There’s an old film aficionado party trick that goes like this: try to name as many movies as possible in which two female characters have a conversation about any topic—other than a man. Easy, you might think, preparing to rattle off an extensive, if not endless, list of thoughtful scenes from recent cinema that display the rich inner lives of women. I mean, what is this, the 50s?
Unfortunately, your optimism would turn out to be admirable but misplaced. If you’re a real film buff, not to mention quick on your feet, you might scramble to come up with a pathetic three or four titles before admitting defeat—and two of them will probably be Bridesmaids and Oceans 8 (which isn’t on our list for the simple reason that there are about five women left in the world who haven’t already seen it or been told to go see it, so don’t call me out for overlooking Cate Blanchett and Rihanna). Have you just suffered the most poorly timed brain fart of your life? No; the truth is even more depressing: if an alien were getting ready to invade planet Earth and all the materials it had to learn the ways of the earthlings happened to be the entire body of the last century’s world cinema, it would probably conclude that all women think about—when they think at all, which is rarely—is men.
Obviously, this could not be further from the truth, but film is just finally beginning to probe into the inner lives of half the world’s population. It’s about time. It doesn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to sleuth out why Hollywood has been churning out a tsunami of films with strong, female leads in 2018 of all years (ahem, #MeToo), and whether the motives behind the movies are genuine or studios are just cashing in on a long-overdue cultural moment (if you know anything about Hollywood, you know it’s probably bit of both), I, for one, am willing to suspend my disbelief and drag my ass to the movie theatre (that MoviePass isn’t going to pay for itself!).
Plus, I may be a biased Los Angeleno who assigns disproportionate value to thee things, but as a wise friend once warned me, it’s never too early to start prepping for Oscar’s season. If I’d listened, I wouldn’t have been the girl hiding behind the nachos at the viewing party, Googling what the Best Picture was about. So do as I say and not as I did; go see the movie.
Of course, not all of these titles are slated for the Academy’s list (40% on Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t lie), but with anti-establishment sentiment raging just as strong in arts spheres as in politics, that shouldn’t disqualify them from your culture queue. Without further ado, sink your teeth into these 2018 titles, a jumble of genres and of various level of name-drop-ability at your film snob friend’s dinner party (just stick to Rotten Tomatoes scores of 75% and up and you’ll be golden). Their uniting ambition, however, the thing that earned them a spot on this list, is their attempt to dredge the murky corners of female existence and exhume its timeless artifacts: the elegance, tenderness, rage, fallibility and strength that comes with the territory of being a woman.
This heartwarming documentary about legendary comedian Gilda Radner, one of the seven original cast members of Saturday Night Live and a pioneer of TV personality parodies, opened at Tribeca Film Festival in April to widespread acclaim. In addition to her long career on SNL, Gilda and had her own successful one-woman show on Broadway, Gilda Radner – Live From New York. Sadly, her life was cut short at age 42 by ovarian cancer. Needless to say, Radner has been an inspiration to decades of women in comedy. In this film from director Lisa D’Apolito’s, Radner’s closest friends and collaborators pay tribute to her memory, modern comedians read her personal writings and the audience catches a glimpse into never-before-seen home video footage. A tale of resilience and using laughter to find strength, Love, Gilda will hit theatres in the US on September 21. In the meantime, watch the trailer.
Another film from noted indie film studio Magnolia Pictures, Support the Girls features Regina Hall, best known for the Scary Movie series, as Lisa Conroy, a tough but nurturing manager of a Hooters-style roadside bar. Written and directed by indie maven Andrew Bujalski, Support the Girls won over critics with its humor, wit and canny portrayal of today’s America, with all of its stale but still compelling dreams and dark little prejudices. In the words of Rolling Stone critic David Fear, “You could not ask for a better image of our country right now.” Come for the jokes and boobs; stay for the touching portrayal of sisterhood through adversity. After making its rounds through the festival circuit, Support the Girls opened to limited release in Canada and the US on 24 August. Watch the trailer.
