by Michael Posis

Perhaps it’s coincidence that Camera Obscura’s cover of Bruce Springsteen’s Tougher Than The Rest is playing as I sit down to write this introduction. But it is not a secret that women filmmakers have been creating some of the most lively, lovely, and amazing works in cinema throughout its history, from Alice Guy-Blaché (the first female filmmaker, responsible for one of the earliest fiction films in 1896) to Kathryn Bigelow (the first female director to win the Academy Award for Best Director for The Hurt Locker, 2009). Represented in this list are two of the four female directors who have been nominated for the Academy for Best Director, Jane Campion for The Piano and Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation. If you’re looking for original films with depth and daring, give these films a go on your Netflix queues.

Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962) Agnes Varda
A film that takes place in near-real time about a pop star who awaits the results of a recent biopsy, while tackling themes of mortality, luck/fate, and persona/identity as evident in the title character’s real and stage names: Florence and Cleopatra (Cleo). Its spirit exemplifies ‘60s French New Wave cinema’s variations in tones combined with its gorgeous black and white documentary-style images of Paris, dynamic camerawork, and use of music.

The Piano (1993) Jane Campion
Jane Campion’s masterpiece stars Holly Hunter, Anna Paquin (turning in an Academy Award-winning debut), Sam Neill, and Harvey Keitel living in the frontiers of 19th century New Zealand. Ada (who is mute) travels from Scotland to New Zealand to wed Sam Neill’s character; she is accompanied by her daughter Flora and her piano. It’s a film filled with bold performances along with unpretentious and tactile metaphors for one’s heart, home, love/desire, and courage/will.

The Tango Lesson (1997) Sally Potter
British filmmaker Sally Potter fashions a splendid semi-autobiographical film about her relationship with Pablo Veron and the tango, as well as the creative (filmmaking) process. This movie qualifies as a musical (it even references various golden age ones) and has fantastic set pieces. Roger Ebert adeptly closes his review of the film with this: “Most dances are for people who are falling in love. The tango is a dance for those who have survived it, and are still a little angry about having their hearts so mishandled. The Tango Lesso is a movie for people who understand that difference.”*

My Life Without Me (2003) Isabel Coixet
Sarah Polley (who plays a working-class mom with an unemployed husband) learns that she only has several months to live; she follows through on a secret bucket list, which includes recording birthday wishes for her daughters’ future birthdays, setting up her husband with another woman, and having an affair with a stranger. Directed by Spanish filmmaker Isabel Coixet and produced by Pedro Almodovar’s company, this Canadian film handles its content and themes with grace and a touch of lightness.

Lost in Translation (2003) Sofia Coppola
Both strangers in a strange world (Americans in modern Japan), Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson are pitch perfect in Sofia Coppola’s elegy to small connections in such a world. It even echoes the third act of Cleo from 5 to 7 in terms of a chance meeting between a celebrity and someone who is passing through—each giving one another a sense of happiness and hope that feels more than transient. This movie (like all of Ms. Coppola’s films) gives other movies a crash course in how to set a mood.

Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005) Miranda July
This film, which is often described as being full of whimsy and quirk, has such a strong vision from its writer/director that it often transcends its moments of too-clever dialogue or too-quirky moments and ends up feeling real. It continually strives to make its audience feel something genuine (happiness, unease, empathy, etc.) almost to a fault by using situations that have a kind of fantasy to them—largely due to Ms. July’s sensibility and background as a performance artist.

Whip It (2009) Drew Barrymore
Ms. Barrymore’s super-fun, directorial debut starring Ellen Page (who is outstanding) was written by Shauna Cross (based on her own novel). What a young lady should be doing with her time clash when the lead character is torn between beauty pageants (as encouraged by her mother) and roller derby (a pastime she finds on her own). With a strong supporting cast that includes Kristine Wig, Marcia Gay Harden, Daniel Stern, Juliette Lewis, Zoe Bell, Eve, Alia Shawkat, Andrew Wilson, Jimmy Fallon, and Drew Barrymore herself, this mainstream film of teenage adolescence and self discovery is fueled by its exceptional heart.

Please Give (2010) Nicole Holofcener
Michael’s favorite film of 2010-2011, Nicole Holofcener’s Please Give blends intelligence and wit in this dark comedy about New Yorkers: a family played by Katherine Kenner, Oliver Platt, and their daughter Sarah Steele and a pair of sisters played by Rebecca Hall and Amanda Peet. Their stories are connected by the elderly lady Ann Guilbert (the grandmother of the two sisters) who lives in an adjacent apartment to the family. They have already purchased the lady’s apartment and await her passing so they can expand their living space. Each character faces their own conflict such as Katherine Keener dealing with the guilt from her occupation, which involves profiting from furniture purchased at estate sales and Rebecca Hall’s kindness and dutifulness, which seems to prevent her from being truly happy.