Our Favorite Films of the 2010s Directed by Women

The FilmEra team gathered together to list 25 of our favorite films directed by women this decade and how they impacted us, defined us, and most of all inspired us to dream. We couldn’t list everything but we hope the films listed serve as an introduction to the numerous great films directed by women this decade. – Carl Broughton

Introduction Video by Clementine Narcisse

High Life (2018, Claire Denis)

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A24

A misanthropic plunge into the cerebral and corporeal, Claire Denis’ existential purgatory holds some frightening implications for the human species. This is her usual ballpark now transposed to the stars – given an appropriately cosmic magnitude, where those human incongruities can be felt a little deeper. Reconfiguring the semantics of science-fiction, Denis’ work can feel ill-defined, strange, and knowingly unsatisfactory. An Edenic allotment becomes the site of slow, resigned death and decaying vegetation; laboratory science and sexual witchcraft become indistinguishable through Juliette Binoche’s motor-inclined succubus; the depths of deep space are no longer buoyant – Denis’ bodies drop through the cosmos like bricks in water.

Much like Alien, its low-fi/sci-fi ancestor, High Life brings a utilitarian approach to the stars: functional, rather than ornate, and a preference for the easy-to-discard over the vital. It’s this disposability that drives Denis’ twisted interstellar plunge – an elegy to the forsaken, to the scum and the trash, and perhaps to humanity itself. In space, no one can hear you scream; what better film to condense the decade? – Chris Shortt

The Babadook (2014, Jennifer Kent)

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IFC

Before Hereditary, The Witch, and Get Out there was Jennifer’s Kent The Babadook. Besides its iconic monster design, The Babadook challenged viewers to grapple with a monster we couldn’t see but is all around us: grief. Kent’s willingness to capture how grief could be its own tangible monster, along with some powerful storytelling, helped define the way we viewed horror in the 2010s and the future. – Carl Broughton

The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018, Desiree Akhavan)

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FilmRise

“No one’s, you know, beating us,” clarifies Cameron late on in The Miseducation of Cameron Post. God’s Promise, the gay conversion therapy camp she is sent to, is a far more insidious operation. The counselors’ prey on doubt, using Christian doctrine to nurture it into shame. Only God’s salvation will alleviate you of that shame, only he can make you heterosexual and happy. They train the teenagers – whose “perversion” it is their job to “cure” – to hate themselves, to suppress their queerness. That self-hatred is a feeling with which I am well acquainted: I grew up in a Christian household, went to Sunday church, and attended Christian youth group; I attempted to bury my burgeoning homosexuality under Bible passages. Desiree Akhavan captures that conflict between doctrine and self with a quiet intimacy, directing Miseducation like an anti-coming-of-age film. There are no great realizations accompanied by an overbearing and obvious pop song; Cameron never metamorphizes into a better self, because she’s already the person she needs to be. Only you can grant yourself salvation. Miseducation is a film I could have used a few years ago, and I’m glad that it exists for young queer people who need it now. – Joshua Sorensen

Booksmart (2019, Olivia Wilde)

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United Artists Releasing

Olivia Wilde’s debut feature was one of 2019’s most fun cinema offerings. Booksmart breathed new life into tiresome high school movie tropes and did it with fresh-faced excitement. It’s one of those valuable films where you can tell the people making it were having a blast, and it’s likely to be rewatched too many times to count by the people who understandably loved it. – Trudie Graham

Certain Women (2016, Kelly Reichardt)

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IFC

Based upon short stories by Maile Meloy, Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women is a collage of the everyday struggles of three women – set against the beautiful, yet harsh, American Northwest. Reichardt’s simplistic, meditative approach to the source material injects a realistic sense of humanity to each of the women’s narratives and allows the stories to fit a sense of universal struggle as well. Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, and Kristen Stewart’s immense screen presence captivate throughout the film, grounding Reichardt’s story in subtlety and realism. Without a doubt, this film is one of the best examples of the exploration of the inherent, day-to-day struggles of human existence. – Cole Fowler

