Feminéma's new La Jefita statuette for those women bosses of film

I know what you’re thinking: at last! An unabashedly subjective set of awards given by an anonymous blogger to her favorite women on and off screen — as a protest against a sexist and male-dominated film industry! Awards that feature a statuette based on genuine Cycladic art of the early Bronze Age! And now handily divided into two parts for ease of reading!

The raves are pouring in, from humans and spam-bots alike: “I’ve waited months for this handy list, and I can hardly wait to visit my video store.”

“Could you choose a few more obscure films, already?”

“I take excellent pleasure in reading articles with quality content material. This write-up is 1 such writing that I can appreciate. Maintain up the excellent function. 560942.”

Yup, it’s La Jefita time here at Themyscira/Paradise Island, where our crack team of snarky feminist film fans has been scouring our many lists of favorite films and great scenes to boil it all down to a carefully-calibrated list of winners. (Winners: contact us to receive your awards, which you must receive in person.)

First, a few bookkeeping points: Our one rule is that no single person or film could win in two separate categories, although a winner can receive an honorable mention in a different category. (This is why we choose categories like Best Role for a Veteran Actress Who Is Not Helen Mirren or Meryl Streep, which will be awarded during Part 2). We are good small-d democrats here at Feminéma — “spread the love around” is our guiding raison d’être.

A related note: we at Feminéma want to express our distress at the contrast between, on the one hand, the omnipresence of blonde white girls like Jessica Chastain, Chloë Moretz, and Elle Fanning — they’re great and all, but they’re everywhere — and the virtual invisibility of people of color in top-notch film. It is a central aspect of our feminism that we call for greater diversity in casting, directing, writing, and producing overall. We can only hope that 2012’s Best Director nominees might have non-white faces as well as women among them.

Finally, you’ll remember that our Best Actress La Jefita prize has already been awarded to Joyce McKinney of Errol Morris’s Tabloid. In mentioning this again, we fully intend to list our Honorable Mentions as soon as we’ve seen two more films.

And now, on to what you’ve all been waiting for!

Feminéma’s Film of the Year (Which Also Happens to Be a Female-Oriented Film):

Poetry, by Lee Chang-dong (Korea). I wrote extensively about this immediately after seeing it, so here I’ll only add two comments. First, this film has stuck with me, poking at my conscious mind, in the intervening months in a way that some of the year’s “big” films did not. Second, this was a terrific year for film, especially “important” films like The Tree of Life and Take Shelter that deal with the biggest of themes (existence, forgiveness, apocalypse…). I will argue that, even alongside those audacious films, Poetry deals with even more relevant matters — responsibility — and that given the state of our world, this is the film we need right now. It’s ostensibly a more quiet film, but will shake you to the core.

Go out of your way to see Poetry. Let its leisurely pace and surprising plot turns wash over you, and the sense of mutual responsibility grow. It’s truly one of the best film I’ve seen in years — and if the members of these Awards committees bothered to see more films with subtitles and non-white faces it’d outpace The Tree of Life and The Artist in prizes.

Most Feminist Period Drama that Avoids Anachronism:

A tricky category — it’s so hard to get the balance right. After much hemming and hawing, and after composing many pro and con lists, we have determined that only Cary Joji Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre can be the winner. Mia Wasikowska’s perfect portrayal of Jane was matched by a beautiful script by Moira Buffini that carefully uses Brontë’s own language to tell a tale that underlines how much Jane wants not just true love, but a true equality with Rochester. (Add to that the fact that the film fassbendered me to a bubbling mass of goo, and we have the perfect feminist period drama.)

Mmmm. Muttonchop sideburns.

Honorable Mentions: La Princesse de Montpensier by Bertrand Tavernier and Cracks by Jordan Scott (yes, Ridley Scott’s daughter). Sadly, there’s a lot of anachronism out there: even if I stretched the category to include miniseries, I just couldn’t nominate Downton Abbey, The Hour, or South Riding because of their overly idealistic portrayals of women’s rights; while as historically spot-on as Mildred Pierce was, it’s no feminist tale.

I still haven’t seen The Mysteries of Lisbon but will make a note during Part II of the La Jefitas if it deserves a prize, too.

