List by-Jarrett Leahy
Watching Nicole Holofcener’s charming little romantic comedy Enough Said reminded me yet again how few women are actively working in Hollywood. Even in 2014, the road for female directors is still a difficult uphill climb with only a small handful cracking the Hollywood good ol’ boy network. Examining the 100 top box office films for 2013, only two female directors appeared on the list, Jennifer Lee, who co-directed the Disney animated juggernaut Frozen, and Kimberly Peirce, whose remake of the horror classic Carrie reached the #77 spot earning just over $35 million. Despite the many overt and covert obstacles, there have been very talented female filmmakers with the persistence to overcome and create exceptional films. Here are a few from the last 15 years that I feel are among the best…
6. The Kids Are All Right (2010): Lisa Cholodenko-A film already highlighted on our LGBT Top 6 List, Lisa Cholodenko’s ably directed story of a lesbian couple and their children’s curiosity about their sperm donor father was yet another small budget indie to make a wide release splash in 2010 (see #2). Starring Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, and Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right received four Oscar nominations including Best Picture, joining Winter’s Bone as the two female directed films to receive that honor in 2010.
5. We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011): Lynne Ramsay-Tilda Swinton stars as a mother struggling to love her son due to his erratic behavior that is becoming more and more violent. An expertly told nonlinear story that is aptly labeled as art-house horror, Ramsey’s film is equally mesmerizing and terrifying. Co-starring John C. Reilly and the extremely gifted young actor Ezra Miller (The Perks of Being a Wall Flower), We Need To Talk About Kevin is an extremely powerful film that is not for the faint of heart.
4. The Hurt Locker (2009)/Zero Dark Thirty (2012): Kathryn Bigelow-No female director has had more recent critical success than Kathryn Bigelow. Using the U.S. military involvement in Iraq as the backdrop for The Hurt Locker, Bigelow’s tension packed story about an Army bomb squad technician garnered six Academy awards including Best Picture of 2009 and Best Director for Bigelow, the first woman ever to receive that honor. Zero Dark Thirty, her follow up film based on the search and eventual killing of Osama Bin Laden, was another critical success even with some expressing concerns about its graphic depiction of the torturous interrogation tactics reportedly used by the military. After these two riveting efforts, many film fans are waiting with bated breath to see what Bigelow decides to choose for her next film project.
3. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)/Ruby Sparks (2012): Valerie Faris (& Jonathan Dayton)-Being part of a male/female director team doesn’t make your accomplishments any less impressive, and these two films are so darn great that I couldn’t dare leave them or Valerie Faris off this list. Little Miss Sunshine set the indie world on fire back in 2006, garnering two Oscars and another two nominations including one for Best Picture. Valerie and Jonathan waited six years to come out with a worthy follow-up film, and boy did they, directing the irrepressibly wonderful Ruby Sparks, a romantic fantasy about a novelist who tries to overcome writer’s block by creating a story about his perfect woman only to find she has magically come to life. Ruby Sparks’ clever script was written by the film’s adorably gifted star Zoe Kazan, granddaughter of legendary director Elia Kazan.
2. Winter’s Bone (2010): Debra Granik-The Sundance Film Festival has long been on the front line for showcasing some of the more gifted smaller budget films that might not have otherwise gotten the same support. Winter’s Bone and its relative unknown writer/director Debra Granik is the perfect example of the impact Sundance can have on a film. Dark and nerve-wrackingly suspenseful, Winter’s Bone tells the story of a young woman’s search for her father, whose disappearance in a rural Ozark mountain town while out on bail has put their family house and land in jeopardy of being taken. Winter’s Bone, which was the career spring board for now superstar Jennifer Lawrence, was awarded the 2010 Sundance Grand Jury prize, launching it on a meteoric rise that led to four Academy award nominations including Best Picture.
1. Lost In Translation (2003): Sofia Coppola-My love for this film is already well documented (see 2014 Hall of Fame class), and there is no way I could keep it from this list. In a fleeting industry, especially for women, Lost In Translation is such a major accomplishment. Directors spend their entire career trying to create what Sofia was able to capture on screen. Similarly to the way Tapestry has come to define the career of legendary singer/songwriter Carole King, Coppola is now defined by, will always have a career because of, and will probably never again live up to the skill and sheer cinematic beauty of her comedic masterpiece.-JL