Unstreamable is a weekly column that finds films and TV shows you can't watch on major streaming services in the United States. This week we're celebrating Women's History Month by highlighting 12 films directed by women that we think should be more broadly available to watch. We've got films from Mira Nair, Kathryn Bigelow, Céline Sciamma, and more. This list is definitely not comprehensive—if you have any unstreamable recommendations, send them our way!
(Also, a little housekeeping: Chase is out on vacation for the next two weeks, so we'll have a few special guests joining Jasmyne for the column.)
USA, 1994, 85 min, Dir. Ayoka Chenzira
But while Just Another Girl confronts weightier issues like abortion, Alma's Rainbow is lighter, concentrated on puberty's beginning stages. The film follows Rainbow (Victoria Gabrielle Platt) as she rebels against her mother Alma (Kim Weston-Moran), which starts after her sexy Aunt Ruby (Mizan Kirby), a performer, unexpectedly camps out with the family for a while. Though it doesn't necessarily break the mold in terms of plot, the characters (and their bright costumes) are what give it life.
The film gives as much attention to the relationship between Alma and Ruby as it does to Rainbow. The result is a film that unspools the complex relationships between two generations of women—it's fucking refreshing. Watching Alma's Rainbow today makes me wish I had access to it as a teen when I was craving stories featuring fully-fleshed out awkward Black girls. I'm just glad I found it now.
USA, 1995, 145 min, Dir. Kathryn Bigelow
Strange Days feels eerily resonant today, despite its ballooned and overambitious script and runtime (it all made sense once the credits rolled and I saw "Screenplay by James Cameron"). Set in Los Angeles during the final days of the last century, Ralph Fiennes plays Lenny Nero, an ex-cop who deals illegal "SQUID" recordings, a futuristic technology that can record the memories and feelings of its wearer for later playback. Lenny gets tangled up in some messy shit when someone slips him a disk containing a memory of a violent sexual assault and murder. He ends up dragging his hot friend Mace (Angela Bassett) into the fray as the world counts down to the big and scary 2-0-0-0.
Shot in 1995, four years before the events of the film were meant to happen, this pseudo-future reflects the issues of year it was made: the platform of politically conscious rappers, police brutality, the explosive growth in tech. It's a great watch with some outstanding extensive POV shots. Heads up: there's a brutal scene of sexual assault about a third of the way through. JASMYNE KEIMIG
USA, 1996 , 103 min, Dir. Mary Harron
1968 was a wild year. MLK and RFK were both assassinated. The North Vietnamese communists launched the Tet Offensive. 5,000 university students and police rioted in Paris. Fucking “Hey Jude” was released. And among it all, Andy Warhol got shot by radical feminist Valerie Solanas for allegedly losing the script of a play she hoped he would produce (the play was titled Up Your Ass). Solanas was a lesbian and a sex worker who believed ardently in the inferiority of men and that women could reproduce without them. She famously wrote The S.C.U.M. Manifesto (Society for Cutting Up Men), an anarchic, feminist text that argued that men corrupted the world and only women could fix it.
Though it’s still unclear to me why she was so fixated on Warhol, Solanas’s points are incendiary, to say the least, but interesting to think about. Directed by Mary Harron (of American Psycho fame), I Shot Andy Warhol tells her story, incorporating some of Solanas’s original text into the narration. Lili Taylor transforms into Solanas in a performance that's both spirited and totally unhinged, almost convincing the audience that Warhol really needed to be shot. Also of note is Jared Harris as Andy Warhol, Stephen Dorff as Candy Darling, and Martha Plimpton as Solanas’s friend and sometimes lover, Stevie. Warhol never fully recovered from his encounter with Solanas, a traumatic event that haunted the rest of his life. JASMYNE KEIMIG
France, 2007, 85 min, Dir. Céline Sciamma
Water Lilies is the debut feature from Portrait of a Lady on Fire director Céline Sciamma. Fans of Lady on Fire will find similar things here: hushed, dramatic shots; fluid and femme sexuality; curious, blistering horniness. She wrote Water Lilies's script while still in film school, and it became a breakout hit. The story follows three 15-year-old suburban girls: Floriane (Lady on Fire's Adèle Haenel), a confident team captain of a synchronized swimming group; Anne (Louise Blachère), another synchronized swimmer who doesn't take anyone's shit; and Marie (Pauline Acquart), a quiet girl with a blossoming crush on Floriane. In less than 90 minutes, Sciamma executes a thoughtful, forceful feature on what it's like to be a girl standing in front of another girl asking her to take off her swim cap and kiss her.
