Women have been producing films for as long as there have been movies. Alice Guy-Blaché was developing her own methods in the brand-new art genre when the Lumière brothers astounded spectators with their great depiction of a moving train. Lois Weber undertook the same tasks as D.W. Griffith, including developing his own studio where he created his works.
“First Cow” (Kelly Reichardt, 2020)
The way Kelly Reichardt has incorporated the topic of what it means to be an American into each of her independent films is unique among directors. The powerful themes of everything building up to “First Cow” are consolidated in the careful manner characteristic of her captivating approach: It takes her back to the frontier America of the early 20th century that is the subject of “Meek’s Cut off,” touches on the environmental issues in “Night Moves,” revels in the idyllic isolation of the countryside in “Certain Women,” and focuses on the sombre struggles of vagrancy in “Wendy and Lucy.”
“Atlantics” (Mati Diop, 2019)
Mati Diop’s “Atlantics” is a mesmerizing feature directorial debut that focuses on the experiences of Ada, a young woman stuck in repressive circumstances on the coast of Senegal after her boyfriend vanishes en route to Spain. It is a powerful work of fantasy, weaving supernatural conceits into an absorbing vision of alienated seaside life.
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” (Marielle Heller, 2019)
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is a story of a bitter reporter who learns to appreciate life after forging a friendship with Fred Rogers. Director Marielle Heller pulls heartstrings from sturdy foundations, injecting smart and insightful details into material that could easily default to sentimentality. Matthew Rhys plays a new father and disgruntled magazine journalist whose puff piece on Rogers turns into a transcendent, life-changing encounter with pure, unbridled optimism.
“The Farewell” (Lulu Wang, 2019)
“The Farewell” is a touching and understated second feature from director Lulu Wang, starring Awkwafina as a Chinese-American grappling with the traditionalism of her past and its impact on the future. Based on a 2016 episode of “This American Life” drawn from Wang’s own experiences, the movie follows Billi, an out-of-work New York writer who learns from her parents that her beloved grandmother has terminal cancer. Despite its unclassifiable premise, the movie is a remarkable window into Asian American identity and a welcome introduction to a filmmaker who’s just getting started.
“Never Rarely Sometimes Always” (Eliza Hittman, 2020)
Eliza Hittman’s “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is an empathetic and skilled chronicler of American youth, focusing on the bond between cousins Autumn and Skylar (newbies Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder). It is a searing examination of the current state of abortion laws and the medical professionals tasked with enforcing them, but also a singular look at what it means to be a teenage girl today, with all the joy and pain that comes with it.
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