Top 15 Female-Directed Films of 2020 #5-#1

The moment of truth is upon us! Here are the top 5 films of our list. Enjoy!

5. Never Rarely Sometimes Always

By: Bianca Garner

2020 has been the year of the female filmmaker. There have been many female-directed films that have impressed me, such as “Nomadland,” “The Assistant,” and “First Cow,” all of which made a lasting impression. However, I’ve found myself repeatedly returning to Eliza Hittman‘s “Never Rarely Sometimes Always.” It is a film that has had a profound effect on me since I first saw it last year at the Berlin Film Festival.

It’s hard to describe what about the film had such an impact on me. The subject matter and the characters just felt so real. I got a sense that what I was witnessing onscreen was a truthful depiction of an event that had occurred to so many girls both in the past and in the present. Despite all the breakthroughs, young women still face the prospect of not being able to have the final say regarding their own bodies. At the Berlin Film Festival, I was determined to see one film no matter what, and that was “Never Rarely Sometimes Always.” I had been impressed by Hittman’s previous film, “Beach Rats,” and was very pleased to discover that her follow-up film was even more impressive.

Some have described Hittman’s work as cold or detached and have stated that her films seem to lack any action. There have been those who have called the character of Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) dull, comparing her to a blank state. But how is a teenage girl meant to act when she finds herself in that situation? Surely, one can understand that a person may become withdrawn, retreating into themselves in order to mask their emotions. Autumn is a complex character, and it is via Flanigan’s subtle mannerisms and facial expressions that we get a glimpse of who Autumn really is. She’s a young woman growing up in a society that still undermines and belittles women. The strength of the picture comes from the exploration of friendship and sisterhood as we watch Autumn and her cousin Skyla (Talia Ryder) undertake their odyssey to New York in order for Autumn to seek help for her unwanted pregnancy. We witness what appears to be a genuine and authentic friendship; there are moments where neither one of them speaks, yet they convey so much in their glances to each other. To me, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is a true representation of what pure friendship is, and it’s a beautiful sight to behold. 

Sidney Flanigan in “Never Rarely Sometimes Always

4. Buffaloed

By Kate Boyle

Tanya Wexler’s “Buffaloed” is a dark comedy about Peg Dahl, a woman who wants more in life than the rest of her family and is willing to bend the rules to get it. The film stars the amazing Zoey Deutch in one of her best roles to date. “Buffaloed” dives into the shady world of debt collection, in which Peg is a natural. This questionable new career path leads her into all sorts of shenanigans and trouble when her poor judgment and bad decisions get in the way.

“Buffaloed” is a lot of things: a dark comedy, a family drama, a crime flick, a little of everything for everyone. Deutch is a force to be reckoned with and carries most of the film on her own, looking like she’s enjoying every minute of it. This film kind of got lost in the craziness of early 2020, but it definitely deserves a watch. Both Wexler and Deutch are clearly destined for great things, and I’m excited to see what they do in the future.

Zoey Deutch in “Buffaloed”

3. Birds of Prey

By Tom Moore

Thinking back on Cathy Yan’s DC film “Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn” or “Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey” (whichever title you prefer), there’s a lot we learned from it. We learned that the zaniness and wild antics of Harley Quinn can be brought to live action with the same kind of batshit-crazy humor and gory goodness associated with the iconic DC character. That Yan could definitely be a rising name in action with the level of ambitious camera work, incredible choreography, and memorable moments of brutality the film brings. That a Harley Quinn story of her rising to her own prominence now that she and the Joker have split can have well-crafted nonlinear storytelling that evokes a colorful style and great character arcs fitting for Quinn.

That Margot Robbie is an absolute queen as Quinn and thrives in the spotlight, delivering excellent one-liners and being fully committed from start to finish. That we need a true Birds of Prey movie ASAP so that we can see Jurnee Smollett return as Black Canary to deliver more kick-ass moments, Mary Elizabeth Winstead fire back as Huntress to deliver some surprising humor with the character, and Rosie Perez return as Renee Montoya to do some more hilariously amazing drunk fighting. That DC villains continue to be great with Ewan McGregor and Chris Messina being an unexpected blast together as Black Mask and Victor Zsasz, respectively. Most importantly, that the delicious egg sandwiches that come in and out of our lives are not to be taken for granted.

Look, all joking aside, Yan created one of the strongest, most ambitious DC outings to date with “Birds of Prey,” evoking all of the wonderfully dark, comedic, and colorful elements of Harley Quinn while bringing together an unforgettable cast with equally unforgettable action.

The “Birds of Prey” from left: Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Margot Robbie, Ella Jay Basco, and Jurnee Smollett.

2. Emma.

By Nicole Ackman

Autumn de Wilde’s directorial debut is a delightful confection of a film that proves that she and writer Eleanor Catton perfectly understand what has made Jane Austen’s novel withstand the test of time. Not only does “Emma.” capture the campy humor found in characters like Mrs. Bates (a frankly perfect Miranda Hart) and Mr. Elton (Josh O’Connor showing off his range as an actor), but it also knows exactly who Emma Woodhouse (a brilliant Anya Taylor-Joy) is.

The way that “Emma.” shows this young woman trying to find her place as a leader in her community with little guidance, making mistakes but trying to fix them, and realizing that love isn’t what she thought it was is simply beautiful to behold. Plus, there are the colorful and remarkably period-accurate costumes by Alexandra Byrne, the sumptuous set design and gorgeous English buildings used to create this world, and a director who understands the female gaze. Add in Johnny Flynn as love interest Mr. Knightley, who spends much of the film struggling to find a way to express his strong emotions and even sings at one point, and you have one of the best Austen adaptations ever made.

Anya Taylor-Joy (left) and Mia Goth in “Emma.”

1. Promising Young Woman

By Nicole Ackman

“Promising Young Woman” is the kind of film that it’s hard to believe is a directorial debut. Writer and director Emerald Fennell has created something so fantastically stylized and with so many layers that there’s something new to find and unravel with every subsequent viewing. The film is a brilliant commentary on rape culture, specifically within academic institutions, and the way that both men and women contribute to it, even if they might consider themselves “the nice guys.” And yet, it’s made with a sensitivity (perhaps stemming from the fact that it was created by a woman), so it doesn’t feel like it’s exploiting those who have experienced this.

More than the rape-revenge film that many expected it to be, “Promising Young Woman” also a poignant examination of survivor’s guilt and the lengths that one woman will go on behalf of a friend. There are great performances throughout from a fantastic cast that includes Bo Burnham, Alfred Molina, Laverne Cox, and Alison Brie, but it’s Carey Mulligan’s performance that is so entrancing, it’s hard to look away. Mulligan has played many impressive roles, but Cassie might just be the pinnacle of her career.

Carey Mulligan as Cassie in “Promising Young Woman”

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