11 Female Directors Who Followed Their Own Rules

first_img To change the face of your industry, your creative field is one thing. To do so when the system you’re working within isn’t built to accommodate you is another thing entirely. We take for granted the mountains that female filmmakers, be them writers, producers, directors, or actresses are made to climb. Frankly, we’d venture to say that any female filmmaker is a game-changer in that they manage not to be discouraged by the inherent biases of the film industry. That being said, there are definite standouts in the history of film, women who both subtly and not-so-subtly create massively influential works or blaze trails.  Kathryn BigelowYou can’t talk about game-changing female directors without mentioning Kathryn Bigelow. The acclaimed filmmaker was the first (and still the only) woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director for her 2009 military drama The Hurt Locker. Bigelow followed it up with the stunning Zero Dark Thirty, a haunting thriller starring Jessica Chastain chronicling the decade-long hunt for Osama Bin Laden. To be honest though, she’d probably warrant a spot on this list even without the Oscar. Before her timely films about America’s war on terror, Bigelow directed two of the most entertaining films of all time: the vampire western Near Dark and the Keanu Reeves/Patrick Swayze action masterpiece Point Break. Ava DuVernayAva DuVernay’s rise over the last few years has been meteoric. She began her career primarily working in documentary film and then hit mainstream narrative cinema with the killer one-two punch of Middle of Nowhere and Selma. DuVernay received the Directing Award for U.S Dramatic Film at Sundance for the former and the latter receiving critical acclaim and awards nominations. That alone makes DuVernay an all-time great, but more recently she became the first black female director to direct a movie with a budget of over $100 million, that film is A Wrinkle In Time. It’s a huge marker of progress, and we can’t wait to see where she goes next. Oh, and she was just announced as the New Gods director. We are all kind of excited for that too. Patty JenkinsPatty Jenkins is on this list for reasons that are truly the best of both worlds. Her film Monster earned Charlize Theron an Oscar for Best Actress, but it’s her work on Wonder Woman that launched her into the mainstream in a way that makes her impossible to ignore. Bringing one of the greatest superheroes of all time to cinemas for the first time is an accomplishment in and of itself, but Jenkins’ take on Diana isn’t just groundbreaking for existing to begin with. It’s also a tremendous film, everything you could want from a Wonder Woman movie. Now hard at work on the film’s sequel, we have a feeling we haven’t seen the last game-changing movie of Jenkins’ career. Karyn Kusama  If there’s a queen of modern horror cinema, it’s gotta be Karyn Kusama. Nearly a decade after cutting her teeth on the boxing drama Girlfight she gave audiences the triple-whammy of Jennifer’s Body (it’s better than you remember), The Invitation, and perhaps most significantly XX, a horror anthology film directed entirely by women. XX features stories directed by Kusama, Jovanka Vuckovic, Sofia Carillo, Roxanne Benjamin, and Annie Clark (better known by her musician stage name, St. Vincent). It’s the first-ever horror anthology to exclusively feature female directors. That’s a major accomplishment in the genre and that Kusama played a part in its inception shouldn’t be overlooked. Furthermore, her prior film The Invitation is among the most emotionally devastating scary movies in recent memory.Lexi AlexanderTony Stark may have kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Iron Man but later in 2008 moviegoers were treated to the rare Marvel Studios film that doesn’t connect to the MCU. That film is Punisher: War Zone, a hyperviolent action romp starring everyone’s favorite monstrous vigilante—a film that happens to be directed by Lexi Alexander. Alexander’s position as director isn’t simply significant due to her being the first woman to direct a movie under a Marvel banner but because she’s the first woman to direct a superhero movie starring a man. There’s a still-present misconception that progress means women directing movies starring female superheroes, and while that’s not incorrect, it’s just as big a marker of progress when a woman is given the opportunity to work on a male or nonbinary character. Ana Lily Amirpour When you basically create a new genre of cinema in your feature film debut, we think it’s safe to say you’ve changed the game. That’s very much the case with Ana Lily Amirpour, whose debut A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night has been described as an “Iranian Vampire Spaghetti Western.” The film is spectacularly weird and singular in the best possible way, and Amirpour didn’t stop there. Her follow-up, The Bad Batch, similarly goes out of its way to defy genre classification, reading as a sort of take on Mad Max with a dose of ‘80s romance films. Whether it’s a queer spy thriller told with action figures or a western heist starring a band of demons, we can’t wait to see the next genre fusion Amirpour creates. Greta GerwigThere’s only been one female nominee for Best Director at the Oscars since Kathryn Bigelow’s win in 2010, and that nominee is Greta Gerwig. She received her nomination for her stunning directorial debut Lady Bird, a complex dramedy about the relationship between a mother and her rebellious teenage daughter. The film was released to universal acclaim and was, at least at one point, the single best-reviewed film on Rotten Tomatoes. We repeat, this is Gerwig’s first film as a director. That’s an astounding series of accomplishments for a directorial debut and we’re sure it won’t be the last time Gerwig works her magic. Mary HarronIn the hands of a male director, American Psycho could have come across as excruciatingly tone-deaf and self-indulgent. It took a director like Mary Harron to make it into what it is. Harron is a magnificently talented filmmaker as it is, but the acclaimed horror classic works as well as it does largely because it’s not directed by a man. Through Harron’s lens, it becomes a scathing critique of that special Wall Street strain of toxic masculinity. Horror is a genre that frequently spotlights women (albeit mostly onscreen) and deals with gender-specific issues, but until then we rarely saw it used as a genre through which a filmmaker explored the problematic aspects of masculinity. Harron’s filmography is littered with good movies but American Psycho is the one that stands out as transcendent. Lynne RamsayIt’s tough to think of a word to describe the films of Lynne Ramsay other than brutal. She makes brutal, relentless movies. We mean that in a good way, we swear. Her recent You Were Never Really Here is a bleak, dark vigilante thriller with an incredible performance by Joaquin Phoenix. However, it’s We Need to Talk About Kevin that stands as the finest hour of her career as a director. The film, which traces the frayed relationship between a mother and her son (who becomes a mass murderer) is unrelentingly frightening, not by merit of fancy jump scares but simply the stark, penetrating emotion the film possesses. It stars Ezra Miller and Tilda Swinton, both of whom Ramsay directs to career-best performances. Ramsay makes the kind of movies that shake you to your core and merit intent studying — if you can bring yourself to watch them a second time. Dee Rees  Dee Rees made waves this year with her Netflix film Mudbound but it’s far from the first time she’s made a major impression as a filmmaker to be watched and respected. 2011’s Pariah is a semi-autobiographical film about a young black woman coming to terms with her queerness. Rees, being a queer black woman herself, tells the story with relentless heart and passion. Mudbound received even greater acclaim, netting Rees an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay and acting nominations for some of its stars. She’s also done work on Phillip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams, allowing her to experiment with science fiction for the first time in her filmography. Rees’s voice is a unique one and while she’s a singular talent, we definitely want more voices like hers in cinema in the near future. Barbra StreisandWe can’t talk about game-changing female directors without showing some love to Barbra Streisand. With her film Yentil, Streisand became the first woman to write, direct, produce, and star in a major studio film. It was an unrivaled accomplishment at the time and while we’re glad it’s becoming more of the norm a tremendous deal of respect is due to Streisand for blazing that trail. What’s more, the film scored Streisand a Golden Globe for Best Director, making her the first (and only, to date) woman to win that award. Streisand is a legend onscreen without a doubt, but her accomplishments behind the camera are just as (if not more) significant. 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