Perennial Oscar-watching party attendees, take note: this is by far the most Oscar-baitey (in the best way) of a recent slew of films featuring heroines whose ambitions were thwarted in some way by the man they love (a very niche genre, one that is impossible to deny on the 2018 film landscape, as we’ll see). The Wife investigates the life and sacrifices of, you guessed it, the wife, of a Great American Novelist, played by the phenomenal Glenn Close. Written by Jane Andersen, this understated drama delivers a smart meditation on themes like marriage, passion, ambition, but it’s the performances, especially from Close, that really steal the show. The Wife is playing in the US and will be opening in theatres around the world through November. Watch the trailer.
A revenge drama from first-time director Jordana Spiro, Night Comes On has an African American female lead who gets out of jail and sets off to avenge the death of her mother. But don’t watch this film for the diversity points—watch it because it has an impressive 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, no doubt for its clarity and intensity and the obvious skill on the part of the filmmaker. Support the Girls is currently in limited release in the US. Watch the trailer.
The premise is as compelling as it is unusual: a listless Kindergarten teacher in Staten Island who lives for her weekly poetry class in the city has her passion for life rekindled by one of her five-year-old students, a young poetic virtuoso who she will go to any length to nurture and protect. As the lead of this Netflix film, Maggie Gyllenhaal takes risks coming off as creepy and stalkerish to explore complex psychological territory, but the gamble pays off; Sara Colagelo’s film is a quirky standout. The film is set for release on 12 October in the US, 15 November in the Netherlands, 20 December in Russia and 8 February 2019 in the UK. Watch the trailer.
Kiera Knightly’s latest period piece follows the life of French novelist Colette, née Sidonie-Gabrielle in a sleepy town in rural France, as she marries a successful Parisian writer and ghost-writes the novel that wins him breakout success only to have to battle him for the rights to and recognition for her work, turning prim and proper Parisian society upside down in the process. (As you might have guessed, this is the second literary heroine film on our list, with one more still to come.) As per usual, Knightly delivers a strong and touching performance as Colette—who, incidentally, Blair on Gossip Girl spends the summer reading in Paris, so if that’s not enough to vet this fascinating author for you, I really don’t know what to tell you. Colette will see open to limited release in the US on 21 September, followed by 29 November in Russia, 6 December in Italy, 7 December in South Africa, 3 January 2019 in the Netherlands, 25 January in the UK and 27 September 2019 in Portugal. Watch the trailer.
Another historic biopic, this one tells the story of New York painter Catherine Weldon who strikes out West to North Dakota so she can paint Chief Sitting Bull. Directed by Susanna White, the film falls short on historical accuracy by some counts and, in some places, has been accused of failing to make us care, but the acting is sure to leave an impression, and overall, the film does a passable job of telling an inherently interesting story while critiquing gender and racial injustice. Woman Walks Ahead is out in Israel, the US and Germany and is slated for release in Portugal on 6 September, Greece on 27 September and the Netherlands on 29 September. Watch the trailer.
The latest Nick Hornby novel adaptation, Juliet, Naked is a comedy that features Rose Bryne in a series of typical implausible Hornby scenarios: first, she is ignored by her loser boyfriend who is obsessed with an obscure rocker from two decades ago; then, she runs into none other than the rocker himself, who, of course, falls for her. Cue jealousy and repentance on behalf of the boyfriend, the most relatable part of the movie given that immutable law of the physics of dating: as soon as someone more charming and attractive shows halfway interest in you, all your scumbag exes crawl out of the woodwork and flood your inbox with “I miss you” texts. Ugh. You can rely on any Nick Hornby adaptation to serve up some top-tier, feel-good rom-com fare cut with that specific brand of dopey British humor that Hugh Grant does better than anyone in the world. Not only are we thrilled that the rom com is back (!!), but Juliet, Naked manages to gently slide in some timely social commentary like a mom slipping broccoli in the mac n’ cheese, and fulfills our requirement for a strong female lead to boot. Juliet, Naked is out in theatres in the US, the Netherlands, Poland and Portugal and is coming to Greece on 13 September, Denmark on 20 September, Hungary on 11 October, the UK on 2 November and Germany on 15 November. Watch the trailer.
