For more in this series, check out our Mid-Year Report archives.
Last year gave us the gift of tons of excellent women-directed films, and even though 2019 has so far mostly failed to make a dent in the public consciousness with memorable blockbusters, female filmmakers have still been delivering diverse and entertaining stories on screens both big and small. While several festival favorites like The Farewell, The Nightingale, Hala, The Lodge, Clemency, and Honey Boy gained buzz early in the year, they’ve yet to be released to general audiences. We’re excited to see what the latter half of the year brings, but in the meantime, there’s plenty to celebrate, from the highest-grossing woman-directed film of all time to the first-ever LGBT Kenyan film.
Fast Color (directed by Julia Hart)
Julia Hart’s Fast Color is the intimate intergenerational superhero saga you didn’t know you needed. Upon its (very limited) release, most discussion surrounding the film centered on the ways in which old guard Hollywood gatekeeping still prevents diverse stories from succeeding. Now that it’s available to stream, the film will hopefully garner the viewership it deserves. Set in a drought-stricken dystopian near-future, Fast Color expertly blends genres to tell a rich story about three generations of women and girls who are both restrained and freed by their unexplained ability to manipulate matter. Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Lorraine Toussaint, and Saniyya Sidney (The Passage) star as three loving yet stubborn family members whose safety is threatened when their abilities are discovered. In this mostly disappointing year for cinema, Fast Color has the power to save our love of movies if we let it.
Little Woods (directed by Nia Dacosta)
The first feature by future Candyman reboot director Nia Dacosta, Little Woods is a working-class odyssey whose tension builds and builds until it’s on par with the likes of Winter’s Bone. The film follows Ollie (Tessa Thompson), a North Dakota woman whose gig selling opioids was cut short when she was caught crossing the northern border illegally. Ollie is almost off probation and determined to stick to the straight and narrow, but her sister Deb (Lily James) soon finds herself in an unsustainable situation that ends up testing the limits of both women’s survival instincts. Little Woods is a slow-burning American nightmare that dives headfirst into a half-dozen real issues impacting rural communities, and the result is powerful. It’s a cocktail of heady desperation, steely resolve, and brittle hope that takes a familiar story and strips it down until it’s raw and new again.
Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé (directed by Beyoncé Knowles-Carter)
Beyonce’s headlining performance at Coachella 2018 is one of the best and most historic concert performances in recent history, perhaps the closest this digital generation has to an event like Live Aid or Woodstock. Queen Bey is already so iconic that she could’ve easily leaned back and let her team organize a normal concert performance, but Homecoming reveals that the gravity of her position as the first African-American woman to headline Coachella was central to every decision that went into the joyous musical celebration of Historically Black Colleges and Universities that came to be known as Beychella. Two nights of performances are spliced seamlessly together, while behind-the-scenes footage reveals the grace, intelligence, and perfectionism of the woman whose massive vision — hundreds of performers, musicians, and dancers on stage, along with new arrangements of 20 years of hits — came to vivid life in the desert last year.
High Life (directed by Claire Denis)
A twisted space-set civilization descends into chaos over the course of nearly two hours in French director Claire Denis’ impressionistic latest outing, her first in English. Temporal concepts like time and location matter less than the feeling you get when you watch High Life, which, thanks to an onslaught of uncanny imagery and taboo-breaking plot points, is most likely one of gnawing anxiety in the pit of your stomach. As a mistrustful prisoner sent to space on a shady mission, Robert Pattinson continues making the case for himself as the reigning king of overlooked arthouse films. Its non-linear structure and many horrifying elements add up to a well-made exercise in alienation, but High Life is ultimately profound, too. Juliette Binoche, Andre Benjamin (aka Andre 3000), and A Cure For Wellness’ Mia Goth round out the cast as fellow space prisoners.
Booksmart (directed by Olivia Wilde)
Booksmart is like the more female-friendly love child of Sixteen Candles and Superbad, a rip-roaring teen adventure set on the eve of two best friends’ high school graduation. Olivia Wilde’s feature directorial debut knows its way around female friendships, as exemplified by high-strung Valedictorian Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and dorky lovestruck lesbian Amy (Kaitlyn Dever). After learning that their much less hardworking peers also made it into the Ivy Leagues, the duo vow to experience their first night of teen partying before parting ways for the summer. The night quickly devolves into a series of mishaps and embarrassments, among them a cartoon drug trip and a run-in with a serial killer. Billie Lourd shines as the mystical drunk girl who’s always one step ahead of them. Combine the memorable characters with a rapid-fire script and tons of stellar needle drops, and Booksmart is destined to be a new teen classic.