Academy snubs be damned, 2019 was a spectacular end to a decade of outstanding films directed by women. Joanna Hogg reinvented visual memoir with “The Souvenir,” Lulu Wang challenged American conceptions of family and death in “The Farewell,” and Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women” adaptation upended one of the most iconic American novels by and about a woman. Agnès Varda made her very last film. And while the Oscars once again shut out all of these talented women (and many more, like Alma Har’el, Mati Diop and Céline Sciamma), the independent film industry and limitless creative potential offered by streaming services continue to offer more and more female-helmed projects.
2020 promises an abundance of new projects both small-time and mainstream: superhero movies, international dramas, bone-chilling horror, heartfelt documentaries. Festival darlings like Eliza Hittman and Janicza Bravo will return with new projects, while beloved all-stars like Miranda July, Sofia Coppola, and Sally Potter gear up for their next debuts. Indie auteurs are crossing over into superhero movie-land (Chloé Zhao; Cate Shortland; Cathy Yan; Patty Jenkins, again) and actresses are finally stepping behind the camera (Rebecca Hall, Emerald Fennell, Eleanor Wilson, Romola Garai). There are movies based on novels, movies based on movies, movies based on Twitter threads. Anything is possible, everything is exciting, and A24 has absolutely already stacked their catalog with indie cred. Smells like the week before Sundance.
Though Park City’s much-buzzed-about festival will debut a number of notable 2020 releases, there’s plenty to look forward to past January – especially since distributors like Focus and Netflix have already attached release dates to some of the festival’s most exciting competitors. Read on to see what electrifying, female-led films 2020 has in store, from now all the way to awards season. – Lena Wilson
More best of year and decade content is here too, the 100 Most Anticipated Films Of 2020, The 100 Best Films Of The Decade, the 25 Best Films Of 2019 You Didn’t See, 52 Films Directed By Women To Watch In 2020, the 25 Best Films Of 2019, the Best Performances Of The Decade, Best Cinematography of the Decade, Best Soundtracks of the Decade, Best TV of the Decade, Best Documentaries Of The Decade, Best Animated Films Of The Decade, Best TV of 2019, Best Posters, and Trailers of 2019 and more to come.
“I Carry You With Me” (Director: Heidi Ewing)
“I Carry You With Me” is documentarian Heidi Ewing’s first feature film. Ewing is perhaps best known for her bone-chilling, Oscar-nominated documentary “Jesus Camp,” but “I Carry You With Me” marks a departure from her normal dogmatic material. It is the story of two gay men in Mexico, Iván (Armando Espitia) and Gerardo (Christian Vazquez), whose budding relationship is fraught with conflict in the face of societal disapproval. This Spanish-language film is shot by Juan Pablo Ramírez (“The Gasoline Thieves”), and the glimpses we’ve seen so far look gorgeous. This heartfelt and timely story is sure to draw attention when it premieres at Sundance in a few weeks – it’s already been marked as one of the 20 LGBT films to keep an eye out for this year. –LW
“The 40-Year-Old Version” (Director: Radha Blank)
This Lena Waithe-backed debut from triple-threat Radha Blank stars Blank as her dramatized self, a 40-year-old playwright torn between two creative pursuits – playwriting and rapping – and desperate for direction. Blank writes, directs, and plays the lead in this 35mm black-and-white Sundance competitor shot by Eric Branco (“Clemency”). Blank’s search for creative fulfillment is particularly unique as a black woman, as she faces rejection from both the theater and hip-hop communities for various aspects of her identity. Also starring Peter Y. Kim and Oswin Benjamin, “The 40-Year-Old Version” opens at Sundance in a matter of weeks. –LW
“I Used To Go Here” (Director: Kris Rey)
