Catherine Hardwicke hasn’t exactly gotten a fair shake in Hollywood. Despite directing several indie favorites and turning the first Twilight book into a goldmine, she’s gotten relatively little credit. Hardwicke tends to direct films aimed at feminine audiences, which are traditionally looked down upon by (overwhelmingly male) critics. She’s a true indie director who understands the power of storytelling, even on a shoestring budget. Hardwicke knows how to highlight emotion, using handheld camera techniques and working closely with performers to get the most out of every scene.
In Miss Bala, in theaters now, Gloria (Gina Rodriguez) is a makeup artist from Los Angeles who gets caught up in kidnapping, money laundering, and drug cartels after a trip to Tijuana. She ends up playing both sides, working with both the cartel leader and the DEA. She’ll have to rely on all her strength and cunning to survive the dangerous world of cross-border crime. Based on the 2011 Mexican film of the same name, Miss Bala highlights Hardwicke’s return to telling emotional stories about women in precarious situations.
Bio: Hardwicke was born in Cameron, Texas, in 1955. She graduated from the University of Texas in Austin with a degree in architecture but discovered that her creative style of architecture wasn’t what clients were looking for. Seeking a more whimsical outlet for her creativity, she enrolled in film school at UCLA. She began her Hollywood career dressing sets, working first as an Art Director, then as a Production Designer. After working with several high-profile directors, including Cameron Crowe and David O. Russell, Hardwicke co-wrote and directed her first feature film, Thirteen.
- Color grading as a narrative device
- Adolescent angst
- Vulnerable female protagonists
- High-stakes emotional storytelling
- Morality tales
- Collaborations with female screenwriters
Frequent Collaborators: Hardwicke is known for visual storytelling, and she worked with director of photography Elliot Davis on four of her films.
The Plot: Thirteen-year-old Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood) is a troubled teen who smokes and cuts herself but has somehow maintained good grades. That all changes when Tracy befriends popular girl Evie (Nikki Reed, who co-wrote the script with Hardwicke based upon her own troubled youth). Tracy and Evie start behaving badly, having sex, doing drugs, and committing petty crimes. Tracy’s life begins spiraling out of control, and she learns that hurting herself also hurts the ones she loves.
Unique Visual Flair: Thirteen was shot on a super 16mm camera, almost entirely handheld by cinematographer Elliot Davis. This gives the film a documentary-like style. Hardwicke also used color saturation to tell Tracy’s story. Before she meets Evie, the film is slightly less saturated, duller. During her friendship, the colors become almost magically bright. Then, as things begin to fall apart, the color begins seeping back out of the picture.
Most Emotional Moment: The film’s climax/final scene, in which Tracy finally breaks down in front of her mother (Holly Hunter, who was nominated for an Academy Award for the role).
Lords of Dogtown (2005)
The Plot: A biographical movie about the first modern skateboarders in Southern California, starting in 1975. Skip (Heath Ledger), the owner of a surf shop, begins recruiting young skateboarders to form a competitive group, the “Z-Boys”. The Z-Boys perfect their craft in empty swimming pools across Santa Monica, and eventually start winning contests and achieving fame. The Z-Boys abandon Skip to appear on T.V. and make money on their skills. The life of a professional skateboarder isn’t all glamour, however, and all three of the boys go through dark times before reuniting to visit a friend with a brain tumor.
Unique Visual Flair: 8mm and 16mm cameras were attached to skateboards for some unique action shots. The film was edited digitally to have high contrast and lots of saturation, in order to mimic the look of documentaries or news reels in the time period.
Most Emotional Moment: After the Z-Boys all show up to visit Sid (their friend with the brain tumor), Sid’s father drains the pool and they all have a wonderful time skating together and reminiscing about their lives before professional skating changed everything.
The Nativity Story (2006)
The Plot: In Nazareth in the year 1 BCE, teenage girl Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes) is betrothed to marry a local carpenter, Joseph (Oscar Isaac). She’s visited by an angel and told that she will give birth to God’s son. The Nativity Story focuses on Mary and Joseph’s trials and tribulations as they travel across the desert to Bethlehem. Though Hardwicke had a religious upbringing, she said she was especially interested in the story of Mary, a peasant girl and a teen who was suddenly thrust into greatness.
