Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tuesday Top Ten: Female Directors @ Box Office

updated to correct box office errors & bring up to date to Nov 30th

With Twilight, the high school vampire romance, opening to huge box office, various websites are talking about director Catherine Hardwicke's "achievement". For the most part I hate the notion that box office is an achievement (maybe it is but it's no meritocracy) or that it's directly attributable to any one person involved. This is how many movie stars end up with oversized paychecks that they're rarely able to live up to (result = backlash). It's how many directors of questionable talent continue to get major gigs (consider the careers of Brett Rattner, Chris Columbus, et al) because they're smart enough to attach themselves to can't miss franchises. What I'm saying is this: I could've directed Twilight and it would've still opened to $69 million. My version would've changed a few things:
  • A better wig for Taylor Lautner.
  • No clothed scenes whatsoever for Cam Gigandet.
  • Less boring ass moping/whining from Kristen Stewart (who may never be able to live that hospital scene down. That was the best take!? Ouch)
  • Extra scenes that aren't in the book so that something happens besides stare-downs. My cat might love this movie
  • More shirtless scenes for Edward... but not in the sunlight because I hate that stupid skin twinkle effect.
Come to think of it, I hated all of the effects in the movie. Yeah, I definitely would've fired some people. I can't recall the last time a movie with special effects this cheesy opened huge. Was it Van Helsing? Generally speaking blockbusters have top notch special effects even if they're dramaturgically challenged.

I'm joking of course (somewhat?). Catherine Hardwicke undoubtedly made a better film than I could have but her skills have nothing whatsoever to do with the box office. And while I thought this vampire yarn shabbily directed I suppose she'll always have the stunning and appropriately histrionic 13 as a first and more deserving claim to fame.

Enough boring ass moping/whining Nathaniel. Get to the list!

Top Box Office Hits Directed by Women
I might have missed one but I think this is mostly accurate
note: I did not include co-directed animated movies in this list

runners up
16 $66 The Parent Trap (1998) Nancy Meyers
15 $71 Bridget Jones's Diary (2001) Sharon Maguire
$74 Prince of Tides (1991) Barbra Streisand
$95 Michael (1996) Nora Ephron
12 $107 A League of Their Own (1992) Penny Marshall
11 $114 Big (1988) Penny Marshall

10 $115 You've Got Mail (1998) Nora Ephron
09 $119 Twilight (2008) Catherine Hardwicke
$121 Wayne's World (1992) Penelope Spheeris
07 $124 Something's Gotta Give (2003) Nancy Meyers
06 $126 Sleepless in Seattle (1993) Nora Ephron
-- $140 Look Who's Talking (1989) Amy Heckerling
04 $140 Deep Impact (1998) Mimi Leder
03 $143 Mamma Mia! (2008) Phyllida Lloyd
02 $144 Doctor Dolittle (1998) Betty Thomas
01 $182 What Women Want (2000) Nancy Meyers

And as a palate cleanser, some movies that are definitely worth investigating if you can find room on your netflix queue (I know I'm always giving assignments).

10 Interesting Female Directors
(Alphabetically and off the top of my head. My favorite from their filmographies listed)

Alison Anders (Gas Food Lodging)
Kathryn Bigelow (Near Dark)
Jane Campion (The Piano)
Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation)
Claire Denis (Beau Travail)
Mary Harron (American Psycho)
Nicole Holofcener (Lovely & Amazing)
Mira Nair (Salaam Bombay!)
Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don't Cry)
Lynn Ramsey (Morvern Callar)

I forgot Susanne Bier (Brothers). My apologies! And of course you can't go wrong with Agnes Varda (but I was thinking more of features rather than docs which is what she's doing now). There are also many fine foreign directors whose work I'm less familiar with... other countries don't seem to have as hard of a time as the US employing female directors (the submission lists for Oscar's foreign films illustrates this point each and every year)

related article minus the women (um....): Oscar's Best Director Race predictions for 2008


NicksFlickPicks said...

The sign of a great Nathaniel post is that it already has me laughing even before the main event (which, thank heavens, is often a list). Viz. "I could have directed this movie..." and "My cat might love this movie."

