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TV/Film 7 female-directed movies to keep you busy in isolation

Mar. 24, 2020
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We’re in unprecedented times. Duh. How many news articles have mentioned global pandemic and rising cases of contagion? The world is on fire—it may seem. But how many more posts of empty grocery shelves, toilet paper memes, and laugh-out-loud Tik Toks will you scroll through until you decide to get on with something else? It’s stressful, but there’s nothing you can really do about coronavirus besides washing your hands, staying inside (flatten the curve!), and taking care of your mental health. 

We’re resorting to the best distraction: movies. You might ask—why women directors?

So let me start with a non-rhetorical question. Have you ever heard of Jane Campion? Yeah…I know.

Campion was nominated in 1993 for Best Director and didn’t win. Almost 30 years later, none of us remember her. If you know anything about American award shows, you know they’re always a disappointment despite female directors’ tremendous effort and talent. Since Katherine Bigelow’s win in 2008 for The Hurt Locker, no female director has won in this category. In Oscars history, there have only been five female directors nominated—and the Golden Globes aren’t any better.

  1. The Piano (1993, dir. Jane Campion)

The Piano paints a haunting story of a 30-something widow Ada (Holly Hunter) on a bleak island off of New Zealand. It opens with the arrival of her and her daughter Flora (Anna Paquin), who are told that the local Maori tribesmen are unable to bring Ada’s piano to the house because it’s too big. She’s arranged to marry a local bachelor, Stewart (Sam Neill), but no intimacy grows there. From her house she stares at the piano, left on an isolated beach under a stormy, gray sky. It’s a story of isolation, of a woman who cannot speak.

In the film’s beginning, Ada’s narrating voice rings in our ears: “I have not spoken since I was 6 years old,” she says. “Nobody knows why, least of all myself. This is not the sound of my voice, it is the sound of my mind.” Her rage, love, loss, and loneliness all masterfully blend into a longing and passionate soundtrack. Ada is a complex heroine, and here Campion offers us a complex piece of art filled with heart, hope, and humanity.

  1. American Psycho (2000, dir. Mary Harron)

What makes American Psycho so chilling is how its protagonist—an ordinary New York businessman, Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale)—is a narcissistic and sadistic serial killer. 

Patrick blends right into the ‘80s Manhattan business scene, surrounded by his broker pals in the same colored suits, ties, and shoes. The man is handsome, hot, and successful; he has a beautiful fiancée, a frisky mistress, and a stunning secretary. And he's a bloodthirsty serial killer. 

Alongside grisly visuals, the movie delves into human perversion. It’s about id, pleasure, and gratification. Patrick’s character explores the duality in all of us, calling on the idea that no matter how much you think you know someone, there’s always something in the dark. 

  1. The Runaways (2010, dir, Floria Sigismondi)

The Runaways is a revelation. In short, it’s a rebellious coming-of-age biopic about the ‘70s teenage all-girl band The Runaways. The film tells the story of two teenage girls, Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) and Cherrie Currie (Dakota Fanning), who escape the mundane San Fernando Valley, form a punk-rock band, and tour the country. Soon, the girls become addicted to drugs, drinking, and partying. 

If you’re bored of rockstar movies made by men, give this one a try. It has a killer soundtrack. 

  1. Marie Antoinette (2006, dir. Sofia Coppola)

What ties these two movies together is more than their bomb Riot Grrl-esque soundtracks. The story of Marie Antoinette isn’t exactly pastel hues and cream-frosted cake—it isn’t just eye candy.

Before she was Queen of France, Marie Antoinette was a 14-year-old Austrian teenager with an adorable pug whom she had to leave behind in order to enter France. The movie portrays her life of decadence, heaven-high hairdos, and spending addiction. Although it’s a period piece, Marie Antoinette is unexpectedly 21st-century. There are elements of impressionism, romanticism, and punk infused in the look and feel of the movie.

Here Coppola stages an anti-hero, probably the most hated queen in French history, against the backdrop of a repressive society. She’s surrounded by people who think they know her, and she cocoons her loneliness in laughter and lavish banquets. The film doesn’t paint the whole picture of France pre-Revolution, not the Les Miserables that’s dirt-ridden and devastating. But it’s not supposed to. The film is oddly modern. In a palace full of indulgence, she’s emotionally restrained and isolated, locked in her own head.

  1. But I’m a Cheerleader (1999, dir. Jamie Babbit)

If you love ‘90s movies, here’s another to add to your list. 

At first glance our protagonist, Megan, seems like a goody two shoes: she’s a cheerleader with a boyfriend who she doesn't enjoy kissing, and she comes from a Christian family. But the signs are “obvious”: she eats tofu, has posters of Melissa Etheridge, and loves Georgia O’Keeffe’s vaginal flower imagery. She doesn’t know she’s queer, but we do. Why? Because she fantasizes about her fellow cheerleaders’ breasts bouncing up and down as they dance. 

One afternoon, her parents bring home True Direction, a bootcamp for queer kids with the mission to straighten their sexuality and reprogram their mindset. “But I’m a cheerleader,” she claims. How can she possibly be gay? The movie is funny, sort of highlighting how naive Megan is and how illogical everything is around her. At the camp, they follow a 12-step process; the first step is to come to terms with their “addiction.” 

While repressed in a hyper-feminine environment, the interior straight out of a Barbie Dreamhouse playset, Megan realizes how gay she is. It’s mesmerizing to watch Megan learn about sexuality and come to recognize her own.

  1. Beach Rats (2018, dir. Eliza Hittman)

In one sentence, Beach Rats is a poetic, moving collage of life on the outer edges of Brooklyn—of teenagers roaming the streets at night amid a sweaty summer breeze.

Harris Dickinson plays Frankie, a bored, troubled, and sexually confused teenage boy who wanders around at night with his equally bored and troubled friends while secretly hooking up with middle-aged men he meets online. What’s interesting is how minimally erotic these meet-ups seem. Shot on 16mm by the French cinematographer Hélène Louvart, the film will please any cinephile’s visual palette.

“I don’t really know what I like,” he messages one man. Frankie doesn’t think he’s gay, but he knows he likes old, average-looking men. The sex seems rough, not intimate, quite detached but still pleasurable. And he wants it. More and more each time. Perhaps it’s strange for a woman to write and direct about male homosexuality, but Hittman gets it. Just like Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue Is The Warmest Color, Hittman understands loneliness, longing, and the confused yet mesmerizing world of a teenager. 

  1. Lost in Translation (2003, dir. Sofia Coppola)

When I was 15, I found Sofia Coppola and my life changed. Her stories taught me that loss is sometimes as painful as death, and isolation is a man’s silent killer. Her movies offer soft, hazy light, muted color palettes, and handheld camera movement; it’s like a rose-tinted filter defines her world. 

Lost in Translation is the story of two lost souls set against the backdrop of Tokyo. Bill Murray plays Bob, an American actor who’s in Japan to star in whiskey commercials. Scarlet Johansson plays Charlotte, a philosophy graduate accompanying her husband, a photographer on assignment. 

They meet in the middle of the night at a hotel bar, where they make typical small talk. If you read between the lines, you learn they’re unhappily married, he hates his job, and she doesn’t know what she’s going to do. 

This isn’t the kind of movie that puts a 20-something woman and a 50-something man together just for the sake of sparking a romance. It makes you think about isolation and connection. These characters feel insignificant and pointless even in a busy city, trapped in a sea of people.