Wendy Mitchell reflects on women in film over the past 12 months and what to look forward to in 2015.
When I spoke to Jessica Chastain for this issue of Screen, she pointed out that none of this year’s likely Best Picture nominees was told from a female point of view. My stomach sank as I realised she was right.
Then in a must-read story for The New York Times over the holidays, film critic Manohla Dargis pointed out the six major studios had released only three films directed by women in 2014.
These are the kind of statistics that could make you want to give up and go back to bed.
But beyond the numbers there are some success stories that stood out in 2014. Angelina Jolie has directed a war epic in Unbroken, which was a big hit at the US box office over the holidays (and she also showed her box-office might starring in Maleficent).
Ava DuVernay was the director who finally got Selma made after years of delays; the film’s co-star and producer, Oprah Winfrey, is now a powerful force in the film industry.
Kelly Reichardt moved into thriller territory with Night Moves. Amma Asante had an audience and critical hit with Belle, about a mixed-race woman in 18th-century society. It also put Gugu Mbatha-Raw on the path to stardom, alongside another female-directed film, Gina Prince-Bythewood’s Beyond The Lights. Eliza Hittman made a name for herself with feature debut It Felt Like Love.
Thanks to The Hunger Games and X-Men: Days Of Future Past, Jennifer Lawrence was 2014’s highest-grossing actor.
Reese Witherspoon-starring Wild is an acclaimed story impressing cinemagoers of both sexes, about one woman’s epic trek and self-awakening.
Julianne Moore in Still Alice is a heroine dealing with the complicated diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
Ida was a female story and one of the best films of the year (foreign-language or otherwise), Obvious Child was a smart comedy unlike anything we’ve seen before - its heroine, played by Jenny Slate, didn’t have to apologise for being funny.
The Babadook, directed by Jennifer Kent, was routinely cited as the scariest film of the year. We Are The Best! demonstrated that a girls’ coming-of-age story could be about punk rock more than about boys and make-up. Writer Bola Agbaje and director Destiny Ekaragha broke through barriers with their London-set comedy Gone Too Far.
Edge Of Tomorrow was that rare blockbuster which showed the woman (an excellent Emily Blunt) kicking ass, while the man (action hero himself Tom Cruise) played catch up.
Gone Girl featured a heroine that didn’t fit into easy boxes, and Rosamund Pike looked like she had a blast bringing Amy to life. Scarlett Johansson showed a new side with her revealing performance in Under The Skin.
In Cannes, there were several female highlights. Marion Cotillard shone in Two Days, One Night. Xavier Dolan’s Mommy had two complicated female roles, and Alice Rohrwacher’s The Wonders was another highlight of Competition. Two Israeli films showed female power in front of and behind the camera: Shira Geffen’s Self Made and Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz’s Gett: The Trial Of Viviane Amsalem. Céline Sciamma’s Girlhood was a critical hit.
And looking ahead to 2015, there are some bright spots to come - Sam Taylor-Wood’s 50 Shades Of Grey is sure to be a huge hit when it opens on Valentine’s Day (everyone reading this is probably among the 40 million viewers of the trailer, admit it!). You might argue the books are not feminist works, but they’ve been huge hits for a female author and it’s great to see that a woman is at the helm of such an anticipated adaptation.
I’ve had an early look at StudioCanal, Big Talk and BBC Films’ smart romantic comedy Man Up, which is a funny, touching story (written by talent-to-watch Tess Morris) of a warts-and-all relationship, told refreshingly from the point of view of a 30-something woman, played with empathy and wit by Lake Bell.
A female Ghostbusters is also on the way. Pitch Perfect 2 is a female-centred sequel directed by Elizabeth Banks. Thea Sharrock directs Me Before You for MGM; Catherine Hardwicke directs Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette in Miss You Already, a drama about female friendship.
To be sure, the overall stats are depressing and embarrassing, and have to improve. But don’t let those numbers negate the positive work that is being done by women in film. It only gets better one job, and one woman, at a time.
Wendy Mitchell is contributing editor at Screen International