17 February 2013
Only one more week before Oscar night, but who cares about that charade when there are the La Jefitas to think about? For the second year now I’ve compiled my list of the best 2012 films by and about women to celebrate those female bosses. It’s just one way I seek to subvert a male-dominated and sexist film industry. Because who cares about that Hollywood red carpet when you can enjoy an anonymous, verbose film blogger’s Best Of list?
Oh yeah, baby!
Unlike the flagrantly biased Oscars, the La Jefitas are selected with scientific precision; and although each year we have a select number of categories (Most Feminist Film; Best Female-Directed Film; Best Fight Scene in Which a Woman Kicks a Man’s Ass) we also add or tweak other categories to suit that year’s selections.
Shall we? Let’s start with a big one:
Anna Paquin in Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret. No matter how ambivalent you may feel about Paquin’s earning paychecks with fodder like True Blood (the later seasons, anyway) and the X-Men franchise, you can’t deny the force-of-nature bravura she displays in this extraordinary film. Replacing the saccharine Southern accent she put on in those other productions, she appears here with a kind of nervous mania that suits the particular cocktail of high school, trauma, selfishness, and guilt cooked up by this girl. When I wrote about it last spring, I called Paquin’s character an “asshole” — it’s hard, even now, for me to back away from that harsh term, for she has truly channeled the kind of chatterbox/ smartypants self-absorption and avoidance so crystalline in privileged teenaged girls. She captures it perfectly, and her particular vein of assholery is crucial to a film that wants us to think about the wake we leave behind us as we stride through the world.
Paquin won Best Actress, yet I have so many honorary mentions. I’ll narrow it down to two: Rachel Weisz in The Deep Blue Sea and Nadezhda Markina in Elena — two eloquent drawing room dramas that rely on perfectly-drawn portrayals by their female leads.
Female-Oriented Scene I Never Expected to See Onscreen (extra points for its political riskiness):
The abortion scene in Prometheus. Seriously? The film displayed such a strangely negative view of parenthood overall — indeed, I wondered in my long conversation with film blogger JustMeMike whether the film’s major theme was patricide — that in retrospect one was left shaking one’s head at all of Ridley Scott’s madness. And still, I return to the abortion scene. Wow — in this day and age, with abortion politics as insane as they are — did we actually witness an abortion in a major Hollywood release?
Yes, I know she was trying to abort an evil monster/human parasite/amalgam; but I’ll bet there are 34 senators in the U.S. Senate who would argue it was God’s plan that she bring that evil monster baby to term.
Best Fight Scene in Which a Woman Kicks a Man’s Ass:
Gina Carano has no competition this year after her performance in Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire. I know, I can’t remember the plot either; nor can I remember how it ended. And no, I’m not going to talk about the dialogue, or Carano’s acting ability.
Rather, the entire film was a paean to Carano’s superiority in ass-whupping. It was a thing of beauty — starting with her takedown of Channing Tatum in the diner and reaching its crowning glory with teaching Michael Fassbender a lesson in the hotel room. Be still my heart. Who needs plot or dialogue when you’ve got a human tornado?
Most Depressingly Anti-Feminist Trend of the Year:
Where did all the parts for Black women go? The tiny dynamo Quvenzhané Wallis has ended up with a well-deserved nomination for Best Actress this year — for her work in Beasts of the Southern Wild, filmed when she was six years old — but people, no 6-yr-old can carry the experiences of Black women on her tiny little shoulders.
Sure, we all complained last year about The Help — really, Hollywood? you’re still giving Black women roles as maids? — but let’s not forget some of the other films last year, most notably (to me) Dee Rees’ Pariah. And although I’m not surprised to find an actress of Viola Davis’ age struggling to get good work onscreen, I want to register how utterly depressing it is to find a Black woman of her talent and stature not getting leading roles in great films.
One can argue that high-quality TV is making up for the dearth of great parts for Black women onscreen. Just think about Kerry Washington in Scandal, for example. But for the sake of the La Jefitas I’ve limited myself to film — and I want more non-white actors, dammit.
Most Feminist Trend in Film in 2012:
Now, I will also say that with all these good parts going to awesome girls (some of them animated, however), I didn’t see as many terrific parts going to mature/ middle-aged women; but still, considering how deeply male-dominated children’s filmmaking is, this is a very positive trend indeed.
Best Breakthrough Performance by an Actress Known for Very Different Roles:
Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook. I have a big ol’ crush on Lawrence from her serious roles, but I’ll be the first to admit that she found herself getting the same part over & over — that fiercely independent teen girl who struggles against the Great Forces that make life so difficult (Winter’s Bone, X-Men: First Class, The Hunger Games). Comedy wouldn’t have struck me as Lawrence’s forte.
So count me impressed. Surrounded by excellent actors inclined toward broad humor, she does something crucial to make this film work: she balances her humor with a true gravitas that keeps this dizzy screwball comedy grounded. She’s funny, but it’s her seriousness and laser focus that stay with you and remind you what a good film this is. And part of the way she does it is through her sheer physical presence — she is so sexy while also being formidable. This is no tiny slip of a girl who’ll fade away from Bradley Cooper’s character, the way his wife left him emotionally. You get the feeling their relationship will remain a rocky road, but their attraction and shared neuroses will keep things interesting for a long, long time to come.
Best of all, this change-up will hopefully give Lawrence lots of scripts for the near future, giving her the chance to develop more chops.
