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In honor of being invited to join AWFJ, the Top 10 Movies of 2017, as directed by women!

On this first day of 2018, I’m thrilled to announce my addition as a member of AWFJ, the Alliance of Women Film Journalists.  An official invitation and close scrutiny of my work was required, and I’m quite thrilled I made the cut, and that I’m now part of such a great, talented group of female writers.  My reviews will appear on their site throughout the year, and I’ll be a voting member, which means I get to vote in their annual EDA Awards. This non-profit women-focused organization hopes to expand awareness and shine a light on women both in front of and behind the camera, so I couldn’t be more aligned with their goals!

In celebration of this wonderful honor, this first post by Cinema Siren in 2018 will be the Best Films of 2017, but ONLY include films directed by women.  It’s thrilling to say most of these would already be on my top ten, and that is definitely a sign of the times.  There are several films that were released from within the Hollywood studio system, and that’s also good news. Still, women are smart, so they know that often it’s better to go the independent route, not least because their vision, as often both the writer and director of their films, is not only kept firmly intact, but celebrated by their collaborators.

Congratulations to Netflix, who are leading the charge in supporting woman creators, and who backed both First They Killed My Father and Mudbound.  Remember, as I’ve mentioned before, they also promote women’s vision for the small screen, with, for example, the all-female directed second season of Jessica Jones coming up, as well as the all-female led show Harlots, which has female stars, writers, creators, and directors.

Here is my top ten list of 2017, in no particular order.  Watch them all.  You will not be disappointed!  Now, can we depend on the Academy to celebrate these great films, which landed in what was dubbed “The Year of the Women”?  Only time will tell.

(if I’ve reviewed the film, you can click on the title for my review on CinemaSiren.com)

Lady Bird

Greta Gerwig wrote and directed this coming-of-age film about a girl entering adulthood with Catholic guilt and big dreams in tow.  The movie didn’t suffer from the significant edits required of Gerwig’s over 800 page original draft.  Saoirse Ronan embodies the awkwardness and bruised optimism of the lead character with such authenticity, we are all thrown back into our own 17-year-old bodies.  In theaters now.


It feels like Dee Rees can do no wrong.  How long before Hollywood hands someone with her talent a huge project along the lines of Star Wars? Perhaps she’s just happy creating achingly beautiful portraits of family struggle, as in the wonderful film Mudbound, which she co-wrote.  Expect every bad thing to happen to the two families, one black, one white, both poor, each dealing with the PTSD their beloved child returns with from WW2.  Racism, since it’s the South, plays an important, and awful part.  On Netflix now.


Need a cheerful, intense, and deeply heartfelt documentary about cats and how much they inspire?  Kedi, from producer/director Ceyda Torun will be a perfect fit.  Did you know that cats have been an essential part of the fabric of Istanbul for thousands of years?  Find out why and be moved in watching a film that will start your year off with optimism.  On YouTube and GooglePlay now.

A United Kingdom

If like me, you daily sing the praises of actors David Oyelowo and Rosemund Pike, the biopic in which they starred in 2017 A United Kingdom is for you.  Even if you don’t, Amma Asante’s feature about the real story of Seretse and Ruth Khama, who forever changed Botswana with their unwavering love for each other and their country is a film that will remind you standing up for your beliefs can ultimately lead to lasting changes.  For rent on Vudu, iTunes, and Amazon Video now.


Released under the title “Grave”, writer/director Julia Ducournau proves once again that the horror genre has ample room for powerful, fearless women. It’s always been a place where outsiders could find a voice and make statements of political and social significance, and the film Raw is a successful example of that.  Starring relative newcomer Garance Marillier, it examines the pressures of young adulthood, matriculation, and finding acceptance.  also there’s cannibalism.   For rent online on Vudu, iTunes, and Amazon Video.

Wonder Woman

For those of you who have lived under a rock in the last year, one of the top grossing films of 2017 was a little movie called Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins. It’s just one of a number of movies centered around a female lead that rocked the box office, but this film in particular broke all sorts of records for women directors.  Good news?  Sure…but what took Hollywood so long?  Those of us in the know are well aware of the talented female directors who want a chance directing a blockbuster. Hey, DC! Here’s what happens when you hand it over to a woman.  Will it change things for women in Hollywood? They did sign Jenkins to the sequel, but not before a long, drawn-out negotiation.  Gal Gadot as Diana Prince shows she can save the world just as well or better than any male superhero, and do it with a dash of compassion.  Available for purchase on DVD and now playing on HBO.

The Breadwinner

Directed by the co-director of The Secret of Kells, Nora Twomey, The Breadwinner follows the strong, determined Afghan girl Parvana as she disguises her in boy’s clothing so she can work to provide for her family.  Visually stunning and culturally meaningful, it is written for film by Deborah Ellis, who also wrote the book.  Animation can and does make political statements and it does open the eyes of its audiences to life’s struggles. Look for this film to make a splash at the Oscars.  It won’t win against the Pixar behemoth, but you should still see this awards-worthy feature. In Theaters now.

