Top 10: Kate Novack

The director of Hysterical Girl, shortlisted for the 93rd Academy Awards for Best Documentary Short, shares ten favorite films and what they’ve meant to her.

1. Jeanne Dielman 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Chantal Akerman, 1975) For radically redefining what is worthy of filling the frame. Intensely feminist in both story and form.

2. Ida (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2013) Anna is about to take her vows as a nun in 1960s Poland, when she finds out she’s Jewish. It’s technically a road movie, about personal and political loss and identity, and it’s devastating.

3. Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley, 2012) Such an unexpected meditation on the transformative power of secrets.

4. The Gleaners and I (Agnès Varda, 2000) A genius look at all strata of consumerist society. But the best part is Agnès Varda’s presence, and how her own collecting of images, ideas and observations allows her to make movies and live her life. It’s very poetic.

5. The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, 2012) Upended the idea of investigation in which artifice can reveal the most damning and grotesque of human instincts and history.

6. America (Garrett Bradley, 2019) Completely blurs the dividing lines between documentary and fiction to get at a much more nuanced and honest vision of what “truth” is, particularly around Black life and Blackness in America.

7. Janie’s Janie (Geri Ashur, 1971) A one-person coming of age story in which a woman who has been defined in the eyes of men her entire life finally claims herself. It’s an unapologetically “small” story with stakes that turn out to be enormous.

8. Town Bloody Hall (D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus, 1979) Watching Germaine Greer eviscerate a smug Norman Mailer is almost pornographic.

9. Opening Night (John Cassavetes, 1977) I watch every John Cassavates-Gena Rowlands collaboration as a film but also as a study of their artistic and personal partnership. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but Rowlands’ Myrtle Gordon in Opening Night is so provocatively chaotic, and because it’s a film about the fragile link between life and art, it’s a great window into the filmmakers’ own relationship.

10. L’Aventurra (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960) A big middle finger to the idea that film owes audiences big events and characters with clear motivations and wants. Women seem to bear the brunt of the film’s spiritual blankness — Claudia is left consoling Sandro over his shame for betraying her with another woman — but I’m still unsure if that’s an example or a critique of misogyny.

Kate Novack’s Hysterical Girl is now streaming.

10/10 is an ongoing series in which we ask cinephiles to name their ten favorite films from the last ten years (currently, between 2011 and 2021).