Though this teen comedy hasn’t exactly stunned the critics, it won us over with Zoey Deutch’s spot-on performance as an outrageous 17-year-old living in the armpit of L.A., San Fernando Valley. Acting out for attention as teens do, she goes on a misguided quest to expose the dark secrets of a high school teacher, played by Parks and Recreation’s Adam Scott. Flower hit US screens back in March, followed by Estonia and Lithuania, and is available to stream on YouTube, Amazon Prime and Google Play. Watch the trailer.
Zoey Deutch has been a busy girl this year, managing to star in both Flower and this How to Be Single-esque millennial coming-of-age story. The Year of Spectacular Men follows a hapless college grad as she breaks up with her boyfriend, moves cross-country from New York to L.A. (the only two cities where a self-respecting millennial would be caught dead, according to the film industry), and embarks on a romantic odyssey in which she dates five so-called spectacular men, discovering lots about herself, her friendships and her family in the process. In fact, the movie was somewhat of a family affair, directed by Deutch’s mother Lea Thompson and written by her sister Madelyn. The Year of Spectacular Men opened at the L.A. Film Festival in June and is now out in the US. Watch the trailer.
Time to put on your smarty pants: the next movie on our list is a biopic about the legendary Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. The film follows Ginsberg as she faces misogyny at each step of her illustrious life, from law school to her career fighting gender discrimination in the US legal system. With Academy Award nominee Felicity Jones playing the lead, the film is sure to stun—and make an appearance once award nominations begin to come out. On the Basis of Sex will be released in the US on Christmas Day, followed by 27 December in Portugal and Russia, 3 January 2019 in the Netherlands, 4 January in the UK, 1 February in South Africa and 7 February in Australia. In the meantime, catch the trailer
A tale about a prostitute with a heart of gold who strikes out to forge a new life for herself in San Francisco, Katie Says Goodbye opened to mixed reviews, but one thing the critics agreed on is that the film was not an easy watch. The naïve protagonist is forced to weather more than her share of hardship, but in the end, you can judge for yourself what the film’s goal was, and if first-time writer-director Wayne Roberts was able to accomplish it. The film made its way through the festival circuits in 2016 and 2017 but was released to the public just this year and only in Sweden, the Netherlands and France. Watch the trailer
A dark drama starring Julianne Nicholson and Emma Roberts, Who We Are Now tells the story of a mother, recently released from prison, as she battles for custody of her son. A richly unfolding tapestry of one broken woman’s attempts to put herself, and her life, back together again, Who We Are Now dazzles largely through the strength of Nicholson’s performance, and the questions it asks about self-worth and atonement are sure to linger long after the theatre lights come up. The film is out in the US as of 25 May; watch the trailer.
This new coming-of-age drama from A24, written and directed by Augustine Frizzell, is a toast to female friendship at its most exuberant and precocious. High school dropouts-turned-waitresses Angela and Jessie dream of breaking loose from their suburban Texas existence to search for bigger and better things—in this case, the beaches of Galveston. The plotline might be vaguely reminiscent of Spring Breakers but without the guns, drugs and Alien (curvy, broke best friends pull off a low-budget heist and hightail it to the shore), but what makes it clearly updated for 2018 is the obvious and playful riff off the “nasty woman.” Maybe not the title you want to name drop to your cinephile friends, but if you manage to suspend your disbelief that two random rural Texan waitresses could be this hot (I grew up outside of Dallas, so I know a thing or two…), you’ll have a grand time watching this movie. Never Goin’ Back is currently playing in theatres in the US. Watch the trailer.
Here’s a premise I bet you’ve never seen before (unless you happened to read Naomi Alderman’s book, that is): a woman’s hesitant homecoming to her Orthodox Jewish community years after she was cast out for a lesbian indiscretion with her childhood friend, now married to a man. Disobedience explores faith, sexuality, loyalty and tradition through deeply affecting performances from Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz, guided by Academy Award-winning director Sebastián Lelio. Disobedience is out in the US, Canada, Finland, Israel, France, Australia, Denmark, Brazil, Singapore, Mexico, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands and Poland, making it one of the most widely distributed titles on our list—so you really have no excuse not to see this one! It’s also coming soon to Italy (25 October), the UK and Ireland (30 November). Watch the trailer.
