2017 has been hailed as a watershed moment for women in Hollywood. In the wake of harrowing allegations of sexual assault against Harvey Weinstein, there’s been a sea change in conversations about the culture of harassment and misogyny that’s endemic in the film industry. On screen, we’ve seen films directed and fronted by women become critical and commercial hits. Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig’s coming-of-age directorial debut, sat with a 100 percent approval rating on review site Rotten Tomatoes. Wonder Woman broke box office records, made Patty Jenkins the highest-paid female director in history with her deal for the sequel and gave little kids an indisputably brilliant role model who just happened to be female. Mudbound, a sweeping historical epic set in the Jim Crow-era South, generated Oscar buzz for filmmaker Dee Rees (who’d be the first black woman to earn a Best Director nomination). So far, so good, you’d think – and with a new awards season just around the corner, the opportunities to celebrate female film talent (and make an implicit mission statement in favour of a more progressive Hollywood in the process) are manifold.
You’d think. Yesterday, the nominations for the 75th annual Golden Globes ceremony were announced, and while plenty of talented women received their nods, they received them – of course – in the categories which are explicitly sign-posted as female. In a year that’s seen women filmmakers achieve so much, the Best Director category is a particularly woeful affair. Of the five nominees, all are male, and all are over 40: Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk, Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water, Martin McDonaugh for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and the two grand old(est) men of awards season, Ridley Scott (All The Money In The World) and Steven Spielberg (The Post). Non-white filmmakers don’t get much of a look-in, either: Jordan Peele, who is neither old nor white, was also majorly snubbed by the Globes. His film Get Out was arguably this year’s most talked-about: contrast that to Scott and Spielberg’s offerings, neither of which have been seen by anyone outside the most rarefied of critical circles.
Alongside Mudbound, Lady Bird and Wonder Woman (which wasn’t nominated in a single category), 2017 also saw new releases from major players like Sofia Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow (who’s still the only woman to win Best Director at the Academy Awards). The fact that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (the Globes’ voting body) has failed to recognise this clutch of brilliant female-fronted, female-directed films can’t help but feel especially egregious – and tone deaf – at the end of 2017. A nomination or two in a category which is both highly respected and historically male (the only woman to take a Golden Globe for Best Director? Barbra Streisand) would make an important stand for the importance of female story-telling.
Instead, voters have firmly aligned themselves with an XY-chromosome status quo: by refusing to question the dominance of male filmmakers, it’s as if none of this year’s important conversations about Hollywood’s toxic boys club ever happened. Sigh. It seems as if these women are trapped in a lose-lose scenario. If they fail with a film, it’s definitive proof that female directors are box office poison, and the perfect excuse to deny other women a chance in the future (see Patty Jenkins’ unwillingness to take on Wonder Woman at first: ‘If they do [the film] with a man, it will just be yet another mistake that the studio made. But with me, it’s going to look like I dropped the ball and it’s going to send a very bad message,’ she told the Hollywood Reporter). And if they succeed? The top tiers of the industry still reject that success by denying it awards recognition.
It’s worth noting that the HFPA has become known for its curveball nominations, a trend which they’ve certainly honoured this year: no disrespect to a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, but has anyone heard of – let alone actually watched – The Leisure Seeker, a tepidly-reviewed drama which sees the Dame taking a road trip in a campervan? So, while it is the first major skirmish in any awards season campaign, the Globes aren’t always the most reliable sign-post for future successes or failures. That’s an argument that cuts both ways, though: if ever an awards show was likely to take a gamble on a less ‘establishment’ option (because for the film industry, female stories are always a gamble, however loudly the box office receipts shout the contrary), it’d probably be this one.
