The "52FilmsByWomen" hashtag isn’t a new invention, but in the last few years, and especially 2017, it’s gained increasingly urgent relevance. Created and disseminated by Women in Film, a nonprofit outlet established to "achieve parity and transform culture," the tag translates into a simple pledge: Watch one movie directed by a woman each week for an entire year. To help those interested in fulfilling this pledge, Paste is highlighting some of November’s best new movies in theaters, as well as on home video, directed by women.
Liz and the Blue Bird
Release Date: November 9, 2018
Director: Naoko Yamada
Single-handedly, Liz and the Blue Bird makes the case for the value of spin-offs. The film, directed by veteran Kyoto Animation director Naoko Yamada and distilled from Tatsuya Ishihara’s Sound! Euphonium series, does so well what so many prequels fail to do: It puts its focus on background characters and justifies its focus, giving them clearly defined personas, wants and dreams, and then testing them against rich human conflict instead of making a lazy pastiche of tropes and plots from their source material. Sound! Euphonium details the personal lives and strifes of members of a high school brass band; Liz and the Blue Bird follows suit, fixating on shy, reserved Mizore (Atsumi Tanezaki) and bubbly, outgoing Nozomi (Nao Toyama).
They’re BFFs, and have been since middle school, but in high school they find their long friendship tested as graduation, the point at which they each go their separate ways, looms. Appropriately, they’re on the hook with their last band assignment, a piece based on an old fairy tale called (shock!) Liz and the Blue Bird, also about a young woman who has to let go to her dearest friend. Art imitates life. Life imitates life. All the while Mizore and Nozomi drift apart from each other, as the film (and the audience with it) drifts from the main story to side stories, and swaps animation styles to tell the story-within-a-story.
It’s a deceptively simple but impeccably executed effort. Before long, we realize that Mizore’s feelings might not be quite so platonic, and here Liz and the Blue Bird shifts into something unexpected and considerably more complicated. There’s a sense of orchestration here, a harmony that emerges between the moving parts of the narrative and the consonance of a band; every element on the screen is in lockstep with the others, providing a foil for the growing disunity between Mizore and Nozomi. It’s a French arthouse film wrapped up in the vibrant skin of anime, and it may well be the best animated movie you’ll see all year. —Andy Crump
The Long Dumb Road
Release Date: November 9, 2018
Director: Hannah Fidell
The road trip is a romantic dream for the average college-bound dude. It’s practically an American pastime, immortalized by authors like Jack Kerouac and filmmakers like Dennis Hopper, a chance to experience the country the way it’s meant to be experienced: on the open highway, tucked in between the gaps that separate America as we know it from America how it is. Or something. Frankly, Nathan (Tony Revolori), the hero of Hannah Fidell’s The Long Dumb Road, hasn’t thought it through much, but he’s packing all his worldly possessions into his folks’ old minivan and hitting the asphalt anyway, heading to California for art school. Then his car dies. Then he meets Richard (Jason Mantzoukas).
Then the road trip just becomes a trip because you can’t drop Mantzoukas into a movie without asking him to play a Mantzoukas character. Richard has the street smarts, or appears to, that Nathan lacks, but he’s basically what happens to a Kerouac character when he hits middle age without realizing it: aimless, pathetic, hopeless. Naturally, we come to love the guy along with Nathan as they bumble through one episode after another, from bar fights to encounters with high school sweethearts. Nathan lacks guile, but we forgive him his rawness. He’s just a kid. Richard’s a kid in a man’s body. Fidell adores them both, even when Richard’s throwing out unflattering misogynist epithets. She doesn’t quite forgive him, but she does understand him better than most men would bother to; he’s a lost boy, mesmerized by the bright lights of Vegas and adrift in his memories of his own wasted life.
The Long Dumb Road packs awkward and uncomfortable laughs alongside easier jokes, but it’s all hilarious, even at its most cringeworthy. But the real draw to Fidell’s film is how adeptly she seamlessly slips modern male ennui into a familiar blueprint not known for introspection. —Andy Crump
Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers
Release Date: November 20, 2018
Directors: Alice Guy-Blache, Lois Weber, Grace Cunard, Helen Holmes, Cleo Madison, Mabel Normand, Ruth Ann Baldwin, Elsie Jane Wilson, Zora Neale, Angela Murray, Ida May, Julia Crawford, Lita Lawrence, Frances Marion, Dorothy Davenport Reid, Alla Nazimova, others
Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers is an essential collection of features and shorts made by women in cinema’s early days, an era mostly considered in critical canon through the lens of the Very Important Men™ who dominated the industry, the eye of the press, and the annals of history. It’s massive, so much so that saying anything beyond that without having at least glimpsed its contents feels criminal. But if you’re here, you probably don’t need to be sold on the content as much as on the incalculable artistic significance of hours of cinema by Lois Weber, Ida May, Julia Crawford and countless others. Think of Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers as an historical document, an artifact even, rather than as a workaday Blu-ray release, and you’ll have reason enough to check it out. —Andy Crump
Release Date: November 20, 2018
Director: Crystal Moselle
Making the second best skateboard movie of the year is a fine enough honor when the worst is Mid90s and the best is Minding the Gap. In between them lies Skate Kitchen, Crystal Moselle’s latest, her sophomore effort and first narrative feature. As with her last movie, The Wolfpack, the story goes that Moselle ran into her subjects in New York, befriended them, and decided to make a movie about them. Seems she has a gift. But rather than documentary, Moselle goes with fiction based on real life. Skate Kitchen could be called a document of the lives of her characters, an all-girl skateboarding crew (whose name provides the film’s title). It’s a slim film, light on plot, heavy on character and atmosphere. As fortune has it, Moselle knows how to work with that.
Skate Kitchen drifts to start off, following Camille (Rachelle Vinberg, leader of the real Skate Kitchen crew) as she struggles to adapt to her new surroundings in Long Island and relate to her mom (Elizabeth Rodriguez). Then Camille sneaks off to NYC proper, meets the girls of Skate Kitchen, and forms bonds with them over their common love of skating. Hanging out ensues. Moselle isn’t as interested in facilitating narration as much as she is in creating a sensory experience, and Skate Kitchen, whatever your familiarity with New York, will transport you there: You’ll smell the grit and stale piss on the streets, taste the exhaust on your tongue, feel the sweat percolating on your skin. It’s infinitely more pleasurable than it sounds. If there’s an issue at hand here, it’s that the film never quite knows when to end, but depending on how near and dear New York is to your heart, you may not want it to. —Andy Crump