First They Killed My Father

Directed by Angelina Jolie, who is becoming increasingly known for the director part of her actor-director-producer hyphenate, First They Killed My Father is a biographical narrative that takes place in 1975 and follows 7 year old Cambodian girl Loung Ung as she gets trained as a child soldier.  Co-written by Jolie and Ung, and is based on Ung’s memoir of surviving the Khmer Rouge regime.  The film is the official Oscar submission by Cambodia for Best Foreign Film.  It is heartbreaking, gorgeous to look at (after all, Cambodia was quite a tourist destination before it got ripped apart by war) and fascinating.  On Netflix now.

The Wedding Plan

I had no idea what to expect when I started watching this film, which is in Hebrew and directed and written by Rama Burshtein, and is about a woman who gets jilted one month before her nuptials, but plans it anyway, expecting God to bring her the man of her dreams before the wedding. What Israeli-American director Rama Burshtein offers is a great education in what independent, free-thinking Orthodox Jewish women in Isreal experience as they search for love. Lead actress Noa Keller won the Isreali equivalent of an Oscar playing 32-year-old Michel, and she is aided by two delicious Israeli superstars, actor Amos Tamam and musician Oz Zehavi.  This is a rom-com for the ages. Available for rent on YouTube, Amazon Video, and Vudu.

I am Not a Witch

Welsh-Zambian director Rungano Nyoni had her feature debut with I Am Not a Witch, about 8-year-old girl Shula, in Zambia, who gets accused of witchcraft and after a quick trial gets carted off to a traveling witch camp.  She is threatened with being turned into a goat if she tries to escape.  This modern magical realist fable is all about misogyny, gender, and superstition. It is strange, wonderful, and will captivate you completely.  See it now. Available online in the UK and Ireland. http://www.iamnotawitch.com/watch-at-home/

Watch this fascinating interview with director Nyoni at the British Film Institute Festival.


There are two films that were co-directed by women, and I wanted to mention them here, because they are both wonderful and should be seen:


Co-directed by beloved filmmaker Agnes Varda and JR, this documentary won the L’Oeil d’or award at Cannes. Varda and JR travel around France creating portraits of people they encounter. It is charming and poignant in equal parts, and you will be moved.  Still playing in festivals, coming soon online.

Loving Vincent:

This animated feature was created by building it, painting by painting, until the sum of its parts, oil paintings, became a complete film.  Co-directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman invented a number of techniques in order to complete this passion project, which is a mystery based in the last several weeks of Van Gogh’s life.  Invention and creativity should always be rewarded, especially when they glean such spectacular results. Available to pre-order on Amazon, releasing on January 16th, 2018.

Also, if I were including films directed by men in this best of list, it would definitely include Blade Runner 2049, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and Call Me By Your Name, which are my three favorite films of the 2017.

I’ll be writing about the films to put on your radar in 2018 that will be female-focused and/or directed and written by women, so stay tuned for that.  In the meantime, let’s all celebrate creativity in all its forms, and hope 2017 built the groundwork FINALLY for women to be given a seat at the table when major studios in Hollywood consider who to hire to direct and work on the films that have huge profiles.  All successful studio films help the directors and crew create the other films that live in their hearts.

Best of 2018 to us all, and keep watching movies!


Cinema Siren

Greta Gerwig Talks Lady Bird, the Great New Coming-of-Age Film: Film Review and Interview


If I were making a movie with two women playing mother and daughter, Oscar nominated Saoirse Ronan of Atonement, and Brooklyn,  and Emmy and Tony Award winner Laurie Metcalf of Toy Story, Roseanne, the Steppenwolf Theater and at least 14 Broadway and off-Broadway plays, would be on my dream list.  Apparently Greta Gerwig agrees.

Before the beloved Indie actress, writer and now first time director Gerwig called her new movie Lady Bird, she dubbed it Mothers and Daughters.  That was back when her first draft was over 300 pages long.  The finished screenplay is blessedly shorter, and both it and the film as a whole is an unqualified delight.

Christine, (Ronan) is a 17 year old girl, going through her last year of high school, who calls herself Lady Bird.  She is straining against the confines of her middle class life going to Catholic school. She believes anything is better than Sacramento, especially the East Coast. She relates that to her mother repeatedly, along with all the other complaints about her life. Her mom Marion McPherson (Metcalf) only wants the best for her daughter, for whom both she and her husband have worked overtime to allow for her expensive Catholic education.

Christine spends her time with her best friend Julie (the awesome and luminous Beanie Feldstein) and the both of them are at best on the outskirts of popularity.  Christine tries in a variety of ways to break in to the popular cliques, first by dating buddy Danny in her drama group (Lucas Hedges) and then by dating mysterious musician Kyle (Timothy Chalamet).  Things work, or don’t work, exactly as you’d expect for a girl trying too hard to fit in. It is often as awkward as real life. Lady Bird, as it happens, is funnier, and the frequent interactions with her mom, for better or worse, allow for a familial authenticity many will recognize from their own lives.

