It’s that time of year again, when critics release their list of the 10 best films of the year. Some critics have fairly commercial lists filled with big blockbusters and Oscar players, while others tend to the more obscure, picking foreign films, documentaries, and other independent films that audiences outside of New York and Los Angeles never get to see.
Richard Corliss and Peter Travers, the chief film critics for Time Magazine and Rolling Stone, have a combination of all of those kinds on their film. What don’t they have? Films about women. Richard Corliss was able to include the critically lambasted Fast Five (that’s right, the fourth sequel to The Fast and the Furious) on his list, but couldn’t make room for a single movie with a female protagonist.
1. The Artist
3. Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame
4. The Tree of Life
5. War Horse
6. Super 8
7. Cave of Forgotten Dreams
8. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
10. Fast Five
Corliss rationalizes his male-dominated list by saying “The big boys — Hollywood technicians, from FX gurus to stunt choreographers — used their tools with more craft and cojones than the Sundance auteurs.” Big boys indeed.
Meanwhile, Peter Travers barely does any better, and only by stretching the definition of “ten.” While the first nine films on his list are all made by, for, and about men, he does sneak the help into the number ten spot, tied with War Horse and the latest Harry Potter film.
2. The Artist
3. The Descendants
5. Midnight in Paris
7. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
8. Margin Call
9. The Tree of Life
10. War Horse, The Help, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Now I am not claiming that Travers and Corliss only picked these movies because they are about men, or they do not think these are genuinely great movies. But personal preference aside (I didn’t care for Drive or Hugo, but I loved The Artist and The Tree of Life), ignoring not just the excellent contributions made by female filmmakers this year, but any movie about women, is embarrassing.
It is clear that male filmmakers are more willing to give a pass to male-oriented entertainment than to “chick flicks,” but I’m not demanding that Corliss and Travers include Something Borrowed or Breaking Dawn on their top 10 lists. However, there are great movies made by and about women that deserve recognition. Women like Miranda July, Vera Farmiga and Maryam Keshavarz made deeply personal, touching and honest films this year. The Future, Higher Ground and Circumstance didn’t get noticed by the public, and will be completely ignored come awards season, but they were some of the best films of the year.
Maybe it’s just that Corliss and Travers can’t handle all that chick stuff? Fine. What about deeply disturbing thrillers like the Korean film The Housemaid or the French film Love Crime? Both films feature sexy women psychologically torturing each other. The Countess is a bloody and haunting historical drama based on real events, wonderfully directed by Julie Delpy.
But no, this year was all about the FX gurus and the stunt coordinators, right? No room for the ladies there. Oh wait, what about Hanna? Joe Roth’s kinetic and explosive action film that Travers himself called a “fairy tale of lightning speed, gritty action and shocking gravity,” starring the fantastic young actress Saiorse Ronan. The Debt was another excellent mix of action and drama, and featured exquisite performance by Helen Mirren and Jessica Chastain.
And then there is the most critically-acclaimed comedy of the year, and one of the year’s biggest hits. Bridesmaids will likely be on a lot of top 10 lists this year, but Corliss and Travers seem to think it’s not for them. Corliss didn’t even bother reviewing it, while Travers, in his largely positive review, felt the need to determine for Kristen Wiig what jokes are funny when made by women, and what aren’t. “Guys and gross make a better fit,” Travers declares. “Who needs to see bridesmaids puking up lunch and shitting their pants?”
2011 was a great year for women in film, both behind the camera and in front of it. And yet they are still painfully underrepresented when it comes to who makes the films and what they’re made about. When the Oscar nominations are announced, The Help will likely be the only film with a female protagonist in the Best Picture race (Young Adult, starring Charlize Theron, might slip in as well). In addition, there will be no female directors nominated, and a painfully small minority of the screenwriters will be women. If critics are unwilling to give credit to the great female filmmakers, or bother to mention any film made about women, what chance do those films have at the box-office or the Oscars?