If you’ve ever watched the Academy Awards and, more specifically, the Best Director race, then you’ll be acutely aware of the longstanding lack of recognition for female directors. In the Academy’s 93-year history, only five women have been nominated for Best Director—Lina Wertmüller for Seven Beauties (1976), Jane Campion for The Piano (1993), Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation (2003), Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker (2009), and Greta Gerwig in 2017 for Lady Bird. Of those women, Bigelow is the only one to have won the award.
Objectively, these historical statistics would indicate a scarcity of talented female directors, right? Hell no. While award ceremonies have long failed to recognise gifted storytellers, the catalogue of existing films made by women is as spectacular as it is endless. In the spirit of International Women’s Day and its 2021 theme, #ChooseToChallenge, we’ve rounded up some of the best films from female directors available to stream on Netflix right now.
From horror and docos to action and comedy, every day of the year—including IWD—is a good day to check out the brilliant work of female filmmakers. Here are 9 epic films directed by women available on Netflix.
Emotionally plagued by her husband’s death, a single mother (Essie Davis) battles with paranoia and her young son’s growing fears of a manifested children’s book monster called ‘Mister Babadook’. From Aussie director Jennifer Kent, The Babadook (based on her 2005 short film, Monster) belongs on many different lists: best Australian films, best horror films, and best films of the 21st century. In her directorial feature debut, Kent’s masterpiece effectively explores the depths of emotional trauma and mental health through the terrifying and refreshingly genuine lens of horror. There’s something exceptional about the eeriness found in the Australian horror genre. No director has shown a better understanding of using it than Kent–the modern age of scary movies is in good hands.
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before
If you’re not already obsessed with the To All the Boys franchise like we are, lock in your next free night to binge them all. But there’s no doubt that Susan Johnson’s first instalment is the trilogy’s best film. Based on the novel by Jenny Han, the film follows Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor) navigating the usual high school movie shenanigans before love letters she kept hidden for years are unexpectedly sent to her secret crushes. Alongside charming performances and a great script, Johnson creates a uniquely fun and positive vibe for the film, with some notable Wes Anderson-like colour schemes and camera shots.
Dick Johnson Is Dead
This surprisingly comical and heartfelt documentary follows filmmaker Kristen Johnson as she captures her father nearing the end of his life while suffering from dementia. The film jumps between the father and daughter’s moving relationship, making the movie itself, and the hilarious and cinematic ways the pair repeatedly stage Dick Johnson’s death. In one of 2020’s best films, Dick Johnson is Dead is a portrait of family, friendship, and grief told from the deeply personal perspective of a director inextricably involved in the subject matter.
In 1987 New York City, a young investment banker, Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), hides his double life as a calculated and bloodthirsty serial killer. Directed by Mary Harron and starring Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe, Reese Witherspoon, and Jared Leto, American Psycho has become a bona fide cult classic darling since its release in 2000. After being passed on by several male directors, including Oliver Stone, Harron took on adapting Bret Easton Ellis’ 1991 novel, writing the screenplay alongside Guinevere Turner. Despite the film’s overtly violent scenery (argued by some to be glorified), the comedic satire is intended as an indictment of harmful and toxic masculine behaviour and patriarchal capitalism.
Always Be My Maybe
After childhood best friends and sweethearts, Sasha (Ali Wong) and Marcus (Randall Park) fall out and don’t speak for 15 years, they are reunited as adults when Sasha returns to San Francisco. Although the two have taken dramatically different life paths, they still have more in common than they’re willing to admit. Co-written by Ali Wong and directed by first-time feature director Nahnatchka Khan (show creator of Fresh Off The Boat and Don’t Trust the B---- in Apartment 23), Always Be My Maybe brings a refreshing experience to the expected romantic comedy formula. Wong and Park have unquestioned comedic chemistry between them, which elevates this film from the usual ‘funny’ rom-com, to legitimately hilarious. And in case you don’t know, Keanu Reeves makes an appearance as an outrageously comical and self-deprecating version of himself that completely steals the movie.
Ana DuVernay belongs in any discussion of our greatest female directors. In this 2016 documentary, the filmmaker deep dives into racial inequality overtly existing in the United States, with a scathing and frightening analysis of its oppressive prison system. The film explores how America’s Thirteenth Amendment, created to abolish slavery, had today led to the disproportionate mass incarceration of Black Americans and to the subsequent prison-industrial complex. “The whole film is a virtual tour through racism,” DuVernay told The Atlantic in 2016. “We’re giving you 150 years of oppression in 100 minutes. The film was 150 years in the making.”
The Old Guard
When a team of century-old and immortal mercenaries are uncovered, they’re forced to fight back to protect their freedom, while a new member surfaces to complicate the already precarious situation. Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood and starring Charlize Theron, we can throw The Old Guard in the range of entertaining-as-hell movies Netflix dropped to keep us entertained during 2020 as cinemas were forced to close. With a serviceable plot, great action scenes, and Theron locking herself in as the modern queen of action movies (alongside her roles as Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road and Lorraine Broughton in Atomic Blonde)–this movie is a fun hang.
The Forty-year-old Version
Announcing herself to the world as a filmmaking force, first-time feature director and writer Radha Blank shines in this 2020 intimate comedy/drama. Struggling with her career, a 40-year-old playwright shifts her focus onto becoming a rapper and recording a mixtape. ‘Peaking’ early in her career and recognised on a “most promising 30 under 30 list”, Radha searches for a new way to share her unique voice. For her efforts on the film, Blank picked up the top directorial prize at 2020’s Sundance Film Festival, the Vanguard Award (won in 2019 by The Farewell’s Lulu Wang). The Forty-Year-Old Version also sits on Gina Prince-Bythewood’s previously mentioned movie recommendation list–so, take it from her that this film is worth your time.
Returning to his former home for a dinner party hosted by his ex-wife, Will (Logan Marshall-Green), grieving his son’s death, suspects his former partner and her new lover have an ominous ulterior motive for the get-together. Let us just say The Invitation is straight-up disturbing–in the best kind of way. You’re guaranteed to cover your eyes or throw your hands up in the air on several occasions. Director Karyn Kusama slowly builds suspense throughout the thriller until it becomes unbearably unnerving. Shot almost entirely within the confines of one house, the director’s purposeful touches and story guiding is what makes the film so tense and incredible to watch.
Next, check out these amazing books written by women.
Image credit: Netflix