Female-fronted films that didn't make a splash this awards season
Indulging in the fabulous work of so many female directors was a cinematic delight across 2018. From Marielle Heller’s brilliant Lee Israel biopic Can You Ever Forgive Me? to Josephine Decker’s complex experimental trip Madeline’s Madeline, films by women ran the gamut from prestige pleasure to arthouse innovation throughout the year. Despite notching the critical reviews to back up a bid for Best Picture, not a single female-directed movie landed among the Academy’s top honorees (or Best Director nominees) after Tuesday morning’s Oscar nominations announcement. In the gallery ahead, EW highlights 15 female-directed films that never gained the proper awards season traction (but should have).
Can You Ever Forgive Me? directed by Marielle Heller
With three overall nominations for its screenplay and costars Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant, Marielle Heller’s Lee Israel biopic Can You Ever Forgive Me? made a well-deserved dent in key above-the-line categories Tuesday morning. But, despite directing one of the best films of the year, the woman at the helm lost traction in the race at large as the conversation swirled around buzzy actor-directors putting a new stamp on classic Hollywood tales and seasoned auteurs making the jump from theaters to Netflix for their prestige projects. Following her Diary of a Teenage Girl, however, Can You Ever Forgive Me? marks Heller’s second well-received feature in a row, meaning she’s standing on a solid foundation as her Tom Hanks-starring Mr. Rogers film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood prepares to storm next year’s Oscar ceremony.
Leave No Trace directed by Debra Granik
Winter’s Bone Oscar nominee Debra Granik did what few filmmakers have done before: With 208 reviews counted, she notched a 100 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes for her latest project Leave No Trace. The film — about a homeless father-daughter pair (Ben Foster, Thomasin McKenzie) plucked from their woodland habitat and forced to acclimate into society — went on to score nominations from eary precursor bodies like the National Board of Revie and the Indie Spirits. But, despite a solid $6 million run at the prestige box office, a golden path the Oscars was never in the cards; the film was likely lost in the shuffle of awards season politics with a smaller distributor (Bleecker Street) losing ground in the wake of studio dollars fueling bids for A Star is Born, Bohemian Rhapsody, and more.
Destroyer directed by Karyn Kusama
At the top of the race, Karyn Kusama’s gritty Nicole Kidman crime drama seemed like a surefire bet for at least one above-the-line acting nomination for its leading lady. Kidman’s transformation into a grizzled detective investigating a brutal murder on the streets of Los Angeles boasted a key element of radical physical de-glamming that has worked for Oscar darlings like Charlize Theron (Monster), Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby), and even Kidman Herself (The Hours) in the past. But polarized critical reviews landed when the film expanded beyond the fall festival circuit, and a late-season release date (the film didn’t drop until Dec. 25) meant Destroyer simply got lost in the shuffle as weightier contenders rose quicker, stronger, and earlier.
Night Comes On directed by Jordana Spiro
Actress Jordana Spiro crafted a searing look at an 18-year-old woman’s (Dominique Fishback) quest for revenge against her abusive father as she exits a stint in juvenile detention after growing up in the U.S. foster care system. “How on earth are these young kids doing it when they’re let out on their own with really virtually no help or guidance, and a million forces acting against them?” Spiro told EW of her fascination with the resilience of real-life teens who live similar stories. “It came out of total admiration that I wanted to set a story and give the characters that background.”
Bird Box directed by Susanne Bier
While it didn’t rack up major Oscar nominations (it was never one of Netflix’s major players in the race, mind you), Susanne Bier’s Sandra Bullock-starring apocalyptic thriller Bird Box crashed the Hollywood party at the tail end of 2018, becoming one of the most-watched titles of the year (Netflix indicated over 45 million people watched most of the film in its first streaming week) despite being released during the final 10 days of December. It also inspired a wave of memes and (dangerous, mind you) YouTube stunts as a monolithic pop-cultural phenomenon.
Zama directed by Lucrecia Martel
Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel’s oddball period drama debuted all the way back in 2017 at the Venice International Film Festival, where Martel’s singular vision garnered near universal acclaim for its boundary-pushing narrative about an 18th-century judicial official dreaming of moving up the ranks while on assignment in a remote South American locale.