Also: do you want to come co-teach my Contemporary Women Filmmakers class this winter? My students will at some point want a break from the sound of my voice. Many of your faves will be represented, plus Catherine Breillat, Samira Makhmalbaf, Lucrecia Martel...

Anonymous said...

Speaking of underrated female filmmakers, I'd like to strike a blow for Lucile Hadzihalilovic (mrs. Gaspar Noé) who made the jaw-droppingly amazing Innocence in 2004. One of my favorite films of the decade, in fact.

Anonymous said...

Nathaniel seems to love the film Beau Travail but it seems to be a love it or hate it film. i was wonderin gof anyone else has an opinion of it before I rent or buy the DVD. Thanks.

Cinesnatch said...

OH, Nate . . . .


Anyway, as far as your list of reigning box office queens behind the camera (thank you) is concerned, I believe that Streisand's Prince of Tides is the biggest achievement out of the lot, considering it had the least box-office-friendly material to work off of (drama-romance about a middle-aged woman).

Oh, and, check out today's imdb poll. What's your prediction? . . . .

Sally Belle said...

Catherine Hardwicke is a hack director.
She should have stuck to Production Design.

I think you could have directed the film better with one arm tied behind your back. As long as you had a strong DP, a good first, and a great editor...you, at least, would have a clue what to do with the actors!

Robert said...

I worship the ground that Claire Denis walks on.

... that is all.

Matt Sigl said...

There really should be more discussion about the dearth of female directors working in cinema. Theatrical direction used to be equally lacking in quality women but since the estrogen parade of the 1998 Tony's when Julie Taymor and Garry Hines took home their prizes (for best Direction of a musical and best direction of a play, respectively- the first wins for women in both those categories.) the theatre has been an equal opportunity employer, granting Tony's to Mary Zimmerman, Susan Stroman, and Anna Shapiro. Has a woman ever even been NOMINATED for an Oscar in this category?

And it's not just the misogynistic suits at the Board room table keeping them down (a woman is more likely to run a studio or production company than direct a movie anyway), enrollment at film school is predominantly male. Why? I have heard explanations ranging from outright sexist ("women just don't have the balls to run a big film set") to evolutionary ("since they weren't the hunters women are less visually inclined than men who relied on their vision to track down food. Women relied on "communication" back at the cave.") I find the first explanation offensive and the second dubious, vaguely sexist and most importantly, empirically unfounded (as many "creative" evolutionary stories tend to be.) Still, it's a mystery and a sad state of affairs.

Michael B. said...

There have been 3 women nominated for Best Director.

Sofia Coppola
Lina Wertmüller
Jane Campion

Catherine said...

It's really shocking how little of those I've seen (I'm talking about the good list, obvs). And its not like I'm avoiding them on purpose or anything. Personal project idea! I think I need to attend your Contemporary Women Filmmakers class, Nick.

James Hansen said...

Four major omissions...two of which are American-ish (English speaking at least...) How could you forget "my girl" Breillat! :) I actually prefer the films of Sally Potter and Martel though...they deserve some serious love. Especially Martel...for my money, she's one of the best young directors out there today. Kudos for the Claire Denis props though.

Catherine Breillat (Fat Girl, Romance)
Sally Potter (Yes, Orlando)
Lucrecia Martel (The Headless Woman, The Holy Girl)
Jamie Babbitt (But I'm A Cheerleader)

I'm sure there are others, but those come to mind. You not a BUT I'M A CHEERLEADER! fan?

Deborah said...

Don't forget Deepa Mehta.

Yaseen Ali said...

With all due respect Deborah, please do. In Canada, she's viewed as the authority on Indian victimiz--"culture", which I have some quibbles with, to say the least.



james i'm not crazy about Breillat. I'm just getting to know Martel (if one can ever get to know Martel). I love Sally Potter and should have included her instead of Anders (oops). I do not like But i'm a cheerleader.

