Monday, April 25, 2011

Strong Women in Films

Films either about strong women (Aliens, All About Eve, Auntie Mame, The King and I, Miss Jane Pittman) or coming-of-age stories (To Kill a Mockingbird, Digging to China, Lawn Dogs, My Fair Lady, Walkabout, Whale Rider)

I thought this was an appropriate July 4th topic as women got their 'freedom' after African slaves here, not allowed to inherit their husbands property until the late 1800's (Oregon was the first state here, around 1886), and getting to vote well after that. New Zealand was well ahead of us there, by a quarter century!

[Updated 10.5.11]
 Those with links we reviewed at 1000 Dvds to See, click to jump to that review

A Coal Miner's Daughter (1980) The first Oscar® for Cissy Spacek
A Face in the Crowd (1957) bw
A Good Year (2007) - as director Ridley Scott stated, "We like strong women (said to Russell Crowe); this film has five strong women" (Marion Cotillard and Abbie Cornish leading the pack)
A Room With a View (1985)
A Very Long Engagement (2004) France- a beautifully shot war romance
Adam's Rib (1949) bw Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy are married lawyers who hilariously take opposite sides of a spousal infidelity case, my favorite film of theirs together, Tracy is terrific ("see.. tears")
Alice (1990)
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1975) The first Oscar® for Ellen Burstyn
Aliens (1986)
All About Eve (1950) bw [AA] (photo top, theater newcomer Anne Baxter faces off with her idol, established star Bette Davis, who of course says "fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy night")
All About My Mother (1999) Spain
An Education (2009)
Anna and the King (1999) A Jodie Foster drama filmed earlier as a musical, The King and I (1956)
As Good As It Gets (1997) The first Oscar® for Helen Hunt ; the 3rd Oscar® for Jack Nicholson
Auntie Mame (1958)
Australia (2008)
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1973) tv The first Emmy® for Cicely Tyson

Baby Boom (1987)

Beautiful Girls (1996)
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) bw [AA] The 2nd Oscar® for Fredric March


Black Narcissus (1947) One of the most beautifully shot films ever, from color expert Michael Powell
Body Heat (1981)
Born Yesterday (1950) bw The first Oscar® for Judy Holiday
Brazil (1985)
The Breaking Point (1949) Patricia Neal is amazing, tempting a cynical John Garfield in a more faithful adaptation of Hemingway's To Have and Have Not, his own personal favorite film of his novels - dropped by the studio when Garfield was accused of being a commie by HUAC, so it's gone unnoticed
Broadcast News (1986)
Brothers (2004) Denmark stunning Connie Nielsen won five int'l acting awards for her performance
Bull Durham (1988)

Carmen (1983) Spain My favorite dance film, the flamenco version from Carlos Suare
Central Station (1998) Brazil
Chaos (2001) France
Chicago (2002) [AA] The first Oscar® for Catherine Zeta-Jones
Chocolat (2000) France
Clueless (1995)
The Color Purple (1985) - underrated and controversial Steven Spielberg film from Alice Walker's novel that deals with domestic abuse of an African-American wife (Whoopi Goldberg) by her misogynist husband (Danny Glover)
Contact (1997)
Crazed Fruit (1956) Japan, bw
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) China Leno said, "I didn't see a tiger or a dragon in this - I guess one was crouching and one was hidden"
The Cuckoo (2002) Russia

Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
Defending Your Life (1991)
Digging to China (1998)
Double Indemnity (1944) bw
Driving Miss Daisy (1989) The first Oscar® for veteran Jessica Tandy
Educating Rita (1983)
Election (1999)
Elevator to the Gallows (1958) bw
Elizabeth (1998) This links to all the 29 awards this won, most by actress Cate Blanchett, who lost the Oscar® to Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love
Emma (1996)
Erin Brockovich (2000) The first Oscar® for Julia Roberts, a true story of an environmental lawyer
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) Selective erasing of your worst romances - I could definitely use this

Frances McDormand, dissolves into her characters,
was the archetypal Minnesotan lady sheriff in Fargo
(photo by Richard Phibbs)

