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

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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.

Mudbound

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.

Kedi

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.

Raw

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.

HONORABLE MENTION:

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:

Faces/Places:

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!

Love,

Cinema Siren

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women Review: Great Hera, it’s Hot!

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Such timeliness!  Such hotness! Such consent!  Yes, the story of the man and women behind the making of Wonder Woman, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, written and directed by Angela Robinson, is being released this weekend. Wow, is it a fun, fascinating look at folks in the 1940s getting their freak on!  Well, not really. It’s true that it’s fun and fascinating.  It’s also just a true, partly sweet, partly heartbreaking story of a polyamorous relationship, wherein bondage and roleplaying play a part.  It just so happens that out of that relationship, the iconic heroine we all love, Wonder Woman, was born.

Wonder Woman was invented and written by Professor William Moulton Marston, who had also a significant role in the invention of the lie detector test. At the time, and through the rest of his life, he was in a relationship with two women, both of whom bore him children. The three lived together.  After Marston died, these two women lived together for the rest of their lives. Marston created Wonder Woman inspired by his wife Elizabeth and their domestic partner, Olive. At her inception, the super heroine Wonder Woman’s storyline had many elements of bondage, strong statements of women’s liberation, and what Marston believed represented female empowerment. It was criticized by the board of censors as sexually perverse. This film shows, as imagined by writer/director Robinson, what the polyamorous life these three people shared together might have been like, including the experience of Elizabeth and Olive falling in love with each other. As you might expect, there is seduction, and lots of steamy sex.

With all this aforementioned sex, you’d think the film would be lurid. I suppose that’s a matter of perspective. I walked away from the Marston movie, which stars Luke Evans as William Moulton Marston, Rebecca Hall as his wife, Elizabeth, and Bella Heathcote as Byrne, feeling like the love scenes were integral to telling their story, not at all gratuitous, and quite tastefully done. I say this even as I remember the three actors trussing each other up in varying degrees of undress while one of them is roleplaying a nurse.

It takes a lot to keep relationships healthy, however constructed they may be, especially in a time when there was little room for opinionated women to express themselves inside or outside the home. The arc of this movie shows just how difficult that can be, especially when not two, but three people are involved, and two of them are powerful women of substance. How beautiful and rare to see women in a sexual relationship together on film that isn’t approached from the male gaze! Sometimes you don’t truly know how badly a subject is represented in Hollywood until you see it done correctly. I can count on one hand the number of films that have lesbian relationships that are complicated, deep, and loving, as well as sexual in a positive way. For that alone, Robinson gets a big, gold star.  Or maybe a red one on a gold tiara. I can’t remember a time when I felt so happy seeing a romantic relationship brought to life onscreen.

Robinson, in one of her interviews, inadvertently taught me a new word.  She said in portraying the Marstons, she didn’t want to “other-ize” their experience.  It’s sad we need a word like that these days, but other-izing in this case would mean making the real-life characters inhabiting this story feel separate, unreachable and unrelatable. It would mean making the film more about their sexuality and less about the love they feel for each other.  She and the actors certainly don’t do that.  If those who see the film don’t approach it as “Fifty Shades of Superhero”, but rather, they imagine three unorthodox, complicated people who genuinely care about each other, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women can be seen for what it is; a love story.

It is also a study in consent. When Angela was on my panel “Women Rocking Hollywood” at San Diego Comic-Con this summer, she said she became obsessed with it, pouring over research to make sure it was represented correctly. Since she shows the Marstons experimenting with bondage within the context of a loving, healthy sexual relationship, she wanted to be clear when someone was playing at submission, they did so without reservation, and entirely by choice. While the BDSM community has griped in the past about misrepresentation in film, they have had nothing but positive things to say about the Marston movie.

