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15 Great 2021 Movies Directed By Women

With this list, you can watch great movies and support strides towards gender equity while you do it. What could be better than that?
Best Movies Directed By Women
By  · Published on January 6th, 2022

The Lost Daughter

Most Interesting New Filmmakers We Met In The Lost Daughter

Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut is as thorny and tough to crack as its protagonist, solo vacationer Leda (Olivia Colman, with Jessie Buckley as her younger self). The Lost Daughter is based on a novel by popular author Elena Ferrante. The adaptation includes all the complicated feelings and ever-shifting character dynamics Ferrante is known for, and then some.

Leda is captivated by the other beach-goers she encounters, but she takes a special interest in a mother and daughter whose presence stirs up old memories. Leda’s story initially seems to be one of loneliness and bitterness, but it steadily unfolds into a raw take on motherhood and its many incarnations. The entire endeavor is anchored by excellent performances from Colman, Buckley, and Dakota Johnson.

The Matrix Resurrections

The Matrix Resurrections
Warner Bros.

Any work by visionary filmmaker Lana Wachowski should never have to justify its existence, but The Matrix Resurrections, especially, needs no preamble. The fourth chapter of the industry-changing franchise reunites Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss for an adventure that’s all about changing the world with love. Its first act is a jaw-droppingly meta-commentary on the series’ polysemic presence in all aspects of culture over the past 20 years. Everything that comes after is pure, unfiltered entertainment.

The Matrix Resurrections is the opposite of a disposable sequel; it reframes and reaffirms everything the original trilogy stood for, while enthusiastically expanding the limits of its own world.

The Novice

The Novice
IFC Films

First-time filmmaker Lauren Hadaway has created one of the year’s most intense movie-watching experiences with The Novice. The film, which has already been nominated for five Independent Spirit Awards, follows a freshman athlete named Alex (Orphan’s Isabelle Fuhrman) who becomes consumed with her goal of joining a varsity rowing team. She pushes herself beyond her limits, then makes beyond her limits into her new normal.

The Novice pulls viewers into her self-made struggle, making us feel her often keenly physical pain as she pours her blood, sweat, and tears into a sport that’s utterly indifferent to her. Nimble camerawork and relentless editing push the film into a fever pitch that leaves you breathless.


Passing review
Sundance Institute

Rebecca Hall’s adaptation of Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel is one of the year’s finest films. The story is about two childhood friends, Reenie (Tessa Thompson) and Clare (Ruth Negga), who reunite after years apart. When they do, they realize that one has established a life passing as a white woman, while the other has not.

Filmed in some of the most supple-looking black-and-white ever put to screen, with dazzling cinematography by Eduard Grau, Passing is an exquisite story in every way. In the 1920s, Larsen’s novel was utterly transgressive, but even now the story crackles with energy. It’s propelled by intersections of identity — queerness, Blackness, wealth, womanhood — that are still too rarely given this much nuance and breathing room.

The Power of the Dog

The Power Of The Dog Cumberbatch

Jane Campion’s first movie in 12 years is as icy and beautiful as a cold Montana morning. The Power of the Dog follows a pair of ranchers, Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George (Jesse Plemons), whose allegiances drastically change when George marries a widow (Kirsten Dunst) with a gentle son (Kodi Smit-McPhee).

From where we’re watching, Phil is the movie’s apparent driving force. He’s an aggressive, bigoted cowboy who idolizes his late mentor Bronco Henry and grows increasingly unsettled by the family’s shifting dynamic. Under the guidance of Campion’s pristine vision, these complexly shaded relationships unfold into a picturesque but rough-edged drama. The Power of the Dog is in turn reflective, melancholy, cutthroat, and surprising. It’s also a masterpiece.

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Valerie Ettenhofer is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer, TV-lover, and mac and cheese enthusiast. As a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects, she covers television through regular reviews and her recurring column, Episodes. She is also a voting member of the Critics Choice Association's television and documentary branches. Twitter: @aandeandval (She/her)