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 June’s best new movies in theaters, as well as on home video, directed by women.
Release Date: June 14, 2019
Director: Nisha Ganatra
Early on in Late Night, an affable, sometimes candid dramedy about the various anxieties and exhilarations of writing for a late night talk show, comedy obsessed ex-chemical plant employee Molly (Mindy Kaling) has just scored her dream job writing for her favorite host, the cantankerous Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson). Molly enters her dumpy new office as if she’s walking through the gates of Olympus. She shares the already tiny space with Burditt (Max Casella), a paranoid writer who, like his other colleagues, doesn’t like the female and Indian-American Molly because he considers her strictly a diversity hire. When Molly asks Burditt why he doesn’t have any decorations on his side of the office, he replies with deadpan simplicity, “I’ve been working here for 27 years. I don’t hang anything up in case I get fired.” Even though Molly is clearly a token hire, Kaling deftly communicates the need for representation of different perspectives to facilitate any art form’s progression into new and exciting territories. An attempt to simply fill a politically correct quota results in the show’s salvation, yet Kaling somehow finds a way to remain grounded without appearing to spoon-feed her message. Kaling was an intern for Conan O’Brian, and spent considerable time in comedy writing rooms, penning almost two hundred episodes for shows like The Office and her own The Mindy Project. She obviously knows this world, and the direct insight she brings to the audience becomes Late Night’s raison d’etre. At its core, it’s a tough-love letter to the insane ordeal of pursuing an actual career in comedy, paired with an open thesis about the innate wholesomeness of making people laugh. Director Nisha Ganatra, who also comes from TV, doesn’t really create a cinematic experience that begs to be seen on the big screen, but treats the characters and the setting with enough depth to breathe life into an otherwise tired project. —Oktay Ege Kozak / Full Review
Release Date: June 14, 2019
Director: Elle Callahan
Imagine the hopeless paranoia of John Carpenter’s The Thing mashed together with the languid atmosphere of David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows, in which isolated youth are hunted down by a relentless force capable of hiding in plain sight by mimicking their appearances. That’s Elle Callahan’s Head Count, a film with a dreamlike tone slowly overridden by an inexplicable nightmare. When a gaggle of 20-somethings get together at Joshua Tree for a mini vacation, they do what characters so frequently do in horror movies: Read a spooky story that accidentally summons a monster. In this case the monster is the Hisji, a shape-shifting entity that breaks prey psychologically before the killing begins. Accordingly, Callahan relishes the mental component of Head Count’s basic conceit, allowing the cast to slowly give in to suspicion and distrust while capitalizing on their collective uncertainty. At every turn, Callahan creates opportunities to scare the crap out of her audience, often in broad daylight or a well-illuminated room, where the viewer leasts expect to be terrified. The film violates safety and sanctuary on the strength of Callahan’s shrewd filmmaking. There’s room for improvement—the monster ultimately has too much origin for its own good—but Head Count is self-assured in its craftsmanship and announces Callahan as a director with promise and perspective. —Andy Crump
Release Date: June 27, 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 and a filmmaker himself, he’s adept at tailoring his image enough to strike a disarming fascist figure. (Calling him a “filmmaker” feels like an insult to Klayman, so let it be said that he is a “filmmaker” the way that Kylie Jenner is “self-made.”)
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. The man is a cockroach. No matter how many nukes the world drops on his head, the bastard won’t die, he won’t shut up, he won’t go away, and though he will try out green smoothies for health purposes, he’d probably be happier burrowing into a pack of Twinkies. Klayman’s disciplined anti-vanity approach keeps her from tainting the narrative she forms around Bannon—or rather, that Bannon forms around Bannon.
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
Ice on Fire
Release Date: June 11, 2019 (HBO)
Director: Leila Connors
Ice on Fire, debuting on HBO, directed by Leila Connors and produced and voiced by Leonardo DiCaprio, is an educational film about climate change and what we can still do about it. It’s especially important viewing if you think the answer is “nothing, it is too late.” But even if you don’t think that, this might refine your sense of what to do next. It’s an eye-opener for anyone prone to a stultifying “doomsday mentality” and that is unequivocally a good thing. The visual sensibility shies away from the majestic and saturated, preferring an understated and at times almost drab palette, presumably to underscore current and impending degradation of our ecosystems. The range of interview subjects is vast, spanning many countries, several industries and a host of academic disciplines. It’s “political” in the sense that this subject inherently is political, but it isn’t polemical. It calmly tackles “climate contrarian” questions such as, “Yes, but how do we know humans are causing climate change?” (The stunning answer? Because we can measure the radioactive isotope Carbon 14, y’all! Derp.) The film also makes the point that even if we were mistaken and in 100 years it comes to light that we somehow had it wrong, there is really no downside to living in a more sustainable way, even economically. Ice on Fire illuminates global opportunities to shift our mindsets, our economies and our priorities without undue discomfort. (I don’t know about you, but I’m okay with eating more scallops and oysters, and less beef, I’m totally fine with my electricity coming from solar panels and wind turbines, and I think urban farms and gardens are esthetically preferable to strip malls.) Basically, this film would like you to know there are strong potential solutions, they can be implemented if the will exists to do so, and everyone, not just fusty ivory tower scientist crabapples, can be part of what that fisherman calls “the army that saves the world.” —Amy Glynn / Full Review
Between the Lines
Release Date: June 18, 2019
Director: Joan Micklin Silver
Part of the pleasure of watching Joan Micklin Silver’s loose, laid-back, unapologetically Boston comedy Between the Lines—back in theaters and on shelves this year for legal commercial viewing for the first time in decades—is its time capsule quality. Boston has taken its share of facelifts since the 1970s, and in certain areas (chiefly the seaport), it’s still in a state of transformation. Silver’s film reminds people who lived through the 1970s, and showcases for audiences born after the fact, what the Hub looked like way back when, even though some scenes were shot in New York and others were shot with the intention of making Cambridgeport look like Back Bay. Most of all, it’s a nice callback to defunct titans of Boston’s alt weekly scene.
Today, The Back Bay Mainline, the fictional paper that provides Between the Lines its home base, gives reason to reflect on the defunct Boston Phoenix (time of death: 2013) and consider not only what Boston used to look like, but what its print media used to look like, too. (At least we still have DigBoston.) It probably looked an awful lot like the Mainline, where struggling journalists Harry (John Heard), Abbie (Lindsay Crouse), Max (Jeff Goldblum), Laura (Gwen Welles), Michael (Stephen Collins), Ahmed (Joe Morton) and newbie David (Bruno Kirby) try day in and day out to track down stories worth telling as the walls close in on them and their profession.
Between the Lines runs more on character than narrative, each thread bleeding into others amidst hand-wringing over concerns of ownership and budget. The paper is being sought for purchase by a millionaire tycoon, copy is jockeying for position over advertising for layout space and through it all the team labors to do their jobs—except for Max, who spends his time selling off old records for weed money and picking up girls, and for Michael, perpetually tangled in the process of writing his book, and for Harry, who might also want to write a book, but he isn’t sure, and in the meantime he’s wasting his talents interviewing strippers. The women are the ones working. Silver makes a sly joke out of that without overstating the punchline, and rather than focus, she lets her film and her actors ramble toward uncertain futures: Their own, of course, as well as the future of the counterculture and journalism writ large. In 2019, Between the Lines’ predictive, shaggy plotting feels like a timely rediscovery. —Andy Crump