Underrated Female Driven Movies of the 21st Century

March 16, 2017

Happy March. Hopefully you’ve been spending your time catering to all of the wonderful women in your life. To help celebrate the Month O’ Women I’ve decided to compile a list of some of the more underrated films with female leads of the 21st century. I tried to make this list as diverse as possible, so there should be something on here for everyone. If you can find time between the NCAA exploiting young athletes for profit, and using St. Patrick’s day as an excuse to get plastered maybe you can squeeze some of these in.

 

The Piano Teacher

Directed by Michael Haneke

Starring Isabelle Huppert, Benoît Magimel, and Annie Giradot

Released March 29th, 2002

 

The Piano Teacher is a drama that follows one of the greatest piano instructors in the world who struggles with being a functioning member of society due to her deep-rooted demons. It’s hard to talk about this movie without spoiling it or going on for page after page about how great it is, so let me try to simplify it. This is one of the greatest movies ever made. Period. Isabelle Huppert is the most talented actress alive, maybe even of all time. She understands that in film less is more, and subtlety is key when creating a great film performance but it must be easy when you’re working with Michael Haneke, one of the greatest directors alive. Unfortunately, a movie being in any language that’s not English almost automatically makes it qualify for an underrated list. It also doesn’t help that this movie is really hard to find; maybe if Kino International was a little more competent as a distributing company and actually printed movies people want to watch they’d make a little more money. I don’t usually support torrenting, but it’s pretty hard to say you shouldn’t when companies don’t easily offer you the product that you want to pay for. I don’t care how you do it, please just watch this movie. Grade: A+

 

They Came Together

Directed by David Wain

Starring Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Bill Hader, and Elle Kemper

Released June 27th, 2014

 

They Came Together is a comedy that follows two very familiar romantic leads in an even more familiar movie. This movie definitely isn’t for everyone. The humor is very out there and it’s very relentless with joke after joke. You aren’t going to be falling on the floor holding your gut after every scene, but most will at least crack a smile. We rarely see parodies done so well anymore. This movie is a big call back to the Leslie Nelson days with a very similar tone to a movie like Airplane. Amy Poehler knows exactly what she needs to do and she overacts her parts to perfection, and speaking of acting this cast is loaded. There are so many fun little cameos placed throughout that I never would have expected, but had a huge impact on the movie when they happened. They Came Together is a refreshingly good parody and even though it might be a little too self-aware for its own good at times, it’s still a blast. I’d recommend it to anyone who likes romantic comedies or just wants to see a parody movie that isn’t total garbage. Grade: B+

 

Upstream Color

Directed by Shane Carruth

Starring Amy Seimetz, Shane Carruth, and Andrew Sensenig

Released April 5th, 2013

 

Upstream Color is a science fiction drama that follows a man and a woman who are suffering from the effects of a mysterious drug that seem to make their minds work as one. If you hate movies that movies don’t spoon-feed you, require multiple viewings, and really make you think, then this isn’t the movie for you. Anyone who’s familiar with Shane Carruth knows that his movies are incredibly challenging in the best way, and that works perfectly for this movie. We’re following characters who are in mysteriously baffling situations so it only makes sense that we feel lost and confused with them. You’re probably going to have to watch this movie at least twice to really grasp everything that’s happening, but don’t let that intimidate you. This movie looks great. Most people go into a movie expecting it to look good, but when you take in the fact that this movie was made for only $50,000 (in 2007 the average cost to produce and market a studio movie was around $100 million) that makes it all the more impressive. If you aren’t intimidated by movies with complex plots that don’t spoon-feed you I’d definitely recommend Upstream Color; especially if you’re a fan of sci-fi. Grade: A

 

Incendies

Directed by Denis Villeneuve

Starring Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Lubna Azabal, and Maxim Gaudette

Released September 4th, 2010


Incendies is a mystery-drama that follows a daughter trying to piece together her recently deceased mother's dark and mysterious past. This is another movie that qualifies as underrated simply because of it not being in English. This film is probably a bit better suited for American audiences than the average foreign movie because of its pacing. Things happen pretty fast, and it does a good job at keeping you on the edge of your seat. This movie jumps back and forth between two different time periods, and while every now and again that can be a little jarring and confusing, for the most part it adds a lot of interesting dynamics to the mysterious and helps you solve things in your own ways, as well as giving different perspectives on situations in one timeline due to something that’s happening or happened on another timeline. I would recommend this film to pretty much everyone, especially if you liked movies like Polytechnique, Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario, and Arrival, because the same director of all of those movies (Denis Villeneuve) directed this one, and if you couldn’t tell, he has a pretty impressive track record. Grade: A-

