Here we are again with another round up of the best and biggest women in film; this time featuring some of the front running names from 2021. I’ve picked some of the standout names of both directors and cinematographers, and if you haven’t seen any of these films already I would say they are truly worth the watch.
This has been a good year for women in film; I think it’s very worth mentioning that in a climate where under ten women have ever received a nomination for the Best Direction Academy Award we have one this year who could potentially be the first woman to sweep Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Picture – although this is not the be all and end all, it reflects the position of women in film across the board and progress at this level will definitely be reflected across other aspects of filmmaking.
Jane Campion – The Power of The Dog
Jane Campion has been one of the biggest names in film from 2021; “The Power of the Dog” is definitely a front runner for this years Oscar nominees, with nominations for Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Actor and the much coveted Best Director. Jane Campion, already being nominated previously for The Piano, is one of seven female directors to ever receive this nomination – unfortunately I do think her chances are slim with this already being won by a woman last year, but hopefully she’ll come away with at least one.
Based on its namesake book, The Power of the Dog follows rancher Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch), as his brother George (Jesse Plemons) brings home a new wife Rose (Kirsten Dunst) and her son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) much to his disproval. Peter, the son, is a sensitive boy who is subject to much homophobic abuse from Phil and his friends, and must deal with the effects of this. Phil has taken a disliking to Rose as he thinks she is after George’s money, and to Peter as he thinks he is weak.
Let me say off the bat, this movie is a Western psychological slow burn, and I really can’t emphasise the slow burn aspect enough. The focus is on the character of Phil, and a deep dive into his character and what makes him the way he is. The central story is a character study of Phil, according to Cumberbatch “lifting the bonnet” of what makes him the way he is. We also follow closely as Rose, a widower, turns to alcohol to deal with the situation she has found herself in on this ranch.
The cinematography of this film was done by Cinematographer Ari Wegner, and brings us fully into Burbank’s life on the ranch and his day to day, as well as the turmoil and torture experienced by Rose and Pete. For this aspect alone, this film is definitely worth a watch.
Chloé Zhao – Eternals
Following on from last year’s mammoth success with Nomadland, Chloé Zhao has made splashes in 2021 by directing the latest installment of events in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – Eternals.
Playing heavily off Greek mythology, Eternals introduces a new set of characters into the MCU’s timeline by following a group of ten ancient aliens who have been living on earth for thousands of years in order to protect it specifically from invasive alien Deviants. With a mammoth cast including Angelina Jolie, Kit Harrington, Barry Keoghan, and Salma Hayek to name a few, this film sets up a very interesting addition to the MCU.
Eternals picks up at a point where the last Deviants were defeated 500 years previously, and the Eternals have gone their separate ways to different corners of the Earth, living among humans and waiting to be told what to do by the Celestials. The group must come back together when protagonists Sersi (Gemma Chan) and Sprite (Lia McHugh) are attacked by a Deviant in modern day Camden, and figure out if the Deviants are back on Earth.
The scale of this film was one of the most impressive things; mostly filmed on location, this story spans across the Earth to many different countries, as well as through Space and time. The authentic approach to this is one of the things that gives this film the immense feeling of scale and growth that it holds throughout the whole thing.
As well as the extraterrestrial course of events, Zhao also explores a lot of different aspects of human life and emotion at their very basic principals throughout the whole movie. While a lot of critics have had issues with this movie and particularly with Zhao’s joining of the MCU, I really enjoyed it, particularly when compared with other recent Marvel releases. If you enjoyed this film I would also recommend the behind the scenes documentary “Assembled“.
Maggie Gylenhaal – The Lost Daughter
Maggie Gylenhaal made a memorable directorial debut in 2021 with The Lost Daughter. Starring Olivia Coleman as Leda, Gylenhaal tells the story of a mother who confronts her past after meeting younger woman Nina (Dakota Johnson) and her daughter on a holiday in Greece. The movie takes quite a dark turn when we discover that the younger version of Leda abandoned her children for two years when they were growing up, and we observe as she confronts some of the reasons she had for doing this.
The Lost Daughter is an emotional journey from start to finish. As Leda is forced to revisit her own relationship with her children when Nina reminds her of herself in the past, she also comes face to face with the realities of her current situation through her friendship with resort staff member Will (played by Paul Mescal!).
Gylenhaal does a standout job of exploring these complex issues to do with motherhood and bringing us on this journey with Leda. Her directorial presence is really felt throughout the movie, and she makes such an impact with the material that really proves no one else could have done this job.
Alice Brooks – In The Heights & Tick, Tick…BOOM!
As Director of Photography on both In The Heights and Tick, Tick…BOOM!, Alice Brooks definitely deserves a mention on this list.
Directed by Jon M.Chu, In The Heights depicts a block in Washington Heights that is changing faster than the main characters can keep up with – or afford. Usnavi, named after the US Navy ships, runs the local bodega and dreams of returning to the Dominican Republic, and we closely follow his efforts to do this while keeping the neighbourhood around him together. This film is absolutely full of joy despite the events that are happening, and that is totally reflected in the bright colours and dizzying scale of Brooks’ cinematography.
If you haven’t watched In The Heights, I can’t understate how much I’d recommend it – this was the movie of the year for me, as its catchy songs, colourful sets and joy-filled performances gave so much to smile about. Alice Brooks’ cinematography here brings us fully into the world of singing, dancing and joy and the scale on which she does this is seriously impressive – capturing whole streets of dancers and bringing us fully along for the ride.
In contrast, Tick, Tick…BOOM! tells the rollercoaster of a story of Jonathan Larson’s journey towards musical success in writing Sondheim-inspired shows, as his personal life falls apart around him. Played by Andrew Garfield, we follow as Larson writes and writes to try and have something succeed before thirty, to the point of being frantic.
Garfield’s performance here stands out as one of the most memorable of the year, his version of Larson truly believable and his singing talent also jumping off the screen alongside that of Vanessa Hudgens. Throughout the film the musical sequences are brought to life by both his performances, as well as the combined work of Lin Manuel Miranda and Brooks’ cinematography. From a performance by musical legends in the Moondance diner, to the underwater “Swimming“, I would call the cinematography of this movie spellbinding.
Claire Mathon – Spencer
One of this year’s more controversial Oscar nods was for Kristen Stewart’s thrilling depiction of Princess Diana in Spencer, the cinematography for which was brought to life stunningly by Claire Mathon.
Following her success on Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Claire Mathon was approached by Director Pablo Lasson to recreate the Diana story in a way it has never been seen before. She definitely hasn’t failed to do this. Spencer depicts the turbulent final years in the marriage between Princess Diana and Prince Charles but puts a horror-esque twist on it and speculates on the inner happenings in Diana’s mind during this time.
This telling of Diana’s story feels more similar to a gothic novel than a royal biopic; as it examine the ways in which the Princess of Wales is stuck in her own life as her marriage falls apart over one Christmas period. Naturally, this is reflected throughout the cinematography as this element of darkness is also brought in through camera choices.
The main criticism of this movie is that it definitely isn’t historically accurate; I would say it’s more of an exploration of a mindset through the events rather than an accurate play by play of events. This is a deal breaker for some but I would say if you can suspend disbelief of that side this is a very interesting and suspenseful watch.