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 a show of respect. 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 the best new movies in theaters, as well as on home video, directed by women. Think of it as a good way to add to your own #52FilmsByWomen tally for the year.
Release Date: January 5, 2018
Director: Maysaloun Hamoud
In her feature debut, Palestinian filmmaker Maysaloun Hamoud appears to hold back with her camera, but when you get down to it she’s really just keeping her distance. In Between, the story of three modern Palestinian women sharing a flat, as well as their personal struggles, with one another in Tel Aviv, necessarily must be intimate and impersonal at the same time: There’s a fly-on-the wall quality to Hamoud’s filmmaking that serves the needs of her narrative well, but boy that fly and that wall are both awfully close to her characters. A few years ago, we would have expected a movie like In Between to court empathy by dramatizing its protagonists’ hardships as noble. Hamoud doesn’t rob these women of their dignity. Instead, she focuses on their liberty. Laila (Mouna Hawa), the sensuous badass, Salma (Sana Jammelieh), the easygoing free spirit, and Nur (Shaden Kanboura), the sweet-natured traditionalist, spend the movie enduring life in their country and in their society, which means facing trials and travails of the worst sort. We empathize with them not because they suffer but because they triumph. They take control of their lives and sovereignty over their bodies from misogynist rule. In In Between’s triumph, Hamoud traces uncertainty, too. But there’s freedom in the uncertainty, and that freedom lends the film a buoyancy to compliment its profundity. —Andy Crump
The Strange Ones
Release Date: January 5, 2018
Directors: Christopher Radcliff & Lauren Wolkstein
“Radcliff and Wolkstein’s approach to editing and filming lends an eerie cadence to their picture, looping from day to night to morning with a tempo that’s as natural as it is thoroughly spooky. It should spook us out, mind you, because even after the magic dissipates from the film we still have to contend with the unrest left in its wake. Sam and Nick may not be warlocks, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t hiding truths, whether heartbreaking, lawbreaking or just plain old unsavory.” —Andy Crump / Full Review
The Polka King
Release Date: January 12, 2018 (Netflix)
Director: Maya Forbes
“The film suggests that the American dream isn’t about becoming somebody when you’re nobody. It’s about validating your unshakeable belief that you were never “nobody,” that you’ve always been “somebody” the whole time. It isn’t your fault that the world didn’t recognize your somebody-ness. It’s the world’s fault for not paying attention. Forbes doesn’t use this harsh truth to punish her characters, but she does hold it at the center of the film’s punchlines. Lewan, presented as unfailingly earnest by Black, ostensibly never stops believing in himself, but really he never stops holding onto the superficial entitlements promised by the American dream. Even when Black shows us Lewan’s fear of imminent failure, he doggedly hangs onto the idealism of his surrogate homeland.” —Andy Crump / Full Review
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
Release Date: January 30, 2018 (Blu-ray)
Director: Angela Robinson
“This is a fascinating story, particularly as we see little moments in the lives of the Marston clan reflected in the Wonder Woman mythos. (Olive wears metal wristbands all the time, the lasso is like the lie detectors Elizabeth and Bill invent, so on.) But writer-director Angela Robinson makes sure to keep it focused on the emotions involved, which is especially tricky considering all three characters are all so academically oriented—not to mention obsessed with deciphering the human mind and why we make the decisions we do—and are thus constantly questioning their own value systems. We really do believe that these three people love each other, and that they’re all better off together, but Robinson never tries to make this overly prudish and sanitized. The movie isn’t buttoned-up and restrained, but it isn’t brash and in your face either; it’s affably sexy, if such a thing is possible. And it never loses sight of its central premise of equality and acceptance, even if it gets a little too speechy and preachy about it. This movie’s heart is firmly in the right place.” —Will Leitch / Full Review
Release Date: January 9, 2018 (Blu-ray)
Director: Marianna Palka
“To a point, Bitch is a one-joke effort built around repeat humiliation of its leading man. Bill is disagreeable, whiny, ineffectual, self-indulgent, a total faker: He issues goodbyes to his children the morning of Jill’s devolution and tells her he loves her, as if he’s at all invested in the words. Maybe he is. Maybe he does love his family, but if he does he’s unequipped to actually show them, and less equipped still to perform the rudimentary tasks of adulthood and parenthood. His first day dropping his sons and daughters off at school is a sad joke, and he’s forced to call his sister-in-law, Beth (Jamie King), for backup. The dude is out of his depth, and the one person he selfishly relied on to keep him afloat is sunk herself. (The title feels like an etymological punchline, but it might just be referring to Bill.)” —Andy Crump / Full Review
Boston-based pop culture critic Andy Crump has been writing about film and television online since 2009, and has been contributing to Paste since 2013. He also writes words for The Playlist, WBUR’s The ARTery, Slant Magazine, The Hollywood Reporter, Polygon, Thrillist, and Vulture, and is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and the Boston Online Film Critics Association. You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected writing at his personal blog. He is composed of roughly 65% craft beer.