Sexiest Scene in which a Woman Eats Food (aka the Tom Jones Prize):

Another tricky category. Because I don’t know whether you’ve noticed, when you get a typical actress into a scene in which she’s expected to eat, she instantly reveals how little she likes/is allowed to eat food. Every single time I see such a scene, I become hyper aware of the fact that she’s looking at that food thinking, “This is the ninth take of this scene, and there are 50 calories per bite. That means I’ve eaten 450 calories in the last two hours.” Most don’t eat at all onscreen; all those scenes at dinner tables consist of no one putting food in their mouths. Thus, when I see an actress devouring food with gusto, I feel an instant sexual charge.

Thus, the best I can do is Sara Forestier from The Names of Love (Le nom des gens), a film in which her character, Bahia, wears her all her many passions on her sleeve, eating among others. When, that is, she’s wearing clothes at all. One might complain that Bahia is the Manic Pixie Dream Girl On Steroids — in fact, a central concept in the film is that she’s such a good leftist that she sleeps with conservative men to convert them away from their fascistic politics. (What can I say? it works for me; I was ready for a supremely fluffy French comedy.) Even if the manic pixie trope sets your teeth on edge, you’ll find yourself drawn to Forestier. The film won’t win any feminist prizes from me, but I quite enjoyed it nevertheless and would watch her again in anything.

(A brief pause to remember last year’s winner with a big sigh: Tilda Swinton in I Am Love. Now that was sexy eating.) Sadly, there are no honorable mentions for this prize. But I’m watching carefully as we begin a new year of film.

Most Realistic Portrayal of Teen Girls (also known as: Shameless Plug of a Little-Known Great Film That Needs a La Jefita Award):

Claire Sloma and Amanda Bauer in The Myth of the American Sleepover. There’s something a bit magical about this film, which I’ve already written about at length — a film that up-ends the typical teen dramedy and makes some lovely points that I wish had seemed possible for me back in high school. I loved this film for its frontloading of real teen girls and the real situations they get themselves into; I loved it for that weird combination of leisureliness and urgency that infused real summer nights in high school; and I loved it that it didn’t devolve into a pregnancy melodrama or a story about cliques. And just look at Sloma’s face; it makes me want to cry.

After seeing it, you’ll wonder whether you’ve ever seen a film that showed teen girls like this. And you’ll join my Sloma fan club.

Best uncelebrated supporting-supporting actress in a comic role: 

Nina Arianda only has a few lines in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris as Carol, the insecure wife of Paul, the overbearing, pedantic professor (Michael Sheen), but she almost steals each one of those scenes. She struggles to please and to pronounce her French words properly. She fawns over Paul in a way that makes you realize quickly how futile it is — taking photos of him as he holds forth annoyingly, for example, in the scene below. I don’t know how many of you readers are also academics, but Sheen’s portrayal of that professor was hilariously, perfectly accurate — and Carol is just as recognizable a type, that younger woman who married her former professor a while back and is still trying to make it work. (Skin: crawls.)

Arianda also had nice, slightly larger parts in Win Win and Higher Ground, although nothing that let her express her gift for wit that she displayed in Midnight in Paris. Let’s hope that with these three 2011 films, Arianda is getting more attention — and that she’s got a good agent.

Most Depressingly Anti-Feminist Theme for Female-Oriented Film: Fairy Tales.

C’mon, people. I couldn’t bear to see Catherine Hardwicke’s vomit-inducing Red Riding Hood (highest rating on Feminéma’s Vomit-O-Meter® yet, and I only saw the trailer!). Nor did I see Julia Leigh’s poorly rated Sleeping Beauty, though I’m likely to see it sometime soon. I did see Catherine Breillat’s weak effort, The Sleeping Beauty — such a disappointment after I quite liked her Bluebeard (Le barbe bleue of 2009). I was also less impressed with Tangled than most critics.

I like fairy tales and think they offer all manner of feminist possibilities for retelling. (Why, I even tried to write one myself.) Problem is, they seem to offer anti-feminists just one more chance to trot out their enlightened sexism.  Filmmakers have not yet realized that fairy tales have become a site for critique rather than retrograde confirmation of sexism. (Please, read Malinda Lo’s Huntress or A. S. Byatt’s The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye.)

