In compiling this A-Z of female directors and their films, my measure of their credibility being only their average score from Metacritic’s algorithm, problems became manifest: taking the average reception of women’s films and summarising it as their critical consensus, as one example. Although this list is intentionally celebratory of women and their art, it is quite precarious in its function as it inevitably highlights women’s cultural deviation and separation from male directors and their work. But nevertheless, here it is.
It’s telling that most of the films listed are from the twenty-first-century, some are co-directed with men, and all are combatants in a system that explicitly, albeit ambiguously, omits women from directing. Only during the recent epoch of modern film can we see the rise of critical acclaim for women in the director’s seat. Naively, we might choose to believe this lends itself to the simple deduction that more women must be directing, that in the twenty-first-century opportunities are far more open and multiple, or even more naively, we might believe these opportunities have always been present and women before simply ‘chose not to’ take them. Here, it is worth noting that when I speak of these women, they are of course majoritively white, for there are far more complex and systemic exclusions at present for female filmmakers of colour.
More cynically (and more truthfully) the same number of women are directing as prior to the twenty-first-century but perhaps now they are (rarely and selectively) given a bigger budget, thus a higher chance at commercial success, meaning they are often paid more attention critically and commercially from the industry. Yet even this is a rose-tinted vision of reality, for women are still routinely overlooked in creative direction, especially in the oligarchical, masculine system of filmmaking. We are still the audience to Man and his camera, Man and technology as two conflicting yet collaborative monuments of modernity, leaving no room for women and their visions except in front of the camera.
This list fails to be comprehensive, the alphabetical structure is a simplistic way to organise women’s films although it does, of course, naturally exclude fantastic directors of the same lettered surname as those listed. I think this list functions as a microcosm of the industry as it is represented at large, its algorithmic, commerical, fast-paced and bite-sized way in which the internet presents us with women’s film and its criticisms. Women’s films, and by this I mean their directors, are routinely subcategorised, subaltern and subdued. I am by no means trying to even begin surfacing the problems with modern cinema today regarding gender and binary identities that cinema seems to instrumentally reinforce (often with sincerity, as celebratory for example), but here it is, a not-so-comprehensive list of magnificent female directors and their highest rated films.
A. Gillian Armstrong ‘Little Women’ (1994)
B. Kathryn Bigelow ‘The Hurt Locker’ (2009)
Score: 94 (note: the highest rated film by a female director on Metacritic with 94)
C. Sofia Coppola ‘Lost in Translation’ (2003)
Score: 89 (note: the 8th highest rated film by a female director on Metacritic)
D. Claire Denis ’35 Shots of Rum’ (2009)
Score: 92 (note: the second highest rated film by a female director on Metacritic)
E. Nora Ephron ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ (1993)
Score: 71 (note: the fifth highest grossing film by a female director on Metacritic)
F. Valerie Faris ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ (2006)
Score: 80 (note: co-directed with a man)
G. Greta Gerwig ‘Lady Bird’ (2017)
Score 94: (special note: second highest rated film, directed by a man or woman, of 2017, according to Metacritic)
H. Courtney Hunt ‘Frozen River’ (2008)
J. Tamara Jenkins ‘The Savages’ (2007)
K. Karyn Kusama ‘The Invitation’ (2016)
L. Kátia Lund ‘City of God’ (2002)
Score: 79 (note: co-directed with a man)
M. Lucrecia Martel ‘The Headless Woman’ (2009)
N. Mira Nair ‘The Namesake’ (2007)
P. Nina Paley ‘Sita Sings the Blues’ (2010)
Score: 94 (joint highest rated film by a female director on Metacritic.)
R. Kelly Reichardt ‘Old Joy’ (2006)
S. Shari Springer Berman ‘American Splendor’ (2003)
Score: 90 (note: co-directed with a man.)
T. Nora Twomey ‘The Secret of Kells’ (2010)
Score: 81 (note: co-directed with a man.)
V. Agnès Varda ‘Faces Places’ (2017)