103 Essential Films By Female Filmmakers: Clueless, Lost In Translation, Ishtar and More

A great film, as we all know, is a great film, no matter the age, nationality, or sex of its director. But as human beings, we also all know how much fun we get out of categorizing and listmaking, especially when it comes to works of art and those who make them. And so today we give you Cinema Fanatic’s A Year with Women: 103 Essential Films by Female Filmmakers, proof that, though the world of film may have produced fewer female filmmakers than male filmmakers so far, their films, taken individually, hardly command less of our interest.

“In an attempt to create a better, more inclusive list of great films by women,” writes the site’s author Marya E. Gates. “I polled over 500 critics, filmmakers, bloggers, historians, professors and casual film viewers, asking them to tell me what films directed (or co-directed) by women are essential viewing. Some people only responded with as little as five votes, others submitted hundreds of films. In the end, I received over 7,000 votes for 1,100+ different films. After tallying up this data, with ties factored in, I then had a list of 103 essential films directed by women.”

Gates presents her list in reverse order of votes earned, each with a still frame, a scrolling experience certainly worth enjoying in its entirety. But if you’d like to take a glance first at what ended up on the top ten, here you have it:

  1. Clueless, 1995 (dir. Amy Heckerling) – 147 votes
  2. Lost in Translation, 2003 (dir. Sofia Coppola) – 144 votes
  3. The Piano, 1993 (dir. Jane Campion) – 120 votes
  4. Selma, 2014 (dir. Ava DuVernay) – 118 votes
  5. American Psycho, 2000 (dir. Mary Harron) – 110 votes
  6. Cléo from 5 to 7, 1962 (dir. Agnès Varda) – 93 votes
  7. The Hurt Locker, 2009 (dir. Kathryn Bigelow) – 92 votes
  8. Fish Tank, 2009 (dir. Andrea Arnold) – 84 votes
  9. The Virgin Suicides, 1999 (dir. Sofia Coppola) – 84 votes
  10. Winter’s Bone, 2010 (dir. Debra Granik) – 75 votes

In the interview at the top of the post, Amy Heckerling, director of Clueless, the champion of the list, talks about her career in Hollywood as the director of not just that epochal Beverly Hills teen comedy but of the likes of Fast Times at Ridgemont High and, more recently, Vamps. In the clip below that, Sofia Coppola and star Bill Murray talk about their time making the close runner-up Lost in Translation.

All these films could, of course, easily appear on any critic’s top-ten list, with or without a deliberate focus on woman directors — and most of them, in fact, won very little of their considerable fame simply by being woman-directed. Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles would certainly appear on mine, though the 103 Essential Films by Female Filmmakers poll places it just below, at number 11. And surely the vigorous piece of Hollywood cyberpunk Strange Days, which comes in last among the works of Kathryn Bigelow scattered across the list, merits a higher ranking.

Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff and Wendy and Lucy make the list, but what of her Old Joy, surely the most absorbing cinematic tale ever told of two semi-estranged buddies hiking in the woods, let alone told by a woman? And hasn’t the world come around on Elaine May’s Ishtar, which places a mere #102 but whose status as a masterwork Richard Brody clarifies in The New Yorker video above? Then again, we don’t make these lists to agree, or even to convince; we make them to argue the movies, a pursuit — to every cinema-loving man, woman, and child — almost as fun as watching them.

via Criterion Collection

Related Content:

The Groundbreaking Silhouette Animations of Lotte Reiniger: Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, and More

Alice Guy-Blaché: The First Female Director & the Cinematic Trailblazer You Likely Never Heard Of

No Women Need Apply: A Disheartening 1938 Rejection Letter from Disney Animation

Watch The Hitch-Hiker by Ida Lupino (the Only Female Director of a 1950s Noir Film)

The First Feminist Film, Germaine Dulac’s The Smiling Madame Beudet (1922)

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.


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