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Celebrate Galentine's Day By Watching One of These 23 Female-Directed Movies on Netflix

By Rebecca Pahle | Streaming | February 13, 2017 |

By Rebecca Pahle | Streaming | February 13, 2017 |

It’s February 13, and you know what that means: Galentine’s Day! Coined by Parks and Recreation, the unofficial holiday is a time for celebrating female friendships: “It’s like Lilith Fair, minus the angst.” So cook up some waffles, gather your girlfriends, and start up the ‘flix for a female-director themed movie night. (Tip: I would actually leave Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin for another night, unless you want everyone to go into Valentine’s Day proper incredibly depressed. Which, hell, they might have anyway.)

Director: Antonia Bird
I’m always looking for new horror movies to watch, and in my quest I often come up disappointed and annoyed. Cthulu was on my side the day I decided to watch Ravenous. It’s an unsettling period piece/dark comedy/thriller/horror film that explores morality, self-preservation, and societal taboos in an unforgiving and wild environment. Although the idea of cannibalism isn’t a new one in cinema, Ravenous uses the isolation of military outposts during the Mexican-American War to remove any chance of assistance or warning to the mix. The film also uses the Native American Wendigo myth to outline the rules by which their cannibal must abide: consuming the flesh of one’s enemy will grant you strength, but it will turn you into a demon with an insatiable hunger for more flesh.—Jodi Clager

Hands up if you want to watch a cannibalism Western where Robert Carlyle chews scenery like a motherfucker.—Rebecca Pahle

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
When people call A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night a vampire movie, they are only ever referring to the titular girl. But there are many vampires in Bad City; from Hossein the junkie feeding off his son’s good will and work, to Saeed the pimp and drug dealer who serves him, to Atti the prostitute who makes her living off the desperate and lonely, while being desperate and lonely herself. There are likely more, the ravine full of bodies seems plenty suggestive, but the characters we meet make it clear enough; In Bad City you survive by sucking someone else dry. The Girl is the most honest of the bunch.—Genevieve Burgess

Director: Amy Heckerling
Clueless is just about to turn 21 and totally won’t need to be wiggin’ about having to go to any lame val-parties just to get some brew-skis. Amy Heckerling’s 1995 film is equal parts an adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel Emma and a loving send-up of mid-’90s Beverly Hills. As a teenager of the ’90s myself, there were films like Can’t Hardly Wait and 10 Things I Hate About You which were so fiercely targeted at my demographic that they actively made me imagine they were what my life was supposed to be like, but none of them loomed quite as large, nor seem to have fully stood the test of time the way Clueless does.—Riley Silverman

Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Before there was Making a Murderer, there was Blackfish, Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s critically heralded documentary that meticulously mapped how an average orca became an actual killer-whale. Debate may linger about the guilt of the subject of the popular Netflix mini-series, but Blackfish knows Tilikum, the performing Sea World orca, killed three people. The mission of documentarian Cowperthwaite is to uncover who’s truly to blame for these deaths… Blackfish shattered our collective delusions about the lives of creatures in captivity, and SeaWorld has been deeply changed because of it. In the wake of the film’s release, park attendance has sunk. Musical acts have refused to play at their locations out of protest. Senators have enacted bills banning orca captivity. And intense public pressure has pushed the parks to officially announce the end to their orca breeding program as well as the closing of their killer-whale shows.—Kristy Puchko

Director: Ava DuVernay
Fearlessly, [Ava] DuVernay digs back into a history written in blood and teargas, reaching into corners of the American experience that white America has the luxury to avert our tender eyes from. Iconic political activist Angela Davis, New Jersey senator Cory Booker, congressman Charles Rangel, political consultant Newt Gingrich, and more line up to tell the tale of black Americans from the not-so-distant days of slavery (remember there are those still living whose parents were slaves), to the heyday of Birth of a Nation, through the Civil Rights movement, The Black Panthers’ rise and fall (though she glosses over their more problematic exploits), through the “Southern Strategy,” Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan’s politically minded War on Drugs, and Bill Clinton’s disastrous Federal Crime Bill, to today and Black Lives Matter. Through talking heads and haunting imagery of lynched men, murdered children, and archival footage of white-on-black violence, DuVernay spells out how our current issues of mass incarceration and police brutality have been a long-time in the making.—Kristy Puchko

[Note: We’re keeping it to one film per director here, but FYI DuVernay’s pre-Selma film Middle of Nowhere, starring David Oyelowo, is also on Netflix.]

