Happy October! I wish you a month of autumnal views and getting extra friendly with your couch. While you're there, you're going to need a proper binge-watching list, so we've curated a catalogue of worthwhile movies for you to cozy up to.
Now, what makes a good movie is subjective. But I find that the good ones typically give women roles beyond background noise. So, in order to narrow down the gems, I use the Bechdel Test.
What's the Bechdel Test, you ask? In 1985, cartoonist Alison Bechdel published a strip titled "The Rule" (see below) for her comic Dykes To Watch Out For, in which one woman explains to another that she'll only watch a film if it meets three requirements:
- It has to have at least two women in it.
- They have to speak to each other.
- The topic of the conversation has to be about anything other than men.
And like that, the Bechdel test was born. Bechdel later said that the idea came from her friend, Liz Wallace. As such, the test is often referred to as the "Bechdel–Wallace test."
Of course, the test is somewhat arbitrary and by no means a way to designate whether a film is feminist, but if we're watching movies that can't be bothered to include two women talking about literally anything but men, we're letting filmmakers get away with a pretty big disservice to their audiences.
As I began compiling my monthly round-up of new movies to Netflix that pass the Bechdel Test, I was bummed to see that the pickings were slim—even more so than usual. Here are the seven I found:
Angel Eyes is an early 2000s romantic drama starring Jennifer Lopez—need I say more? If so, J.Lo plays a Chicago police officer named Sharon who survives an altercation with an active shooter after a random man jumps the shooter and saves her life. That night, Sharon gets a drink with the mysterious man, known as "Catch," to thank him and the two begin to fall for each other. Later, she learns that the man wasn’t simply a good-hearted bystander, but that she once saved his life while on duty. While Sharon tries to understand Catch, she confronts the animosity in her estranged family that stems from when she got her father arrested for beating her mother. Even though the movie is a romance, it passes the Bechdel Test due to conversations between Sharon and her mother about Sharon's relationship with the family.
Trigger warning: sexual assault, self-harm, toxic men
In this supernatural horror film, Keanu Reeves plays Kevin Lomax, a successful lawyer from Florida who is defending a teacher accused of molesting one of his students. Kevin continues to defend his client, even after realizing that he's guilty, and secures a "not-guilty" verdict. After his success at the cost of the child victim, Kevin is offered a job at a firm in New York, and moves there with his wife Mary Ann (Charlize Theron). In their new home, Mary Ann begins to feel isolated from her husband and haunted by demonic visions. When she tells Kevin she's been raped by his new boss, he refuses to believe her, and instead checks her into a mental hospital. Spoiler: in the end, Kevin's boss is revealed to be the Devil, making it clear that Mary Ann was not hysterical. Although the majority of the movie revolves around the ever-toxic Kevin Lomax, Mary Ann's conversations with her friend Jackie mean it passes the Bechdel Test.
Like any classic 90s coming-of-age film, comedy-drama Empire Records takes place over the course of one long day. The movie follows a group of record store employees—including Corey Mason (Liv Tyler), Debra (Robin Tunney), and Gina (Renée Zellweger)—as they try to prevent the store from being sold to a corporate chain. Throughout the day, the teens bond over their biggest fears, mental health issues, and crushes—and somehow, manage to save the shop.
Truth or Dare (Oct 3)
Like many scary films before it, Truth or Dare follows a group of college students who rent a secluded house for Halloween. This time, the house is allegedly haunted by a spirit who played a game of truth or dare gone awry years back. Once there, the group decides to play the game themselves—because of course they do. Surprise, surprise: Things turn very creepy very fast. Both before and after things turn sour, two of the women in the group have multiple discussions about their tumultuous friendship. Truth or Dare is predictable, but what's October without a classic, cheesy thriller?
Private Life (Oct 5)
Private Life follows couple Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) and Richard (Paul Giamatti) as they struggle to conceive their first child in their forties. As failed IVF and adoption frustrations sew tensions between the two, their niece, Sadie, who's recently dropped out of college, comes to stay with them. Sadie quickly realizes that it may not have been the best time to visit her aunt and uncle, but it becomes clear pretty quickly that her presence is actually helping in unexpected ways. Conversations between Rachel and Sadie give Private Life its passing Bechdel grade.
Malevolent (Oct 5)
Malevolent follows a brother and sister duo who dupe people into believing that they can communicate with the dead in order to make money. They're seasoned scammers until a woman named Mrs. Green calls them to her house, a former orphanage where the murders of several young girls took place. There, the two have paranormal encounters that are a bit too real for their liking.
Been So Long (Oct 26)
In Netflix's new musical set in London, Michaela Coel stars as Simone, a single mother who hasn't been on the dating scene in, well, so long. That is, until she meets Raymond, a handsome man with a heavy past, on a night out in Camden. The movie is lush with gorgeous, bright visuals and offers a refreshing look at love. It also passes the Bechdel Test, thanks to conversations between Simone, her best friend, and her daughter.