10 Female-Directed Movies on Netflix That You Need to Watch Now
Horror, dancing, and romance awaits.
There are no limits to variety when it comes to streaming services these days, but something that always deserves a highlight is a film directed by a woman, and in recent years, there have been many worthy of attention. From horror to romance, these movies prove that female filmmakers are a necessity in media, with eyes that understand the female experience and can work in any genre. Here are ten films currently on Netflix that are worth a watch.
1. The Babadook (2014) Jennifer Kent
What many would argue to be the best horror movie of last year, and one of the scariest in recent memory, The Babadook was a self-assured portrait of how the horror genre can be an excellent trojan horse for tackling other, more grounded issues. In Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook, the monstrous, shadow-lurking Babadook is an allegory for the fears of motherhood, postpartum depression, and loss. The ghoulish figure is the fear of creatures that can be found in the shadows, in the space under your bed, or at the bottom of your basement stairs brought to life. The Babadook, sporting an award-worthy performance from Essie Davis, offers up more than jump scares and gore, and instead puts a story of familial love, and the strength of mind to overcome, smack dab in the center of a campfire ghost story.
2. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) Ana Lily Amirpour
So yes, I know we’ve got Dane Dehaan playing James Dean in the upcoming Life, but it’s going to be hard to beat Arash (Arash Marandi), modeled off of Dean’s most iconic looks, in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. Moody and sporting one of the best soundtracks in recent history, the film is a feminist twist on both vampire stories and westerns. Shot in black and white, the Iranian film accentuates its world’s social decay, with our skateboard-riding heroine The Girl (Sheila Vand) taking to the night to track down would-be terrorizers of women. There’s a show-stopping moment of The Girl and Arash dancing in her room that alone makes the film worth watching, while the directing makes Ana Lily Amirpour one of the most exciting fresh talents in recent memory.
3. Unexpected (2015) Kris Swanberg
A bit of an under-the-radar charmer this year, Kris Swanberg’s Unexpected, starring Cobie Smulders and Gail Bean, told the story of a teacher and her struggles with her pregnancy, along with her student, who has also become pregnant—something that hadn’t exactly been in her life plan. It’s a touching, underplayed look at motherhood and the fears that come with it.
4. Pariah (2011) Dee Rees
Pariah isn’t an easy watch due to the oppressive homelife our lead, Alike (Adepero Oduye), is forced to endure. Living in a household where her mother wishes her to conform to any and all heteronormative ways of life, and a father who in all appearances is loving, but turns a blind eye and deaf ear to his daughter’s struggles. Oduye gives a star making performance (and would be great as Nina Simone in a biopic), and the film is shot beautifully by Dee Rees, with the character shrouded in purple hues, and her home life shot in ways to seem claustrophobic, while the outside world is shown to be fraught with possibility.
5. Girlhood (2015) Celine Sciamma
The comparison is almost too obvious, but despite my admiration for Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, I couldn’t help but thinking afterwards just how happy I would be if we got a film of the same ilk made about the life of a young girl. Little did I know that in a few short months we’d be getting the similarly named, emotionally raw, and stunningly shot film Girlhood from the director of the equally excellent Tomboy, Celine Sciamma.
Karidja Toure gives one of my personal favorite performances of the year as Marieme, a teenage girl who lives in a neighborhood that holds little respect for women, and in a household where she’s constantly physically abused by her older brother. She meets a group of girls who help her reclaim her agency, becoming stronger of mind and happier in spirit as she finds love within her friendships. Her sexuality and sense of womanhood are later explored in greater detail and delicacy in one of the best depictions of female adolescence that I’ve not only seen in recent years, but ever.
6. Beyond the Lights (2014) Gina Prince-Bythewood
Gina Prince-Bythewood creates my favorite romances, first with Love & Basketball, and now most recently with the beautiful Beyond the Lights. The film tracks a famous singer, who’s feeling increasingly hollow and exploited as her fame rises, and one night almost ends it all by jumping from her hotel balcony before being saved by a dashing police officer. Thus begins the tentative but soulful love story. Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker have electrifying chemistry, and every scene with them is a peek into what makes the other so alluring. The film also speaks about sexism in an honest way regarding the media and how female pop singers are portrayed. The romance itself is captivating. You know you’re watching a great film when by the end of it you realize you haven’t spoken once.
7. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012) Lorene Scafaria
On paper, Keira Knightley and Steve Carell don’t seem like an obvious romantic pairing—yet another example of Hollywood pairing older men with younger women—but it’s a rare instance where the chemistry between the pair trumps. In a world with a time limit, an end in sight, can two people make a meaningful connection not based on fear or loneliness? While the people around them indulge in debauchery, Dodge and Penny try to find peace before the end and create a real bond, one they will miss after it all comes to an end.
8. Middle of Nowhere (2012) Ava DuVernay
Before Ava DuVernay created one of the best films of 2014, she had a number of movies under her belt, including the wonderful, introspective Middle of Nowhere, starring David Oyelowo and a powerful Emayatzy Corinealdi in the leading role as Ruby. Ruby’s husband has been in prison for years, and she dutifully visits and puts her life on hold in order to do her best for him, including dropping out of medical school. Along the way she get’s to know Brian (Oyelowo), her bus driver, and a romance blossoms. However, the greatest narrative is her own road to self-discovery, where she tries to find a happy medium between her past, her present and and future.
9. Advantageous (2015) Jennifer Phang
Where to even begin when it comes to tackling all of the many, juicy, themes that are utilized in Jennifer Phang’s science-fiction drama Advantageous. Set in the near future, the class discrepancy has quadrupled, and jobs are going to men more often than women because company heads believe that it’s safer than letting angry, unemployed men out on the streets in droves. Ageism, classism and sexism are some of the topics addressed with passion, with an emotionally riveting storyline about a mother and daughter in the center. With one of the greatest, long lasting images in film of the year so far, Phang has created a micro-indie film that’s filled to the brim with powerful subjects.
10. 6 Years (2015) Hannah Fidell
One of the most recent films on this list, 6 Years, starring Taissa Farmiga and Ben Rosenfield, is an unusual look (in terms of media representation) at the power dynamics in a film and how abuse can go both ways. While the crux of its storyline is based on how long relationships can lead into over-dependency, there’s an interesting and tough-to-nail undercurrent narrative about how Farmiga’s character is constantly physically abusive towards Rosenfield’s. Trips are made to the emergency room, personal items are broken, and drunken outburst lead to an arrest, making it hard to perceive the relationship as anything near healthy and loving which is what makes the film such an fascinating watch. We don’t see these sort of depictions in film often, and when we do, it’s worth starting a discussion over.
Allyson Johnson is a twenty something writer and a lover of film and all things pop culture. She’s a film and television enthusiast and critic over at TheYoungFolks.com who spends too much of her free time on Netflix. Her idols are Jo March, Illana Glazer, and Amy Poehler. Check her out at her twitter @AllysonAJ or at The Young Folks.
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