Film & Television

2022’s Movies Directed by Women

According to the Celluloid Ceiling Study by San Diego State University, there’s some good — if slow-moving — news coming out of Hollywood. The percentage of women behind the cameras of the top 250 highest-grossing films has been rising since 2016 by a percentage point or two each year. Progress? Yes. But, at this rate, it will be 2040 before female producers, writers, directors, and cinematographers reach parity with their male counterparts. And, that’s a long time to wait.

The situation (and the snail’s pace at which it’s improving) frustrates audiences and feminists alike. Fortunately, there’s something we can do to drive change, and that’s to choose titles by, with, and for women when we can.

Here are some of the best movies — across several popular genres — directed by women this past year.

Documentaries

Historically, non-fiction motion pictures have been viewed as the industry’s less glamorous (and, consequently, less funded) output. So, for some female directors, breaking into this particular part of the business has been easier. This year, there were several excellent documentaries made by women.

With The Janes, directors Tia Lessin and Emma Pildes revisit the underground network that helped Chicago’s women secure safe and affordable abortions in the years before Roe v. Wade. This powerful film manages to feel both historically accurate and horrifically timely.

Christy Wegener’s I Am Vanessa Guillén tells the story of the young army specialist who was sexually harassed and then murdered in 2020. Guillén’s shocking death and the tireless efforts of her grieving parents triggered nationwide demands for justice and reform.

Better, in my opinion, than the much-ballyhooed Nicole Kidman dramatization, Lucy and Desi, directed by comedian Amy Poehler, is both thorough and affectionate. The film includes previously unreleased audio and video of the show business pioneering Ricardos.

Coming-of-Age

From surprising side effects of a first period in Domee Shi’s Turning Red, to a thirteenth-century fourteen-year old rewriting the rules in Lena Dunham’s Catherine Called Birdy, female filmmakers focused on the trials and tribulations of growing up. Here are a couple of titles you may have missed.

The Sky is Everywhere, directed by Josephine Decker, follows musical prodigy Lennie as she recovers from a tragedy and learns to love again. Although relative newcomer Grace Kaufman is compelling as Lennie, the real treat is Cherry Jones as her wise, warm-hearted “Gram.”

Do Revenge may evoke memories of 2004’s Mean Girls at first, but director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson has some unexpected twists and turns up her sleeve in this fairly dark teen comedy. Camila Mendes and Maya Hawke (Uma Thurman’s daughter) share top billing.

 

Midlife Metamorphoses

If burgeoning womanhood inspires some movie directors, others find humor and heart in adventures that take place years — or even decades — later.

Writer/director Renée Webster effectively schools her audience on How to Please a Woman. When Gina is “restructured” out of a longtime job, she masterminds a business most women only dream of: male escorts who clean your house before they … You get the idea.

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, directed by Sophie Hyde, also focuses on women’s pleasure. In this case, there’s only one (incredibly charming) sex worker who helps widow Nancy (luminous Emma Thompson) find what she’s been missing.

In Maya Forbes’s The Good House, Hildy Good (Sigourney Weaver, also luminous) is ready to love again — it doesn’t hurt that her sights are set on Kevin Kline — but, first she has to end an abusive relationship with alcohol.

Inspired by Real Life

Often, reading a title card at the beginning of a film that promises, “Based on a true story” can make you roll your eyes. Often, but not always. Some of 2022’s best female-led films were indeed inspired by headlines or history.

Maria Schrader’s She Said dramatizes the groundbreaking work of New York Times reporters who broke the story of Harvey Weinstein’s many sexual assaults. Gripping cast includes Carey Mulligan, Zoe Kazan, Patricia Clarkson, Jennifer Ehle, and Samantha Morton.

 In The Woman King, director Gina Prince-Bythewood tells the story of the Agojie, a band of all-female warriors that served the Kingdom of Dahomey in the 1800s with courage and skills that outpaced any army of its time. Viola Davis rules as General Nanisca.

 Till, directed by Chinonye Chukwe, recounts the horrific 1955 lynching of teenager Emmett Till, through the love, grief, and eventual power of his mother Mamie. Danielle Deadwyler’s impassioned performance will stay with you for a long time.

Romantic Comedies

According to a 2008 Edinburgh study, the misconceptions about love in romantic comedies, sometimes referred to as “chick flicks,” can be held accountable for typical problems reported by couples in relationship counseling. Whether this is true or not, it hasn’t stopped Hollywood from releasing dozens of rom-coms each year. And, since their audience skews female, who better to direct them?

Kat Coiro’s Marry Me pairs Jennifer Lopez and Owen Wilson as a superstar singer and a single-dad math teacher who fall into marriage before they eventually fall in love. The plot may be (very) familiar, but the movie is sweet and enjoyable anyway.

Mr. Malcolm’s List, directed by Emma Holly Jones, is an homage to the patron saint of romantic comedy Jane Austen, with some Bridgerton nods added in for good measure. If you prefer your romances with lavish costumes, sets, tea, and crumpets, by all means, indulge.

 

Thrillers and Horror

Finally, for a genre that hasn’t always been good to women (picture the shower scene in Psycho, the closet scene in Halloween, the prom in Carrie), there have been some incredible thrillers and horror films made by women recently. But, one 2022 title has stayed with me.

Watcher, written and directed by Chloe Okuno, brilliantly blends Hitchcockian suspense with a gory bloodbath of a climax. With its striking protagonist Julia progressively watched and stalked and gaslighted, the film is a feminist cautionary tale. You’ll find it elegant and entertaining.

Just be sure to watch it with your curtains closed.

 

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