You could say that awards like the Golden Globes and the Oscars don’t really mean anything outside of the fancy theatres in which they’re awarded, and you’d be right. But for better and for worse, the film industry is one of the most visible in the world: awards like these can act as a mirror, reflecting what’s seen as valuable and worthy of recognition on a wider scale. Here, as in so many cases, women and their stories have been overlooked, deemed unworthy of proper attention. So what can we do? Get out to the cinema to catch female-directed films in their opening weekend, the days that can make or break a production; stream them legally or buy a digital download, rather than resorting to a pixelated torrent. Progress is slow but money talks, and a successful box office for one woman translates to better opportunities for female film-makers. And think of all the times you’ve left the cinema feeling like you can do anything in the world.
NOW READ: The Films We Loved In 2017
A coming of age tale told in three chapters, the achingly beautiful Moonlight follows a young African-American man, Chiron, as he comes to terms with his sexuality. A surprise - but hugely deserving - Best Picture winner at the Academy Awards, it's the sort of film that quietly sears itself onto the memory and never leaves. In each part of the triptych - charting boyhood, adolescence and adulthood - the cast is brilliant; Naomie Harris (haunting as Chiron's meth-addicted mother) and Mahershala Ali (as his father-figure) are particular standouts.
Before 12th July 1967, inter-racial marriage was forbidden in many American states. An understated and timely period piece, Loving tells a story that's all the more moving because it's true: Mildred and Richard Loving were the couple that took the state of Virginia to the Supreme Court to overturn anti-miscegenation laws. As the softly-spoken but utterly determined Mildred, Ruth Negga (deserving of all the awards nods that came her way, including an Oscar nomination) quietly steals every scene she's in, a reminder that seemingly small acts can be unprecedented in their bravery.
La La Land
A dreamy, sun-soaked love letter to Los Angeles, La La Land brought together cinegenic on-screen couple Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling for the third time. Harking back to the musicals of Hollywood's golden age, the pair showcase their impressive vocal talents as aspiring actress Mia and struggling jazz pianist Sebastian, lost in the bright lights of LA. We skipped out of the cinema and fell in love with Gosling for the thousandth time (best not mention the Oscars envelope debacle…)
What's not to like about a film that finally gives proper recognition to a group of female mathematicians that history has largely forgotten? The names Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson - the women whose number-crunching helped America win the space race – aren't yet household names, but thanks to Hidden Figures, that's starting to change. A feel-good film that also touches on the era's fraught racial politics, it proved a smash in America (where it managed to knock Rogue One: A Star Wars Story from the top of the box office) and in the UK.
The Big Sick
Boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in and out of love, girl develops rare and vicious auto-immune disease and falls into a coma. The Big Sick is based on the real-life romance of Silicon Valley star Kumail Nanjiani and (spoiler alert!) his wife, writer and producer Emily V. Gordon: the couple wrote the script together, with indie favourite Zoe Kazan filling in for Emily on-screen. The resulting rom-com is the most moving and memorable you'll see all year, from the tiny, heart-warmingly weird details of Kumail and Emily's relationship (Kumail's true-to-life Hugh Grant obsession is a highlight) to the deft, funny navigation of interracial relationships and family values. You'll cry, and you won't be mad about it.
We've been holding out for a female-fronted comic book movie for a long time (over a decade, to be precise). Luckily, this one was more than worth the wait - and was enough to win over the naysayers. Dispensing with the genre's drearier conventions (an angst-ridden lead, a gloomy backstory... anyone who's sat through the entire teeth-grinding run time of Batman Vs Superman could probably go on...) Wonder Woman's first ever solo big screen outing is empowering, genuinely funny and in possession of an entirely charming lead in Gal Gadot. Plus, as the highest grossing live-action film ever to be directed by a woman (Patty Jenkins), it's made history, too.
A new film from Sofia Coppola is always an event. The Beguiled, her first since 2013's The Bling Ring, generated serious buzz at Cannes, eventually taking the festival's prestigious Best Director prize (eye-roll stat: Coppola is the second ever female winner in the festival's 70-year history). Offering a female-focused take on a 1971 Clint Eastwood vehicle (based in turn on a pulpy Southern Gothic novel by Thomas P. Cullinan), The Beguiled brings Coppola's distinctive vision to the Civil War Antebellum, telling the story of a wounded soldier who seeks shelter in an all-female boarding school. Starring Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning, it boasts the sort of ensemble cast that most directors could only dream of.