The Invitation
Director: Karyn Kusama
Any Galentine’s Day gathering you and your girlfriends plan will prooooobably end better than the central dinner party in Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation, about a man (Logan Marshall-Green) invited to reconnect with his ex-wife Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi), her new husband David (Game of Thrones’ Michiel Huisman), and his old group of friends after several years of estrangement. Don’t expect straight-up horror here: The Invitation is more a psychological thriller of the creeping “WTF?” variety. To give any details about what direction the film goes in would be doing it a disservice, but suffice to say: not the greatest party. Kira is a truly outstanding, wonderfully three-dimensional character, and the final shot is a real whopper.—Rebecca Pahle

Director: Dee Rees
Dee Rees is an up-and-coming talent in the film world; her HBO biopic Bessie, starring Queen Latifah as “Empress of Blues” Bessie Smith, garnered four Emmy awards and eight additional nominations in 2015, and her Mudbound, an historical drama about rural Mississippi post-World War II, was one of the breakouts at last month’s Sundance Film Festival. But before Bessie and Mudbound, Rees made her much-heralded feature debut with Pariah, a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age drama about a Brooklyn teenager (Adepero Oduye) struggling with her sexuality and the acceptance (or lack thereof) of her friends and family. “Growing up, I rarely saw my image reflected on screen,” said Rees in an interview with GLAAD. “The Color Purple and Women of Brewster Place are the few films I was allowed to watch when I was younger that touched on sexuality. I made Pariah to portray images on screen that we hadn’t seen before, and to bring to light the experiences of gay youth of color because those stories hadn’t been fully told.” Of particular note are Oduye as Alike and comic actress Kim Wayans, who turns in a rare—and amazing—dramatic performance as Alike’s mother.—Rebecca Pahle

Paris Is Burning
Director: Jennie Livingston
If you watch RuPaul’s Drag Race and haven’t seen Jennie Livington’s landmark doc Paris is Burning, about drag ball culture in New York in the late ’80s, you need to hop on Netflix and correct your error right now. (If you don’t watch RuPaul’s Drag Race, you should fix that error right now, because it’s one of the best shows on television, and also don’t you want to know the context for like half the reaction gifs the Internet uses?) Livingston deftly captures the humanity of her subjects, whose dreams of fame, fortune, and opportunity lie in stark contrast to the fact that most of them are gay, black, and poor, three qualities that served (and still serve) as substantial barriers to success. Plus, this is the movie that gives us Dorian Corey’s pitch-perfect definition of shade: “Shade is I don’t tell you you’re ugly, but I don’t have to tell you because you know you’re ugly. And that’s shade.“—Rebecca Pahle

Bridget Jones’s Diary
Director: Sharon Maguire
Despite being derided as “chick flicks,” romantic comedies are overwhelming made by men. While You Were Sleeping, Pretty Woman, Notting Hill, When Harry Met Sally, Love Actually: All directed by dudes. But that wouldn’t do for the hotly anticipated adaptation of Helen Fielding’s best-selling novel Bridget Jones’s Diary. The modern revamp of Pride and Prejudice demanded a director who could truly connect to the story’s contemporary Lizzie Bennet. So Fielding openly campaigned to have Sharon Maguire brought on to helm… [The result is] a contemporary comedy classic, a go-to for girls nights, and an inspiration for generations of women who feel like a “wanton sex goddess” one moment, and a utter disaster the next. We—like Mark Darcy—like Bridget very much, just as she is. (And her mother is pretty interesting.)—Kristy Puchko

[Beeban Kidron’s Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason is also on Netflix, but for the love of God, don’t.]

