It's certainly been a week for women in film with the release of Annihilation, A Wrinkle in Time and Jessica Jones season two. There's a variety of female empowerment to engage with this weekend and in light of yesterday's International Women's Day, I put together a list of films all starring badass female characters in various roles and stories. While a few are big blockbusters, there are some smaller films that might have slipped under the radar. These picks are my personal and recent favourites, and there's a ton more out there to choose from, so take this list as a sample and not a definitive statement. Whether at home or in a giant movie theatre, why not settle in with a bowl of popcorn and appreciate the role of women in film this weekend.
Before tackling Mudbound, director Dee Rees gave us her most personal film to date. 2011s Pariah follows teenager Alike, and we watch as she begins to embrace her queer identity as well as the ensuing sexuality that comes with it. It's gorgeous colours and fluid camera movements come from Arrival cinematographer Bradford Young, and Dee Rees subtle hand allows the audience to soak everything in. Pariah doesn't ask you to take anything away from it's story, instead wanting the audience to go along for the ride. Offering a unique perspective on young love in all it's awkward glory, watch Pariah from the fantastic lead performance from Adepero Oduye, but stay for it's dream like imagery and sweaty Brooklyn atmosphere.
Sporting a convoluted plot and characters that feel paper thin, Atomic Blonde is a vehicle for Charlize Theron to once again show how absolutely badass she is. Destroying every guy that gets in her way, Atomic Blonde solidifies Theron as an action star capable of carrying a big budget film, not that we needed more evidence after Mad Max. Filled with wince-inducing fight scenes, it’s a 10 minute long staircase brawl that stands out. Made to look like one long take—thanks to the magic of editing—we’re treated to an absolute masterpiece in fight choreography, with Theron using everything including a kitchen sink to make it out alive. With a strong supporting cast in Sofia Boutella and James Mcavoy, Atomic Blonde is an action blockbuster that feels powerful for all the right reasons. Check out my whole review of the film here.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Adapted from the one-act play Juicy and Delicious, 2012s Oscar darling tells the story of six-year-old Hushpuppy and “The Bathtub,” a forgotten community in Louisiana Bayou. Anchored by the Oscar nominated performance of Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a beautiful, trippy and heartbreaking tale of life on the fringe. There’s a pulsating sense of optimism that keeps the film moving at a great pace, and Dwight Henry as Hushpuppy’s father, Wink provides the support needed for Wallis to flourish. Watch this one if you’re looking for a beautiful experience that revels in it’s childlike sense of wonder and hope. Plus revel in the fact that with Beasts of the Southern Wild, Wallis became the youngest Oscar nominee of all-time.
Largely panned by critics in 1997, G.I Jane is Demi Moore at the height of her career, and directed by Ridley Scott is a pulse pounding military film full of female empowerment. Selected as the first woman to undergo training within the U.S. Navy Special Warfare Group, Moore embodies female ferociousness with the line "I'm not interested in being some poster girl for women's rights.'' Instead, her character Lt. Jordan O’Neil simply wants to survive a program that 60 per cent of men fail to complete. While a product of it’s time G.I. Jane is entertaining action flick that with the wrong casting could have gone the way of Private Benjamin. It helps that the film is filmed in a gritty documentary style that sucks you into all it’s literal blood and mud. Check this one out if you’ve ever wanted to see Demi Moore face off against Viggo Mortensen pre Lord of the Rings.
A Fantastic Woman
Daniel Vega becoming the first openly transgender person to present an award at the 2018 Oscars, should be enough to convince anyone to watch A Fantastic Woman, since they’re the star of the film. If that’s not enough, director Sebastián Lelio’s latest walked away with the Oscar for best foreign language film. Telling the story of a young transgender woman’s battle with the family of their recently deceased partner, A Fantastic Woman is beautifully shot and hinges on Vega’s performance. Strong and forthright, the film offers a unique perspective that Hollywood couldn't ignore any longer and it's definitely worth your attention in an age of the summer blockbuster and #timesup movement.
Jessica Jones season two
An obvious pick but a worthy choice nonetheless. Krysten Ritter plays Jones with nuance and grit worthy of an Elmore Leonard novel. Season two builds on everything the inaugural outing did so well. Great returning characters are joined with new refreshing faces and the underlying dark and disturbing themes are handled with care and precision. While the absence of David Tennant as the scene chewing Killgrave, the narrative is solid enough to sustain 12 episodes. The show makes for a great binge on blustery cold weekend, accompanied by a stiff drink Jones would be proud of. Check out my thoughts on the second season here.
Say what you what you will about the Terminator franchise in 2018, but Sarah Connor is one of the coolest female characters of all time. Played with such focused anger by Linda Hamilton, T2 quickly establishes her connection to the first film, turning her from the hunted into the hunter. Her rapport with Edward Furlong is also great, the struggle to establish a mother-son connection is the emotional backbone of the film. On Youtube, there's various interviews with Hamilton discussing her crazy training regiment she undertook for the film, working with Israeli Special Forces operatives to make Connor feel like an authentic badass who could take on a liquid cyber assassin.
If you haven’t yet seen the film that garnered Taraji P. Henson a ton of deserved praise, you’re doing yourself a great disservice. Tender, funny and painfully relevant, Hidden Figures explores the lives of the first African American women to work on a NASA space mission. While Janelle Monáe and Octavia Spencer deserve equal praise for their performances, it’s Henson that ties the film together. Taking in over $200,000 million at the box office, Hidden Figures was a financial hit for a reason. If Hollywood were smart (and had the right people in positions of power) more films telling stories like these, would be made. It's also funny as hell, which was a great surprise watching it for the first time.
Selma: Director Ava Duvernay knocked it out of the park with this searing look at the 1965 voting rights marches into Selma Montgomery. Lead by Dr. Martin Luther King—portrayed here by the indomitable David Oyelowo—Selma is film that'll make you angry, sad and hopefully all within it's two hour runtime.
Monster: Before crushing the box office with Wonder Woman, director Patty Jenkins crushed audiences expectations with this horrifying true story about serial killer Aileen Wuornos. It's not an easy film to sit through, but it demands your attention the entire time it's playing. With an award winning performance from Charlize Theron, Monster deserves every ounce of praise it was given back in 2003.