Are you a Wonder Woman fan who wants to experience something new and interesting? Let me suggest Professor Marston and the Wonder Women. It certainly acts as a powerful distraction from our current reality. If it happens you find the leads pleasing to the eye, (and who wouldn’t?) all the better. It will surely add a layer to your understanding of the most beloved female superhero of our time. Regardless of all that, as a film that offers a sex positive portrayal of BDSM and women in love, it is a wonder, indeed.

A

SEEING WONDER WOMAN? See it Early and Support Women in Film!

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How excited are you about seeing a Hollywood film featuring the most popular and beloved female superhero? Maybe you think you’ll go soonish, or certainly, of course, see it while it’s in theaters.  Have you bought your tickets yet?  What are you waiting for, an invitation from Diana herself?  Let me suggest you go as soon as possible. Here’s why:

As you may know, Wonder Woman is directed by Patty Jenkins.  She is going to be only the 4th woman to be hired to helm a live action. film with a budget over 100 million dollars.  The 4th woman if you only count live action, or if you count animation features as well, the 6th.   That number is out of 361.  There have been 361 movies made with budgets over 100 million, and Wonder Woman will be the only the 6th movie ever with that big a budget to be helmed by a woman.

I’ll give you a moment to let that sink in.

Ok, why will going to see Wonder Woman early help?  Money talks in Hollywood, as with any money-making business. If lots of people go to early screenings and the movie breaks a number of box office records, it offers further proof that hiring female directors is as smart and financially sound a choice as hiring another male for the next movie with a big budget.

It might surprise you to know that the movie-going public, much like the general makeup of the population, is 51% female.  Women don’t avoid movies, and they certainly don’t avoid them if they have a female lead character. Unfortunately, in the US, they do have to contend with the fact that way less than half of the films released by studios in this country pass the Bechtel Test, meaning fewer than 50% have two named female characters that speak to each other and about a subject other than men.  Obviously since Wonder Woman partly takes place on an island entirely inhabited by women, this film will pass the Bechtel Test with flying colors!

Things are changing very slowly around the world for women behind the camera, but they are changing.  Just this year at the Cannes Film Festival, Sophia Coppola won Best Director for her remake of 1971’s The Beguiled.  She is only the second woman to ever win Best Director, with Russian auteur Yuliya Solntseva being the first for The Story of Flaming Years all the way back in 1961. This puts Cannes, the festival who turned away women in flat heels in 2015, ahead of the Oscars, which has only bestowed one woman, Kathryn Bigelow, the honor.  Lina Wertmuller for Seven Beauties, Jane Campion for The Piano, and Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation are the only other female directors ever nominated in the entire history of the Academy Awards.  Hurrah for Cannes!  The Academy has a lot of work to do, especially given recent snubs including Ava DuVernay and her glorious movie Selma, Jennifer Kent, the writer/director of genre-buster The Babadook, and Maren Ade and her very strange, yet delightful dramedy Toni Erdmann.

It may seem like this sort of campaign, the desire for a female-helmed superhero movie to do well at the box office, is trivial in comparison with heavier subjects like world health concerns for women.  The fact is that directors are able to bring attention to subjects and issues with smaller, Indie films, when they can make big, high-profile money-making movies as well.  Even Steven Spielberg will tell you, clout and box office success as a director get many a passion project made.  Female directors have important stories to tell that can change public perception about any number of subjects. For example, no one would have ever known the real-life story of brilliant female chess player from the Ugandan slums, Phiona Mutesi, had it not been for Mira Nair’s film, Queen of Katwe.

Numbers matter. They open up opportunities for women in front of and behind the camera, in the writer’s room and editing bays, and for any number of other positions ‘below the line’, like production design, art direction, and sound design. Gratefully for the fans and filmmakers of Wonder Woman, the film has gotten nearly universal praise by top film critics around the world.

So… you and your friends can be some of the first to talk about the beauty, grace, courage, and strength of the beloved superhero.  At the same time, you’ll be adding strength to the numbers of current and future women in film. You just have to buy a ticket, put on your Wonder Woman converse shoes, and head out to the closest multiplex. See you there!