Fargo (1996) The first Oscar® for Frances McDormand, wife of director-writer Joel Coen
The Fighter (2010) The first Oscar® for Melissa Leo
Fire (1995)
Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)
Funny Girl (1968) The first Oscar® for Barbra Streisand
Gadjo Dilo (1998) Romania
The Gay Divorcee (1934) bw
The Girl in the Cafe (2005)
The Graduate (1968) [photo rt]
Gun Crazy (1949) bw

Heat and Dust (1983)
Heathers (1989)
Heavenly Creatures (1994) New Zealand
Hero (2002) China  [see photos at top in our banner]
His Girl Friday (1940) bw
House of Flying Daggers (2004) China
House of Games (1987) lead actress Lindsay Crouse is the wife of author-director David Mamet, this is a terrific collaboration
How to Make an American Quilt (1995) - complex plot literally weaves together the stories of several women in a quilting club

Innocence (2004) France
Intolerable Cruelty (2003)
Jackie Brown (1997) Another Tarantino romp
Jean de Florette/Manon of the Spring (1986) France This four-hour French epic is one of the best ever, taken as one film (they are two halves of one novel, only split up so theatre-goers could see them in one day or two)
Jezebel (1938) bw
Johnny Guitar (1954) A female gunfight concludes Nicholas Ray's bizarre western
Julia (1977) The first Oscar® for Vanessa Redgrave

Kapó (1960) Italy
Kill Bill (2003-4) I think I prefer the Japanese original samurai films more, this is kind of campy, with the plucking of eyeballs and other such excesses, however, the first has fun energy, but the second lags with a slow pace
The King and I (1956) The first Oscar® for Yul Brynner, a role he was born to play
Klute (1971) The first Oscar® for Jane Fonda
The Lady Eve (1941) bw
La Femme Nikita (1990) France
Lolita (1962) bw

Lawn Dogs (1997)

The Madness of King George (1994) Helen Mirren as the queen takes charge of the throne while her husband is mad with disease
The Major and the Minor (1942) bw
Mary Poppins (1964) The first Oscar® for Julie Andrews

McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971)
Mildred Pierce (1945)

Million Dollar Baby (2004) [AA] Hilary Swank's performance is one of the best ever, earning her a well-deserved 2nd Oscar®, she's now two-for-two like Vivien Leigh
The More the Merrier (1943) bw

Morgan! (1966) bw
Mr. and Mrs. Iyer (2002) India
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) bw

Mrs. Miniver (1942) bw  [AA] (photo rt) Did anyone not fall in love with Greer Garson after seeing this Oscar® winning performance? Garson was not a star, Gloria Swanson turned down the part as 'too mature'
Much Ado About Nothing (1993)
My Brilliant Career (1979) Australia

My Fair Lady (1964) [AA] Oscar® for Rex Harrison
My Man Godfrey (1935) bw
Network (1976) Oscars® for Faye Dunaway and Beatrice Straight

Norma Rae (1979) The first Oscar® for Sally Field

Not One Less (1999) China
Nothing But the Truth (2008)
Nowhere in Africa (2002) Germany Oscar® for foreign film
Out of Africa (1985) [AA]
Out of the Past (1947) bw Jane Greer was Howard Hughes’ 22 yr-old girlfriend in her first starring role
Outrageous Fortune (1987)

Paper Moon (1973) bw Tatum O'Neal was the youngest Oscar® winner ever
Pat and Mike (1952) bw Another high quality but mild Tracy-Hepburn comedy, suffers from not aiming too high and hitting it's mark
Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)
Persona (1966) Sweden, bw
The Promise (2005) China
Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002), Australia 14-yr old half-caste Molly takes charge of her sisters as they escape a prison school and head into the outback
The Reader (2008) The first Oscar® for Kate Winslet
The Replacement Killers (1998)
Ronin (1998)
Run Lola Run (1998) Germany
Ruthless People (1986)