 

Martha Marcy May Marlene

Directed by Sean Durkin

Staring Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson, John Hawkes, and Hugh Dancy

Released October 21st, 2011


Martha Marcy May Marlene is a thriller that follows a young woman who struggles returning to society after leaving an abusive cult. If this movie has anything going for it, it’s the performances.  Every part is acted perfectly, even the smaller roles. There’s a lot of long takes in this movie, which I personally am a big fan of from a stylistic standpoint, but even if that’s something that you don’t care about it’s nice to see a director just let the actors act, and they never let you down. There’s a point late in the movie when leading lady, Elizabeth Olsen, delivers a line so well it sent chills down my spine and instantly put me on the edge of my seat. The movie isn’t perfect though. The dialogue isn’t always as sharp as it could be, and the movie isn’t always as interesting as it thinks it is, but normally when things start to slow down it picks itself up one way or another. The movie does do a good job for the most part of keeping you in the dark, and then slowing giving you information at the right times. The end will also have you thinking for a while, which is always a sign of a good movie. I’d recommend this movie to anyone that wants to see a good thriller who won’t mind slow pacing every now and again. Grade: B

 

Mary and Max

Directed by Adam Elliot

Starring Toni Collette, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Eric Bana

Released April 9th, 2009

 

Mary and Max is a stop motion drama that follows a friendship between two very different pen pals who grow together in a special way. There’s no movie out there like this one. It’s stylized, yet manages to still keep your interest and tell a gripping story. This movie tackles real issues such as mental health, self-esteem, and death all in a very whimsical way, yet you never have a hard time taking it  seriously. The voice acting is so good that I didn’t even know that that some of my favorite actors and actresses were in it until I looked at the case afterwards. I don’t want to spoil how this movie is structured for those of you who haven’t seen it, but some of the sections don’t always do the best job of holding your attention, but that isn’t such a big deal. The movie’s design is cool enough so you at least always have something nice to look when the content of the story takes a dip, luckily that doesn’t happen too often. I would recommend this movie to absolutely everyone. Grade: A-

 

Honeymoon

Directed by Leigh Janiak

Starring Rose Leslie, Harry Treadaway, and Benjamin Huber

Released September 12th, 2014

 

Honeymoon is a sci-fi thriller that follows a newlywed couple whose honeymoon gets weirder and weirder after an otherworldly experience. This movie is definitely more of a guilty pleasure for me. There are a lot of cliches and cheesy moments in here, and it loses a lot on it’s second viewing once you realize what’s happening, but if you want can handle some cheese in your movies, and want to see something that will surprise you, this might be something worth looking into. What really works in this movie is Rose Leslie’s performance. She probably has a little bit less screentime than co-star, Harry Treadaway, but, this is definitely her movie. She drives it and always keeps you guessing at what’s really happen from beginning to end. This wouldn’t be the same movie without her at all. If you’re able to get over some not so great moments, and want a movie with a great central performance that will keep you guessing I’d recommend Honeymoon, as long as you understand what you’re getting into. Grade: C+

 

Melancholia

Directed by Lars von Trier

Starring Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alexander Skarsgård and Kiefer Sutherland

Released May 26th, 2011

 

Melancholia is a sci-fi drama that follows two sisters who struggle with their inner demons as a newly discovered planet is set to pass Earth. I’ve always been very critical of director, Lars von Trier. I often cite him as pretentious, and trying to be weird or different, just for the sake of being weird or different with no substance, but he’s onto something with this movie. The cast is loaded and he gets great performances out of them, especially leads Kristen Dunst, and the always great Charlotte Gainsbourg. The film does a great job and representing depression not only through characters, but also through its metaphors and stories. The movies disorientates you with it’s editing and camera work to get you into the head of the main. The movie isn’t perfect. The camera work can get incredibly distracting, and although as I just stated sometimes it works to help you get in the head of our main character, a lot of the times it just seems completely randomly and it takes you out of the emerson. There are also sections that feel really slow and drag on. If you want a realistic look at depression, and can handle a movie with a very untraditional structure, this movie is definitely worth checking out. Grade: B

 

This article was originally published in the March 2017 issue of The Vindicator.

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