When I first learned of the #52FilmsByWomen pledge in late 2016, I was horrified to discover that I hadn’t reached the “challenge’s” quota naturally that year, despite my voracious movie-watching habits. Promoted by the organization Women in Film, #52FilmsByWomen is merely a pledge to watch one movie a week directed by a woman for an entire calendar year. It’s not at all a difficult criterion to fulfill if you watch movies on a regular routine, but so much of the pop culture landscape is dominated by (white) male voices that you’d be surprised by how little media you typically consume is helmed by a female creator until you actually start paying attention to the numbers. Having now taken & fulfilled the #52FilmsByWomen five years in a row, I’ve found that to be the exercise’s greatest benefit: paying attention. I’ve found many new female voices to shape my relationship with cinema through the pledge, but what I most appreciate about the experience is the way it consistently reminds me to pay attention to the creators I’m supporting & affording my time. If we want more diversity in creative voices on the pop media landscape, we need to go out of our way to support the people already out there who work outside the white male hegemony. #52FilmsByWomen is a simple, surprisingly easy to fulfill gesture in that direction.
With this pledge in mind, I watched, reviewed, and podcasted about 52 new-to-me feature films directed by women in 2021. The full inventory of those titles can be found on this convenient Letterboxd list. Each film is also ranked below with a link to a corresponding review, since I was using the pledge to influence not only the media I was consuming myself, but also the media we cover on the site. My hope is that this list will not only function as a helpful recap for a year of purposeful movie-watching, but also provide some heartfelt recommendations for anyone else who might be interested in taking the pledge in 2022.
5 Star Reviews
Starstruck (1982) dir. Gillian Armstrong – A new wave musical that plays both like a rough prototype for 90s Australian gems like Strictly Ballroom & Muriel’s Wedding and a jukebox musical adaptation of Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Usual. A perfect movie; can’t believe it’s not routinely cited as an all-time classic.
Home of the Brave (1986) dir. Laurie Anderson
Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) dir. Maya Deren
The Secret Garden (1993) dir. Agnieszka Holland
Titane (2021) dir. Julia Ducournau
I Blame Society (2021) dir. Gillian Wallace Horvat
4.5 Star Reviews
Party Girl (1995) dir. Daisy von Scherler Mayer – The ideal version of a romcom: the romance angle doesn’t really matter and it’s all about the main character Finding Herself while modeling outrageous outfits.
4 Star Reviews
Tank Girl (1995) dir. Rachel Talalay – There is strong proto-Birds of Prey energy running throughout this, right down to Margot Robbie & Lori Petty doing the same Sadistic Betty Boop Voice as their films’ respective antihero leads. It’s a shame neither movie was a hit, since they’re easily the most exciting specimens of superhero media since Burton revamped Batman as a fetishistic horndog.
Zola (2021) dir. Janicza Bravo
Demon Lover Diary (1980) dir. Joel DeMott
General Invincible (1983) dir. Pearl Chang
The Matrix Resurrections (2021) dir. Lana Wachowski
Saint Maud (2021) dir. Rose Glass
The Queen of Versailles (2012) dir. Lauren Greenfield
Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same (2012) dir. Madeleine Olnek
Lucky (2021) dir. Natasha Kermani
Dead Pigs (2021) dir. Cathy Yen
Time (2020) dir. Garrett Bradley
Jumbo (2021) dir. Zoe Wittok
Shadow in the Cloud (2021) dir. Roseanne Liang
The World to Come (2021) dir. Mona Fastvold
The Power (2021) dir. Corinna Faith
3.5 Star Reviews
Freak Orlando (1981) dir. Ulrike Ottinger – I think I got more out of watching Ottinger’s Feminist Alcoholism piece Ticket of No Return last year, but there are individual images in this follow-up that are undeniably sublime. Often feels more like a collection of performance art pieces than an actual Movie (especially in the way scenes defiantly loiter long past their welcome), but I enjoyed being mesmerized and confounded by it.
Seven Beauties (1975) dir. Lina Wertmuller
The Dark Lady of Kung Fu (1983) dir. Pearl Chang
Candyman (2021) dir. Nia DaCosta
Little Joe (2019) dir. Jessica Hausner
Babyteeth (2020) dir. Shannon Murphy
Shiva Baby (2021) dir. Emma Seligman
Tove (2021) dir. Zaida Bergroth
Ecstasy in Berlin, 1926 (2004) dir. Maria Beatty
Reminiscence (2021) dir. Lisa Joy
The Mad Women’s Ball (2021) dir. Melanie Laurent
Rocks (2021) dir. Sarah Gavron
Crip Camp (2021) dir. Nicole Newnham
Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street (2021) dir. Marilyn Agrelo
Chicken People (2016) dir. Nicole Lucas Haimes
3 Star Reviews
Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965) dir. Doris Wishman – I’ve slowed way down on my Doris Wishman consumption recently, mostly because the bulk of the remaining ones I haven’t seen yet are roughies, a genre I despise. Glad I held out for this one at least, since it was a novelty to see one of her films all cleaned up on the Criterion Channel, as opposed to hunting down a fuzzy VHS rip of Dildo Heaven on YouTube or a porn streamer. I would have enjoyed the experience a lot more if it were one of her early nudie cuties or late-career whatsits, but it still felt like an Event in its presentation.
Censor (2021) dir. Prano Bailey-Bond
Rose Plays Julie (2021) dir. Christine Molloy
Promising Young Woman (2020) dir. Emerald Fennell
Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time (2021) dir. Lili Horvat
Kid90 (2021) dir. Soleil Moon Frye
Together Together (2021) dir. Nikole Bekwith
Shapeless (2021) dir. Samantha Smith
Things Heard & Seen (2021) dir. Shari Springer Berman
Would Not Recommend