Female filmmakers: January

I’ve seen some great (and some not so good) new-to-me women-directed films last month, all due to My Year of Female Filmmmakers. Here are the top 3 films that deserve a special mention:

1. Selma (2014, co-written and directed by Ava DuVernay)

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Rating: 9

This was my first encounter with Ava DuVernay. I have yet to see her I Will Follow and Middle of Nowhere that won her the Best Director Prize at 2012 Sundance Festival (making her the first African-American woman to win the award), but I think it’s safe to say that she’s one talented, thoughtful, brilliant, bad-ass woman/film director. Just look at her response to Selma’s Oscar snub (where most directors would talk about the injustice of them not being nominated, she couldn’t care less):

“The question is: Why was Selma the only film that was even in the running with people of color for the award? I mean, why are there not—not just black, brown people? You know what I mean? Asian people, indigenous people, representations that are more than just one voice, just one face, just one gaze? So, for me, it’s much less about the awards and the accolades, because, literally, next year no one cares. Right? I can’t even tell you who won the award for whatever three years ago. I don’t know.”

Considering recent racial tensions in USA and the rising of a Black Lives Matter movement, Selma is, although set in 1965, still very relevant today. Here’s my whole review of the film.

2. Desperately Seeking Susan (1985, directed by Susan Seildelman, written by Leora Barish)

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Rating: 6.5

Roberta Glass (Rosanna Arquette) is an unfulfilled suburban housewife with a boring, cheating husband who takes her for granted. Deeply unhappy with her unexciting life, she becomes fascinated with a free-spirited woman named Susan (played by Madonna) and starts to follow her around, hoping to experience a bit of spontaneity and excitement in her otherwise dull and uneventful life. But things get complicated when she hits her head and gets amnesia. Wearing Susan’s old jacket and with people thinking she’s her, Roberta gets thrown into an Alice in Wonderland kind of rabbit hole, trying to find her way out of this dangerous adventure and getting back to her old life.

Arquette won a BAFTA Award for her role and was also nominated for a Golden Globe. This film was quite a hit at the time, especially because of Madonna’s performance (who was at the top of her career in 1985). What exactly happened that I’ve only now came across of it? This gem should be an 80’s classic together with Jon Hudges’ hit films like The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Pretty in Pink.

3. Ruby Sparks (2012, written by Zoe Kazan and co-directed by Valerie Faris)

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Rating: 6.5

Ruby Sparks is a romantic comedy/drama directed by a husband and wife duo, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (best known for their 2006 hit Little Miss Sunshine) and written by a well-known indie actress Zoe Kazan (Elia Kazan’s granddaughter). It stars Paul Dano as an introverted, anxious and depressed novelist, Calvin Weir-Fields, with a writer’s block. After his therapist gives him a writing assignment, hoping it would inspire him to start writing again, he finds himself writing about a fictional relationship between himself and Ruby Sparks – a perfect woman who’s a product of his imagination. After days of tireless writing, he finds himself falling in love with the woman he’s created – and it isn’t long before his creation stands in his kitchen, making him breakfast. Ruby (played by Zoe Kazan herself) has left the pages and came to life – which is quite similar to Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo, where Jeff Daniels walks out of the movie picture and enters the real world. But all the similarities aside – Ruby Sparks explores some interesting themes about how men idealize and objectify women. Like Samantha in Spike Jonze’s Her, Ruby soon starts to form her own personality: she’s becoming a real, complex human being. Calvin, who wrote this perfect relationship where he could put a minimal amount of effort into it and his girlfriend would remain happy and satisfied, gets frustrated by the fact that she suddenly starts developing her own thoughts and opinions; that serving him isn’t the main priority in her life anymore. And he deals with this the only way he knows how: he writes some more pages, recreating her character in a way that suits him, changing her back into a happy, bouncy, ecstatic, clingy girlfriend, who follows him around like a lost puppy and who would never dare to question him, get bored of him, or – God forbid – leave him. As Kazan herself explained, the idea of Ruby Sparks was to “explore the idea of being gazed at but never seen, where a woman is reduced as a person to an idealized idea of a person. 

Other new-to-me woman-directed films I’ve seen in January:

  1. Enough Said (2013, written and directed by Nicole Holofcener)
  2. Little Accidents (2014, written and directed by Sara Colangelo)
  3. Laggies (2014, directed by Lynn Shelton, written by Andrea Seigel)
  4. Your Sister’s Sister (2011, written and directed by Lynn Shelton)
  5. Friends With Money (2006, written and directed by Nicole Holofcener)
  6. Bridesmaids (2011, written by Kristen Wiig)
  7. Lovely & Amazing (2011, written and directed by Nicole Holofcener)
  8. Touchy Feely (2013, written and directed by Lynn Shelton)
  9. The Pretty One (2013, written and directed by Jenée LaMarque)
  10. 27 Dresses (2008, directed by Anne Fletcher, written by Aline Brosh McKenna)
  11. Song One (2015, written and directed by Kate Barker-Froyland)
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