Most Feminist Film:
Nadine Labaki’s Where Do We Go Now, the sneaky, funny, sexy Lebanese film about a tiny remote village split down the middle between Christians and Muslims. A wicked, perfect retelling of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata.
Like Lysistrata, Where Do We Go Now? addresses the serious problem of war via a deep unseriousness; the Muslim and Christian women in this village seek out increasingly goofy means of distracting their men from hating one another. Add to this the fact that beautiful widow Amale (Labaki) and the handsome handyman Rabih (Julian Farhat) can barely stay away from one another, despite the fact that they hold separate faiths.
That tonal unseriousness leaves you unprepared for the terrific quality of the women’s final solution — which reminds us that the topic ultimately addressed by the film (violence in the Middle East more broadly) is so important, and so rarely examined from women’s perspectives. A terrific film that makes you wonder why no one else has mined the genius of Aristophanes until now.
Honorary mentions: Turn Me On, Dammit! and Brave.
That’s all for today — but stay tuned for tomorrow’s La Jefitas Part II post, in which I announce this year’s Film of the Year, Best Role for a Veteran Actress Who Is Not Helen Mirren or Meryl Streep, Sexiest Scene in Which A Woman Eats Food, and Best Female-Directed Film. Yes, these are all separate categories. Because reading Feminéma is like everything you’re missing at the Oscars, friends! it’s like Christmas in February!
And in the meantime, please let me know what I’ve forgotten and what you want to argue about — I do love the give and take. Winners: contact me directly at didion [at] ymail [dot] com to receive your prizes!
5 April 2010
This post is about food and sex, but it’s really going to be about the similarities/ differences between “Tampopo” and “True Blood” — it just takes me a while to get there.
Can we be any more screwed up about food? Lady Gaga recently pronounced that “pop stars don’t eat” (it may be true, though it’s a dangerous comment to make to today’s anorexic teenagers), but Americans certainly do eat, as witnessed by all our TV shows about The Biggest Losers. The Onion has a t-shirt that says, “I Wish Someone Would Do Something About How Fat I Am.”
Despite our screwed-upness, we still make strong associations between food and sex. Witness how much the Food Network has sexed up its hosts. It offers a wide range of versions of male hosts to appeal to its viewers — tending toward macho bravado in some cases (witness the debonair yet dude-like Tyler Florence), or grubby nature child/working-class Brit (Jamie Oliver, much more to my liking). I learned today that each of these men has an enormous, rabidly attentive audience of fans. To seal the deal, the channel now features a show with an eminently happy married couple, Pat and Gina Neely, who canoodle and engage in sexual innuendo while cooking together. But the, em, cherry on top of the pile is Giada de Laurentiis (granddaughter of the director), who cooks Italian food — but who’s paying attention to the food when her beautiful breasts have been laid out for our viewing during most of the show. They’re far more appetizing.
If the marriage of food and sex on the small screen is strong, overall we’re just not in the place we were in the 80s & 90s, when a whole spate of films appeared celebrating their close connection. “Eat Drink Man Woman” (and its American remakes, “Tortilla Soup” and “Soul Food”), “Like Water for Chocolate,” and “Chocolat” all welcomed us to foodie heaven with the promise that with it came a new kind of sexual liberation. There were other foodie films too (“Babette’s Feast” and “Big Night”) and other films that used food during sex (“9 1/2 Weeks”), but they tended to emphasize one more than the other.
The king of the food/sex films, however, was “Tampopo” (1985), which styled itself the first Japanese noodle western — but while it riffed on the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns of the 60s, it was a different beast altogether (first of all, it was actually about noodles). It was mostly the story of a world-weary trucker and his young sidekick, Goro and Gun, who get enlisted by the timid woman owner of a sorry-ass noodle shop to teach her how to make a better bowl of ramen. Tampopo (“Dandelion”) is distraught: her soup is awful, the noodles flavorless, her customers are dwindling. Goro strokes his chin philosophically (brilliant reference to Toshiro Mifune) and takes on the job, taking her to visit the masters of the art throughout Japan: king of the noodle makers here, master of broth there, all of whom gradually transform her into a ramen queen (and along the way a sweet romance between Goro and Tampopo begins to flower).
Interspersed with the Goro/Tampopo tale are a series of unrelated meditations on food and sex — the crazily silly sex scenes between the gangster and his moll, an etiquette class of girls who insist on slurping as noisily as possible, and best of all, the ritual instruction in how to eat a bowl of ramen. As a result, you left the theater hungry, horny, and yet somehow utterly satisfied:
In reviewing this film, I can’t help but think about its similarities to “True Blood” (as promised!). That latter show, too, is a wide-ranging amalgam of genres (Southern gothic, anti-discrimination, vampire film, camp), playing perversely with each of them. The sex in “True Blood” gets as close to porn as possible, then veers off into romance or utter absurdity, usually when Sookie Stackhouse’s brother Jason appears. Critics make much of the show’s sex, but I think it’s profoundly about food and sex, bringing out the themes of appetite and hunger and the orality of sex (when vampires get turned on/hungry, their fangs appear like reverse erections). It’s an odd throwback to the food/sex obsession of an earlier generation of filmmakers, and I think reflects a lot of our current-day schizophrenic attitudes toward both. Somehow, you don’t finish an episode of “True Blood” thinking about your next meal.