A Brief Guide To Big Little Lies Season 2 Director Andrea Arnold's Best Movies

When I first heard that Andrea Arnold had been hired to direct the second season of Big Little Lies, I was elated. The British director has three Cannes Jury Prizes under her belt (for three out of her four features), as well as an Academy Award for Best Short, and her distinctive, dreamy visual style, and history of empathetic portrayals of women in difficult moral quandaries, seemed a perfect fit for the hit HBO show — with the added bonus of introducing her to a more mainstream audience. But something’s been off about this season, which aired its penultimate episode on Sunday, and now, we know why.

On Friday, Indiewire published a story alleging behind-the-scenes drama between Arnold and season 1 director turned executive producer Jean-Marc Vallee, who, along with show creator and writer David E. Kelley, reportedly wrested creative control from her in post-production. If that’s true, the final product, far from being representative of Arnold’s original vision for the season, is more like a mish-mash of footage, re-shoots, and major edits, all meant to give the illusion of visual cohesiveness with Vallee’s Emmy-winning first season. If true, these revelations would be incredibly disappointing, especially for a show that has been so praised for its role in uplifting women in Hollywood.


HBO responded to the allegations in a statement provided to Refinery29: “There wouldn’t be a Season 2 of Big Little Lies without Andrea Arnold. We at HBO and the producers are extremely proud of her work. As with any television project, the executive producers work collaboratively on the series and we think the final product speaks for itself.”

Still, the news has caused critics to reassess certain moments in the show (like the now-infamously deleted ice-cream scene), wondering whether or not they were part of Arnold’s original cut. So far, the scene of Jane dancing to the soundtrack from Call Me By Your Name in the season premiere seems the most in line with Arnold’s style and penchant for quirky musical cues, but overall, the season’s aesthetics overwhelmingly lean towards Vallee’s signature interplay of memory and flashback cuts.

But if you’re curious about Arnold’s filmography, or just want to be able to spot her signature flourishes within Big Little Lies, we’ve rounded up some of her best, must-watch work. By the end of your marathon, you’ll want to pull a Laura Dern and buy this T-shirt.

American Honey, 2016

Who’s in it: Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf, Riley Keough
Where you can watch it: Netflix, Amazon Prime, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play, iTunes

Arnold’s sweeping two-and-a-half hour coming-of-age epic won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival when it premiered there in 2015. No surprise there. It’s a colorful, hazy dream of a movie that captures all the urgency of growing up, despite its languid pace and sweeping vistas. Arnold famously cast her star, breakout Sasha Lane, when she spotted her dancing on a beach in Florida, and was mesmerized by Lane’s vibe. She plays Star, a teenager who leaves her broken home in Oklahoma and heads off on a road trip with a crew of nomadic teens selling magazine subscriptions to make ends meet.

Arnold’s creative use of a particularly great soundtrack stands out more than ever in this case, especially a scene early on in the movie in which crew-leader Jake (Shia LaBeouf and his scumbag sexy rat-tail) and his group of misfits, throw a Rihanna dance party in the checkout aisle of a Target. It’s on Netflix now, so make that your first stop.

Fish Tank, 2009

Who’s in it: Katie Jarvis, Kierston Wareing, Michael Fassbender
Where you can watch it: YouTube, Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes

Full confession: I first discovered this movie in the throes of a Michael Fassbender obsession, during which I watched every movie of his I could find. But while there is an excellent scene suggesting the top dimples of his naked butt, Fish Tank really isn’t about him at all. (Actually he’s the bad guy, and though his charm makes him really hard to dislike, don’t be fooled.)

Jarvis plays 15-year-old Mia Williams, who lives in a bleak East London council estate with her volatile and violent mother, and younger sister, dreaming of a career in dance. Fish Tank is her coming-of-age tale, one that is often disturbing in its gritty portrayal of working class realities — Arnold doesn't sugarcoat the things that are uncomfortable for viewers to watch.

But its most potent message is about the sexism and aggression that young women face in the pursuit of their ambitions. Mia is seduced by Connor (Fassbender) her mother’s boyfriend, who acts as a mentor (he notably introduces her to Bobby Womack’s cover of “California Dreaming”) to her only to prey on her sexually. Still, Arnold’s camera captures the joy in Mia’s training scenes, as she works to hone her dance skills as her ticket to a better life. It’s a jarring, compelling movie that will leave you thinking about certain scenes for years after.

Wasp, 2003

Who’s in it: Danny Dyer, Natalia Press
Where you can watch it: YouTube

Arnold’s third short film won her the Oscar for Best Original Short at the 2005 Academy Awards. (Just listen to Jeremy Irons read out her name!) In 26 minutes, Wasp sets up an irreverent and intimate look at a young mother (Press) struggling to juggle a love life while taking care of her four kids. Set in Arnold’s own hometown of Dartford, a working class town outside of London, it won critical acclaim at festivals like TIFF and Sundance, setting up Arnold — who had worked as a writer and actress before stepping behind the camera — as a director to watch.

Red Road, 2006

Who’s in it: Kate Dickie, Natalie Press, Tony Curran
Where you can watch it: Amazon Prime UK, BFI Player

Arnold’s first feature-length film, about a Scottish CCTV operator (Dickie) who develops an obsession with an ex-convict (Curran), was developed as part of a series by the Advance Party of Filmmakers, which tasked three directors to create movies using the same characters. Arnold cast first-time actors, and shot the whole thing in six weeks on a budget of £1 million.

Named for the Red Road apartments in Glasgow, Scotland, the movie showcases Arnold’s affinity for handheld cameras and natural light. It won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival where it screened in competition for the Palme d’Or.

Wuthering Heights, 2011

Who’s in it: Kaya Scodelario, James Howson, Oliver Milburn, Nichola Burley
Where you can watch it: YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, iTunes

The director made waves by casting a Black actor, James Howson, as Heathcliff, a character that had traditionally been thought of as white, and portrayed by the likes of Lawrence Olivier, Ralph Fiennes, and Tom Hardy. This was in keeping with Arnold’s interpretation of Emily Bronte’s original text, which describes Cathy’s lover as a “ a little Lascar,” a 19th century term used to describe sailors from India.

The result is a bold, raw take on Wuthering Heights, which was praised for its visuals. Cinematographer Robbie Ryan won an award at the Venice Film Festival, while Arnold was nominated for a Golden Lion, the festival’s highest honor.

According to The Guardian, a farmhouse without electricity or running water in the moors of North Yorkshire was used as one of the primary filming locations, adding to the overall moody and dark atmosphere that highlights the almost gothic nature of Bronte’s desperate and destructive love story. Plus, Mumford & Sons recorded two original songs for the movie — as you’ve probably gleaned by now, Arnold’s all about that soundtrack.
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