The Ten Best Women-Directed Films of 2015

Still from By the SeaEXPAND
Still from By the Sea
Courtesy of Plan B Entertainment

Real talk: Women filmmakers are awesome.

But end-of-year lists rarely highlight movies made by them. That's because the film industry is more focused on movies made by — and about — men. This list isn't comprehensive, and a couple of films from this year were featured in last year's list), but in a measly attempt to combat sexism and a mountain of best-of lists that feature only male filmmakers, we present, in no particular order, the best films by women of 2015.

By the Sea
The more time one spends with By the Sea, the more baffling it becomes that this movie was loathed by all kinds of viewers, which is why it's the first entry on this list. Angelina Jolie's third feature as a director, and second as a writer, places her in front of the camera as well as behind it. And, in this leisurely drama, she tells a story about marriage, mental illness, and female sexuality, among other things. It's not an easy pill to swallow — it indulges in all sorts of classical arthouse sensibilities, but for all its faults, it's an ambitious film. There are two stunning performances from Jolie and her husband Brad Pitt, gorgeous cinematography from The Piano Teacher's Christian Berger, the kind of costuming and production design that makes you weep with envy, and a script that may seem shallow but is smartly layered and introspective enough to warrant multiple viewings.

Jupiter Ascending
The latest entry in Lana and Andy Wachowski's career is so much better than folks give it credit for. Jupiter Ascending, though messy in many ways, is easily one of the most ambitious space operas to hit the big screen in years. The film is rumored to have been cut down from a 600-page script, so it's easy to see how much was lost from the two-hour feature that was released. Regardless, it's impossible to deny the sheer scale of world-building that the Wachowskis offer in their film. It's silly, it's action-packed, and, most important, it boasts a universe that looked like it was plucked from the latest, greatest sci-fi/fantasy videogame, making it at least the kind of movie you want to stare at even if you're not swept away by the story being told.

Breathe (Respire)
If you didn't know that Shoshanna from Inglourious Basterds was a director in addition to an actress, you're missing out, as Mélanie Laurent proves with her second feature that she's arguably even more talented behind the camera than in front of it. Breathe is a simple enough tale about female friendship and the way that relationships can move from comforting to insidious with the flick of the wrist. It's Laurent's mounting of the film, along with two excellent breakout performances by Joséphine Japy and Lou de Laâge, that makes the film stand out above most works of its kind. Plus, it's one of those rare instances where a film adaptation is even better than its source novel.

Girlhood (Bande de Filles)
After offering the world a film as amazing as Tomboy, one might wonder whether or not Céline Sciamma could deliver another hit. And, of course, she did with Girlhood, which is ten kinds of amazing and also one of the few films about young women of color that you'll actually see around this year. A brilliant work of art, entirely focused on a young woman trying to understand her identity and finding acceptance along the way (which is a common theme in works by Sciamma), Girlhood features a break-out performance by Karidja Touré. Besides, it's hard to think of any scene this year as compelling as the film's dance sequence set to Rihanna's "Diamonds."

The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Lo and behold, the best comic book movie in 2015 is not one of Marvel or DC's monstrous concoctions of special effects and convoluted storytelling. Nope. It's an adaptation of Phoebe Gloeckner's graphic novel of the same title: a beautifully simple tale of a young woman undergoing her sexual awakening. There isn't an ounce of shame in the journey that main character Minnie takes in discovering herself and her sexuality, and in yet another amazing break-out performance by a young woman this year, Bel Powley nails every bit of dialogue and physicality that the role requires her to. She's no superhero, but it's the kind of film that will hopefully let young women know that sex is just a part of growing up.

The Voices
Of all the films that were totally swept under the rug this year, The Voices is one that deserved more showings and love than it got. It is a strange film, directed by Marjane Satrapi — the same woman who created the brilliant graphic novel and film Persepolis — and revolves entirely around a protagonist who, much like Norman Bates, is a sweet guy who just happens to be mentally ill and murdering women. It is as dark as comedies come, with a dash of romance and a handful of low-key horror tossed into the mix, and easily Ryan Reynolds' best performance in a long time. Bonus: stay for the credits song — it's amazing.

Miss You Already
Cancer movies are a dime a dozen, but Catherine Hardwicke's latest work in a post-Twilight landscape is easily one of her best. It's a simple enough film, entirely focused on the relationship between two best friends: one having her first child and the other recently diagnosed with cancer. If there was any justice in the world, both Toni Collette and Drew Barrymore would be looking at award nominations left and right for their performances. But, above anything else that the movie offers, it's a beautiful testament of how powerful the force of friendship is.

HBO-produced films so rarely get included on lists and that's such a shame because even though it's technically made for TV, Bessie is a hell of a feature. It's one of the few films about a queer woman of color out there, made by a queer woman of color, and a biopic that doesn't bother shying away from all the good and the bad in a subject's life. And boy, does Bessie Smith — a famous blues performance of her era — have a whole lot of both of those, offering Queen Latifah a mountain of interesting material to work with while exploring a woman well-deserving of her own film.

Advantageous is likely to be the film on here that folks have heard least about and that's one of the reasons it's up here for highlighting. Those who have seen it or heard of it likely have because of Netflix's prominent placing of it on their main page for some time, and it deserves all the attention it gets. It's a simple, quiet, layered sci-fi/drama that may turn off some viewers expecting something a little more wild, but if you allow yourself to be taken into its interesting, and rather realistic, dystopian universe, you'll be surprised at how satisfying the experience is. 

Welcome to Me
And last, but certainly not least, is Welcome to Me, a sometimes fascinating and sometimes absurd movie that manages to deliver both laughs and tears surprisingly well. The whole film essentially works as a vehicle for Kristen Wiig to explore her character — a woman with borderline personality disorder who wins the lottery — and she nails the role beautifully. Better yet is that the script doesn't allow itself to poke fun at its character or her mental illness, instead indulging in incredibly bizarre, and dark, instances of humor that may turn some off but will certainly leave others in stitches. 

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Honorable Mentions: Miss Julie, Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem, I Believe in Unicorns, Infinitely Polar Bear, and The Sisterhood of Night.

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