The Killing Of A Sacred Deer
After The Beguiled comes this year's second (and arguably best) Colin Farrell – Nicole Kidman billing. The Killing Of A Sacred Deer, arthouse director Yorgos Lanthimos' second English-language film, is surreal and harrowing, its humour pitched even blacker than his 2015 sleeper hit The Lobster. Farrell is a seemingly successful surgeon who attempts to welcome a clearly troubled teen, played by Dunkirk's Barry Keoghan, into his picture-perfect family. What follows is a dreamily shot and unbearably visceral riff on the Greek tragedy of Iphigenia – with the added bonus of the scene-stealing Alicia Silverstone comeback we've been waiting for since the '90s.
Call Me By Your Name
The most buzzed-about title by far from this year's Sundance Film Festival? Call Me By Your Name, a same-sex love story that doubles up as an unfeasibly photogenic coming-of-age tale, starring Armie Hammer and new face Timothée Chalamet. Directed by Luca Guadagnino, the man behind the aesthetically pleasing likes of A Bigger Splash and I Am Love, it's set against a dreamily sun-drenched Italian Riviera in the '80s (perfect escapism for a British autumn) and follows a summer romance between a teenager (Chalamet) and an older grad student (Hammer). Stay until the credit sequence for an emotional gut punch that'll stay with you for months.
A Monster Calls
Starring Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones and newcomer Lewis MacDougall, the big-screen adaptation of Patrick Ness' young adult novel is bleak and beautiful in equal measure. Bullied at school and grappling with his mother's terminal cancer diagnosis, Connor (MacDougall) summons the 'monster' of the title - a huge, tree-like creature with the dulcet tones of Liam Neeson - to help him process his fears. Invest in waterproof mascara.
Ingrid Goes West
Social media satire Ingrid Goes West has influencer culture in its sights, skewering our obsession with watching other people's shiny, beautiful lives play out on screen. In a darkly funny cautionary tale for the Instagram generation, Aubrey Plaza is Ingrid, a twenty-something who heads west when her life starts to fall apart. Her goal? To befriend Taylor Sloane, an impossibly perfect influencer (played by Elizabeth Olsen) with an equally Insta-genic life. Soon, she's managed to ingratiate herself with her virtual idol but – spoiler alert – the life of a professional Instagrammer isn't quite as #aspirational as it appears on screen…
Tom Hardy. Cillian Murphy. Harry Styles. Yes, that Harry Styles. Christopher Nolan has assembled a predictably brilliant cast for his first film since Interstellar, and while the intriguing prospect of former One Directioner Harry's big-screen debut generated its fair share of headlines, Dunkirk has far more going for it than this teen-friendly cameo. This World War Two epic charts Operation Dynamo, the legendary evacuation of hundreds of thousands of British soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk in everything from 'destroyer' warships to tiny fishing boats; a feat that's still considered something of a miracle today. From the piercing score by Hans Zimmer to newcomer Fionn Whitehead's standout performance to the typically Nolan three-part structure, this is not your dad's WW2 movie.
For her follow-up to Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow tackles one of the most violent and destructive uprisings in American history, the Detroit riots of summer 1967. Sparked by clashes between the public and the police (a response to a pressure cooker of persistent poverty and still-ingrained institutional racism), the disturbances engulfed the city for five days. Bigelow's film zeroes in on the Algiers Motel incident, which saw white riot officers kill three young black civilians: of course, there are stark parallels to be drawn here with more recent examples of police brutality, making the Oscar-winning director's latest effort a must-watch.
