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Best of 2014: female performances on film

Monolith Best Of 2014

Welcome to the third post in this continuing series of articles dedicated to recapping the year in film that was 2014. On Tuesday we covered the best musical moments, and yesterday we highlighted the best performances from male actors throughout the year.

Today, it’s the turn of the fairer sex, who turned in equally impressive work last year. There have been complaints across the board that there is less “choice” for female actors, and while that may contain a sliver of truth, there’s also the fact that a lot of voters are simply looking in the wrong places.

When Cate Blanchett accepted her Best Actress Oscar back in February, she used the podium to deliver a painfully accurate message about the lack of strong female roles in Hollywood. You can watch the whole speech below, but the pertinent part comes when she says:

…those who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films, with women at the center, are niche experiences. They are not. Audiences want to see them and, in fact, they earn money. The world is round, people!

It’s perhaps a little disheartening then to see that this year, the major awards competition is even slimmer. Consider that she was up against Amy Adams (American Hustle), Sandra Bullock (Gravity), and Judi Dench (Philomena), all starring in films that were nominated for Best Picture and featured strong female leads. Contrast that with the year before where the same conversation was occurring around Amour, Beasts Of The Southern Wild, Zero Dark Thirty, and Silver Linings Playbook, which again all featured fully developed female characters.

This year, however, the mainstream discussion is centered almost entirely on male-dominated films – American Sniper, Birdman, Boyhood, Foxcatcher, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Unbroken, Selma, The Imitation Game, Nightcrawler, Whiplash, and Interstellar. In fairness, a few of these films actually have well-rounded female characters in supporting roles, and Ava DuVernay (one of two female directors in the Best Picture race, the other being Angelina Jolie for Unbroken) works hard to shine a light on ways in which the contribution of women have been overlooked in past re-tellings of the Civil Rights movement in Selma.

But, there’s still a noticeable rift between gender and its relation to subject matter. With films like American Sniper, The Imitation Game, and Unbroken we can distill the appeal of the film’s simply as: see Alan Turing save the world (and then be punished for being gay!)! See Louis Zamperini overcome adversity in a true reflection of the American spirit! See Chris Kyle be a murdering racist douchebag in the name of Amurrica!

Wait, I may have lost it at that last part, but there’s something noticeably more universal about the roles written for men, opposed to women, who as you’ll see in this list often get more solitary, psychological roles. No big physical transformations here (well, not quite), instead we deal with women struggling with their own personal demons and situations that they are thrust into – rather than events that they necessarily make for themselves.

Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, but it’s something that’s worth bearing in mind when comparing the two lists. Regardless of gender though, there’s a bevy of incredible talent out there, so hopefully I’ll shine a light on something or someone new for you. Let’s begin.


Article may contain spoilers. Y’all have been warned.