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 March’s best new movies in theaters, as well as on home video, directed by women.
The Juniper Tree
Release Date: March 15, 2019
Director: Nietzchka Keene
The Juniper Tree is based on the fairy tale of the same name, collected by the Brothers Grimm but adapted into a narrative befitting the merciless beauty of Iceland’s environment and its brutal heritage. Maybe Keene could have told the story by changing nothing, and maybe The Juniper Tree would have worked as a film anyways. But when Keene shot it in the summer of 1986, she recognized Iceland’s otherworldliness and saw how the narrative could be hardened to suit the unforgiving climate. Here, there are no happy endings. People either perish in the elements or survive in whatever way they can. —Andy Crump / Full Review
Two Plains & a Fancy
Release Date: March 8, 2019
Directors: Lev Kalman, Whitney Horn
If Whit Stillman got together with Sarah Violet-Bliss and Charles Rogers, and if they made a Western, that Western would look a lot like Two Plains & a Fancy, but without the self-awareness Lev Kalman and Whitney Horn bring to their work. Theirs is a satirical mission: They’ve inserted modern-day, know-nothing hipster narcissism into the American frontier circa 1893, where three friends roam Colorado’s plains and mountains in search of the best hot springs spa nestled in the Centennial State’s bosom. Close your eyes, listen to the dialogue, and picture these people blithely wandering about Iceland, the Azores or Finland, babbling with assumed expertise about local customs and geography, the truth, of course, being that they’re comically ignorant and too wrapped up in themselves to know it.
Two Plains & a Fancy’s chronicle of 20-or-30-something self-obsessive stupidity is endlessly hilarious, so long as viewers don’t take said stupidity personally. Watching these three pompously named dimwits—Alta Mariah Sophronia (Marianna McClellan), Ozanne Le Perrier (Laetitia Dosch), and Milton Tingling (Benjamin Crotty)—“ooh” and “ahh” at every rock they pass would grow tiresome quickly if Kalman and Horn lacked a knack for rendering the insufferable uproarious or an eye for photographing the American expanse, or if their cast wasn’t game for dunking on vapid culture tourism and performative sophistication. Two Plains & a Fancy hits a sweet spot where oddity intermingles with pretense, the metaphysical meets the insipid, and as off the rails as the film takes its audience, it sustains the aesthetic as well as the joke. —Andy Crump
Release Date: March 8, 2019
Directors: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
It remains, when you think about it, absolutely insane that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has featured two new movies, one of which introduces an entirely new character, in between two halves of a nearly six-hour epic where half the cast dies in Part One. Talk about your flex moves! One thing Captain Marvel has going for it that Ant Man and the Wasp didn’t is that it gives us a lead character we can care about and (even more importantly) an actor who rises to the occasion. In many of these Marvel origin stories—and by my count, this is the eighth one since the original Iron Man—the movie goes through great pains to explain to us why we should care about this new character, why, with everything else we have to keep track of, we should readily agree to adding one more to the mix. Captain Marvel, like many MCU movies, sometimes labors under the weight of having to tell its own story while still connecting to the larger, ongoing saga, but it has no issues with justifying its main character: We see in her eyes, from the first second, what’s different about her. The movie has us on her side before she ever says a word. The key is Brie Larson, an instantly, almost subconsciously empathetic actress who finds a new, fascinating gear here as Vers who, when we first meet her, is a Kree warrior fighting in outer space with an elite force led by her trainer, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). Vers has no memory of her past, but it returns to her when, in the midst of a battle, she’s dumped onto a distant planet that turns out not only to be Earth, but also her home planet and in the year 1995. She ends up, rather conveniently, running into future S.H.I.E.L.D. head Nick Fury (a digitally de-aged, and convincingly so, Samuel L. Jackson) and a series of Air Force pilots who provide clues to her past through a supersecret initiative called “Pegasus.” The film is otherwise entertaining and exhausting in the equal measures we have come to expect from modern Marvel movies—if you’ve seen one bad guy bent on galaxy domination, you’ve seen them all. But this movie isn’t about the supporting characters, or the setting, or even how well its big action set pieces play out. It’s all about whether or not they can sell this Captain Marvel as someone who even the mighty Avengers can call to someday help them save the world. —Will Leitch / Full Review
Release Date: March 29, 2019
Director: Alison Klayman
What could possibly possess anyone with a camera to tail Steve Bannon, that sentient cancerous tumor, across the United States during the build-up to the 2018 midterms and throughout Europe on a “unite the fascists” tour, buttressed from his unctuousness only by cinematic providence and the power of the lens? Alison Klayman is either the bravest or brashest documentarian to release new work this year, stoically shouldering the contentious but perhaps essential task of giving Bannon a stage equipped with rope enough to hang himself. The Brink is The Steve Bannon Show™, unfiltered for the most part, though Bannon, being a shrewd manipulator, is adept at tailoring his image enough to strike a disarming fascist figure.
Watching The Brink will leave most with a powerful need to take a shower. It isn’t the filthiest movie of the year to date, but it’s the most repugnant, a naked look at the levers and pulleys Bannon maintains access to at different levels and in different environments of power. Klayman’s disciplined anti-vanity approach keeps her from tainting the narrative she forms around Bannon, or rather that Bannon forms about himself.
Yes, he’s grimily charming if short on witty turns of phrase. (A fun but perilous drinking game: Take a shot whenever he utters the phrase “a rose between two thorns” to flatter fans, or potential donors, or allies.) Yes, he’s self-deprecating. No, none of this offsets or obfuscates his pro-fascist agenda, and Klayman makes no moves to stem the tide of his hideous politics. She wants us to see. Whether viewers want to watch is another question, but there’s no doubting the sheer unobtrusive balls of her filmmaking here. The Brink isn’t just necessary. It’s damn near heroic. —Andy Crump
Release Date: March 19, 2019
Director: Barbara Loden
As pure an example of auteurism as one might find in cinema, and as unapologetic a portrait of self-disintegrating American identity as one might find in the 1970s, Barbara Loden’s undersung Wanda now rightly occupies space on the shelves of the Criterion Collection among countless other masterpieces. Criterion’s lack of women represented among the cinephilic sausage party conga line sashaying throughout its archives is well-documented, and Wanda, admittedly, is just one new title among a scant few architected by female directors. Yet, Wanda is all the same a major acquisition, a watershed entry in America’s indie cinema movement from decades past: The film functions like a middle finger raised and aimed straight at the slick studio product churned out during its heyday, liberated from the formulaic constraints imposed on such films. It’s a sovereign work of art.
Maybe that’s too generous a characterization, given that Wanda’s title character is hardly ever bothered enough to take such meager action as removing her hair rollers before going to divorce court. This is not a woman to root for or take pride in or glean any sort of feminist message from, but a woman deprived of purpose, or—maybe put more accurately—robbed of purpose. Or maybe she has relinquished purpose of her own volition, because Wanda doesn’t live in a world that gives half a goddamn about women when they don’t fit into traditional gender roles molded for them by a society curated and governed predominantly by men.
Loden’s work in the lead role is hypnotically unmoored, her writing nearly dreamlike in its atmospheric depression, her filmmaking grainy, sharp-edged, in a movie that’s liable to leave knicks and scrapes all over its audience the closer they get to it. How much of Wanda’s plot, such as it has one, shaped by her abusive relationship with career asshole Elia Kazan, is a question no one will ever know an answer to. Loden died of breast cancer in 1980, ten years after Wanda announced her as a vital voice in American cinema. She’s the kind of filmmaking talent the culture looks for and embraces in 2019, and the kind that, nearly 50 years after the fact, we still rarely get to observe. —Andy Crump