The thing I come back to with Water Lilies is how focused Sciamma is about the way her characters move through space—whether they're strutting down a long cement runway, or swaying in a nightclub, or kicking across a pool. Since it's about synchronized swimmers, Sciamma fills the film with shots of young girls cutting through the water, their rigorous and athletic kicking obscured by elegant lines and smiles. I love how the bodies literally make a splash. But she carries this motion into her regular scenes, like when she places the teen girls against clashing fabrics so their bodies pop out like, yes, lilies. Even with this debut, it's clear Sciamma is a force. CHASE BURNS
USA, 1991, 118 min, Dir. Mira Nair
In 1972, Ugandan dictator Idi Amin expelled approximately 80,000 South Asians from the country, wanting to make way for “ethnic Ugandans.” Displaced, this Asian minority had nowhere to go. Mississippi Masala follows a Ugandan-Indian family who ends up in Greenwood, Mississippi, living in a motel owned by their extended family. The father grapples with having to forcibly leave his home, but his daughter Mina (Sarita Choudhury) acclimates to the American lifestyle—she likes dancing, drinking, and eventually falls in love with a very hot black carpet cleaner named Demetrius (Denzel Washington!!!). Does the film have a beautiful, complex interracial relationship where both characters learn, grow, and have hot sex? Yes! Does it dissect the very real, racist dynamics between minority groups often pitted against each other in a way that's neither condescending or boring? Yes! Does it understand the concept of home and belonging as a displaced person twice over? Yas! People, I’m crying over this film!!! JASMYNE KEIMIG
USA, 1992, 93 minutes, Dir. Katt Shea
A teenaged Drew Barrymore plays Ivy, a poisonous teen and powerful slut. She befriends a weird girl named Sylvie (played by Sara Gilbert), and they begin a lesbianesque relationship. Not quite lesbian. But almost. Ivy quickly moves in with Sylvie (why? just because) and her parents, who own a pink castle. Sylvie's father is a Danny Westneat-like editorialist, and Sylvie's mom is bedridden and hot. Ivy turns on the entire family, eventually murders one of them, fucks another, and spends the rest of the film tormenting the third.
Singer SZA named a song after Barrymore, and specifically Barrymore's performance in Poison Ivy. Let's close this blurb with SZA's take on the movie: “She was fucking up families and being weird, but she really just wanted to be loved. She was lashing out because she was lonely and pissed that her life was like this. I felt that.” I felt that, too. CHASE BURNS
France, 2001, 109 min, Dir. Coline Serreau
The film is directed by Coline Serreau, a popular French director known for creating the original Three Men and a Baby (1987), the French Three Men and a Cradle (1985). A little news peg: Disney announced today that Zac Effron will star in a 2022 Disney+ remake of Three Men and a Baby. The French original (the one with the Cradle) is unstreamable, so I may pick it out for next week. CHASE BURNS
Spain, 2003, 109 min, Dir. Icíar Bollaín
This film fucked me up. I checked it out after getting a recommendation from my Spanish friend when I professed how much I loved Luis Tosar's eyebrows (they are amazing). However, Tosar in this film is not so amazing.
Take My Eyes opens with Pilar (Laia Marull) in her destroyed-looking apartment, frantically packing a bag, grabbing her kid, and hurriedly leaving for his sister's place. When Pilar's sister, Ana, goes to retrieve more of Pilar's things from the apartment, she discovers medical records that prove her brother-in-law, Antonio (Tosar), has been abusive to the point of sending Pilar to the hospital multiple times. Ana commits to helping her sister find a job and having a safe place to stay.
But it's not as simple as that. See, Pilar knows many things to be true: that Antonio is abusive, which is wrong; that she is risking her life by staying and not telling anyone about the abuse; that she would like to be independent and have a job of her own. But also that she still wants to be with Antonio. And when he comes around telling her that he's in therapy and actively taking measures to get better, that affection and history Pilar has with her husband returns.
There were many opportunities for this story to go wrong, but director Icíar Bollaín deftly handles abuse with a finesse that makes the multi-layered story feel real and compelling. Especially the scenes with Antonio in group therapy with other abusive men. The leads give world-class performances; Marull's Pilar exudes both a strength and vulnerability that collides with Tosar's terrifying and deeply insecure Antonio. JASMYNE KEIMIG
Norway, 2011, 76 min, Dir. Jannicke Systad Jacobsen
I remember when I was a horny 15-year-old. I’d watch and masturbate to five-minute porn clips and GIFs on Tumblr—R.I.P. But in Norwegian comedy Turn Me On, Dammit, 15-almost-16-year-old Alma (Helene Bergsholm) has a penchant for masturbating to the wild, steamy stories of a phone sex line operator named Stig. She eventually racks up the phone bill so high, once discovered, she’s forced by her mom to get a job to pay it off.
