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. Most years, completing that pledge would be the least one could do. Today, it’s a means of pushing back against rampant gender bias in the film industry.
To help those interested in putting their viewing habits to good use, Paste is highlighting some of January’s best new movies in theaters, as well as on home video, directed by women.
Touch Me Not
Release Date: January 11, 2019
Director: Adina Pintilie
Adina Pintilie’s Touch Me Not, now a year out from winning the Golden Bear at the 2018 Berlin International Film Festival, unpacks like a Russian nesting doll. At first, it’s about the transfixing strangeness of the human body; seen up close, skin, hair and bodily imperfections suggest a harsh alien landscape. Then it’s about the relationship between intimates, and how intimacy is defined by so much more than nakedness. Then it’s about the journey toward true intimacy, not only intimacy with others but intimacy within oneself (which, Pintilie suggests, is where intimacy must start). Sheltering these like an aesthetic umbrella is Pintilie’s big artistic statement, a question really, about the line dividing fiction from documentary, a line Touch Me Not walks with ambiguous grace from the very beginning.
Laura (Laura Benson) and Tómas (Tómas Lemarquis) play themselves, or maybe versions of themselves, while Pintilie intervenes sporadically, sometimes projected on a monitor, others in person with Laura and Tómas. Laura’s trying to break down her emotional barriers through sex therapy while Tómas exorcises his own discontent by attending a support group for differently abled folks, including Christian (Christian Bayerline), a man living life with spinal muscular atrophy. Touch Me Not’s title sounds forbidding, unwelcoming, and yet the film’s patchwork of human experience is ultimately uplifting. Everyone could use a lesson in how to feel comfortable in one’s own skin, after all. —Andy Crump
Release Date: January 4, 2019
Director: Jen McGowan
Trouble is fleeing into the Kentucky woods in winter to elude a pair of rednecks with bad intentions. Big trouble is fleeing into those same woods and taking shelter with another redneck running a meth lab from a decrepit trailer hidden deep within the trees. Suffice to say, Sawyer (Hermione Corfield), the heroine of Jen McGowan’s excellent Rust Creek, is in big trouble, caught out in the middle of nowhere in the Bluegrass State and beset upon by Hollister (Micah Hauptman) and Buck (Daniel R. Hill). She’s on her way to a job interview, driving around highways to dodge Thanksgiving traffic, and of course, as happens to young women traversing backwoods in thrillers, finds herself stuck, and then attacked, and then in uncertain company with Lowell (Jay Paulson), cousin to Hollister and Buck, as well as their meth cook.
McGowan paces Rust Creek with unease worth savoring, directing with feral confidence. She identifies with Sawyer as a symbol of civilized American life, but she’s compelled by Lowell, whom Sawyer at first judges using the same criteria by which she judges his kin. But Lowell understands the difference between an acid and a base, and she doesn’t. Together trapped in the same pitiless wilds, they bond, and as they bond McGowan builds an argument that the civilized world—not just the world immediately outside Lowell’s door, but the world that creates demand for his trade in the first place—isn’t all that civilized. —Andy Crump
All These Small Moments
Release Date: January 18, 2019
Director: Melissa Miller Costanzo
At an hour and 20 minutes, give or take, Melissa Miller Costanzo’s All These Small Moments threatens slightness. How can a filmmaker pack the endless, and at a glance trivial, details that make up days in the lives of a struggling family into such a scant run time? Dogging Costanzo’s debut is one completely improbable joint dilemma: The film both wraps up the story too neatly and neglects to offer any real closure. Grant that life tends to refuse the living closure. Cliché as that sounds, it’s often true. But also grant that Costanzo and her cast—comprised of Brendan Meyer, Sam McCarthy, Molly Ringwald and Brian d’Arcy James as the ennui-ridden Sheffield clan, and Jemima Kirke and Harley Quinn Smith as Meyer’s two foils slash love interests—are never anything less than earnest. Earnestness is a high-value commodity, necessary for romantic comedies like All These Small Moments and generally in short supply in the 2010s, in which everybody’s worn down and angry 24 hours per day. Yes, this is a film about living in a house riven by divorce. Yes, it’s about being a young man confused by emotions and hormones, unable to talk to anyone about either, like he’s bleeding but too bashful to ask for a bandage. Yes, it’s about a 30-something woman similarly tripped up by her feelings, and about the complications that spin out of their shared obfuscation. But Costanzo has a light, easy touch behind the camera. It’s impossible not to vibe along with her work, unfinished as it may feel. —Andy Crump
Mikey and Nicky
Release Date: January 22, 2019 (Criterion Blu-ray)
Director: Elaine May
Everyone’s got a friend like Nicky (John Cassavetes), though the Nickys of the world exist on a sliding scale. Not every Nicky works for the mob, or womanizes, or betrays the mob, or generally acts like a large diameter asshole at any provocation or under any amount of strain. But strip Mikey and Nicky of its genre particulars, its gangster trappings, and what remains is a recognizable story of two friends at loggerheads, joined by the history of their lifetimes, inseparable, and yet chemically volatile when standing in arm’s reach of each other. Mikey (Peter Falk) and Nicky go way back. They’ve been pals since always, since before they became small time crooks, since before their parents shuffled their mortal coils.
Mikey’s the equanimous one, Nicky the hothead, though Mikey’s only cool and composed when stood next to Nicky. “You give me that in 30 seconds or I’ll kill you, you hear me?” he roars at a diner counterman, desperate for a cup of cream to help soothe Nicky’s ailing stomach. Neither is especially good to women, and both are in boiling water, though Mikey’s only up to his toes and Nicky’s waist-deep, having ripped off his boss and earned a hit on his forehead. The most honest move Mikey can make is to leave Nicky to the mob’s mercies, but he’s not an honest man and honestly, male relationships aren’t all that honest.
Elaine May understands how quickly men oscillate between emotion and violence, rancor and play. One minute Mikey’s fretting over Nicky catching a cold. The next, they’re scrapping in the street, as if their friendship never mattered in the first place. Amazing how easily men can transgress from adults to boys, whether they’re trading blows or just gleefully racing one another down the sidewalk. Even when they’re all grown up, they’re still children at heart. At 43, Mikey and Nicky has aged better than both of them. —Andy Crump
Let the Corpses Tan
Release Date: January 8, 2019 (Blu-ray)
Directors: Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani
Cinema has produced enough crime films about competing parties converging on a single location, or chasing after the same loot haul, to fill several vaults, which naturally would then be converged on and pillaged by gangs of robbers. So the set-up of Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s latest movie, Let the Corpses Tan, isn’t anything new, being a narrative belonging to the same tradition, in which there’s no honor among thieves and everyone’s out for number one. What gives their work distinction, apart from the absolutely amazing title, is its emphasis on editing: The pair use the edit to force the audience to reconsider a single moment, not once, but twice, in some cases more, sort of like if Akira Kurosawa directed a Quentin Tarantino movie.
Each time the film rewinds back in time, it gains in momentum, building and building to one violent crescendo after another, and with each crescendo comes new appreciation for the characters in the sense that the viewer’s sympathies constantly evolve as the directors continue turning back the clock. Characters introduced as loathsome become pitiable; characters introduced as implacably vicious become compelling. And every gunshot becomes a moment lived in for as long as Let the Corpses Tan has reason to replay it. —Andy Crump