Shakespeare in Love (1998) [AA] The first Oscar® for Gwyneth Paltrow
Shall We Dance? (1995) Japan
The Silence of the Lambs (1991) The second Oscar® for Jodie Foster
Sin City (2005) bw
Steel Magnolias (1989)
Sunset Boulevard (1950) bw
Sweeney Todd (2007)
Temple Grandin (2010) The first  Emmy® for Clare Danes
Thelma and Louise (1991)

Thirteen (2005) [photo left]
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) bw
Two Women (1960) Italy The first Oscar® for Sophia Loren
Under the Sun (1998), Sweden
V for Vendetta (2005)
Vatel (2000) France

Walkabout (1971) Australia
Water (2005) India-Canada
We of the Never Never (1982) Australia
Whale Rider (2003) New Zealand
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962) bw
What's Love Got to Do With It? (1993) - the fictionalized story of Ike and Tina Turner, features a strong (and gut-wrenching) Oscar®-nominated performance by Angela Bassett

Whistle Down the Wind (1961) bw (photo rt) Some children find a wanted convict hiding in their barn and think he's Jesus so they shelter, feed him, and keep him a secret (the story of E.T. was eerily similar to this); adapted from a novel by Hayley Mills' mother Mary Hayley Bell

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) bw The 2nd Oscar® for Elizabeth Taylor; the first Oscar® for Sandy Dennis
Winter's Bone (2010) Sundance winner got Oscar® nominations for best picture and 18-yr old actress Jennifer Lawrence
The Women (1939) bw
Women in Love (1970) The first Oscar® for Glenda Jackson
Zelary (2003) Czech Republic

Best Picture winners on this list:
All About Eve, Chicago, Million Dollar Baby, Mrs. Miniver, My Fair Lady, Out of Africa, Shakespeare in Love

[Thanks to Linda Pace for some suggestions for this post]


Anonymous said...

Good list - there are quite a number that I like in this list. Nice job.

Anonymous said...

Btw I really liked the Hannibal series -- Jodie Foster was the best Clarice!!

Jose Sinclair said...

I will expand this list over time to include new ones I see, those overlooked, and suggestions made.. creation is always in motion ;-))

Anonymous said...

Educating Rita!!!!

Anonymous said...


Jose Sinclair said...

Re: leaving off THIRTEEN - easy, cuz I haven't seen it yet! but I will now..

Anonymous said...

Im surprised to not see Jackie Brown on this list! It should be for sure.

but thx anyway, great job!

Anonymous said...

I agree with this list

Jose Sinclair said...

thanks for the good vibes.. I'll continue to update this list as I'm finding more strong feminine characters in films..

of course, there's a wealth of superhero comic books stuff I'm probably skipping, not sure about most of those yet myself! but I did love La Femme Nikita, a killer turned into a government assassin - this was like a real Bond film, people die and the killers are never seen..

Agree with Jodie Foster as Clarice! a high point in a very good career, to me.. she was in most of the film, Hopkins about as little as Ted Levine as Jame, the killer..

Anonymous said...

Seriously.....Where is Gone With the Wind?

Jose Sinclair said...

Seriously, Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind is one of the wimpiest women in all of literature. Her entire adult life was defined by her men, and she was more interested in possessing a man more than she was developing her own character. She was less her own woman than perhaps any "heroine" in literature. Not only that, but the women around her, notably the characters of Olivia De Haviland and Hattie McDaniel, were stronger and more self-assured characters than Scarlett, who only pretended to be strong and independent, but who was always dependent on men for just about everything.

If you reall the plot, esp. of the novel, as soon as one man was gone, she appeared desperate to find the next one, usually marrying 'anyone' just to not be left alone facing her own vapid character.

For me, she's one of the least independent and weakest women in both literature and films, and only at the very end of both does she finally appear to have some personal conviction and inner strength, but it appears to be resolution to face 'the harsh facts' rather than spiritual illumination.

This is certainly a debatable theory, but one I've had ever since seeing the film in the theater as a kid, which I thought (a) had a despicable, weak heroine (b) glossed over the war, reducing it to simply a hindrance to romance (c) was little more than an overlong soap opera - but at least more concise and colorful than the novel.

