2015 was a big step forward for women directors. Not only did the institutional employment discrimination against female filmmakers in Hollywood compel the ACLU into action and enter the mainstream conversation (thanks, NY Times!), but women directors got to direct two bona fide blockbusters this year in Elizabeth Banks' "Pitch Perfect 2" and Sam Taylor-Johnson's "Fifty Shades of Grey." (Of course, we want way more in 2016.)
Only two female-helmed movies made the top 100 list of 2014: Angelina Jolie's "Unbroken" and Ava DuVernay's "Selma." As of December 14, 2015, there are 7 women-directed movies in this year's top 100. In addition to "Pitch Perfect 2" and "50 Shades of Grey," there's Nancy Meyers' "The Intern," Andy and Lana Wachowski's "Jupiter Ascending," Niki Caro's "McFarland, USA," Anne Fletcher's "Hot Pursuit" and Jessie Nelson's "Love the Coopers."
The people have spoken, but now it's our turn. Here are the Women and Hollywood team's ten favorite women-directed films of 2015, in no particular order:
"Girlhood" - Written and Directed by Celine Sciamma
You'll never hear Rihanna's "Diamonds" the same way again after watching "Girlhood," French writer-director Celine Sciamma's indelible coming-of-age portrait of a black Parisian teen with few prospects for the future. Desperate for a refuge from her repressively sexist family and her callously indifferent school, Marieme (played with Karidja Touré with warmth and grace) finds that and so much more in her newfound friendship with a group of tough but similarly vulnerable girls. "Girlhood" is above all a celebration of female friendship, but Sciamma's film is never so naive to mistake solidarity for institutional support. Marieme's journey of self-discovery with and without her friends is remarkably poignant for both the distance she has to travel and how far she comes.
"Suffragette" - Directed by Sarah Gavron; Written by Abi Morgan
The fight for women's suffragette finally, finally got the big-screen treatment this year. A film chronicling women's violent, heart wrenching struggle for the right to vote was long overdue, but mercifully this important story about women's rights is told by women, and boasts a female helmer (Sarah Gavron, "Brick Lane") and screenwriter (Abi Morgan, "Shame"). Gavron's period piece portrays the feminist activists pushing for respect and autonomy as wonderfully multi-layered. The women struggle to do right by their loved ones as well as the cause. The team behind "Suffragette" showcase the valor and humanity of the women who fought relentlessly for a better future, making "Suffragette" a character drama and war story all at once.
"52 Tuesdays" - Directed by Sophie Hyde
A teenage girl discovers her own sexuality while her lesbian mother undergoes the process of becoming a transgender man in Aussie filmmaker Sophie Hyde's wonderfully intimate and thoughtful debut. Daughter Billie (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) and parent James (Del Herbert-Jane) decide to separate temporarily so that the latter can have the space to think and heal (from surgery) in private, but they agree to meet every Tuesday to catch up. Hyde's film, too, was shot once a week, with her excellent amateur actors finding new depths in their pained but searching characters. The drama serves as both a compassionate primer on gender transitioning and an alternately lovely and tense tale about the roles of gender and sexuality within a family.
"Mustang" - Directed by Deniz Gamze Erguven; Written by Deniz Gamze Erguven and Alice Winocour
This tale of sexually repressed sisters living in Turkey dazzled us at its premiere in Cannes, and its steadily rising profile in recent months couldn't be more well-deserved. Deniz Gamze Erguven's coming-of-age story has been selected as France's Oscar submission for Best Foreign Language Film and is also nominated for an Independent Spirit Award in the same category, which will hopefully introduce a bigger audience to the engrossing and emotionally resonant portrait of a family ravaged by patriarchy and religious intolerance. These sisters -- particularly the youngest, indefatigable Lale (Gunes Sensoy) -- and their story will leave a lasting impression on viewers who watch them transform from wild, carefree girls playing on the beach to prisoners in their own home as it becomes a "wife factory" where the girls are married off with brutal regularity.
"The Diary of a Teenage Girl" - Written and Directed by Marielle Heller
Minnie Goetze (Bel Powley) is a character we've needed -- an artistic, rebellious, smart, sensitive and thoughtful teenage girl who is also unapologetically horny. Powley is a delight to behold, beautifully showcasing the nuances of Minnie's relationship with her mother's boyfriend as their interactions totter between sexual liberation and sexual exploitation. Heller brings to life Phoebe Gloeckner's graphic novel with empathy and longing, as well as a beautiful visual language borrowed from both '70s San Francisco and the indie comics scene.
"Breathe" - Directed and Co-Written by Melanie Laurent
Melanie Laurent's visceral sophomore effort takes a familiar tale -- that of a best friendship between two adolescent girls going sour -- and makes it feel both novel and terrifying. Charlie (Joséphine Japy) longs to spend every day with new-girl-in-school Sarah (Lou de Laâge), an Africa-raised vision of cool with all the right clothes and cigarettes. (Don't freak out about the teenage smoking: This takes place in France, after all.) But when Sarah cruelly betrays her new friend, Laurent immerses us in Charlie's panicked torment, which leads to an act of abject but believable horror. Most compelling of all, though, might be Laurent and her co-writer Julien Lambroschini's suggestive psychologizing about how these girls tragically repeat patterns of emotional violence learned from their mothers.
"The 33" - Directed by Patricia Riggen
Patricia Riggins proved she was more than up for technical challenges in telling the story of the trapped Chilean miners in "The 33." As you'd expect, much of the film takes place in a mine -- a confined location for both filming and storytelling. Women rarely get the opportunity to direct this kind of movie, and Riggins takes such a distinct, interesting approach to framing this harrowing story. The film is (painfully) good at capturing a sense of claustrophobia. And rather than spending the bulk of the film focusing on the rescue of the trapped men, the focus here is on what the miners were going through -- the emotions they were experiencing, and the fears they were confronting.
"Appropriate Behavior" - Written and Directed by Desiree Akhavan
"The Second Mother" - Written and Directed by Anna Muylaert
Brazil's submission for the Oscars' Foreign Language Film category is a sensitive and incisive exploration of how class divides can and can't be overcome through the lens of one deeply troubled mother-daughter relationship. Two decades in the making, writer-director Anna Muylaert's much-feted drama stars Regina Casé as the live-in servant to a wealthy, dysfunctional family whose complacency with her lot in life is challenged by her ambitious and estranged college-bound daughter (Camila Mardila). As accessible as it is thoughtful and emotionally layered, "The Second Mother" will resonate with a much broader audience than its August arthouse release might suggest.
"Infinitely Polar Bear" - Written and Directed by Maya ForbesMaya Forbes mines her love-filled but not-always-stable childhood for her autobiographical directorial debut. Mark Ruffalo gives one of the best performances of the year (recognized by a Golden Globe nod) as the bipolar Cameron, who struggles to take care of his two young daughters while their educationally ambitious mother (played with enormous heart by Zoe Saldana) attends business school out of state. A Boston Brahmin whose mood swings prevent him from getting a regular job, the proud but penniless Cameron poignantly tries his best to provide a comfortable home for his daughters as they come of age and are forced to reckon with issues of race and class. Too often stranded in space, Saldana finally gets a minor but meaty role as an woman who has difficulty advancing in the corporate world despite her impressive resumé because of her status as a mother and a person of color. Suffused with youthful innocence and an adult's wisdom, "Infinitely Polar Bear" is the love letter every parent wishes they could receive from their child.
Honorable Mentions: Leslye Headland's "Sleeping With Other People," Isabel Coixet's "Learning to Drive," Catherine Hardwicke's "Miss You Already," Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz's "Gett," and Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala's "Goodnight Mommy."