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 December’s best new movies in theaters, as well as on home video, directed by women.
Release Date: December 7, 2018
Director: Bridey Elliot
The ghost in Clara’s Ghost is not the ghost of Clara Reynolds (Paula Niedert Elliott). It’s the ghost haunting Clara, a woman in white (Isidora Goreshter) only Clara can see and whose presence over the course of the movie grows stronger as Clara’s state of mind deteriorates. Whether one thing correlates with the other is the million-dollar question. In horror tradition, being nudged by a specter rarely does good things for one’s sanity. But in indie drama tradition, having a family isn’t especially good for mental health, either, and if you think the ghost is bad, wait until you meet Clara’s husband and children. —Andy Crump / Full Review
Release Date: December 25, 2018
Director: Karyn Kusama
There’s a superb 90-minute movie woven through Destroyer’s two-hour run time, tight-knit and tense, free of excess flab and much, much meaner by consequence. We don’t have that movie. The movie we do have is a solid expression of Kusama’s talent (if not quite on the level of to her 2016 chiller, The Invitation). In Destroyer, Nicole Kidman plays Erin Bell, an LAPD detective whose undercover placement during her younger years on the force ended in disaster that’s defined not only her career but her personality nearly two decades later.
In Destroyer’s present, Erin looks sandblasted and stretched thin, like leather left to tan for 20 years; she’s cracked and peeled on the outside, but her interior’s worse, crumbled and deprived of compassion since her undercover operation. The film sets her on the path to redemption and perhaps revenge, when Silas (Toby Kebbell), the ringleader of the gang she infiltrated with her partner-cum-lover (Sebastian Stan), emerges from hiding to taunt her anew. His return gives her purpose. Kidman’s performance gives her pathos. Destroyer raises questions of identity that Kusama doesn’t satisfy—is Erin really just the opposite side of the coin from Silas?—but Kidman’s work her holds the movie together. —Andy Crump
Release Date: December 11, 2018
Director: Mélanie Laurent
The driving struggle at the heart of Galveston is a struggle between authors: Mélanie Laurent, who directed the movie, and Nic Pizzolatto, who wrote the book she’s adapted the movie from. The basic “stuff” of Galveston, the tale of the reticent tough who has a change of heart when fate thrusts custodianship of a young, innocent lass upon him, is well-tread in cinema, from Shane to The Professional, but generally these movies are sculpted by male hands. Laurent has a considerably more delicate touch, even when Roy (Ben Foster) has to kill or be killed at the start of the film. There’s frankness to the violence; it’s blunt and to the point. At the same time the reek of testosterone is abated by an animal desperation. Roy would rather not kill if he can avoid it. The violence isn’t glorified, but rather acknowledged as a grim necessity.
After this scene, Roy sees Rocky (Elle Fanning) tied to a chair in another room, and feels morally compelled to rescue her; they hit the road to stay ahead of Stan (Beau Bridges), Roy’s boss, who means to use him as a patsy. Here, Galveston staggers, a movie drunk on macho posturing and struggling through feminine empathy. Laurent wants to bridge Rocky and Roy’s personal grief, but all Pizzolatto’s text really cares about is faux edgy grimdark thrills designed to exploit sexual victimhood. It’s in the story’s DNA. Laurent may not be able to rewrite the stuff of Galveston’s genetic makeup, but she does continue to expand her range as a filmmaker even when she’s stuck with material that clangs with her aesthetic. —Andy Crump
The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Release Date: December 3, 2018 (Blu-ray)
Director: Desiree Akhavan
The question of the year: If you have access to Desiree Akhavan’s very good, surprisingly overlooked The Miseducation of Cameron Post, why would you ever watch Joel Edgerton’s Boy Erased instead? Maybe you wouldn’t. Certainly you shouldn’t: Boy Erased is LGBTQ torture drama, the kind of movie people watch to feel good about themselves and their personal politics, because as bad as they may be, at least they’re not the kind of people to run conversion therapy programs!
Boy Erased asks audiences to reel at the sight of homophobic abuses perpetrated on gay men and women, young and old alike, searching for drama in exterior pain more so than interior conflict. The Miseducation of Cameron Post finds drama in character relationships and actually confronts the questions at its center. More importantly, Akhavan has a point of view on conversion therapy, and a sense of why parents send their kids to conversion therapy programs, and, most of all, a grasp on why these damn things exist in the first place. Being as her superb 2015 feature debut, Appropriate Behavior, also tackled matters of LGBTQ identity, the deft and humorous touch she brings to The Miseducation of Cameron Post comes as no surprise. Here we have a film comprising laughter, characters to bond with, and the pain Edgerton nearly glorifies in his fumbled attempt at intersectional empathy. It’s puzzling that Akhavan’s film enjoyed so little press during its summer release, but that’s all the more reason to put your eyes on it now. —Andy Crump