Selma (2014, Ava DuVernay)

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Photo credit: Atsushi Nishijima – © 2014 Paramount Pictures

Ava DuVernay’s Selma both shook American culture to its core, and also somehow slipped into the margin all the same. The film revisits a seminal civil rights achievement, following Dr. King (David Oyelowo) leading a peaceful protest march through Alabama in March 1965, an internationally-watched demonstration that proved essential to securing the passage of the Voting Rights Act later that year. DuVernay’s mastery of directing performance, action, tension, and ambiguity is on full display, as well as a truly exemplary cast.

Yet, despite this greatness, the film was infamously under-appreciated; the Academy’s exclusion of Oyelowo from the Best Actor category and DuVernay from a Best Director nomination was one of the many inciting events in the explosion of the #OscarsSoWhite campaign. Though Selma may be remembered more for the praise it deserved but did not fully receive (as well as for DuVernay’s slightly dubious dismissal of “the minutiae of history” that has led to some accusations of misleading historical inaccuracies), the film’s courage and masterful command of cinema’s emotive and political power cements DuVernay as one of the decade’s most fascinating and mature creative voices. – Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller

Lady Bird (2017, Greta Gerwig)

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A24

Greta Gerwig’s electric Lady Bird took the coming-of-age genre and flipped it on its head with this sardonic but touching examination of the relationship between a rebellious, strong-willed girl and her overworked, brutally honest mother. Gerwig’s first solo effort behind the camera established the long-adored actress as a sensitive, emotionally honest director unafraid to push the limits of her characters’ likability in pursuit of the truth. The result is a bittersweet showcase for the talents of Saoirse Ronan and Laura Metcalfe that manages to expose the deep-seated insecurities of the quickly vanishing American middle class, capturing that heartache with a unique tenderness and humor that has become Gerwig’s trademark. It’s the seminal high school movie of the decade and a heart-wrenching reminder to call your mom. Please call your mom. – Ryan Ninesling

Zama (2018, Lucrecia Martel)

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The Match Factory

Lucrecia Martel’s latest film closely resembles a fever dream, one that its titular protagonist cannot awake from no matter how hard he tries. Set in a South American colony during the years of the Spanish Empire, Don Diego de Zama desperately wishes to be transferred to another post but struggles to overcome the stifling government bureaucracy. Colonialism in Zama works as an inescapable loop, both for the Spanish corregidor and the indigenous people caught in the colonial web. Martel’s formal style works wonderfully in tandem with the tenuous narrative, pushing its characters to the margins of the frame and adding to the film’s oneiric feel. Both entrancing and confusing, Zama remains one of my favorite movies of the decade – from one of the most exciting foreign filmmakers working today. – Ethan Cartwright

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019, Céline Sciamma)

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Neon
Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a film that digs deep into your bones and refuses to leave. The strong imagery and performances alone are enough to stay in your mind for days after you have seen it. But the story that is told, the connections it makes as it comes full circle, and the ease in which you are able to bring your own experiences to it are some of the things I have never before experienced in a film. Céline Sciamma is at the height of her powers in this film as it all perfectly and tragically comes together. She masterfully blends the relationships between women into romance, art, humor, and respect. I can’t imagine a more perfect film than Portrait of a Lady on Fire, but I know that if anyone can outdo it in the next decade, it would be Céline Sciamma herself. – Emily Jacobson

Raw (2016, Julia Ducournau)

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Focus World

Imagine this: you’ve been stuck in the Orlando International Airport for four hours surrounded by children with their Mickey Mouse stuffed animals as you begin watching this movie everyone has told you is “soooo good”. What no one tells you is the graphic and gory imagery that happens when the main character,  Justine goes away to a veterinary college might make watching this specific film in public just a little awkward. That was my first experience of Julia Ducournau’s film – Raw – which is in equal parts fascinating and terrifying, giving its viewers a huge amount to think about due to its visual depth and thematic interpretation. This gnarly film is not for the weak of heart, but it sure is a cinematic adventure unlike anything else. – Shea Vassar