And this is only Part 1 of the La Jefitas! Stay tuned for the final roster of winners and honorable mentions — in such categories as:

  • 2011’s Most Feminist Film! (Such an important category that it might be divided into three categories for clarity, and because I’m having trouble choosing a single winner!)
  • Most Realistic Dialogue that Women Might Actually Say, and Which Passes the Bechdel Test!
  • Best Fight Scene in which a Woman Kicks a Man’s Ass!
  • Best Veteran Actress who is not Helen Mirren or Meryl Streep!
  • And Best Female-Directed Film! (This one is turning out to be a scorcher — can it be that I’ll divide this into separate categories, too?)

The forthcoming Feminéma La Jefita statuette, based on genuine Cycladic art!

Here’s the thing about Best-of-the-Year lists: people like me haven’t seen half the motherfucken films because we live in Regular America, where they dribble great indie films out to us as if they’re rare commodities that only goddamn Newyoricans and Angelenos get to see.

This is too bad, because I’ve just invented the soon-to-be-coveted La Jefita statuette, to be awarded sparingly and only in person by me to artists of my choosing.

When I finally get a crack at these films of which I have heard so much good stuff, I have a big plan for categories of:

  • Best Feminist Film (will it be Girl With the Dragon Tattoo??)
  • Best Female-Directed Film (once I get the chance to see We Need to Talk About Kevin and Pariah, dammit)
  • Best Female-Oriented Film (will it be Poetry?? or will Hanna or The Lady edge it out? is it even possible I could see Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret??)

In my heart of hearts, I’d also like to add far more idiosyncratic categories like:

  • Most Feminist Period Drama That Avoids Anachronism
  • Sexiest Scene in Which a Woman Eats Food
  • Best Fight Scene in Which A Woman Kicks a Man’s Ass
  • Most Realistic Dialogue That Women Might Actually Say
  • Best Role for a Veteran Actress Who Is Not Helen Mirren or Meryl Streep

Stay tuned on that one. I have to gird myself for controversy.

Only one award is ready to be given: BEST ACTRESS! Because no other performance by an actress can possibly beat out Joyce McKinney — as herself — in Errol Morris’s Tabloid.

She’s amazing! Is she BAT-SHIT CRAZY or BARKING MAD, the way one tabloid journalist portrays her? or a hopeless romantic, which is how she describes herself (and how she seems to have lived her life)? Does she really have a genius-level IQ? What really happened in that cottage in Devon in 1977? And who’s been threatening bloggers like me with lawsuits ever since the documentary was released?

Joyce McKinney is riveting, beautiful, clever, and unforgettable. I don’t care if it was a documentary: McKinney is playing the part of McKinney, and she’s doing it brilliantly.

Congratulations, Joyce — you are the first-ever winner of Feminéma’s marble La Jefita statuette!

Errol Morris must have watched the news unfold about Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World with a big grin on his face. Considering his new documentary’s imminent release date, he must have realized how timely his subject would be. For you see, Tabloid is about scandals, storytelling, and the press. As I watched this film, the audience hooted with delight at the tale’s twists and turns; Morris’s co-producer, Mark Lipson, calls it a “Looney Tunes Rashomon.” But secretly, I think this is a far more serious film than is evident on the surface. I think this film is about how all our stories are laced with other stories — trapping us in derivative narratives that shape who we think we are, and who we want to be.

Joyce McKinney was — is — a beautiful woman with a buttery North Carolina accent, a willingness to show off her curves, and a very high IQ  (168). One might be tempted to say that the dumbest thing she ever did was fall in love with a puffy, bespeckled Mormon named Kirk Anderson, but that would be too simple. Fall she did; and when he left her abruptly to go on his mission to England, she was convinced he’d been brainwashed. She hatched a cunning plan to get him back: spirit him off to a cottage in Devon, remind him of their mutual love and thereby un-brainwash him, and set a date for the wedding. Then all hell broke loose, and she was arrested on the charge of kidnapping and rape — and the tabloids had a field day with headlines like KIDNAPPED.