Life Partners
Director: Susanna Fogel
More than anything, I wish the strong female friendship at the core of Life Partners weren’t such a big deal. I wish we had as many womances as we did bromances, to the point where we could come up with a better genre name. (Wom-coms? No, that’s much worse.) But the fact is, relationships like the one here are depressingly rare. This is a friendship based in mundanity (watching America’s Next Top Model, sharing dressing rooms), in which one character can be gay but still never dips into that overplayed confused love triangle territory, where they may drift apart and have plenty of issues between them, but competition for a guy is not one of them. Their friendship actually IS the point of the movie, instead of being a stepping stone to to something less female-centric. All of the praises that were deservedly showered on Bridesmaids should also be applied here. But Life Partners is so much more than a “new Bridesmaids,” mostly because it has no interest in being that. Though that’s what it will probably will be called, because while a strong female friendship is really the only connection, that’s a rare enough element for it to stand out.—Vivian Kane

The Summer of Sangaile
Director: Alante Kavaite
Coming-of-age romances abound in the movie world, with endless fresh-faced teenage girls finding and falling for their first love. But that first love, at least among mainstream releases, is usually male—which is what makes The Summer of Sangaile, a lesbian coming-of-age romance from Lithuanian director Alante Kavaite, so refreshing. Our central couple is shy Sangaile (Julija Steponaityte), who dreams of being a pilot, yet suffers from crippling vertigo, and Auste (Aiste Dirziute), who breezes into town and shakes up Sangaile’s dull existence with her free-spirited attitude. Auste is more or less a textbook Manic Pixie Dream Girl—she’s an aspiring fashion designer who helps get Sangaile out of her shell by designing borderline twee clothing concoctions for her, for Chrissakes—but it’s a rare thing indeed to see the MPDG trope trotted out to further the development of a female character, and not nerdy twenty something man #385. Achingly romantic and beautifully shot, The Summer of Sangaile provides a much-needed LGBT counterpoint to the ranks of boy-meets-girl cinema.—Rebecca Pahle

We Need to Talk About Kevin
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Based on the book by Lionel Shriver, Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk about Kevin stars Tilda Swinton as the impressively named Eva Khatchadourian. We meet Eva as a broken woman—timid, living alone, getting through each day on the strength of pills or booze, loathed by her neighbors for some unknown reason, and clearly suffering from some hardcore emotional trauma…. There are no easy answers in We Need to Talk About Kevin, no clean-cut relationships, no pat parables. The whole movie is about tearing those down, a peppy, folksy soundtrack—Lonnie Donegan’s “Ham N’ Eggs” and Wham!’s “Last Christmas”—belied by the horrors unfolding on-screen. Ramsay has crafted a bona fide masterpiece, but it’s not one that’s easy to watch. Kevin is a violent psychopath who does horrible things. Eva fears him. She’s been hurt by him. She’s responsible for him. She caused him. And in the end, she’s still his mother.—Rebecca Pahle

Fish Tank
Director: Andrea Arnold
Michael Fassbender plays a lowlife scumbag who seduces his girlfriend’s teenage daughter in Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank, which along with the earlier Hunger and Inglorious Basterds helped catapult the Irish actor from little-known to household name status. But Fassbender is neither the star nor the main draw of Fish Tank, which boasts one of the best breakout performances in recent memory from young actress Katie Jarvis. Jarvis hasn’t done much acting since playing Mia, a 15-year-old girl from a poor family who dreams of becoming a professional dancer. She’s been in a few episodes of the British crime show Suspect, but that’s about it. Still, even if she only ever has one film to her name… damn, what a film. Arnold, who also wrote Fish Tank, heartbreakingly captures the turmoil of teenagerhood: the struggle of figuring out who you want to be, and of simultaneously realizing that the adults in your life rarely have it all together themselves.—Rebecca Pahle