The Farewell (2019, Lulu Wang)

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A24

In only her second feature film, Lulu Wang created a perfect balance of funny and heartfelt moments, capturing a beautifully intimate story of a young Chinese-American immigrant struggling to come to terms with her grandmother’s illness. Perhaps the reason this film feels so utterly real is that it really is – Wang used a story from her own life that she previously told in the format of a radio show, entitled “What You Don’t Know,” as inspiration for her film. Wang masterfully uses The Farewell to tell a story that is simultaneously very personal and seemingly universal, through its exploration of family dynamics, identity, and grief. It is without a doubt not only one of the stand-out films of 2019 but of the decade. – Ezra Farner

The Love Witch (2016, Anna Biller)

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Oscilloscope

Soaked in style and melodrama (think Douglas Sirk), The Love Witch is a spellbinding feast for the eyes – a dedication to Victorian Gothic architecture, Technicolor, and witchery. Completely surreal but totally honest, The Love Witch is a gorgeous exploration of womanhood, emotion, and supernatural consequences of the patriarchy. Elaine (Samantha Robinson) seduces men with her love potions, but her potent spells work far too well and she ends up with a string of bodies in her wake. “That’s what kills all the men in my movie,” director Anna Biller says, “having to experience their own feelings.”

In an almost seven-year endeavor, Anna Biller wrote, directed, edited, storyboarded, designed sets and costumes, and composed music for the film – making it a deeply intensive, hands-on type of independent auteur filmmaking. Fantastical and gleaming, The Love Witch is a perfect tale of overthrowing patriarchal oppression, reclaiming the femme fatale, and celebrating the witch. – Jenna Kalishman

Revenge (2017, Coralie Fargeat)

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Rézo Films

Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge follows Jennifer (Matilda Lutz), a woman whose control has been taken away from her, before being unflinchingly recovered. Built upon a conscious manipulation of the male gaze, there is a cutting tongue-in-cheek awareness that declares “Not this time. Not this story,” then coyly teases what’s to come. A booming soundtrack, hallucinatory effects, and maximized color palette embolden the sheer cat-and-mouse intensity that this movie delivers. With ferocious action and slick, satisfying bloodshed that comes in waves, Revenge has grappling energy and merciless, feminist vigor – capturing your unwavering attention as Jennifer snatches the power from her attackers, and reclaims her own in the process. – Peyton Robinson

You Were Never Really Here (2018, Lynne Ramsay)

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Amazing Studios
Scottish writer-director (and legend) Lynne Ramsay took a cathartic crack at the seedy underbelly of American political power with this character study of a traumatized veteran who moonlights as a pedophile-bashing hitman. Despite what you may have heard, Ramsay isn’t interested in remaking Taxi Driver; this wholly original work of art captures the age of Jeffrey Epstein in a dirty, cracked bottle. Joaquin Phoenix gives the performance of his career as Ramsay’s tortured, outraged puppet of vengeance – imbuing his character with a haunted aura that mirrors our own discomfort with the dark secrets of America’s rich and powerful. Ramsay is too smart of a director to make this all doom and gloom, however. The spellbinding and hopeful final scene is an antidote to cynicism in the face of seemingly endless despair – a dark dream interrupted by a ray of light that solidifies Ramsay as one of our most vital, talented filmmakers. – Ryan Ninesling

Honey Boy (2019, Alma Har’el)

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Amazon Studios
Alma Har’el’s Honey Boy grapples with trauma in a way that feels more authentic than most. Chronicling Shia LaBeouf’s early days as a child actor, Har’el encapsulates the desire to feel held alongside the aftermath of emotional neglect. The film can most accurately be described as a therapy session – it’s cathartic and warm in even its most painful moments. For something as inherently personal as this to become a shared experience is no easy feat. Driven by its phenomenal performances and purposeful direction, Honey Boy will always feel necessary, even in antiquity. – Saffron Maeve

