Watch these 6 great women-directed films streaming online

Michelle Williams in 'Meek's Cutoff.'

Michelle Williams in 'Meek's Cutoff.'

One of the best films of the last year is undoubtedly Toni Erdmann, an epic comedy-drama by German filmmaker Maren Ade (which you can now stream on Amazon). It’s also a reminder that, in spite of the progress made by women filmmakers in recent years, virtually every national film industry on Earth is still dominated by men.

This need not be so. As proof, let’s take a look at six excellent recent films and the women who directed them, both in the US and around the world.


Title: Meek’s Cutoff (USA, 2010)

Director: Kelly Reichardt

Plot: In 1845, incompetent guide Stephen Meek leads a wagon train through the Oregon High Desert. As supplies run low and it becomes increasingly clear that Meek and the other men on the expedition are taking them to their doom, leadership begins to shift to the expedition’s once passive women (including our heroine, Michelle Williams). Traditional dynamics are further thrown askew when the lost settlers capture a lone Native American and force him to serve as their guide, confronting them with this life-or-death question: Do we place our trust in the masculine whiteness of an idiot like Meek? Or do we let the initiative shift to the women and the Native captive who has no reason not to betray them?

Meet the director: Kelly Reichardt made her name on the indie scene in the mid-'00s with a pair of richly detailed character studies: Old Joy (2006) and Wendy and Lucy (2008, also starring Michelle Williams). Meek’s Cutoff represents something of a departure, as it finds Reichardt venturing into a genre almost completely abandoned in the 21st century: the Western. She has since continued to chart new territory with Night Moves (2013), a drama about radical environmentalists, and Certain Women, something of a modern Western (of the Wallace Stegner variety) set in starkly beautiful Montana ranch country.

Where it’s streaming: Amazon, Netflix.


Title: The Headless Woman (Argentina, 2008)

Director: Lucrecia Martel

Plot: In the opening of this compelling drama -- which is part character study, part class satire -- well-to-do Argentine dentist Vero (María Onetto) runs over something with her car. It’s probably a dog… but what if it’s a child? Vero doesn’t know, because she guns it out of there before she can find out. The rest of the film follows her as she attempts to navigate her upper-class milieu while warding off the creeping guilt and paranoia that threaten to overwhelm her. In the process, we explore questions of class, gender, and race that are just as relevant here and now as they were in Argentina 10 years ago.

Meet the director: A leading figure in the New Argentine Cinema, Lucrecia Martel made her feature film debut in 2002 with the stunning La Ciénaga, a vivid ensemble film and the first entry in an informal trilogy about the Argentine upper classes, which continues with The Holy Girl (2004) and concludes with The Headless Woman (2008). Then Martel kind of went off the radar for a while, but she has returned just this year with Zama, an adaptation of Antonio Di Benedetto’s nightmarish historical novel of the same name which, with its 1790’s setting, marks Martel’s first period film. The trailer looks promising; maybe in a few years we’ll get to see it here in a limited release and then streaming somewhere?

Where it’s streaming: Amazon.

Title: The Loneliest Planet (USA, 2012)

Director: Julia Loktev

Plot: Nica (Hani Furstenberg) and Alex (Gael García Bernal) are a beautiful, liberal, well-to-do young couple, recently arrived in the former Soviet state of Georgia for a hiking expedition. They hire local mountaineer Dato to be their guide (after some awkward discussion about payment, because Nica and Alex want to be ethical travelers). As they set out, Nica and Alex are so wrapped up in each other that they don’t have all that much to say to Dato, but then something happens (to reveal what would be a spoiler, but it’s the key transformative event of the film), after which Alex and Nica are forced to question everything they thought they knew about themselves and each other, and how they relate to the traditional gender roles they thought they’d long since outgrown.

Meet the director: Born in Soviet Russia, Julia Loktev immigrated to the US as a child. Not particularly prolific, she has nonetheless become a major voice on the American indie scene. Her first feature (she’s only made three over a period of 19 years) was Moment of Impact (1998), an extremely personal look at Loktev’s immigrant parents (especially her father, disabled following a car accident). She followed this up with the provocative Day Night Day Night (2006), a fictional drama about two days in the life of a would-be female suicide bomber. And then we have The Loneliest Planet in 2012, so at this rate we can probably expect Loktev’s next film somewhere between 2018 and 2020. I, for one, am looking forward to it.

