11 can't-miss films by women directors this fall, from 'Bruised' to 'Power of the Dog'
It's been a banner year for women in the director's chair.
In April, Chloé Zhao became the first woman of color ever to win the best director Oscar for "Nomadland," which also took best picture. Audrey Diwan ("Happening"), Jane Campion ("The Power of the Dog") and Maggie Gyllenhaal ("The Lost Daughter") claimed top prizes at September's Venice film fest. And in July, Julia Ducournau ("Titane") became the second woman in history to earn the Palme d'Or, Cannes Film Festival's highest honor, after Campion for 1993's "The Piano."
"It took 28 years to give this award to another woman," Ducournau told USA TODAY. "Being the second one helped me actually think about the third one and the fourth one and the fifth one. It felt like I was in a movement of progress."
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Last December, a study from San Diego State University's Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film found that women comprised 16% of directors on 2020's 100 highest-grossing films (up from 12% the year prior). That number should hopefully rise in 2021, with a slew of blockbusters ("Black Widow"), dramas ("Violet") and documentaries ("Introducing, Selma Blair") directed by women.
Here are 11 new films we've seen that should be on your radar this fall:
Directed and co-written by Chloé Zhao; in theaters now.
Don’t let negative reviews dissuade you from seeing this very weird, very messy and nonetheless intriguing superhero team-up, which grapples with big ideas about creation, free will and whether humans are even worth saving. Zhao nobly attempts to break free of the quippy humor and formulaic action that makes most Marvel movies indistinguishable from the next, with long stretches of dialogue and magic hour sunsets that have become her signature. While the movie gets bogged down trying to introduce 10 new heroes in just over 2 ½ hours, Angelina Jolie and Kumail Nanjiani make memorable impressions among the star-studded cast.
'The Souvenir: Part II'
Directed and written by Joanna Hogg; now in theaters.
The most exciting “franchise” right now has nothing to do with wizards, Jedis, or cars in space. Rather, it’s an intimate drama about a British film student named Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) who’s grieving the overdose death of her boyfriend (Tom Burke) when the sequel picks up. “Part II” is more joyous, meta and life-affirming than its semi-autobiographical predecessor, as Julie both second-guesses and discovers her footing as an artist.
'The Power of the Dog'
Directed and written by Campion; in theaters now and streaming on Netflix Dec. 1.
After more than a decade away from the big screen, Campion returns with this hauntingly beautiful and darkly erotic Western, adapted from Thomas Savage's 1967 book. The film is a simmering dissection of toxic masculinity set in 1920s Montana, and Benedict Cumberbatch brings quiet fury and sadness to his repressed cowboy, who ruthlessly intimidates a widow (Kirsten Dunst) and her son (Kodi Smit-McPhee).
Directed and written by Mia Hansen-Løve; now in theaters and available to rent or buy on digital platforms.
Vicky Krieps (“Phantom Thread”) and Tim Roth play an unhappy filmmaker couple who travel to the old island home of Swedish director Ingmar Bergman in search of inspiration. Part of the film’s charms lies in the sort of Disneyland for cinephiles that Hansen-Løve creates in the movie’s enchanting first half. But as lines blur between reality and fiction, “Bergman Island” morphs into a stunning meditation on exorcising the ghosts of past loves, with an all-time great ABBA needle drop.
Directed and written by Rebecca Hall; now in theaters and streaming on Netflix .
“We're all of us passing for something or other,” Tessa Thompson’s Irene says midway through “Passing,” Hall’s directorial debut adapted from Nella Larsen's 1929 book. The ways in which people mask their sexuality, race, or class – or a combination of all three – are thoughtfully considered in this slow-burning drama, which features career-best performances from Thompson and Ruth Negga, the latter playing Irene’s white-passing Black friend, Clare.
Co-directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi; now in theaters.
Yes, you may already know the outcome of “Rescue,” a new documentary about the divers who risked their lives to save a group of boys and their soccer coach from a flooded Thailand cave in 2018. But the film is every bit as twisty, suspenseful and gut-wrenchingly emotional as Vasarhelyi’s climber odyssey “Free Solo,” which she also co-directed with husband Jimmy Chin and won the best documentary feature Oscar in 2019.
Directed and written by Ducournau; now in theaters and available to rent or buy on digital platforms.
By now, you may have heard of the French movie about a woman who has sex with a car, which nabbed the Cannes Palme d’Or (an award last won by "Parasite," which went on to an Oscar best picture win). But that shocking logline is far too reductive for a film as bracingly original and sneakily profound as “Titane,” a grisly exploration of two strangers (Agathe Rousselle and Vincent Lindon) searching for identity, healing and meaningful connection.
'The Lost Daughter'
Directed and written by Gyllenhaal; in theaters Dec. 17 and streaming on Netflix Dec. 31.
Oscar winner Olivia Colman (“The Favourite”) proves yet again that she’s one of the finest actors working today, playing a professor confronting personal and societal shame about feeling like an “unnatural mother” to her two kids. Working from Elena Ferrante’s 2006 novel, actress-turned-filmmaker Gyllenhaal tackles a taboo topic with a deft hand and dreamy lens, bolstered by an ace supporting cast including Jessie Buckley and Dakota Johnson.
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Directed by Julie Cohen and Betsy West; now in theaters.
This documentary is a conventional but no less heartwarming tribute to Julia Child, the eccentric TV chef and bestselling cookbook author immortalized by Meryl Streep in the 2009 dramedy "Julie & Julia." Told through interviews, archival footage and a mouthwatering buffet of food porn, the Oscar-nominated team behind 2018's "RBG" manages to capture Child's zestful spirit and impassioned romance with Paul, her husband of nearly five decades.
Directed by Halle Berry; in theaters now and streaming on Netflix Nov. 24.
Berry makes a confident directorial debut with this story of a disgraced MMA fighter named Jackie Justice (Berry), who returns to the ring and reunites with the young son (Danny Boyd Jr.) she gave up for adoption. Hitting many familiar beats of a standard boxing drama, "Bruised" is a knockout thanks to Berry’s fiercely committed performance and a captivating breakout turn from theater actress Sheila Atim as her trainer-turned-lover.
Directed by Nora Fingscheidt; in theaters Nov. 24 and streaming on Netflix Dec. 10.
Oscar winner Sandra Bullock is back with her grittiest performance since "Gravity," playing a woman attempting to rebuild her life and locate her younger sister after serving a 20-year prison sentence for killing a cop. Bullock also produces the film – her first since Netflix's hit 2018 thriller "Bird Box" – and stars alongside Viola Davis, whose guarded character resides in the newly renovated home where the murder went down.