Unique Visual Flair: Though Hardwicke abandoned the highly-saturated look of her previous two films, The Nativity Story was nonetheless shot by Davis and still features highly dramatic lighting.
Most Emotional Moment: Though Mary is terrified, both of being an unwed mother and the repercussions for being one, she finds some faith in her destiny when taking a break in the field with a kinswoman who is also pregnant. Her kinswoman is beyond child-bearing age, and thus the two are the subjects of “miracles” on opposite ends of the age spectrum. The two stand together and touch one another’s rounded bellies. It’s a moment that makes the reality of Mary’s situation feel understandable, and illustrates the power of shared experiences.
The Plot: Social outcast Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) moves from Phoenix, Arizona to the tiny town of Forks, Washington. She meets Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), a mysterious boy with a strange secret. Despite finding out he’s a vampire, Bella falls in love with him and the two face a series of challenges to their forbidden fledgling relationship. The vampires want Bella for her blood, while her family disapprove of Edward. Can love conquer all?
Unique Visual Flair: Twilight has gorgeous color grading with deep turquoise tones that highlight both the chilly weather of the Pacific Northwest and the fairy-tale atmosphere of the story. Scenes with the vampires are much colder in tone than those of Bella and her family, which are instead shot with yellow and sepia highlights.
Most Emotional Moment: Bella confronts Edward about his inhuman nature in a meadow and he attempts to scare her away. (Although if anyone is ever scared away by sparkling, they should be ashamed.) The flowers surround Bella and Edward as they realize their connection and their entwined destinies.
Red Riding Hood (2011)
The Plot: Set in a medieval village, Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) faces a typical fairy tale dilemma: she’s in love with a woodsman (Shiloh Fernandez), but her parents have already betrothed her to marry a wealthy blacksmith’s son (Max Irons). Valerie’s plans to run away with the woodsman are interrupted when a werewolf that normally stalks the edges of the town attacks and kills her older sister. The villagers enlist the help of a famed werewolf hunter (Gary Oldman) to get their revenge, but Valerie worries that the werewolf’s true identity is that of someone close to her heart.
Unique Visual Flair: Red Riding Hood has the look of a fairy tale, with gorgeous scenery and set design. The costumes, color-grading, and cinematography by Mandy Walker, who also did the Beauty and the Beast update Beastly the same year, all enhance the fairy tale setting.
Most Emotional Moment: Valerie discovers the werewolf’s identity, and she has a much closer connection to the wolf than she thought. She must choose between saving the person she loves, or killing the wolf that has terrorized the village.
The Plot: An erotic thriller about a rising rock star named Hayley (Emily Browning) who loses her bandmate and brother to a drug overdose, pushing her into a downward spiral. Her band, Plush, puts out a second album that is hated by fans and critics alike. She attempts to fix her problems with a new guitarist, Enzo (Xavier Samuel). Hayley begins an illicit relationship with Enzo, despite her being married with two children. As she and Enzo’s lives become more entangled, she realizes the danger she’s brought to herself and her family.
Unique Visual Flair: Plush features lots of rock n’ roll set-pieces and allows Hardwicke to explore music video-style cinematography. Plush isn’t a masterpiece, but it is often gorgeous.
Most Emotional Moment: Enzo creates a music video for Hayley’s latest song, featuring bondage imagery and drawing heavily from Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” video. It’s extremely tense and has the most emotional impact in the film.
Watch it: Available to rent on Amazon.
Miss You Already (2015)
The Plot: Jess (Drew Barrymore) and Milly (Toni Collette) have been best friends as long as they can remember. Their friendship is put to the test when Milly discovers she has breast cancer and Jess finally becomes pregnant after trying fertility treatments. As they become estranged from their husbands and try to survive together, their secrets end up tearing them apart. The movie follows them as they attempt to reconcile their differences in the face of tragedy and explores the complicated relationships we all have with the people we love.
Unique Visual Flair: Hardwicke shot two of the film’s close-up shots on an iPhone 5 because she felt that it allowed for more intimacy with the actors than a traditional, large film camera.
Most Emotional Moment: This entire film is a series of heartbreaking gut-punches, so it’s nearly impossible to pick a most emotional moment.
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