British indie Lady Macbeth, a re-imagining of a Russian novella which takes cues from Shakespeare's infamous villainess, is a fascinating character study. Florence Pugh plays Katherine, a young woman forced into a loveless marriage with a much older, psychologically abusive man. A far more intriguing (and disturbing) prospect than your average corseted Victorian heroine, she begins to rebel, first through an affair with a farmhand, then through a series of increasingly dark twist and turns that eventually result in murder.
Get Out is the film that 2017 needed. Blazing a trail for socially conscious horror, it broke box office records (it's currently the highest grossing original feature from a first-time director) while providing razor-sharp (read: uncomfortably prescient) comment on the fraught racial politics of Trump's America and skewering white liberalism: 'My dad would have voted for Obama for a third term if he could!' Allison Williams' Rose tells her boyfriend Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) ahead of an ill-fated trip to meet the in-laws…
Beauty and the Beast
Of all the reboots on Disney's slate (and there are many), the live action version of 1991's Beauty and the Beast was perhaps the most anticipated of the lot, partly thanks to the crafty casting of Emma Watson as Belle (that most Hermione-like of Disney princesses). Luckily, 2017's BatB didn't lay siege to our childhoods, playing close to the original tale as old as time while adding a (mostly successful) 21st century empowerment slant.
What were the odds that two British films would attempt to grapple with the events of Dunkirk in 2017? Pitted against Nolan's juggernaut, Their Finest is the slighter, cheerier of the pair, but there's more to this meta-comedy than a top-line summary – it's set in the war! Lots of Blitz spirit! With Bill Nighy! – would suggest. Directed by Lone Scherfig (responsible for An Education, The Riot Club and One Day), Their Finest tells the story of a group of filmmakers struggling to boost morale during the Blitz. Gemma Arterton plays a writer tasked with making so-called 'women's films' (or, in the War Office slang, 'slop'). It's nostalgic with an edge, shot through with a subtle '40s feminism.
Yes, it falls neatly into the 'based on a true story' box that plays so calculatedly with Oscar voters, but Lion has too much heart to feel cynical. It's based on A Long Way Home, Saroo Brierley's adoption memoir, and sees Dev Patel play an adult Saroo embarking on an obsessive search for his Indian birth family using Google Earth, more than two decades after being separated from them as a child. As his adoptive mother, a bubble-permed Nicole Kidman has some incredibly moving scenes, but most memorable of all is the then-six-year-old Sunny Pawar, who plays the young Saroo in the film's opening scenes.
The events surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy have been played out on screen before, but Chilean director Pablo Larrain has chosen to retell this American tragedy through the eyes of his First Lady, Jackie. An immaculately dressed Natalie Portman gives a poised and moving performance (that East Coast high society accent is uncanny) which earned her a second clutch of awards nominations back in January. Taking place in the days leading up to the President's funeral, Jackie is far more surreal and painterly than your typical all-American biopic.
20th Century Women
20th Century Women is director Mike Mills' love letter to the women who raised him. The 'women' of the title are the perfectly cast Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning, just spanning three almost-generations. Set in '70s Santa Barbara, Bening plays a hippyish single mother who, wanting to properly raise her teenage son (Lucas Jade Zumann), asks for help from a twenty-something cancer survivor (Gerwig) and his childhood friend (Fanning). If it's eluded you so far, watch it ahead of the 2018 release of Gerwig's coming-of-age tale and directorial debut, Lady Bird.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Yes, it's yet to be released, but we just know that Episode VIII will merit a spot in every 'best of' list. After successfully re-booting one of the best-loved franchises of all time for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, JJ Abrams has passed over the Falcon controls to director Rian Johnson for The Last Jedi. If the vaguest of hints dropped by cast and crew are to be believed, this next installment looks set to have a bleaker feel than its predecessor (so far, so Empire Strikes Back), while the death of Carrie Fisher will cast a long, sad shadow over proceedings. We're hoping for more hints as to Rey's parentage, more shampoo-ad flourishes from Adam Driver's Kylo Ren and more screen time for Oscar Isaac. Because, Oscar Isaac.