Alma is humiliated, clearly. Especially since this revelation comes right after the popular Artur (Matias Myren) rubbed his naked boner on her thigh outside a party (to her delight) but then denied it in front of the entire school (to her dismay). Alma then becomes a horny outcast, spending her days flicking one out to romantic fantasies in her head, while wishing she could dip from her stupidly small town. What’s a girl to do!? And where’s the line between reality and made-up fantasy?
This sweet teen sex comedy is super pervy and relatable, but never exploitative. Turn Me On, Dammit was shot with actual teens who needed acting lessons before the shoot began, but you’d never guess it—Helene Bergsholm as Alma is a delight. Shout out to film critic Marya E. Gates for the recommendation. I found it in her Female Filmmaker Friday series on her blog Cinema Fanatic (which I’ve been following since she was on Tumblr and whose recommendations are hugely responsible for my own film literacy!). JASMYNE KEIMIG
USA, 1993, 123 min, Dir. Penelope Spheeris
On The Beverly Hillbillies, what do I need to say? You know this redneck fable. There's more right than wrong here in Spheeris's take. The sets and costume designs and actors are mostly all great—especially Lily Tomlin, who is really great. Tomlin's final major scene involves a monster truck and got me genuinely considering getting into motorsports. The plot is what sucks. Oh, the hillbilly girl doesn't want to wear a girly dress? Wow! Just stick around for Tomlin driving a monster truck. I know it has to be a stunt double, but let me live. CHASE BURNS
Australia, 1986, 76 min, Dir. Jane Campion
I was spellbound by this movie for exactly 72 minutes. And then that spell was broken.
Let me back up: Jane Campion's first feature film (made for Australian television) follows the relationship between two teen girls over the course of a year. But it's told in reverse. We arrive at the nebulous "end" of Louise and Kelly's friendship, once life circumstances separate the pair; Louise (played by Emma Coles) stays in a nice, private school while Kelly (played by Kris Bidenko) ends up squatting in an abandoned flat with her boyfriend. As we go back in time, the reasons for the dissolution of their relationship slowly become clear, as do the reasons why they were so close. But in one beautiful, dreamy sequence toward the very end, Kelly jokingly suggests that Louise is part "wog" for how dark her skin gets in the sun.
God. That was the exact moment I felt ripped in two. On one hand, I identified so deeply with the two friends. In them, I saw my own strange and fleeting friendships that I had with girls in junior high, where there was an intense intimacy despite our differences. And yet, Kelly's casual and unchecked use of a racial slur immediately overturned my sense of suspended reality, putting me back in my body. I then understood that despite the movie's universal themes and appeal, people like me were not a part of that imagined audience. And that's always disappointing. JASMYNE KEIMIG
Australia, 2008, 97 min, Dir. Elissa Down
I'm working my way through every movie that casts Toni Collette as a stressed-out mom, which brings us to The Black Balloon.
In Australian director Elissa Down's first feature-length film, the Mollison family is attempting to make things work for their son Charlie (Luke Ford), a boy with severe autism who communicates exclusively through sign language. Maggie (Toni Collette) is trying her hardest to chill out, as she's very pregnant and her doctor has ordered her to relax, but Charlie makes that difficult—his unpredictable tantrums send him running off into the neighborhood, breaking into houses, and pissing in other people's toilets. Maggie's husband is usually at work, and her other son, 15-year-old Thomas (Rhys Wakefield), is becoming more and more embarrassed by his brother.
Down's script is inspired by her own childhood. She grew up with two siblings on the autism spectrum, and Charlie is based off Down's youngest brother. Having a similar childhood as Down—both of my younger siblings are on the autism spectrum—I was interested in Black Balloon, although I always wince when neurotypical actors play autistic characters. That concern aside, the film swept the 2008 AACTA Awards (Australia's Oscars), winning Best Film, Direction, Original Screenplay, Editing, Supporting Actor (Wakefield), and Supporting Actress (Collette). Notably, the film also stars Australian supermodel Gemma Ward. CHASE BURNS
*Unstreamable means we couldn't find it on Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, or any of the other 300+ streaming services available in the United States. We also couldn't find it available for rent or purchase through platforms like Prime Video or iTunes. Yes, we know you can find many things online illegally, but we don't consider user-generated videos, like unauthorized YouTube uploads, to be streamable.