It’s the time of year where the In Their Own League team has come together to pick our top 15 female directed films of 2020. There’s no question that 2020 was an exceptional year for female filmmakers and we’re proud to initiate Women’s History Month by recognizing these extraordinary filmmakers and the films they’ve created. Here are the first five films on our list (#15-11), so make sure to come back in the upcoming days for the rest of the list. In the meantime, Enjoy!
By Juli Horsford
“Shirley” is a biopic about Shirley Jackson, one of the most prolific writers of the twentieth century. Director Josephine Decker mixes some fact with some fiction to depict Jackson’s life on screen. Jackson (Elisabeth Moss) and her husband Stanley (Michael Stuhlbarg) are living in Vermont while Stanley teaches at Bennington College. Newlyweds Fred (Logan Lerman) and Rose (Odessa Young) arrive at the beginning of the movie to stay with the Jackson’s. The rest of the movie explores Shirley’s relationship with her husband Stanley and with newcomer Rose while she begins writing her next novel, Hangsaman. What I like the most about Shirley was the way in which Decker and Moss displayed Shirley’s psyche. She often wrote about dark subject matter (i.e., her short story “The Lottery”) but part of the appeal of Jackson as an author is her wit. In order to showcase that in the movie, Shirley lobs insults at anyone within a ten feet radius of her. Moss’ delivery of these lines is astounding, and the frankness and general distaste of her words cut like a knife through the room. Moss’ performance steals the show and makes Shirley Jackson compelling in a way that another actor might not have been able to achieve. In addition to Moss’ brilliant performance, Decker’s unusual directing style keeps you off balance and lends itself incredibly well in telling the story of this brilliant author who led an odd life.
14. The Forty Year Old Version
By Rosa Parra
I’ll never forget the moment I walked out of this screening at Sundance 2020 and thinking to myself, “WOW!” This is my favorite film of the festival, and it kept that label for the rest of Sundance. “The Forty Year Old Version” is directed, written, produced and stars the incredible Radha Blank. It follows a playwright (Blank) who’s been out of her game for the past couple of years. Hoping to get back to creating plays, with the help of her best friend Archie (Peter Y. Kim), telling stories from her unique viewpoint, she’s quickly challenged by gatekeepers who are determined to gentrify these stories. So, she decides to express her creativity through another form, rapping. Radha Blank delivers a funny, moving and memorable performance giving us a small glimpse of her skill sets. This film contains one of my favorite songs of any film, “Poverty Porn”, which she absolutely nails. It’s mind-boggling to see Blank’s directorial debut, I can’t wait to see her next project. For the many hats Radha Blank wore to bring this film to life and for creating an important and much needed story, I couldn’t be happier for “The Forty Year Old Version” to be part of the top 15 female directed films of 2020.
By Morgan Roberts
Grief is a universal human experience. Shannon Murphy’s “Babyteeth” takes a look at one family’s journey with impending grief as they navigate their bereavement in illness. Milla (Eliza Scanlon) is a bright young woman, sick with cancer. Her parents, Anna (Essie Davis) and Henry (Ben Mendelsohn) are trying to come with terms of not just having a sick child but the reality that she could die. To make matters even more complicated, Milla has fallen head over heels for bad boy Moses (Toby Wallace).
“Babyteeth” is more than just a coming-of-age story. It’s about the journeys we choose to take in life to live it to the fullest. Most impressive is the acting work done here by Scanlon and Wallace. You understand their characters’ draw to one another. Even with all of his naughtiness and unrefined views, you understand the love and hope Milla has in Moses. For me, though, the most impressive performances lie with Davis and Mendelsohn. Too often we see parents with a sick child either being the absolute worst or superhuman. Instead, Davis and Mendelsohn brought a depth and humanness to their characters. In the States, “Babyteeth” is now on Hulu and one you cannot miss.
12. One Night in Miami
By Alexandra Petrache
“One Night in Miami” is a gripping “what if”. Invigorating and punchy, albeit taking its time, the film is like a tiger that’s stretching and yawning pre-fight.
A fictional “recount” of a meeting between boxing champion Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), singer and songwriter Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) , Muslim minister and civil rights leader(Kingsley Ben-Adir) and American football player Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge). Regina King (“If Beale Street Could Talk”) has a poignant directorial debut with this history lesson where the four famous figures debate the fate of African-American communities, the fight for equality and racial integration and their role and duties as powerful individuals. The 1964 meeting, which took place after Cassius Clay defeated boxer Sonny Liston in a surprising win, culminated with his announcement on the next morning that he had joined the Nation of Islam- a movement which advocated for improvements in the lives of African American communities, but also for separatism between races. Clay has henceforth been known as “Muhammad Ali”.
By Juli Horsford
“Summerland” was one of my surprise favorites of 2020. Alice (Gemma Arterton) is a rather prickly writer who lives in Southern England. She would be content to be left alone except that World War II is in full swing and the evacuation of London’s children has begun. Despite not volunteering and not even really liking children, Alice is forced to take in Frank (Lucas Bond). We also learn that Alice is gay and that she had her heart broken by a woman named Vera (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), which could explain her somewhat disagreeable disposition. Writer and director Jessica Swale builds the relationship between Alice and Frank slowly and their friendship is immensely touching and sweet. When disaster strikes they inevitably find solace in one another. “Summerland” is a movie that (sadly) won’t win any awards and will largely go unnoticed by the mainstream media. But it’s a movie that will restore your faith in the goodness of humanity at a time when we all need to be reminded the most.