MRS even if that silly caveman reference IS not as silly as it sounds it's still stilly (???) because what is storytelling if not "communication"?

even more distressing in terms of the low percentages of working female directors is that they DO attend film school in large numbers. According to this article in Salon (from 2002) female graduates at film school were nearing the numbers of male graduates.

James Hansen said...

Yeah...after I wrote that I remembered you're not big on Breillat. A fan or not though, its hard to deny she's making some provocative work that literally no one else is making, male or female. Martel is IT though. IT. Denis and Potter have been doing it for longer, but I'll still take Martel. It's challenging stuff, but hard to turn away from.

I actually haven't seen BUT I'M A CHEERLEADER in a number of years, but remember enjoying it. Whatevs though. I won't let you not liking it ruin my life...or maybe I will... :)

Anyone want to nerd out on early silent female directors? Check out Alice Guy Blache and Ida Lupino. Modern experimental has a lot of "prominent" women filmmakers...but it is modern experimental so I suppose not that many people are into it...

Anonymous said...

Varda's best movies are not docs,a and there are a lot of them! Try some Cleo from 5 to 7, La Pointe Courte and Happiness.

- cal roth

Unknown said...

You forgot to mention Penelope Spheeris. She directed Wayne's World. We all know what a huge success that was.

Also, see Betty Thomas.

Anonymous said...

What a positively hellish list. Thank heavens you rescued it by making a better one.


Anonymous said...

Gurinder Chadha (Bend it like Beckham) comes to mind. And Caroline Link from Germany who won the best foreign film Oscar in 2003 for "Nowhere in Africa".
Susanne Bier from Denmark (After the Wedding) is also a great director.

And I love Miranda July.


Liza... i thought about miranda july but with only one film i opted to pass for now. I love that one film though.

also... Madex thank you. I have updated the post. I knew I'd forget something.


i also forgot MAMMA MIA!
dear lord... that top ten is scary


Nick -- nothing would please me more than to co-teach that class. But alas... the commute.

anon BEAU TRAVAIL. I do love. And can i get a second? anyone? anyone?

Anonymous said...

I'm a huge Julie Taymor fan TITUS & ACROSS THE UNIVERSE are stunning. Sally Potter's ORLANDO is one of my favorite films.

gabrieloak said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gabrieloak said...

am embarrassed to admit I saw Twilight after work. A female colleague asked me to go. It wasn't as bad as I expected but it moved so slowly like an unending perfume commercial. I thought the best thing about the movie was Kristen Stewart who reminded me of Annabelle Gish when she was young. She was natural throughout, though her acting near the end in the hospital was atrocious.
Robert Pattinson on the other hand is incredibly boring and not all that appealing.

I kept hoping for more flying.

Well now I know I don't have to see more of these movies or read the books.

Bring back sexy vampires, and spare us the vapid ones.

Y Kant Goran Rite said...

I know you said no docos - but I think Barbara Kopple's Harlan County USA deserves a mention all the same.

Also, the underseen Wanda by Barbara Loden

And my candidate for this decades best film by a woman is Me and You and Everyone We Know. Easy. I know someone already mentioned it but I don't think it's mentioned enough so I'll say it again: go see Me and You and Everyone We Know. It is underrated and brilliant.

And did I miss Clueless or has it not come up yet?

(And I will never understand how anyone could find Kathryn Bigelow interesting beyond the fact that she has a vagina and makes turgid action films as efficiently as any man.)

gabrieloak said...

Also add Agnes Jaoui who directed The Taste of Others, Look at Me, and most recently Let It Rain, which just screened at the New York Film Festival.

Anonymous said...

Two other Americans, Kasi Lemons and Darnell Martin. From Hong Kong, Sylvia Chang. Also Joan Chen. Also, Margarethe von Trotta. I also find Asia Argento interesting as a director.


y kant the reason i wasn't including documentaries is that there are literally hundreds and hundreds directed by women. The field is too vast and I don't see enough documentaries to begin with.

Anonymous said...

I'll echo the love for Beau Travail and Barbara Loden's terrific, underrated Wanda.

Lets not forget Kelly Reichardt.

Brian Darr said...