Where it’s streaming: Amazon.

Title: A Simple Life (Hong Kong, 2011)

Director: Ann Hui.

Plot: In this richly textured, quietly moving Hong Kong drama, wealthy Roger Leung (ubiquitous Hong Kong dreamboat Andy Lau) finds his relationship with his family’s aging servant Chung Chun-to (Deanie Ip) turned on its head. Chung, who has spent decades caring for Roger and his family, has suffered a stroke, and it now falls to Roger to care for her. As Chung’s health declines, she and Roger come to develop a special friendship that their previous master-servant relationship would have rendered impossible and undesirable. And while plenty of people might feel uncomfortable with the whole business of “having servants” -- and this film by and large accepts it as a given -- Ann Hui’s sensitivity to the subtle rhythms of her characters’ lives quickly overwhelms any hesitation one might feel about the economic realities of the film’s plot.

Meet the director: Ann Hui was born in Mainland China to a Chinese father and Japanese mother and came to Hong Kong by way of Macau as a child. She emerged on the Hong Kong film scene in the late '70s with her Vietnam Trilogy: penetrating dramas about the plight of Vietnamese refugees in the aftermath of the Fall of Saigon and key entries in the Hong Kong New Wave, of which Hui is a major representative. She has since gone on to work in a variety of different genres: period film, political drama, comedy, horror. Her recent films, like A Simple Life and the epic The Golden Era (2014), have proven her to be as a relevant as ever.

Where it’s streaming: Amazon.

Title: Enough Said (USA, 2013)

Director: Nicole Holofcener

Plot: In this wry, emotionally compelling comedy of manners, we follow the tentative romance between Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a divorced masseuse with a nearly adult daughter, and Albert (James Gandolfini, in his last screen performance), a divorced man with a nearly adult daughter. As romance kind of blossoms between them (as these things so often kind of do in real life), Eva begins a friendship with a client, Marianne (Catherine Keener), whom she quickly realizes is Albert’s ex-wife. She makes the unfortunate decision not to let Albert know she’s met Marianne or vice versa, a mistake that will lead to a series of (often comic) deceptions that will ultimately threaten her relationships with both of them.

Meet the director: Over the past two decades, Nicole Holofcener has become the purveyor of an increasingly rare commodity in American cinema: films about adults who have the emotional and intellectual maturity one would expect from adults. Since her 1996 feature debut Walking and Talking, Holofcener has quietly built up an impressive filmography of witty, emotionally compelling films for adults (almost all of them starring Catherine Keener). She has also pursued a parallel career directing for television, with recent contributions of one episode apiece for The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Inside Amy Schumer, and Orange is the New Black.

Where it’s streaming: Amazon.

Title: Toni Erdmann (Germany, 2016)

Director: Maren Ade

Plot: Aging Winifred Conradi has never taken life too seriously. A retired music teacher and something of a hippie -- with a penchant for practical jokes that are often only funny to him -- Winifred doesn’t have much in common his adult daughter Ines, a career-oriented businessperson. But when the death of his dog leaves him feeling alone in the world, he decides the time has come to reconnect with Ines, and he decides to do it in his own special fashion: through a series of outrageous practical jokes, disguises, and deceptions, which will see Winifred insinuating his way into the lives of Ines’ boss and colleagues, frequently availing himself of the pseudonymous persona of “Toni Erdmann.” Alternately hilarious (in a cringe-inducing fashion), deeply moving, and clocking in at over two and a half hours, Toni Erdmann is a rare genre-bending masterpiece from one of Germany’s best contemporary filmmakers.

So let’s meet said filmmaker: Maren Ade’s films have often straddled the fence between painfully honest and almost too painful to watch. Debuting with The Forest for the Trees (2004), a heartbreaking film about the psychological destruction of a female school teacher, Ade made it big with her sophomore outing Everyone Else (2009), a film about a deeply flawed couple’s disintegrating relationship which lightens its cruelty with a healthy dose of “oh-God-somebody-stop-them” humor. Ade seems to have struck the ideal balance with Toni Erdmann, which is hilarious in a way that you rarely have to look away from, while still plumbing the emotional depths of her previous work.

Where it’s streaming: Amazon.