The Best and Worst Film Portrayals of Women in 2014

kathryn-bigelow-e1383061637534THE FEMINIST BENT of female movie characters (and TV protagonists for that matter) became the subject of passionate debate in 2014. It’s looking like movie execs struggling with the Bechdel Test are finally getting the message and maybe, just maybe, in five years’ time we’ll see the results of our current agitation for more multi-dimensional, realistic women to be seen on the big screen. But, to paraphrase Joss Whedon, we better keep agitating until articles like this one don’t have to exist.

The films released this year are kind of like stars (the night-sky kind), in that they should be seen as messages from the past. It takes a hell of a long time for a major movie to go from screenplay to cinema. What we see today represents the culture from five years ago or more, back when the films were in pre-production. In this Interstellar-inspired analogy, feminist discourse is of course represented by the light traveling between stars and the Earth. Anyway… on to my entirely subjective and limited-by-what-I’ve-seen rundown of 2014’s best and worst female movie characters.

Best Female Characters (in no particular order):

Wyldstyle/Lucy from The Lego Movie
She’s a punky, rebellious, feisty, smart, multi-faceted little Lego person and, yes, she is the real Special of the story. Sure, she suffers a terrible boyfriend in Batman, gets a good watering-down as the plot progresses so they can get that Hollywood ending, and then finds herself playing serious second fiddle to Emmett, but her wisecracks and sarcasm somewhat make up for that. Here’s hoping the sequel focuses on the little sister’s crazy Lego creations, as seen in the final scene.

Yona from Snowpiercer
She’s addicted to a weird drug from the future and has spent most of her life asleep. However, when she’s awake she’s a savvy, fast-thinking, super-powered fighter who teams up with Chris Evan’s Curtis to run their unjust train-bound society off the rails and then step into the unknown alternative.

Donna from Obvious Child
She’s a messy, complex, intriguing and very funny stand-up comedian who finds herself in need of an abortion and lets it be known that she has messy, complex feelings about that. She’s not got it entirely together, but she’s not striving for unlikeability in any obvious way.

Effie Trinket from The Hunger Games: Mocking Jay, Part I
Yeah, yeah, Katniss is the ultimate feminist and all that (or is she?), but it’s Effie who truly shines in this year’s installment of the franchise. Her fall from grace post-revolution, struggle to adjust and enlightenment as to the suffering of those living outside the Capitol all make for an interesting, nuanced character development, portrayed excellently by Elizabeth Banks (who also voiced Wyldstyle –- she needs an award of some kind).

Murph from Interstellar
She’s a child — albeit a forthright and intelligent one — when her dad leaves her under the care of her grandfather and brother to save the world in outer space, and what does she do? She becomes a better world-saver than him and (although I don’t quite understand how this happens) manages to figure out a way to re-home humanity and avert its extinction. Honorable mention goes to Anne Hathaway’s Amelia Brand, who plays a big part in said world-saving, too. Combined, they beat out Coop in a big way.

Gretta from Begin Again
Her slimy pop-star boyfriend has an affair while on tour and she goes out and makes her own cool, experimental album with the help of a nice male best friend and a nice male music producer, neither of whom she has to have sex with. The album is great and she decides to release it herself, instead of working with the male record label execs who just don’t get it. She has integrity, talent, and a lot of self-respect.

Robyn from Tracks
During the real-life 1970s, Robyn Davidson embarked on a one-woman 1,700-mile trek across the Australian outback with just her dog and some camels for company. She navigates the women-adverse rural towns and the taboos of Aboriginal culture. Then she intimidates and educates the National Geographic photographer, before seducing him.

Surely, there were many “worst” female movie characters of 2014, but I fortunately managed to avoid most of those films. Here are a couple of stand-outs from my own viewing:

Amy from Gone Girl
In the book she’s a feminist force, but the film adaptation makes her into something of a farce. Sadly, Gillian Flynn’s searingly-honest character did not translate well to screen. The significant plot changes made to two major character-defining incidents for the movie version (namely the past accusation of rape by a boyfriend and the murder of Desi) caused Amy to be cast as your run-of-the-mill psycho bitch. What could have been sublime became ridiculous in David Fincher’s hands, and we ended up with a Basic Instinct-esque big disappointment.

Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy
She has a few slight and unmemorable scenes in a movie that gives way more time and energy to the character-development of a male tree (we can assume Groot is male, I think) and a raccoon (also male). She’s barely sketched out in a film that otherwise reworks a bunch of dull superhero movie tropes.

Happy Christmas deserves to be mentioned, but I’m not sure which list it should go under. I can imagine it being an ultra-feminist movie with three great female characters played by great actresses, but I’m still not over the fact that Joe Swanberg’s 2013 movie Drinking Buddies had the most dire female character in Olivia Wilde’s Kate. Maybe he listened and learned, I’m not certain.

And I’m hoping that December will have two more releases that could make the “Best” list: Two Days, One Night with Marion Cotillard as a woman who, post-nervous breakdown, gets fired from her factory job, and Selma, a film that portrays the 1965 American Civil Rights protests, co-written and directed by Ava DuVernay.

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