‘Wonder Woman’ hit the cinemas this past weekend. Most people seem to love it (I have yet to see it…). ‘Wonder Woman’ may be the first female-led superhero film for some time (can we even count ‘Electra’ or ‘Catwoman’?). And it got me to thinking about women in film. More specifically, female led films. What are my favourite female led films? We deserve more female led films, of course. The gender bias is still clear and present in Hollywood (especially in the area of directors). But, more often than not, when females lead the way, there are some great films to behold. And here are my Top 10 Female Led Films…
Unlike most of Lars Von Triers’ films, this is suitable for a wide audience. There’s little violence or sex within it. It’s the story of the world facing destruction with the event of a similar looking planet heading towards it. But it’s also the story of two sisters coming together in the face of such destruction. Justine, played by Kirsten Dunst, and Claire, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, are the sisters, the other two objects irresistibly pulled tougher. Justine is about to get married….but things take a strange and unpredicted tangent. Apart from her turn as Mary Jane in the Spider-Man trilogy, I’d never seen Kirsten Dunst in much before. Neither had I seen Gainsbourg in much else. But the two here put on powerhouse performances. There’s nothing overly dramatic or award-begging, but there’s several levels of subtleness that come out on repeated viewings.
How difficult is it to portray a real life serial killer on film? And how difficult is it to evoke a degree of sympathy for said serial killer? Charlize Theron pulls it off with ease. She plays Eileen Wuornos, who was executed in 2002 for killing six men. Wuornos was mentally ill, a prostitute who feared every man wanted to rape her after being raped by a client. She’s compassionless, almost empty, but there’s a glimmer of a human being that has been slowly erased by the horrors of life. Theron deservedly won a Oscar for her performance, which is more than skin deep. She shaved her eyebrows, but on weight, and more prosthetic teeth. But it’s her mannerisms, her manner of speech, and presence that make her a sympathetic serial killer. Oh, it’s also directed by Patty Jenkins, who was helmed ‘Wonder Woman!’
Volver is a film full of colour and light, but also sadness and darkness. The nature of the story would, on paper, seems depressing. But the direction, visuals and performances make the film bright and optimistic. It’s a tale that could fit into a 19th century Victorian novel, with its familial twists and turns. And Penelope Cruz steals the show as the main character, Raimunda. She’s at the centre of the story, thematically and literally. Cruz puts on a performance to match the character’s stature. Moving, hilarious and enchanting, Cruz proved that she’s a contender in the realm of actresses.
- Boys Don’t Cry
This is the role that made Hilary Swank a superstar. She plays Brandon Teena, a trans man. And what a performance she puts on. To portray a character of the same sex is difficult enough, but to play a transgender character must be almost impossible. But Swank pulls it off with aplomb. There may not be much of a plot to speak of, but Swank’s sheer power carries the film. It’s a film not for the weak of heart, with some brutality that is stomach churning. But it’s worth it.
- Mulholland Drive
David Lynch’s surrealist masterpiece was voted as the greatest film of the 21st Century. I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s a bloody good film. It’s a narrative that leaves you bewildered after several viewings. But what you’ll remember, more than anything, is the performance on Naomi Watts as Betty Elms, an aspiring actress. She essentially plays two characters, that of Betty Elms and that of Diane Selwyn. She makes the characters so different as to be distinguishable from a mere glance or comment. Yes, it’s a brain-twister (but, according to Lynch, has an easily accessible narrative). It will keep you chewing the cud for a long time after viewing it. But that’s part of its charm.
Be prepared to cry a lot during this film. It’s the story of a woman who’s been held captive by a man for years and her son who knows nothing but the insides of the room in which they are imprisoned. Jacob Tremblay, as her son Jack, is nothing short of stunning. It’s a fantastic child performance. But Brie Larson, as his mother, steals the show. She imbues the film with empathy, sympathy and sadness. She’s utterly believable as a woman struggling to cope with reality (and giving her son another reality). The Oscar was hers to win.
The first adaptation of a Stephen King novel is one of the best. It’s scary, horrific and haunting. It’s about a girl who, upon reaching puberty, discovers she has the powers of telekinesis. She’s bullied at school, and at home by her overly religious mother. The shot of Carrie’s first menstrual blood trickling down her leg is one I’ll never forget. But another thing I can’t forget is Sissey Spacek’s performance as Carrie. Her transformation from meek geek to superpowered psychopath is earth-quaking.
Denis Villeneuve made one of 2016’s best films in ‘Arrival,’ the story of aliens arriving on our planet. It wasn’t the simple invasion movie full of destruction, but a thoughtful and philosophical discussion on how communications between humans and aliens would occur. At the centre of the narrative is Amy Adams, as linguistics professor Louise Banks. Her personal story, about the loss of a child, intertwines with the over-arching narrative of her attempts to understand the cryptic alien language. Adams doesn’t have to sob loudly or bang walls in frustration to convey her feelings; all it takes is a look, a subtle tick, or a baited breath. It’s a crime she wasn’t even nominated for Best Actress at this year’s Academy Awards. Because she deserved to win it.
(click here for my review!)
It’s placed #3 in My Top Ten Films I’ve Seen More Than Five Times (click here for my list!). It’s a classic science fiction film. It’s a blueprint that all sequels should follow. Unlike ‘Alien,’ it’s not a straight horror film. There’s still horror within, but it’s an action/war movie. Oh, and it contains one of the all-time best female performances in film by Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley. In ‘Alien,’ she played the archetypal female survivor in the horror genre; surviving by her wits alone. Here, she’s evolves into a bad ass! Yes, she still mourns her daughter (and finds a surrogate one along the way). But she learns how to wield a gun and a power loader. The final battle, between a mother and a queen, is awesome. It’s Weaver’s film from start to finish.
(click here for my review!)
- Black Swan
It’s placed #4 in My Top 10 Films of All Time (click here for my list!), and for good reason. It’s a taunt psychological horror that mixes body horror with doppleganger themes. But what makes it something special, more than the direction or the story, is Natalie Portman as Nina. Portman deservedly won as Oscar for this role. She embodies the shy, quiet ‘White Swan’ side to Nina’s personality, but also embodies the seductive, sly nature of the ‘Black Swan.’ Her transformation from ‘White Swan’ to ‘Black Swan’ is nothing short of stunning.
Kill Bill Vol. 1/2
Agree or disagree? Any you’d take away or add? What is your Top 10?