The name harkens back to the nursery rhyme, “Lady bird, Lady bird, fly away home”. Audiences will be called to consider what home means for young people considering the bigger world and their place in it. For her own part, Gerwig says she didn’t realize she was pulling words from a popular children’s rhyme when she named the movie.  Still, the character of Lady Bird feels shame around her own class, as her family is struggling financially. She believes inhabiting a new name and going to a new place will fulfill her, or change her into who she wants to be. This film, and Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson’s progression, is about finding her way back to who she is, and where she comes from, including the shifting position she holds in her family. Taking the trip with her is a joy, and the cast and filmmaker taking us there create a singular, authentic experience that will place Lady Bird on the list of most memorable, enjoyable coming of age films.


I asked Gerwig a few questions when she came to the Middleburg Film Festival, and before LADY BIRD became one of the top rated films on Rotten Tomatoes, hopefully placing her as a frontrunner for a Best Director Oscar nomination.    

Cinema Siren: When I think of Lady Bird, I think of the nursery rhyme.  “Lady bird, lady bird, fly away home.  Your house is on fire and your children are gone”..I’m interested in the idea of home and what it means to identity and how it plays into the film.

Greta Gerwig: It’s funny, I didn’t consciously understand why I chose the name Lady Bird, I just was working on the script and writing different scenes and I felt like I kept hitting some sort of block around it. I put everything aside and wrote on the top of the page, “why won’t you call me Lady Bird? you promised that you would.”  and I thought, “Who is this person? Who is this person who makes people call her by this name?” and in retrospect I also remembered that rhyme, and I also thought about the act of re-naming, and what that means and how it can be both a religious act and a secular act.  At confirmation, you choose your saint name. You choose the thing that you’re trying to emulate and the space that you’re trying to occupy.  Or if you want to become a rock star or movie star and you choose a name, Marilyn Monroe or David Bowie, those aren’t their names, they chose bigger things than themselves before they were able to step into it.  What’s interesting to me is that it has a double meaning which is that you sort of have this supreme confidence in yourself that you can be bigger than you are, and it also has a deep insecurity imbedded in it, which is that you are not enough. I think for me being able to grapple with home, and what home means, and it only being able to make sense as it retreats from you, or you leave it, is so much a part of that because i think accepting where you are from and incorporating that into who you become is complicated, especially for teenagers. I don’t know very many teenagers that think, “I’m great just as I am, and where i’m from is awesome”.  There’s all this stuff built into you at that age where you think that you’re wrong, the place is wrong, the certainty that life is happening somewhere else, and you just have to get to the life that actually happening in another place, and then once you get there, you realize life is going on all the time.  So that’s not exactly an answer but it’s a collection of thoughts around what that means.

CS: My experience with talking to female filmmakers is they are very centered in collaboration, although you’re in charge of bringing it all together.  Can you talk about your perspective on collaboration as a woman in film and how it influenced your first experience directing?

GG: I think film is one of most deeply collaborative arts, whether you’re a man or a woman, it just is, like the theater, where everyone comes together.  If what you want is total artistic control, you should be a novelist. That’s what you should do, because you can control it from beginning to end and it’s all yours.  Film even people who seem to be ruling over things with what seems like an iron fist, there’s just no way you can, and I don’t think there’s a reason you’d want to.  For me, I always had a very clear idea of how it looked and sounded and would be put together, and I think most films you have to know your true north, and your own compass, because really everyone can only bring their collaborative efforts to you if you know what you’re going for.  Ultimately what you do is you kind of get everyone to dream the same dream you’re dreaming.  So you collaborate to hypnotize everyone to the same place so that we’re all making the same film.  It’s this combination which is a paradox, because that certainty that gut feeling and that true north comes from you, and that is what makes it collaborative.  So it’s both and, it’s not either or.  I love people bringing their whole selves to it.  For example, with the actors, I’m a very involved director, and in terms of the script, we don’t change any of the lines, and I do a lot of takes and give a lot of feedback, but also I feel like there’s this very important moment early in the rehearsal process where I give the flame of the character to them, and it’s theirs.  It’s their job to take care of it, and at that point, I don’t know more about that character than they know.  You have to give your actors that trust, otherwise they’ll never be able to fully inhabit it, if you keep it too close to yourself.  It’s this thing of giving it away and trusting that it’ll come back.

CS: It is about trust.

GG: Oh yes, hugely.  That’s why I take a long time building my creative team, because these are the people you’ll be making the movie with and the actors of the ones everyone sees onscreen but every single person involved in the production, down to the P.A.s are the people who contribute to what that movie is and how it feels and every single person has to be a storyteller.  Even the people in accounting, even the people making the schedules every day, everyone has to be a storyteller.  Otherwise you could do that in any other kind of job.  It’s about this kind of storytelling. This is a small example, but the first assistant director is responsible for how each day goes.  what scene we start off with and where we go before lunch and after lunch, and they do it for the entire schedule. My first A.D. was so sensitive to what the story was and where the actors would be and what the experience of making it is, because that’s the way he is and that’s his way of storytelling. It’s essential to have a team of storytellers that choose together to tell this particular story.

Lady Bird, after breaking records for the highest gross in limited specialty release, is opening wide across the country.