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Female-Led Indie Movies Dominated Releases This Past Year: Here Are Ten You Should Watch (Without Going To The Theater)

by Vanessa Wolosz

It’s no secret that the film industry took a major hit in the past year—cinema culture especially so. I spent the past year primarily enjoying older movies, and not really paying attention to new releases as I usually do during non-pandemic times. In reality, that’s quite a loss when considering how many truly idiosyncratic movies have been released online. In particular, the last twelve months have hosted a number of phenomenal films dealing with diverse accounts of contemporary womanhood. Here are ten that should definitely be on your watch-list this awards season:

  1. Kajillionaire
    This film is probably Evan Rachel Wood’s best work as an actor. Seriously. And if you’re a fan of Safdie Brothers-esque breakneck crime vice dramas, then this is the movie for you. Kajillionaire, written and directed by Miranda July, is about a family that’s shoulders-deep in petty crime. The story follows the adult daughter (Wood) of manipulative con-artist parents, as they recruit a new accomplice to their swindling ways, Melanie (Gina Rodriguez).
    You can watch Kajillionaire on YouTube Movies or Prime Video.
  2. Shiva Baby
    Shiva Baby is a movie that encapsulates what is perhaps the most awkward situation anyone has ever come up with: a bisexual woman joins a shiva with her family, where her ex-girlfriend (Molly Gordon) and current sugar daddy (Danny Deferrari) are also in attendance. Written and directed by Emma Seligman, this comedy stars Rachel Sennott as her character, Danielle, attempts to grapple with the claustrophobia of the setting, as well as that of life itself.
    You can watch Shiva Baby when it’s released for wider audiences in April 2021.
  3. Swallow
    For those who enjoy being slightly uncomfortable during their cinema-going experiences, Swallow is for you. Released in the United States last March, this movie isn’t for the faint of heart. Something of an artful body horror flick, Swallow is about a married woman (Haley Bennett) who leads an all-around uneventful life until she develops an obsession with swallowing objects which you should not, under any circumstances, ingest. The austere aesthetics of the setting give the events of Swallow a stark focus.
    You can watch Swallow on Hulu or Prime Video.
  4. Promising Young Woman
    Just released for wide audiences about a month ago, Promising Young Woman was immediately met with critical and audience acclaim. With a soundtrack that features a string instrumental cover of Britney Spears’ song, “Toxic,” you know you’re in for something else with this film. Writer/director Emerald Fennell captures the social contradictions present in victim-blaming when it comes to sexual assault. Promising Young Woman manages to be empowering rather than demoralizing, as its protagonist, Cassie (Carey Mulligan), acts as a femme fatale whose mission it is to give comeuppance to predatory men.
    You can watch Promising Young Woman on Prime Video and YouTube Movies.
  5. Time
    For those among us who prefer fact over fiction, Time is the ideal documentary. Presented in black and white, this monochromatic masterpiece is a stark examination of the American justice system. It follows the efforts of Sibil Fox Richardson as she fights the 60-year prison sentence of her husband, Rob. Produced and directed by Garrett Bradley, Time is a much-needed wake-up call regarding America’s prison industrial complex.
    You can watch Time on Prime Video.
  6. Dick Johnson Is Dead
    Another documentary for the list is Dick Johnson Is Dead. This doc is the epitome of dark humor, an episodic adventure in which director Kirsten Johnson stages increasingly ridiculous death scenes for her currently living father, Dick Johnson. The circumstances of this documentary provide solace for a father and daughter as they come to terms with the inevitability of death, and with their inevitable parting.
    You can watch Dick Johnson Is Dead on Netflix.
  7. Mangrove
    Everyone loves a good courtroom drama, and especially one as timely as Mangrove. Based on the true story of the Mangrove Nine, this movie follows the uncovering of ludicrous British police racism in 1970. One part of the Small Axe film anthology produced by BBC, Mangrove, directed by Steve McQueen centers around the owner of the Mangrove restaurant, Frank Crichlow (Shaun Parkes), and the leader of the British Black Panther Party, Altheia Jones-LeCointe (Letitia Wright), as the community that relies on the Mangrove restaurant protests racism and police brutality. The protest is wrongly construed as a riot, and a trial of nine high-visibility participants arises.
    You can watch Mangrove on Prime Video, along with the other Small Axe films.
  8. Miss Juneteenth
    A spin on the standard beauty pageant movie, Miss Juneteenth is a poignant look at the gilded reality of such a spectacle. This story is a layered one, revolving around the stories of former Miss Juneteenth, Turquoise Jones (Nicole Beharie), and her less-than-committed daughter, Kai (Alexis Chikaeze). It’s the perfect watch for any mother-daughter duo.
    You can watch Miss Juneteenth on YouTube Movies or Prime Video.
  9. Bacurau
    Bacurau is a play on the Western genre, a Brazilian film that takes place in a very possible future world. In the fictional future settlement of Bacurau, things begin to go amiss after the community matriarch dies; strange occurrences ensue after her funeral. This dystopic Western—following the former matriarch’s granddaughter, Teresa (Bárabara Colen), as she and her community grapple with the consequences of long-term class equality and American imperialism—magnifies the issues of our present.
    You can watch Bacurau on The Criterion Channel, Prime Video, or YouTube Movies.
  10. Never Rarely Sometimes Always
    It’s no wonder why a lot of media won’t touch the subject of teen abortion with a ten-foot-pole. Never Rarely Sometimes Always isn’t afraid to go there, and to do so with a compassionate tone. The plot centers around 17-year-old Autumn Callahan (Sidney Flanigan) and her cousin, Skylar (Talia Ryder), as they seek abortive care for Autumn in New York City, being from rural Pennsylvania themselves. Not only does Never Rarely Sometimes Always spotlight the complex relationships of adolescent girls, but it is also revelatory of the current challenges that arise in pursuing an abortion (i.e. the issue of American crisis pregnancy centers).
    You can watch Never Rarely Sometimes Always on Prime Video, Hulu, and HBO.

Header image from Never Rarely Sometimes Always via YouTube.

More from BUST:

“Promising Young Woman” Is Exactly What It Needs To Be

“Young Hearts” Explores First Love Honestly And Delicately

Catch First Time Directorial Debuts From Questlove To Rebecca Hall, 10 Must-See Films From Sundance 2021


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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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