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 October’s best new movies in theaters, as well as on home video, directed by women.
Release Date: October 12, 2018
Director: Megan Griffiths
Watching Sadie roll into its end credits is like watching a race car driver get black flagged at the last lap. Megan Griffiths’ latest movie nearly gets there—it’s a lean, efficient, altogether chilling piece of work, right up until she overlays the final crane shot with a voiceover from her lead actress, Sophia Mitri Schloss, that lays bare the story’s subtext. That artistic decision is equally baffling and cringeworthy, the kind of gesture that could hobble a great film and fully delimb a good one.
Sadie falls somewhere in between. Its effects dissipate the moment Schloss’s monologue begins. At least the rest of the film wields a wicked edge: Focusing on Schloss’s title character, Griffiths paints a picture of life on the fringes and the creeping symptoms of American military culture. Young Sadie lives with her mother, Rae (Melanie Lynskey), and spends most of her waking hours waiting to hear from her unseen father, absent from their trailer park home as he serves a repeat tour in the U.S. armed forces. Lonely, Rae finds solace in their new neighbor, Cyrus (John Gallagher Jr.). Sadie’s inherited soldierly discipline from her dad and attempts to keep mom and Cyrus apart.
Griffiths knows how to get under her audience’s skin, maintaining a voyeur’s distance even in the cramped quarters of Sadie’s predominant settings, and Schloss’s hardened gaze, like a prison gate, keeps viewers out while keeping Sadie’s vulnerabilities penned in. Together, they strike an unnerving chord, but damn if it isn’t a struggle to hold onto that pleasing disquiet once those credits start rolling. —Andy Crump
Release Date: October 19, 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 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 disposable henchman or be killed at the start of the film. There’s frankness to her 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. So would Laurent. 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. Try as Laurent might, she can’t rewrite the stuff of Galveston’s genetic makeup, but she does expand her range as a filmmaker beyond her current work to date, a reminder that she remains a capable director worth investigating. —Andy Crump
Release Date: October 19, 2018
Director: Marielle Heller
Withnail and Sookie St. James make a perilous odd couple, but if you can dip jalapeno peppers in chocolate and get away with it, you can put Richard Grant on the same screen as Melissa McCarthy and make a movie that’s equally as sweet as spicy. The better word, the most accurate word, to describe Can You Ever Forgive Me?, the new movie from The Diary of a Teenage Girl director Marielle Heller, is “bitter,” but however you qualify the film, it’s a gem: rough around the edges, sharp to the touch, surprisingly warm.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? is the tale of Leonore Carol “Lee” Israel (McCarthy), celebrity biographer, who in the 1990s found herself broke and so in need of work that she turned to forgery, penning fake letters by dead authors and selling them off to a tidy sum per piece. She’s aided by her friend, Jack Hock (Grant), a bon vivant bordering on sociopathic in his disregard for the severity of Lee’s circumstances. Watching McCarthy in grouch mode is entrancing, not the least because she’s so good at nodding to Lee’s innermost insecurities without ever showing them. No one, at a glance, might guess at what’s happening under Lee’s hood, so distracting are her boozy, pugilistic tendencies. But Lee’s nursing a case of desperation that’s more crippling than a hangover, as well as fear of being left behind by her own industry. Her biographical style is over. People want warts. Lee doesn’t let people see her warts; why the hell would she bother exposing the warts of others?
The writing world doesn’t have any use for a woman who won’t play by the rules set out for her to follow. Men like Tom Clancy get to wear their smugness like a crown and make obscene chunks of change writing crap, but a gifted woman with a bad attitude gets kicked to the curb. It’s the great injustice of Lee’s life. We don’t condone her for making a career change to crime, and yet the crime lets her put her talent to good use, showing up the literary elite as the jackasses they are, and there’s considerable pleasure to derive from watching as Heller stages Lee and Jack as drunken, foul-mouthed, avenging angels, righting the wrongs dealt them through pranks and felonies. The greatest pleasure Can You Ever Forgive Me? offers, though, is the chemical reaction between McCarthy and Grant, perhaps an unlikely pairing but no more perfect a pairing than you will find in theaters as we roll into the juddering doldrums of awards season. —Andy Crump
Release Date: October 5, 2018 (Netflix)
Director: Tamara Jenkins
That the universe decided to put an 11-year hold on Tamara Jenkins’ follow-up to 2007’s The Savages is a karmic as well as systemic crime: Blame the stars for failing to align in her favor, but make sure to also blame the movie industry for blithely throwing roadblocks in her path despite her AMPAS-level talent. It’s true that Jenkins is a human being, and that her own process, combined with life’s vicissitudes (child rearing), contributed to the long journey from 2007 to 2018. But it’s also true that the movie business denies women opportunities, and that Private Life, Jenkins’ latest, is a prime example of that dynamic in action.
The good news is that Private Life, obstacles be damned, is a sterling piece of work and possibly one of the best movies you’ll see in theaters (or on Netflix, the company who claimed distribution) this year. It’s large in scope, too, covering the passage of months and then some as childless couple Richard (Paul Giamatti) and Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) self-destruct through determined, debilitating attempts at successful middle-aged pregnancy. They try artificial insemination, and when that doesn’t work, IVF. When that doesn’t work, Richard has surgery to augment his sperm production. At the same time they test the waters of adoption. Eventually Sadie (Kayli Carter), their niece, agrees to be their egg donor.
Private Life spirals slowly and painfully, a film about sensation that’s never sensational. There’s a rare patience to Jenkins’ storytelling and a rarer egalitarianism: Her narrative spares us authorial judgment. No one character, emotion or perspective is short changed, whether on the page, in the performances or through Christos Voudouris’s intimate, controlled cinematography. The film is prickly, as well. At times its discomfort is unbearable: an awkward, ill-advised Thanksgiving speech, a gutting final confrontation between Richard and Rachel over what damage their want of a child has wrought on their marriage. Jenkins gets to the core of their agony and comes out the other side with one of 2018’s most human movies. —Andy Crump / Full Review by Tim Grierson
Release Date: October 2, 2018
Director: Debra Granik
It takes all of Leave No Trace before anyone tells Will (Ben Foster) he’s broken. The man knows, perhaps ineffably, that something’s fundamentally wrong inside of him, but it isn’t until the final moments of Debra Granik’s film that someone gives that wrongness finality, that someone finally allows Will to admit—and maybe accept—he can’t be fixed. Why: Granik affords us little background, save tattoos and a few helicopter-triggered flashbacks and a visit to the hospital to acquire PTSD meds all implying that Will is a military vet, though what conflict he suffered and for how long remains a mystery. As does the fate of Will’s deceased wife, mother to teenage girl Tom (Thomasin McKenzie). As does the length of time Will and his daughter have been living off the grid, hidden within the more than 5,000 acres of Portland’s Forest Park, a damp, verdant chunk of the city’s northwest side overlooking the Willamette River. As does the pain at the heart of Leave No Trace, though it hurts no less acutely for that. Toward the end of this quietly stunning film, Tom shows her father a beehive she’s only recently begun to tend, slowly pulling out a honeycomb tray and tipping a scrambling handful of the insects into her cupped palm without any fear of being stung. Will looks on, proud of his daughter’s connection to such a primal entity, knowing that he could never do the same. Will begins to understand, as Tom does, that she is not broken like him. Leave No Trace asserts, with exquisite humanity and a long bittersweet sigh, that the best the broken can do is disappear before they break anyone else. —Dom Sinacola / Full Review