Bouncing between premieres at Sundance and SXSW, Kris Rey’s fourth feature, “I Used to Go Here,” returns to Austin this year. Known for “Unexpected” and “Empire Builder,” Rey’s latest is a comedy starring Gillian Jacob as a 30-something writer who is invited to speak at her alma matter by her mentor and former professor (Jemaine Clement) following the launch of her new novel. After accepting the invitation, the writer finds herself deeply enmeshed in the lives of an eccentric group of college students that include Josh Wiggins, Hannah Marks, Zoe Chao, Jorma Taccone, Forrest Goodluck. Rey has been known as the wife of Joe Swanberg for years, but this feels like the year and film where this all begins to change. – Rodrigo Perez
“Wander Darkly” (Director: Tara Miele)
“Wander Darkly” marks Tara Miele’s Sundance debut. With a career bolstered by micro-budgeted, social-message films, Miele’s “Wander Darkly” scores real star power in the form of leads Sienna Miller and Diego Luna. The film follows a traumatized woman named Adrienne (Miller) as she works to examine her past and heal her relationship with her partner, Matteo (Luna). Though details of the plot remain vague, Luna and Miller are compelling reasons to keep an eye on this one, especially on the heels of Miller’s groundbreaking performance in last year’s “American Woman.” This romantic, ruminating drama debuts at the festival in the next few weeks, and we’ll be eagerly awaiting more buzz. –LW
“Pink Skies Ahead” (Director: Kelly Oxford)
Kelly Oxford’s story of success is a true and rare showing of meritocracy on the internet and social media. She got her start on Twitter, essentially being so whipsmart, funny and sharp, she was impossible not to notice. Her Twitter presence lead to attention from everyone including admirers like Diablo Cody and Seth Rogen. Agents, book deals, script deals and much followed (she’s acted too with small roles in “Aloha” and “The Disaster Artist”). Now she’s making her writer/director feature-length debut with “Pink Skies Ahead” which makes its debut at the SXSW Film Festival in March. Star Jessica Barden, Marcia Gay Harden, Michael McKean, Henry Winkler, Rosa Salazar, Odeya Rush, Lewis Pullman, Devon Bostick, Mary J. Blige, and more, “Pink Skies Ahead” sounds a little autobiographical and centers on a wild young woman who moves back in with her parents after she drops out of college and is diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Oxford has a sharp crackling wit to her writing, so we’re deeply excited for this one. – RP
“Save Yourselves!” (Directors: Alex Fischer & Eleanor Wilson)
“Save Yourselves!” the first collaboration between Alex Fischer and Eleanor Wilson, is consummate Sundance catnip. It centers on couple Jack (John Reynolds, “Search Party,” “Stranger Things”) and Su (Sunita Mani, “GLOW,” “Wine Country”) as they flee to a remote cabin for a social media cleanse, only to discover that aliens have invaded the earth in their absence. This is not Fischer’s first time directing Mani – his debut with co-director Rachel Wolther, “Snowy Bing Bongs Across the North Star Combat Zone,” was a charmingly bizarre collaboration with Mani’s dance troupe, the Cocoon Central Dance Team. Now, these eccentrics are expanding into feature territory, and bringing newcomer Eleanor Wilson into the mix. This one opens soon at Sundance, so stay tuned in case it gets picked up by a distributor. –LW
“Untitled Lila Neugebauer Project” (Director: Lila Neugebauer)
Upper West Side native Lila Neugebauer is a theatrical whiz kid of epic proportions: She earned her first Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Director of a Play right around her thirtieth birthday, and is a friend of and frequent collaborator with Zoe Kazan. Fresh from her 2018 Broadway debut with “The Waverly Gallery,” Neugebauer is now ready to take on the big screen. This currently untitled project is in post-production and set to debut this year, courtesy of the ever-hip A24. It depicts a soldier struggling to adjust to life back in America after sustaining a traumatic brain injury in Afghanistan. With stars like Jennifer Lawrence, Brian Tyree Henry, and Samira Wiley attached, this project already drips with cool indie cred. We can’t wait to see it come out – maybe later in the year, for awards season? –LW