Your Sister’s Sister
Director: Lynn Shelton
Your Sister’s Sister is a small, low-key reminder of why so many of us love the movies: Aside from the spectacle, and aside from the countless origins stories we apparently can’t get enough of, and aside from the millions of iterations on the same stories we’ve been watching since Bambi, it’s the characters that populate those stories, and our ability to see ourselves within them, that ultimately matter the most. Emily Blunt, Mark Duplass, and Rosemarie Dewitt have brought these wonderful characters to life, and make Your Sister’s Sister soar with humor, sweetness, and poignancy.—Dustin Rowles

The Queen of Versailles
Director: Lauren Greenfield
Lauren Greenfield made a splash back in 2012 with her documentary The Queen of Versailles, about a disgustingly rich Florida couple, Jacqueline and David Siegel, who dream of living in a megamansion modeled after the Palace of Versailles. Only then the 2008 mortgage crisis happens, and the Siegels—who made their money via the time-share industry—are left with no way to maintain their lavish lifestyle, never mind finish construction on what would have been one of the country’s largest homes. Even feeding her kids and cleaning up after her dogs is a struggle for Jackie, who’s used to having a bevy of servants to take care of day-to-day tasks while she goes out shopping. The Queen of Versailles is an at times funny, at times heartbreaking look at the other side, and one that’s become no less relevant in the handful of years since its release.—Rebecca Pahle

Director: Puk Grasten
In the wee of hours of March 13, 1964, 28-year-old Kitty Genovese was raped and stabbed to death outside her building in Kew Gardens, Queens, New York. As terrible as the crime was, it was her neighbors’ response—or lack thereof—that drew national headlines. The New York Times lamented, “37 Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call the Police.” And as America grew appalled by the apparent apathy of urbanites, Genovese’s death became a grotesque element of our cultural landscape, spurring studies into the bystander effect or “Genovese syndrome.” But as the years went by,reporters and documentarians—including Genovese’s own brother—have poked holes in this disturbing portrait of that awful night.

But first-time feature filmmaker Puk Grasten isn’t interested in the truth of the police reports of the Genovese case. This Danish writer/director is more interested in the emotional truths that might spur good people to allow violence to happen before their very eyes. Though the birth of the bystander effect came from some shoddy reporting and much sensationalism, Grasten feels there’s still a lesson to be learned from this desire to turn our backs to the terrible truths that lie before us.—Kristy Puchko

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
Director: Lorene Scafaria
[Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is] a low-key film, warm-hearted, sweet but not too heavy-handed, and cozy enough to curl up with on your iPad in bed on a late summer night.

Lorene Scafaria’s directorial debut almost feels like cinematic equivalent of Steve Carell’s eyes: Sweet, soulful, and sleepy, a basset hound of a movie. It’s not a movie you enjoy as much as it’s a movie you want to cuddle up in a sleeping bag with and hug.

A movie that hugs you back feels completely in order right about now.—Dustin Rowles

Director: Sian Heder
[Ellen Page] plays the titular Tallulah, a homeless young women on a desperate search for the boyfriend who abandoned her. Janney co-stars as the MIA beau’s mother Margo, who’s going through her own private hell of divorce and depression when Tallulah and a bouncing (stolen) baby show up at her posh apartment door. But the crucial third lead of Tallulah is Tammy Blanchard, who plays the hopped up bad mom Carolyn.