Mary Queen of Scots directed by Josie Rourke
Stage director Josie Rourke successfully transitioned from theatre to screen with this period biopic, which takes several dramatic liberties in favor of a colorful, compelling, and deliciously dramatic retelling of the quiet war of wills between the titular Scottish monarch (Saoirse Ronan) and her rival cousin, Queen Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie) — complete with to-die-for costuming, elaborate hairpieces, and a wig reveal that would have the queens of RuPaul’s Drag Race quaking in their heels. The film will have to settle for two Oscar nods — one for its costumes, the other for its makeup and hairstyling — for now.
You Were Never Really Here directed by Lynne Ramsay
Scottish director Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk About Kevin) pulled off a rare feat at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, reportedly completing her Joaquin Phoenix-starring crime drama days before the film’s Croisette premiere en route to the project winning two awards at the prestigious festival’s closing ceremony. Nearly one year later, the film hit domestic screens and tickled critical fancy, but perhaps its brutal edge turned off more mainstream industry voters as the film trudged into an awards season crowded with lighter crowd-pleasers like Green Book, Bohemian Rhapsody, and more.
Private Life directed by Tamara Jenkins
Alfonso Cuarón and Sandra Bullock might’ve stolen most of the Netflix-backed spotlight throughout the year, but the streaming service also debuted several killer features from female directors in 2018 as well. Tamara Jenkins’ Private Life — about a couple (Kathryn Hahn, Paul Giamatti), attempting to have a child despite severe fertility issues — perhaps made the strongest impact on critics, with Hahn’s leading performance generating career-best notices.
The Kindergarten Teacher directed by Sara Colangelo
Maggie Gyllenhaal gives perhaps the best performance of her career in Netflix’s Sara Colangelo-helmed The Kindergarten Teacher, a placid drama that quickly turns into a disturbing psychological character study of the film’s titular instructor, who forms a dangerous obsession with one of her students who may or may not be a literary prodigy.
Let the Sunshine In directed by Claire Denis
Acclaimed French filmmaker Claire Denis might have her sights set on next year’s Oscar race with her Toronto-bowing stunner High Life prepping for an A24-backed release later in 2019, but she primed audiences with another quality title that never caught awards voters’ attention after traveling the 2018 festival circuit: A dazzling examination of mid-life romance driven by Juliette Binoche as a woman whose life takes an unexpected turn after she sleeps with a married man.
Madeline's Madeline directed by Josephine Decker
Madeline’s Madeline‘s absence from the Oscar race at large doesn’t come as a surprise; with a complex story structure and experimental visuals, Josephine Decker’s twisted project about a young theater student whose preparation for an upcoming part consumes her life is an exceptionally challenging sit. It’s rewarding enough for the specialty crowd, but those with more commercial tastes probably stayed far away (and thus their ballots were cast elsewhere on the awards trail).
The Miseducation of Cameron Post directed by Desiree Akhavan
While Boy Erased and Love, Simon presented a more accessible side of the repressed-gay-protagonist narrative, Desiree Akhavan’s The Miseducation of Cameraon Post cut a layer deeper with her tale of a young woman (Chloë Grace Moretz) sent to live at a youth camp where young LGBT teens endure damaging conversion therapy. But with a tiny distributor (FilmRise) pushing the project to theaters at the tail end of summer, there was never much hope for Post sticking around for the Oscar conversation.
Revenge directed by Coralie Fargeat
A rape-retribution thriller plays out against the backdrop of a barren desert in Coralie Fargeat’s timely, intensely wrought production that follows a young woman fighting to survive against the elements (and hunt down her brutal abuser) in a #MeToo masterpiece that turns conventions of the traditional revenge narrative on its head.
The Rider directed by Chloé Zhao
Chinese filmmaker Chloé Zhao’s western drama traveled a long road of critical adoration from its 2017 Cannes premiere through 2018, picking up multiple nods at the Indie Spirits. Glowing reviews and critical support couldn’t elevate the film to Oscar-contending status, however, as the project was mostly ignored by the major precursors and, as a result, the Academy.