Women of the Year | Film Reviews | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Women of the Year 

A mini film fest of some of 2017's best female-directed features.

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  • Sony Pictures Classics

"And here are the all-male nominees," Natalie Portman said at the Golden Globe Awards on Jan. 7, while co-presenting the best director award. With one well-placed phrase, she let everyone know what she thought of the category's gender disparity. The observation was especially potent right after Oprah Winfrey knocked everyone on their asses with her "their time is up" speech, and before director Greta Gerwig'sLady Birdwon best picture for a musical or comedy, without Gerwig herself being nominated for directing it.

To be fair, there are more best picture nominees every year than there are best director nominees. But is Martin McDonagh's direction ofThree Billboardsbetter than Gerwig's? Is winner Guillermo del Toro more deserving because The Shape of Waterhas a bunch of visual effects? Maybe Lady Bird's Saoirse Ronan—winner of best actress in a musical or comedy—directed herself. Thankfully, the Oscars corrected the indignity by nominating Gerwig.

In recognition, here are six good-to-great movies directed by women in 2017 that deserve the same recognition as those by their male colleagues.

The Beguiled(Sofia Coppola): Wounded Union soldier John McBurney (Colin Farrell) is taken in at a girls' school in 1864 Virginia. McBurney, a cad, instantly preys on three women—headmistress Miss Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman), second-in-command Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) and student Alicia (Elle Fanning).

If this story sounds familiar, it's because raging testosterone vessels Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood made this movie in 1971, right before they madeDirty Harry. In their version, the women are harpies driven virtually to insanity with lust for Eastwood's McBurney. Coppola is subtler, using Farrell's natural sliminess to make him the true villain, even if it's a 51/49 split. She also makes clear the women are in a position to be vulnerable; the war has cost them nearly everything, and the future is a mystery (and not a good one). Bonus: This eerie fairytale looks as if it's filmed through a haze that makes everything feel more ominous as the stakes are raised.

First They Killed My Father(Angelina Jolie): This is the harrowing true story of Loung Ung (Sareum Srey Moch) and her survival, beginning at age 5, during the Khmer Rouge takeover of Cambodia from 1975-79. Filmed with Cambodian actors and non-actors speaking Khmer, and with a screenplay co-written by Loung,FTKMF feels authentic and terrifying as we watch Loung, her large family and thousands of Cambodians forced from their homes, resettled in camps, starved, worked to the bone or killed. One of the movie's most gut-wrenching scenes shows Loung trying to navigate a minefield she helped lay while evading a Vietnamese attack. There was a lot of hype whenthe filmpremiered on Netflix, but it seems to have been lost in the awards shuffle thus far.

Mudbound(Dee Rees):Another Netflix flick that disappeared, it's the story of an unlikely friendship between World War II veterans Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell), who's black, and Jamie McAllan (Garrett Hedlund), who's white. Making matters more complicated is the uneasy relationship their families have working the Mississippi farm the McAllans own.

Jamie's brother Henry (Jason Clarke) is an entitled dunderhead, but their father Pappy (Jonathan Banks) is the kind of overt racist that makes your skin crawl. It's deeply unsettling to hear the vile words that Banks' character spews at his black neighbors throughout the film, but when the president of the United States calls largely non-white countries "shitholes," it's clear we're not far removed fromMudbound. Carey Mulligan and Mary J. Blige are excellent as matriarchs at the ends of their wits; Rachel Morrison's cinematography is beautiful.

Novitiate(Maggie Betts): Catherine (Margaret Qualley), a teenage girl, falls in love, but this is no ordinary crush. She's enamored with God. Although raised by an atheist mother (Julianne Nicholson), Catherine attends parochial school and learns the Catholic faith is based on sacrifice and love. When she becomes a novice, she finds her faith tested by her fellow sisters, and a terrifying Mother Superior (a dynamite Melissa Leo) who takes out her frustration with Vatican II on the novices. Betts is a first-time feature director, andNovitiatesucceeds at every level.

Their Finest(Lone Scherfig): In 1940, Catrin Cole (a wonderful Gemma Arterton) is a Welsh writer recruited by the British Ministry of Information to write optimistic war films for the public. She lands on a Dunkirk-themed story, but meets resistance from her male superiors at nearly every turn. (One of her female co-workers has a great line after Catrin argues with a male co-worker: "A lot of men are scared we won't go back into our boxes when this is all over. It makes them belligerent.")

Scherfig, with a big assist from Gaby Chiappe's screenplay, makes World War II seem terrifying and magical the way John Boorman did withHope and Glory. That takes talent. (Note: This is the first film in what could be an unofficial 2017 Dunkirk-themed trilogy, includingDunkirkandDarkest Hour.)

Honorable Mention:Wonder Woman(Patty Jenkins): A. Jenkins actually made a good DC Comics movie. B. There's a notable lack of sexism or ogling Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). C. The third act kinda stinks, but it's a vast improvement over previous DC Comics movies. D. Box office. E. Jenkins is a proven commodity; she directed Charlize Theron to a best actress Oscar forMonster.

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