Sure, the plot sounds like the stuff of a Lifetime movie. But Heder goes for the jugular in a way made-for-TV wouldn’t dare, introducing each of her heroines with a shocking challenge to likeability. Tallulah bursts onto the screen barreling out of a bar, bolting from a poker game turned sour with a bottle of stolen whiskey in her hand. Margo coldly turns Tallulah away from her door, slamming it in her face for good measure. And Carolyn, she stumbles in as a soured sex bomb/resentful new mom.—Kristy Puchko

The Babadook
Director: Jennifer Kent
For a debut directorial effort, Kent assembles terror with the finesse of a seasoned veteran. She draws out the tension of potentially innocuous scenes via a very strategically silent soundtrack and tense nervous editing. She is a master at the craft of teasing our views of her monster, only showing the Babadook in quick cutaway shots, and constantly tweaking its physical appearance when he does appear so as to never allow him to be normalized or adjusted to. Even the old house in which Amelia and her troubled son Sam live is terrifying looking, I joked while watching it “I don’t want to victim blame here but if you move into the house from Beetlejuice you really can’t be mad when monsters arrive.”—Riley Silverman

White Girl
Director: Elizabeth Wood
“Small town girl comes to the big city” is the beginning of many a cautionary tale that traditionally ends up very bad for its clueless heroine. But Elizabeth Wood’s dynamic and disturbing debut White Girl subverts the trope by staring down the privilege that saves its aggravating anti-heroine from a grim (and arguably deserved) conclusion.

White Girl is dedicatedly deplorable in its decadence and riveting in its rawness. The cinematography, rich with suffocating close-ups, ratchets up the tension through unforgiving proximity. All past tales of girls lost to the terrible big city instantly imbue the film with dramatic weight. But how Wood plays both out to a uniquely unsettling finale is pioneering, thought provoking, and more than a little haunting.—Kristy Puchko

Writer/Director: Céline Sciamma

When this French stunner hit Stateside, it’s original title Bande de filles wasn’t translated to Gang of Girls, but instead strove to capitalize on the success of Richard Linklater’s acclaimed coming-of-age drama Boyhood. But comparing the two is a disservice to sciamma’s intimate and disturbing drama. There’s no shot over years gimmick here, and no cozy privilege to protect the protagonist at Girlhood’s center. What’s here is more daring, dynamic, and dangerous.

In her screen debut, Karidja Touré stars as 16-year-old Marieme, who is growing up in a rough neighborhood outside of Paris, and far from the romanticism typically associated with the City of Lights. Fighting to find a path for herself in a world with few options, Marieme is quick to join a gang of girls who radiate confidence, and shimmer in leather jackets and gold chains. But it’s now all wild girls nights and dancing to Rihanna. When the harsh realities of this life hit, Marieme has to grow up fast. Her journey it tough, but treated with a tenderness that pulls audiences in, and refuses to be forgotten. —Kristy Puchko

Director: Deniz Gamze Ergüven

Set in a remote Turkish village, this heart-wrenching tale of struggle and sisterhood focuses on five orphan girls whose lives are forever changed by one simple afternoon. I’d heard that premise before I saw Mustang, and as the sisters diverted from their walk home from school to pay in the surf with some boys from class, I wondered when the big transgression would happen that would change everything. Turns out the simple contact of playing chicken was enough to earn the ire of their old-fashioned grandmother and their disapproving uncle. From there on, these spirited young women are held captive in their own homes, to be married off one by one, before their reputations can get any worse.

The sisters endure being paraded like cattle, having their virginity called into question, and worse. They rally. They rebel, and they try to escape. Amid its darkest spots, Ergüven is ever sure to have a spark of humanity, a stranger who shines kindness the girls’ family can’t abide. And while there is great tragedy found in Mustang, it’s ultimately an inspiring tale of resilience, because like a certain modern heroine, they were warned, nevertheless, they persisted.—Kristy Puchko

Jesus Camp
Directors: Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady
Jesus Camp is a startling look at a few extreme evangelicals who home-school their kids and send them in the summer to a week-long Bible camp in North Dakota, where they listen to the fiery sermons of Beck Fischer, the Pentecostal pastor who runs the place and sees it as her duty to train up children in the way they should go, specifically to be part of the Lord’s army. Army for what? Well, for reclaiming America. While the film is an illuminating look into a growing niche of hard-line faith, it’s also a jaw-dropping and often sad look at the kids caught in the middle. It is, for lack of a better word, unsettling.—Daniel Carlson