I wonder how Twilight would stack up against the box office power of Lois Weber or other silent era directors, if inflation were taken into account?

NicksFlickPicks said...

I will see JH and Brian's Alice Guy Blaché and Lois Weber and raise them a Mabel Normand and a Cleo Madison. Silent Directress Poker is a personal fave.

I have not seen and probably will not see Twilight, but given the ethereal lighting, the nocturnal center of gravity, the courting of danger, the ardent sexuality, the youthfulness, and the pallid cast complexions of Boys Don't Cry, doesn't it seem like Kimberly Peirce would make a fantastic vampire movie? And, in certain senses, already made one? Wouldn't it have been nice to see her score the big payday, even if it's hard to imagine her overcoming (what I hear is) the vapidity of the material?


the only way we'll get a kimberly peirce vampire movie is if she herself becomes one. What I'm saying is this: when you only make one movie a decade you need to live an awfully long time to get around to all of the important genres ;)

Beau said...

Taymor and Potter should definitely get nods. The former packs a mighty punch, the latter's 'Orlando' and 'Yes' are phenomenal works of art.

Saw 'Twilight' today, still don't really get the appeal. My mom just started reading the books and asked me to come along (since my brother and my dad refused to shell out good hard-earned cash for the film).

Stewart's hospital scene didn't bug me that much, even if it did feel a little schizo. The leads had some palpable heat between them, and the film wasn't a complete bore. Certainly not the worst of the year.

Just not particularly memorable either. Decent, mediocre effort.

And, yes, to reiterate, it's NOT the worst film of the year. That should be reserved for the one who makes out of the cage match between '10,000 B.C.', 'Dark Matter' and 'The Happening'. DEAR LORD. Watching those three feels like six hours on a merry-go-round in 'fuck me' mode.

Karen said...

You're right, that hospital scene in Twilight was hilarious! It felt like something out of a soap opera. And all that staring was laughable too. But I still enjoyed the film!!!

Tim said...

I couldn't let things stand with just one lonely comment about Kelly Reichardt. Old Joy is one of the very best independent films - and SERIOUSLY independent, not just a "famous people taking smaller paychecks" indie - of the current decade.

Also: that box office hits list made me want to weep blood.

Guy Lodge said...

THANK YOU for including Lynne Ramsay -- I actually think she could be the most gifted filmmaker currently working in Britain. My favourite film of hers is still actually her short, "Gasman."

Anonymous said...

Nathaniel; You really should should have listed Kasi Lemmons as one of the most interesting femal directors. She's got the double disadvantadge of being both black and a woman. But she's made at least one masterpiece (EVE'S BAYOU, one of the best films of 1997, and an astonishing debut feature). She got a bit of the sophmore slump with her Samuel Jackson homeless guy movie (CAVEMAN'S VALENTINE), but rebounded nicely last year with TALK TO ME, a really atmospheric 1960's period piece which got a slew of independent film awards for it's cast (including Best ensemble at the Gotham awards and Best Supporting actor for Chiwetel Ejiofor at the Independent spirit awards). It's a very good little movie.


James Hansen said...

I call 'check' to Nicks raise. Both of the one's you mention are fabulous as well...Alice Guy just is always the first that comes to my mind. Certainly not meant to discount Weber, Normand, or Madison. All are excellent choices and mightily important.


sam i will really have to give EVE'S BAYOU a second shot. I know so many people who love it... but i didn't respond to it at all.

Tim and whoever else mentioned. I have not seen OLD JOY but I did quite like Wendy & Lucy so I should have included Reichardt.

Beau said...

I forgot Reichardt. :(

'Old Joy' was one of my favorite movies from 2006. I cannot wait to see what she does with 'Wendy and Lucy'.

Glenn Dunks said...

Sally Potter is definitely a favourite of mine. The Tango Lesson being my personal favourite.

And Agnes Jaoui's Look at Me was really great.

And even though I've never truly loved any of her films Julie Taymor is becoming one of the leading female directors out there.

Anonymous said...

There are too many female directors, and not enough attention being paid to them.