Anonymous said...

fried green tomatoes, steel magnolias, ya-ya sisterhood, waiting to exhale, stella got her groove back, diary of a mad black woman, anything by tyler perry, tarintino, r. rodriguez, a ton of meryl streep movies, resident evil, angelina jolie action flicks, what's love got to do with it...

BTW scarlet o'hara sacrifices developing her own character in order to save her family and herself. She marries men she detests not only to deal with Ashley's marrying but also to secure herself financially and eventually to secure her family's wellbeing, she sacrifices pride and her own real desires in tough times when she could easily abandon everyone and live with some wealthy man in europe etc. There's nothing weak about that. She survives at any cost. It isn't exactly like women were allowed to bring in the bacon at that time. we still couldn't own property either....

Jose Sinclair said...

Anonymous (why are you hiding behind 'non-identity'? are you wanted or something?? this is just an entertainment blog..) - you've made some good recommendations that I will add to my list..

Actually I should probably add Gone With the Wind due to Melanie's strong character, regardless of how wimpy I deem Scarlett (who I found very irritating in the book first, then in the film as well, likely due to the awesome performance of Vivien Leigh).

As for all these "superhero" action films, I'm not sure they're really women of strong character (but women with muscle) but rather unrealistic comic book characters.

I'm also only listing films that I'd recommend, so no Underworld or Lara Croft Tomb Raider no matter how strong the character.

Jose Sinclair said...

ps- Anonymous, I did add some of your recommendations: Fried Green Tomatoes, What's Love Got To Do With It, Steel Magnolias (and these reminded me of The Color Purple and How To Make An American Quilt that I had overlooked).

However I didn't like Waiting to Exhale as a movie, don't like any Tyler Perry films (I haven't seen many), didn't see How Stella Got Her Groove Back or Diary of a Mad Black Woman, they just didn't seem interesting to me. I guess eventually I'll "see everything" if I live 100 years.

"So many social engagements, so little time" - John Goodman, Raising Arizona

Erin said...

I don't really like the comment 'even New Zealand beat us" - as a New Zealander myself, I find your comment patronising and rude.
We were first because a group of dedicated suffragettes fought hard for their freedom to vote. Don't belittle that achievement in your embarrassment that we 'beat' you.
Also, New Zealand is an incredible country - I don't know why being beaten by us is so bad.

Jose Sinclair said...

Sorry, didn't mean to slight the achievement by New Zealand in giving women the vote well ahead of the "land of liberty" as people here like to proclaim (though it's far from the truth, we have seven MILLION laws and nearly everything except breathing is either illegal or regulated; we fit the very dictionary definition in Webster of "fascism"). I wouldn't be surprised if we were last in most equal rights legislation, but I'm sure there are still countries where women can't do anything out of their houses. (I know we were one of the last to abolish slavery, and that took a civil war)

I like the idea practiced in Ghana - women run the government because "men are out working" - they also properly realized that women are much less likely to go to war, something male leaders here seem to think is a show of their machismo like we're still in the middle ages fighting duels, so we constantly challenge other nations.

I once tried to emigrate to New Zealand - only reason I didn't is that the gov't there wanted me to deposit 50,000 dollars into a bank. One reason I was moving is because of the lack of any real economy here - if you're not already rich you're basically S.O.L. I was surprised that what I thought was a free and advance country really wants to make people BRIBE their way in - that was a lot of money in 1972.

At least you can come to the U.S. with nothing, and many do - I guess one day we'll lead the industrial world in poverty as a result. New Zealand must lead the world in lack of immigrants, I'm sure the cost of admission is much higher now than in 1972. Find out and let us know.

"The best way to wealth is to be born of wealthy parents" - Donald Trump (he should know, he personally owes 950 million dollars, most ever by an individual. I want to know where he keeps getting all his credit. The average person here can't get a loan at all)

Anonymous said...

The Brave One, 2007 starring Jodie Foster. My emotions & mind are a roller-coaster when I watch this one. Didn't see it on the list though. Michele

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Tom Cat said...

V is for Vendetta

michael jones said...

There are lots of good movies where women is portrayed with strong character. Lots of good movies in this list.