Films by Women: Five Movies to Watch in September

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Films by Women: Five Movies to Watch in September

The "52FilmsByWomen" hashtag isn’t a new invention, but in the last few years, and especially 2017, it’s gained increasingly urgent relevance. Created and disseminated by Women in Film, a nonprofit outlet established to "achieve parity and transform culture," the tag translates into a simple pledge: Watch one movie directed by a woman each week for an entire year. To help those interested in putting their viewing habits to good use, Paste is highlighting some of September’s best new movies in theaters, as well as on home video, directed by women.

In Theaters:

Kusama: Infinity
Release Date: September 12, 2018
Director: Heather Lenz

Movies like Kusama: Infinity are a dime a dozen: Artist portraits treading every inch of ground from their subjects’ upbringing and early days in the art world, to their inevitable rise to success and acclaim, to perhaps their downfall or brief downswing, and finally to wherever they may come to rest in their lives. These movies tend to take few risks, and in taking few risks they end up saying little about the artist that can’t be easily gleaned from Wikipedia searches. Worse, they don’t justify themselves as cinema. What Heather Lenz accomplishes with Kusama: Infinity is depth. Rather than stop short of litigating the forces that kept Yayoi Kusama, one of Japan’s most multifaceted contemporary artists, from gaining the immediate recognition she so deserved for her talent, she dives right in. The film is equally about Kusama and about matters of gatekeeping, picking apart questions of who gets to decide which artists are celebrated by the art world establishment. Short version: The establishment system is designed to prop up white dudes. Connect the dots from there, as Kusama does on canvas, capturing chunks of the universe’s boundless energy in microcosmic brushstrokes. (Her work, particularly the infinity mirror room, plays very, very well as cinema.) The risks Lenz does take may feel small, but like Kusama’s work, they speak volumes in concert with one another. —Andy Crump

A Happening of Monumental Proportions
Release Date: September 21, 2018
Director: Judy Greer

Judy Greer is one of those character actors who instantly elevates whatever material she’s given, be it movie or TV show. With almost a hundred and thirty credits to her name, spanning over two decades, her impeccable comedic timing has been on display countless times (think Kitty Sanchez from Arrested Development or Cheryl Tunt from Archer), but Greer can also show her versatility as a dramatic actress—consider her brief, powerful monologue in The Descendants. Now, with the spirited competence demonstrated in her directorial debut, the far from unique but perfectly affable ensemble dramedy A Happening of Monumental Proportions, Greer might be on the verge of a second career path. —Oktay Ege Kozak / Full Review

All About Nina
Release Date: September 28, 2018
Director: Eva Vives

Eva Vives’ grimy, crusty black comedy about the comedy world works best in its primary mode: As a story about navigating that world as a woman, that woman being (surprise!) Nina (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), an acerbic, sharp, blisteringly funny stand-up with a life out of sorts, a brutal drinking problem, and worse taste in men than her alcoholic upheavals leave in her mouth. (Her ex, played by Chace Crawford, hits her, hard, within the film’s first five minutes, and just a minute after that, we see them together basking in the morning afterglow of late night sex.) All About Nina functions well as a profile of its lead, and her past (at first unspoken) trauma, and how the things she’s lived through have shaped her as both a woman and as a comic. It functions less well by comparison as a rom-com, as Nina slowly, cautiously falls for Rafe (Common), an older, but gentle, honest man, who shows her the curative power of real adult love. Sort of. The film skirts the edges of eye-rolling cliché, mostly thanks to the blunt, bleak hilarity of its central thread. It helps that Winstead carries that frank tenor through her work, such that even when All About Nina courts excess sentiment it still speaks in a bitter language; she gives an absolute knockout performance, making her the strongest (and perhaps only) recommendation anyone needs for checking the movie out in the first place. —Andy Crump

At Home:

The Land of Steady Habits
Release Date: September 14, 2018 (Netflix)
Director: Nicole Holofcener

Hollywood has Ben Mendelsohn all wrong. He’s not a villain. He’s a well-meaning but ultimately bumbling putz. Sure, he has a knack for portraying menace, for articulating a commanding sense of cold authority through his wiry frame, but the truth is that to look at Mendelsohn is to see something of an everyman, and Nicole Holofcener puts those underexplored characteristics on stage for her latest, The Land of Steady Habits. Mendelsohn plays Anders Hill, newly retired after growing sick of his career in the finance world, and recently divorced from his wife, Helene (Edie Falco), after growing discontent with their marriage (though he still pines for her despite the fact he’s the schmuck who ended it). The film hovers in the gravitational pull of his New England upper middle class white male ennui, the kind that’s casually pitiable but completely insufferable by dint of being self-inflicted. The Land of Steady Habits is not nearly as surefooted as Holofcener’s other films (Enough Said this is not), a tad too listlessly episodic, but her easy, nimble direction leads Mendelsohn and Falco to scads of lovely, oft-hilarious embellishments. —Andy Crump

City of Joy
Release Date: September 7, 2018 (Netflix)
Director: Madeleine Gavin

City of Joy is a piercing little film, by turns appalling and uplifting, that manages to go straight to the heart of a complex issue and contend with it eloquently, bravely, and concisely. It’s firmly in the "you need to know about this" category. Both at a geopolitical level, because it is not a crisis you’re going to find getting a lot of play in U.S. news media and it really is shocking to see what’s going on behind the scenes—your corporate and government corruption conspiracy theories will be calmly, coolly and thoroughly validated—and at a much more personal level, because it is crucial to understand how much can be done to heal people who have endured horrific experiences. This film will show you a deeply needed example of the power of compassion and support even in the face of the unimaginable. —Amy Glynn / Full review