No Home Movie (2016, Chantel Akerman)

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Zeugma Films
Chantel Akerman’s final film is a grand combination of her minimalistic avant-garde cinema and the conversations between herself and her mother. Akerman explores the paradox between cinematic filmmaking and home video in an intimate portrayal of her complicated, yet loving relationship with her mother. The passive approach to the film garners more than one expects while watching a home video, as her natural eye for the cinematic provides a new story of its own. The line between cinema and reality are more than blurred: they are destroyed and rebuilt several times throughout the film. No Home Movie is just as much about depicting coping with past family trauma as it is a truthful example of a filmmaker using the medium to explore and come to terms with, her own family struggles. – Cole Fowler

The Lure (2015, Agnieszka Smoczyńska)

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© WDFiF
The Lure is the adult version of The Little Mermaid – complete with man-eating sirens and sexy dance scenes, and a little bit of betrayal on top. This feature debut by Agnieszka Smoczyńska was the first cinematic musical to come from Poland, and it definitely made its mark on the hearts of horror lovers everywhere. The dulled hues of teal and gray are mixed with the neon lights of a night club that makes every scene look like an obscure painting. Haven’t seen The Lure? I recommend you pick it up during the next Criterion Collection sale and if you absolutely despise it: I will personally send you $20. – Shea Vassar

Leave No Trace (2018, Debra Granik)

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Bleeker Street

Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace is a delicate masterpiece. Granik expands and vastly improves on the themes of rural survival she explored in 2010’s Winter’s Bone, telling a story that is never too showy or overly dramatic. She presents the story of an Iraq War veteran suffering from PTSD and his 13-year old daughter who is slowly coming to terms with his illness, in an almost documentary-like presentation. It is a movie that completely balances both the goodness of strangers and the darkness of the human mind. It is equal parts touching and heart-breaking and is proof that we need more Granik films in the near future. – Aaron Linskey

Tigers Are Not Afraid (2019, Issa Issa López)

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Shudder

There is an image early in writer-director Issa López’s Tigers Are Not Afraid that I suspect will stay with me for a very long time. A gang of lost boys sits in their ramshackle hideaway telling each other ghost stories. One, the youngest, is curled up inside a hollowed-out television; in a film drenched with symbolism, this is perhaps the most provocative. While it is stylistically indebted to the works of Guillermo del Toro, López sets her sights on more modern issues, one that should be featured in the news every night: the Mexican Drug War. It is against this political backdrop that López sets Tigers, a crime-fantasy that draws on elements of fairy tales, magical realism, and horror to demonstrate the gravity of what is occurring daily. The film is a stark reminder that efforts must be made to bring Mexican Drug War to an end because it is a conflict can have no victors, only victims. – Joshua Sorensen

The Edge of Seventeen (2016, Kelly Fremon Craig)

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© 2015 STX Productions

Six years after her Oscar-nominated breakthrough in True Grit, Hailee Steinfeld finally delivered on the potential of that performance with her stunningly empathetic turn as Nadine in The Edge of Seventeen. In a decade of countless great coming-of-age films, Kelly Fremon Craig’s debut stands as one of the best – a razor-sharp, smartly observed story of adolescent angst that’s so honest it’s painful. It’s rare that a teen movie will allow its lead character to be as much of a narcissistic dick as Nadine is – but it’s even rarer that the movie doesn’t judge her for it, giving her the room to examine herself and grow. Craig so keenly understands the pitfalls of teenage life, and together with Steinfeld’s remarkable central performance crafts a searingly authentic teenage drama that’s far more intricately realized than anyone really gave it credit for. – Jonathan Edge

American Honey (2016, Andrea Arnold)

