown. The case prompts two young priests named Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garrpe (Adam Driver) to strike out to Japan in search of their missing brother missionary.

The quest is a dangerous one. The Buddhists in charge of Japan do not want Christianity to take root in their society, and have been making a point to persecute anyone declaring themselves a Christian. Followers are routinely rounded-up and persecuted, but the prize target is a man of the cloth. Followers are merely victims; leaders are something to make an example of.

When the missionaries arrive in Japan, they soon split off in the hopes of greater safety and better results. It is Rodrigues we follow for most of the rest of the trip. The priest goes from village to village, seeing firsthand evidence of Christian persecution. Some is even in the hopes of smoking out Rodrigues himself, since the governing bodies have heard rumour of his arrival. All the while, Christian followers are turning to him, looking for guidance. He, in turn, speaks to God…who responds only with silence.

Eventually, Rodrigues faces his oppressor (Issei Ogata). Like Christ in the desert, Rodrigues is offered bargain after bargain if he will just renounce. Lives will be spared, whole communities left in peace…all he needs to do is disavow his God. Like Christ in Gethsemane, Rodrigues pleads with The Almighty to take the task away from him, and instead allow him to worship and serve in peace.

The only response is silence.

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Cinecast Episode 467- 2016 Year in Review (The Whole Bloody Affair)

We did it. With the help of Jim Laczkowski from The Director’s Club Podcast and Voices & Visions, Andrew and Kurt are joined by Matt Gamble for a full exploration of the year that was – maybe subconsciously we prefer to stay positive and somehow manage to avoid getting into the whole celebrity death thing. But we do look at a whole lot of trends and themes and strengths and weaknesses that encompassed 2016 as a whole. Of course we make up for our lack of list making over the year with three different top 5/10 lists including our favorite pictures of the year. Per usual, this things clock at nearly four hours. So for your convenience, we’ve chopped it up into three episodes – or, as always, if you prefer the “whole bloody affair” version, that’s available for download as well. We hope you enjoy the show. Whew!

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!

 

 
 
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74th Annual Golden Globe Winners

While I’m kind of over the whole movie awards thing – at least in terms of who wins, I do still enjoy the conversation that surrounds them. From the snubs to the nods, the parties to the costumes, the champagne to the hors d’oeuvres. The Golden Globes is leg one of the triple crown of movie awards. The others being of course The Spirit Awards and The Academy Awards (perhaps the BAFTAS are in there somewhere as well).

Now that being said, one of the things I like about the GG is that they’re one of the few shows that honor not only movies but also television. Up until about five years ago that is probably something I would have frowned on or simply waved off. However in 2015 and 2016, arguably the best media I consumed were considered television shows – although that distinction is being blurred more and more every year (case in point: O.J.: Made in America).

La La Land led this year’s film nominees with a total of seven mentions, followed by Moonlight with six. On the TV side, “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” tops with five, followed by “The Night Manager” with four.

Last night, Jimmy Fallon took over hosting duties for the ceremony and put on a nice show. While there were no huge upsets or surprises or anything really grandiose that happened on stage, The GG run a classy show (we don’t cut off our winners’ speeches with music!) and the highlight was possibly the lifetime achievement award and the one-two punch of Viola Davis’ introduction and Meryl Streep’s acceptance speech. I see you.

Winners in red are listed below along with all of the nominees:


Best Motion Picture – Drama:
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Lion
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight

Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy:
20th Century Women
Deadpool
La La Land
Florence Foster Jenkins
Sing Street

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama:
Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
Joel Edgerton – Loving
Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge
Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington – Fences

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama:
Amy Adams – Arrival
Jessica Chastain – Miss Sloane
Isabelle Huppert – Elle
Ruth Negga – Loving
Natalie Portman – Jackie

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy:
Colin Farrell – The Lobster
Ryan Gosling – La La Land
Hugh Grant – Florence Foster Jenkins
Jonah Hill – War Dogs
Ryan Reynolds – Deadpool

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy:
Annette Bening – 20th Century Women
Lily Collins – Rules Don’t Apply
Hailee Steinfeld – The Edge of Seventeen
Emma Stone – La La Land
Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins

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Trailer: The Lure

One of my favourite films on the festival circuit last year, from Sundance to Toronto After Dark, was the debut feature from Polish director Agnieszka Smoczynska. It is a thoroughly unorthodox adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid, retold as a 1980s period musical, with a healthy dose of blood and drugs and sex.

A literal, fish-out of water tale, set it in a burlesque club in 1980s Warsaw. A family of musicians, whose main gig is to play back-up for the strippers at a night-club, discover two mermaids in the water while drinking and singing on the beach. They bring them aboard as part of their act, sort of like adopting two new children, and drop them right in to soft-core sex trade. What could possibly go wrong?

My review is here. Check out the trailer below.

Row Three Favorite Albums of 2016

You came here for movie opinion. Well, the movies wouldn’t be the movies without music (most of them). Believe it or not, a lot of us around here are bigger music nuts than we are about the flickers. In that regard 2016 was a pretty solid year. Of course with a damn near infinite ocean of tuneage our there, it’s hard to keep track of it all; even for the most obstinate of fans. There are one-off singles on Sound Cloud from all over the world. Extremely talented musicians trying to make their way on YouTube and even in 2016, the full studio album continues to sell and inspire like gangbusters.

Just as in the world of film, it was a particularly difficult year for celebrity deaths. Prince, Bowie and Cohen all left us this year, though not without leaving one last token of awesome for all of us to enjoy – the Bowie album in particular is seeing huge critical and fan praise. George Michael was unable to finish the big Wham! reunion that was in the works but we’ve still got a metric ton of material to pore over.

So while there were some definite low-lights this year, it is with much pleasure that Row Three presents all of our favorite music from the year. There was so much it was difficult to keep it to just ten albums in many cases. If you’re looking for something new to whet your ear’s appetite for resonance, I can all but guarantee you’ll find something great in the list of artists below…

Enjoy!


Scott Olson
Andrew James
Corey Pierce
Jim Laczkowski
Bob Turnbull

 

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Trailer: I Am Not Your Negro

One of the most acclaimed documentaries on the 2016 festival circuit was Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro. Along with OJ: Made In America, you have probably seen it pop up on many Top 10 lists. After seeing the trailer, I can certainly see why. Immediately engrossing, confrontational, and very, very sharp, I am eagerly anticipating February 3rd, when it gets its full theatrical release.

Based on American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic, James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript “Remember This House,” (written through 1980s prior to his death in 1987) and narrated by actor Samuel L. Jackson, the film explores the history of race relations in the United States through Baldwin’s reminiscences of civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. The film premiered at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival, where it won the People’s Choice Award in the documentary category.

Friday One Sheet: Raindrops, After The Storm

Is this design simple, or eyecatching or both? A movie poster viewed through a wet window, the droplets generally distorting the man and the child. It should be said, that unabashedly, I do love Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s gently marvelous After The Storm. The concrete of the apartment complex forms much of the negative space, has been toned warm by the designer here. In fact the whole poster has a warm tone, which is somewhat at odds with what you think of with damp, wet weather, but is very much in sync with the tone of the film.

Not pictured in the poster is the wonderful Kirin Kiki, who is the boys grandmother. But then again, is she the one looking out the window?

Furthermore, while this feels more like a festival poster than a full release poster, I find the placement of the title (and Cannes laurel) to be highly satisfying in the centre, and much lower (or higher) than is typical of key art. It is a thousand-fold improvement over this lazy mess.

Lastly, while it may be a cliche, I cannot get enough of cherry blossoms in Japanese cinema. See also Sweet Bean, co-incidentally, also starring Kirin.