Is it love or is it SEX IN CHAINS, as the tabloids had it? Because Morris is no ordinary mortal but a filmmaking genius, we quickly see that this isn’t a simple he said/she said tale. Joyce has been entranced by tales of true love. Her story is laced with allusions to fairy-tale love — happily ever afters, “I do”s, wedding rings and white dresses. Morris interweaves her talking-head accounts with snippets of cartoon princesses and 1950s housewives, indicating some of the sources of her tales. As much as he wants us to question whether she’s telling the truth, he also wants us to ask whether she’s deluding herself. “To me it isn’t truth and lying,” Morris told an interviewer at the Toronto Film Festival. “To me it’s between lying and self-deception. And I think that most of us — and I certainly include myself in that category — convince ourselves of the truth of things, so that genuinely we cannot feel that we’re lying about anything.”

Nor is Joyce the only one whose personal truth is an amalgam of other tales. Competing tabloid reporters from The Daily Mail and The Sun still quiver with delight and self-satisfaction at their SEX IN CHAINS stories — and each time, Morris allows their over-the-top, tabloid-ready phrases to flash in the screen. As one reporter describes how Kirk Anderson was chained to the bed, the words SPREAD EAGLE flash several times, along with cartoon images of such characters. While Joyce imagines Cinderella endings, they race to the bottom — offering up lurid scenarios, speculating that she’s “barking mad,” and all the while battling with each other to offer up the most outrageous accounts for a greedy public. What becomes obvious is that they’re lying, too, and they’ve got all the financial reasons in the world to do so.

Many of the interviews I’ve read with Morris demonstrate that viewers are taking a dim view of Joyce, as if she’s the only real liar in this tale. “What’s your interpretation of Joyce? Is she completely delusional?” asks one reporter from the Daily Beast. When Morris demurs, the reporter follows up: “Is Joyce just obsessed with fame?” That was how people in my theater responded — walking out, they repeated the tabloid reporters’ expressions: she was barking mad! This response is a simplistic reading of the film — my one complaint is that Morris has made it too easy for audiences to focus their hoots on Joyce’s slippery charm and lose the big picture. That is, in forefronting some of the tabloids’ methods in scandal-making, I think many viewers lose the meta critique he’s offering.

Honestly, I think the reason they do so is that she’s a woman, a blonde, a sex kitten. But look at how Morris has marketed the film on the poster: he’s used one of Joyce’s soft-core photos of herself as Eve, holding that red apple at her throat with her blonde tresses falling about her and her lips open. In making reference back to one of our ur-stories — a story that, by the way, has inspired some of the most divergent interpretations of all time — he suggests that interpretations of this tale are open to debate.

Thus, I beg you to reconsider one of those stories you’ve told about yourself. A story that deals, perhaps, with a sticky memory of your past — something difficult and complex, a story in which you don’t exactly appear as the hero. Consider how it changed with repeated tellings, how it got better, how you knocked off those rough edges — such that now you can tell it successfully and without sweat or tears or hesitation. And then tell yourself, Joyce, c’est moi.

I’m off to see the new Errol Morris documentary Tabloid tonight, and — as if I needed more anticipation to see a film by a master of the art — Jim Emerson’s Scanners blog has a fascinating teaser about it today. As you may remember from some of Morris’s earlier films (The Thin Blue Line, Mr. Death, The Fog of War) he’s a wizard at analyzing morally ambiguous, opaque characters. Imagine my enthusiasm when I learned that this time he’s taking on a woman for a change: Joyce McKinney. She was the sex kitten at the center of a bizarre tabloid tale in 1977 of a Mormon man kidnapped and subjected to three days of kinky sex in an English cottage. McKinney claimed she did it all for love.

Now — as Emerson’s blog tells us — it seems McKinney has been showing up at Morris’s premieres around the country to protest the film’s portrayal of her. Sort of. Emerson raises the question of how a woman of very modest means pays for the appearances (what is he suggesting?). Fascinating! I can hardly wait — and I’ll report if she appears at my theater to cause a stir.