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A24

“This is a business opportunity.” With those words, Star (Sasha Lane) embarks upon an archetypal, cross country journey toward self-worth, but this age-old story finds new life through Andrea Arnold’s remarkable camera. She possesses the eye of both a kitchen-sink realist and a vibrant impressionist. As Star, Jake (Shia LaBeouf), and the other traveling, peddling teenagers make their way through the heartland – seeking the cheap dollar-green nectar of life – a constellation of American light illuminates them in crisis and in love: supermarket fluorescence, streetlight tungsten, oil fire luminance, dawn sky shimmer, and prairie sun gold. That it does all of this while collecting a vital time capsule of twenty-first-century class and cultural collisions is what truly solidifies this sometimes ethereal film as a lasting and meaningful work. This is a soon-to-be classic chronicle of what it takes, and all it means, to get by in a fragmented and alienated America. -Jackson Bentele

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014, Ana Lily Amirpour’s)

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Vice Films

You had me at “Iranian vampire western.” Ana Lily Amirpour’s Persian-language film exudes immense coolness from every black-and-white frame. As the chador-wearing vampire Girl floats through Bad City on her skateboard, it is impossible to not be entranced in her shadowy spell. The tale of this strange young vampire and the evil men she preys upon feels dreamy and distant, yet the film’s feminist take on the vampire genre – and the Girl’s badass makeup – are totally modern. Amirpour creates a hauntingly romantic blend of cultures and genres against the crumbling backdrop Bad City, and each moment feels as deliciously fresh as each drop of blood the Girl drinks. – Katie Duggan

Skate Kitchen (2018, Crystal Moselle)

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Magnolia Pictures

Crystal Moselle’s Skate Kitchen is an absolute gem that fell under the radars of many last year. Following the lives of young women amidst New York’s skateboarding scene, Moselle taps into something both nostalgic and brand new. Viewers cannot help but fall into the hazy world of these girls. From skate parks rife with misogyny to six friends curled up on one bed discussing the perils of tampons, Skate Kitchen is borderline poetic. It’s a movie about girls who take up space that is rarely granted to them. It’s empowering without feeling forceful and lighthearted while still emotionally charged. Essentially, Skate Kitchen is the perfect love letter to young women. – Saffron Maeve

Madeline’s Madeline (2018, Josephine Decker)

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Oscilloscope
How far will you go for the sake of an artful vision? Where do you draw the line? Those two questions serve as starting points for Josephine Decker’s Madeline’s Madeline, an indie film like no other, driven by one of the most powerful performances of the decade. David Ehrlich once said “Madeline’s Madeline is one the freshest and most exciting films of the 21st century” and you know what, he is right. And to quote my own words back from 2018: “Throw away everything you think you know about storytelling in a film, as Madeline’s Madeline constantly twists the ideas of what is possible.” Helena Howard’s performance is downright chilling and rivals some of the best performances of not just this year, but this whole decade. Madeline’s Madeline is not only one of the best films of the year, but an incredible discovery of what is still possible in modern filmmaking. – Carl Broughton

The Rider (2018, Chloé Zhao)

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Sony Pictures Classics

“You boys don’t like to get your pride hurt.” Chloé Zhao’s naturalist study of American masculinity in the 21st century takes this line – a thesis statement veiled as a throwaway comment – and runs with it, drawing attention to the rhetoric of fragility that has become so essential to the self-construction of male identity. This is the American Western as viewed from its margins; a meditative deconstruction of the cowboy as both an icon of Hollywood cinema and an idol for traditional masculinity – for Zhao, the overlap is crucial. She astutely probes into the desire for self-purpose which, for men, has historically manifested itself as a reckless assertion of control.

Zhao also offers a sympathetic – and essentially authentic – glimpse into working-class families: fiercely loyal (as tenderly sketched by Brady’s relationship with his autistic sister), whilst perennially tense (his internal clashes with his father). For this and so much else, The Rider is an outlier befitting of its text – guiding us from a bygone era of stiff upper lips into one of compassion and sensitivity. – Chris Shortt


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