The latest from 90s indie darling Chloë Sevigny, this psychological thriller reimagines the infamous 1892 Borden family axe murder in Massachusetts. Lizzie Borden, the film’s protagonist, was the main suspect for the murders of her father and stepmother, which earned her lasting notoriety in the American public imagination—though she was eventually acquitted. Director Craig William Macneill isn’t afraid to dig deep into the darkest corners of this improbable heroine’s psyche, including, as any blockbuster must, a titillating plotline involving an intimate liaison with a housemaid, played by master of emotional subtlety Kristen Stewart. Don’t miss Lizzie as it hits theatres starting this month: 14 September in the US and Taiwan, 1 November in Russia and 16 November in the UK. Watch the trailer.
A24’s standout title of the season, Eighth Grade manages to achieve that delicate balance of being both timely and timeless, portraying the all-out guerilla war of acne, social climbing and changing bodies that is middle school without dressing it up with 18-year-old actors that look like swimsuit models with Lisa Frank backpacks. Eighth Grade reveals this time to be, for anyone that might have missed middle school or permanently blocked it out of her mind, an awkward but poignant period of transition between the kid you no longer are and the fabulous young woman you will soon become—or so you hope, desperately. Elsie Fisher plays thirteen-year-old Kayla with almost unbearable realism—I cringed each time she opened her mouth—so if you are thirteen, have ever been thirteen, or will one day be thirteen, you’ll find yourself relating to her plights and feelings, if not her exact situation. At the same time, for those of us who have thankfully put thirteen far behind us, Eighth Grade is a surprising look into the newly digitized world of preteens that makes us wonder how our own coming of age would have been different had we been able to snap, ‘gram and tweet every second of it. Eighth Grade is out in theatres in the US; watch the trailer.
Since you’ve probably been holding your breath for the third and final movie in our trilogy of female-literary-heroine-thwarted-by-the-sexist-establishment-especially-her-supposed-love-interest films, here it is. A period drama starring Elle Fanning as Mary Shelley, who, as it turns out, wrote Frankenstein when she was only eighteen, Mary Shelley might not be a flawless movie, but the heroine’s true story makes it worth a watch. The film is out in Singapore, Russia, Portugal, France, Australia, the UK, Ireland, Spain, South Africa, Greece, Slovenia, Italy and the Netherlands, and in limited release in the US. Watch the trailer.
While her sister was busy dramatically slamming thick manuscripts onto asshole publisher’s desks, Dakota Fanning made a little movie of her own, Ben Lewin and Michael Golamco’s quirky and touching indie comedy about an autistic young woman named Wendy who runs away to L.A. to submit her Star Trek script to a writing competition. Throughout her series of adventures and misadventures, the spirit of Mr. Spock guides her: “All is there for us to conquer, not to fear,” words that ring very true for all women in 2018. Please Stand By opened in theatres in the US, Taiwan, Brazil, Indonesia, Argentina, South Africa and Mexico and is coming soon to Japan (7 September) and Portugal (13 September). Watch the trailer.
Last but certainly not least, A Simple Favor had me at “stylish post-modern film noir,” and again at Blake Lively… and again at Anna Kendrick. For starters, let’s just talk about how impressive a feat it would be to pull off a convincing mystery plotline where the Sherlock Holmes figure is described as a “mommy blogger.” Next, let’s ponder Lively’s recent return to the silver screen and whether she is a truly convincing actress or merely an ethereal blonde presence who gets by on her charm, personality and three-mile long legs. Either way, I know I’ll be sneaking in a bottle of red to the theatre for this one. A Simple Favor opens nearly worldwide in September. Watch the trailer.
Images via lovegilda, imdb, filmaffinity, cinematerial, rottentomatoes, impawards