In many ways, 2013 was the first year I “got into” films. I started writing for Scannain and watched more movies than any other year put together, I imagine. As a young, critical, strident feminist, more often than not I became drawn to films with decent female characters – sadly, few and far between. There was a lot to be mad about this year regarding women on film – the lack of female directors, the lack of recognition for those directors and the continuing, rage-inducing portrayal of women as sex objects and little more (Every Superhero Film Ever, I am looking at you), and Seth McFarlane’s deeply unfunny hosting of the Oscars is perhaps the one that takes the biscuit. That said, 2013 offered plenty to be pleased about – without further ado, here are some of my highlights from this year:
#1 – “In A World…” – dir. Lake Bell
Written, directed and starred in by Lake Bell, my new hero. The film – a pretty hilarious look at gender bias in the world of voiceover work. She plays a daughter of a world-famous voice artist who desires to break into that same world. It’s pretty brilliant by any standards, but is made all the better because it directly challenges the sexism of the film industry. By turns touching, shocking and funny, you will be hard pushed to find better portrayals of women on film this year.
#2 – How I Live Now – dir. Kevin MacDonald
A woman on film can’t seem to be all that nuanced, which is why I enjoyed How I Live Now so much. Saoirse Ronan nails it in the apocalyptic drama, set in a world scarily close to our own. Ronan’s performance is nuanced: it’d be far too easy for the character of Daisy to be a straight up moody teenager: in Ronan’s careful hands, she’s troubled, loving, impulsive and emotive all at once. Though not the most endearing performance of the year, she certainly showed us that she’s a force to be reckoned with and her portrayal of Daisy is absolutely bewitching.
#3 – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – dir. Francis Lawrence
God bless Jennifer Lawrence, then, a woman I hail as the queen of this movement for her portrayal of Katniss Everdeen in “The Hunger Games”. After the Twilight Saga, too many girls saw Bella Swan as a hero – a clumsy woman-child who spends four films drooling over an old creepy guy. Yeah, I said it. That’s the “hero” of a generation – or at least it was until J. Law’s angry, violent, stunning Katniss Everdeen shot onto screens. Lawrence is even better in “Catching Fire”, showing that it’s okay to be tough, smart and strong but also to cry and feel like you need a hug. Instead of a generation of girls waiting for Mr. Right to turn them into a sparkly vampire, let’s hope Katniss inspires a generation to become as badass as she is. Regardless of feelings on The Hunger Games film franchise, Lawrence and co. are indeed admirable for bringing Katniss Everdeen to life in all her complexity.
#4 – Gravity – dir. Alfonso Cuarón
Gravity is the film critics and audiences alike haven’t shut up about since its release in November. Sandra Bullock’s performance has been praised roundly – she basically carries the film alone. What’s remarkable about Dr. Ryan Stone, her character, is that she could have been a man. Easily. Nothing about Stone is explicitly “feminine” in Gravity: she’s profoundly human. She cries. She complains, she messes up and she’s incredible brave. By writing Dr. Stone as a woman, Cuarón took a risk – a risk that resulted in one of the best performances of 2013.
There were a dozen films this year that strove for equality: even if the source material wasn’t explicitly feminist. As anyone with eyes will cop, Hollywood is sorely lacking female directors: this year, we had Gabriela Cowperwaithe’s phenomenal Blackfish, as well as lighter releases like Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring and Kimberly Peirce’s Carrie. Frozen was co-directed by a woman; several other releases like Ginger and Rosa and The Heat lend themselves to praise, too.
I think what’s been most important this year is that in both in the indie and mainstream worlds of cinema, we’ve seen portrayals of women outside the same dull categories: the “strong”, the “cute” and the “sexy” woman. Dr. Ryan Stone in Gravity was tough as nails but still learns how to cry (in space). Lake Bell’s Carol Solomon is quirky, but not in the sort of way that grates on many a feminist’s nerves. Sadly, I didn’t get to see a lot of apparently ground-breaking performances this year: Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine and Judi Dench in Philomena to name but a few. I can’t simply see it all, but nonetheless, here are some I picked out over the last year not only as great movies, but Fantastic Feminist Films. As years go, 2013 wasn’t a bad one for women – next year, we can await with baited breath the directorial efforts of Angelina Jolie and Melissa McCarthy, amongst others. Only time will tell if the breakouts of 2013 will capitalise on their success: until then, here’s to the women of 2013 and the brilliant films that they’ve produced. In 2013 there were several women who transcended the typical women on film stereotypes.