2014 has been nothing if not a year full of variety, showcasing filmmaking that featured an abundance of opportunities for women to shine, and many of them certainly rose to the occasion. Cinephiles were treated with an abundance of cinematic accomplishments achieved by women in the industry. Although there will always be cause for complain that women in Hollywood don’t get as many meaty, Oscar worthy roles and responsibilities as their counterparts, I stand to argue that 2014 has been a stellar year for the feminists of film. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights of this year with a very special awards ceremony. No boys allowed.
Ava DuVernay, Selma
Although I haven’t seen Selma yet, I think it’s safe to hand this one to Ava DuVernay, who has already locked herself in for a Golden Globe nomination and is the first black female director to do so. DuVernay has launched herself onto the radar this year in a huge way with her retelling of Martin Luther King’s civil rights march on Selma, Alabama. Although Selma was snubbed by several of the critic awards this year, DeVernay’s work in the Director’s chair is one accomplishment that will earn her some well deserved recognition by the Academy when the Oscar nominations roll out.
Honorable Mention: Jennifer Kent, The Babadook. This film has been gushed over by both die hard horror fanatics and general audiences since its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. How many directors can say they terrified moviegoers around the globe during their first stint in the chair? We expect to be seeing much more of you, Ms. Kent.
Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl
When it comes to filmmaking, there are few things as delicate and potentially volatile as adapting a beloved piece of written work for the screen. It’s also an equally slippery slope to involve the author of the source material so heavily in these adaptations, as penning screenplays and writing novels are distinctly different, yet equally daunting tasks. Gillian Flynn managed to preserve everything about the Gone Girl novel that made it such a terrifying psychological head trip while not hesitating to make sacrifices by making the necessary cuts required to condense a novel into a film with a reasonable run time. Flynn also gets extra girl power bonus points for creating the character of Amazing Amy Dunne, showing us all what diabolical brilliance in a gorgeous female form can really be capable of.
Reese Witherspoon, Wild
I will readily admit my ignorance when it comes to several of the buzzed about female performances of 2014 as I haven’t yet seen films such as The Immigrant and Still Alice, but I have difficulty imagining any of them boasting the same level of restraint and versatility as Reese Witherspoon did as Cheryl Strayed, a woman who turns to a brutal solo hike to help mourn her mother and realign her perspective on life. In a film loaded with flashbacks in order to expand the narrative beyond the constraints of only Strayed’s journey on the trail, Witherspoon flexed her acting muscles by embodying Strayed during a variety of milestone emotional moments, each one portrayed with a poignancy that translated the honesty of the moment, effectively creating a character that connects with the audience as a real person. This is Cheryl Strayed’s real story, and we feel it in Witherspoon’s performance every step of the way.
Amy Dunne, Gone Girl
Where do I even begin? No character, male or female, has exhibited such a heavily layered personality and cunning and horrifying unpredictability as Amazing Amy Dunne. Fans of the 2012 novel eagerly anticipated the ultimate Cool Girl’s big screen incarnation, and none of us were left disappointed. Every tiny nuance, from her body language to her facial expressions, was brought to life with terrifying perfection, adding even more depth to an already immensely complicated personality, which I previously discussed at length here. A giddy click of the heels, a calculated and perfectly placed meltdown within camera range, a vindictive spit in someone else’s drink. It all adds up to a compellingly complicated villain, and a fascinating character.
Sasha and Paige, Life Partners
Men get their great cinematic bromances (22 Jump Street anyone?) so why shouldn’t women have a good girlmance every now and then? A truly great female friendship has to be executed carefully on screen, because they are beautiful, special, and intricate relationships that require the proper balance of honesty and humor in order to translate as relatable and genuine. In Life Partners, Sasha and Paige remind viewers why these relationships are to be treasured. Their on screen friendship is particularly relevant for women of our generation, as it pulls from the anxieties and life obstacles every 20 something woman can identify with, and how important it is to share the ups and downs with someone who just gets you.
Katniss Everdeen, Mockinjay: Part 1
You all knew this one was coming. But really, how can a piece that discusses a year in iconic female achievements go without recognizing the Girl on Fire? There’s not much else to be said that wasn’t mentioned here or here, but it all deserves to be repeated endlessly. Katniss Everdeen isn’t fighting the good fight for a boy, and she sure as hell isn’t doing it for the fame and glory. She represents the meaning of true self sacrifice and is more than deserving of the admiration of both tweens and adults everywhere. We can only hope Hollywood takes the hint and continues to give young female audiences a hero like Katniss to look up to.
Honorable Mention: Honey Lemon and GoGo, Big Hero 6. No other film this year focused on celebrating diversity as much as this surprisingly fun yet sophisticated superhero film, which celebrated both cultural and gender diversity to the fullest extent. As my friend and colleague Diego Crespo so eloquently exclaimed, both Honey Lemon and GoGo are “great representations of women who kick ass but are still allowed to be feminine.” Well put, D.
Most Overlooked Female of the Year
Scarlett Johansson has somehow been criminally unrecognized for the talent and versatility she has showcased this year. She added depth to the character of Black Widow, further cementing her as one of the most compelling superhero in the Marvel cinematic universe (male or female). In Under the Skin she brought an other worldliness to a role that transcends the character’s origin, creating a gorgeous, lonely, lost soul that becomes more human than humans themselves. And she elevated a mess of a science fiction movie with her powerhouse presence and raw emotion. In short, she made this year in movies immensely more enjoyable, and we all thank her for it.
Honorable Mention: Tilda Swinton: Snowpiercer, Only Lovers Left Alive, The Grand Budapest Hotel. Tilda Swinton transforms herself so thoroughly for her roles, that often audiences don’t even realize they’re seeing her on screen. She disappears in her performances completely, whether it’s a rich, elderly woman or a slinky, sexy vampire, no one fully commits like Swinton,
What are some of your favorite female cinematic achievements for 2014? Let me know what I missed in the comments below!