This year has brought some great female roles to the silver screen, and the holiday film release season isn’t even in full swing. From two female law enforcement officers to a ghost-hunting medium, women have taken on some great roles in this year’s movies. Lydia breaks the best of the best down with its picks for the best pro-women comedy, drama, action, sci-fi fantasy, indie and horror films of 2013.
Best Comedy: The Heat
Pair Sandra Bullock’s straight-woman skills with Melissa McCarthy’s impeccable comedic timing, and you get one of the best comedies, period, of 2013. FBI special agent Sarah Ashburn (Bullock) joins rebellious Boston detective, Shannon Mullins (McCarthy) in an effort to take down a drug kingpin. Their misadventures take them to the gritty Boston streets a la The Departed, and show them grappling with their personal histories and bonding over drinks in a Hangover-challenging drunken debauchery scene. Written by Katie Dippold (Parks and Recreation) and directed by Bridesmaids director Paul Feig (one of Lydia’s favorite pro-female comedy filmmakers), The Heat was one of the summer’s top-earning films. Feig says that he was attracted to the project because “it’s just two professional women in the workforce who are great at their jobs and who are on this adventure.”
Best Drama: The Book Thief
The film adaptation of Markus Zusak’s 2005 novel stays true to the story’s message of hope, perseverance and compassion. While most WWII Germany-set films focus on the Holocaust, this one shows the tragedies endured by the German people as Hitler’s policies destroy their way of life. Liesel Meminger is a young girl fostered by the Hubermanns in the late 1930s. On the outside, Hans and Rosa Hubermann (Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson) are a “good German family” living in the Fuher’s pre-war country, but they have a dangerous secret in their basement in the form of a Jewish fist-fighter named Max, who, along with Hans, instills in Liesel a love for literature that turns her into a “book borrower” from the Nazis’ infamous burnings. With an emotional score by John Williams and intriguing narration by Death himself, The Book Thief is a get-the-Kleenex-box-ready film with a deep message that will stick with viewers long after the credits roll.
Best Action: Gravity
Sandra Bullock was on fire this year. Apart from a few scenes with George Clooney, Bullock was the one-woman cast of Alfonso Cuaron’s scenic masterpiece Gravity. She plays Ryan Stone, a medical engineer on a space mission that goes horribly wrong. Her story is a simple one — get home or die alone in space. It’s the journey that captivates and leaves the audience holding its breath as Cuaron’s special effects and cinematography focuses on Stone’s perspective. Gravity not only features a woman as the lead, but also shows her to be an intelligent, innovative scientist who stops at nothing to return to Earth but also has the same human flaws as we all do. The film is a step in the right direction for women who long to be the center of high-grossing, well-received suspense films and easily the most pro-female film of any genre this year.
Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Jennifer Lawrence topped our list of Women We Are Most Thankful For this year and her reprisal as Katniss Everdeen is a huge factor in that Lydia Love. The second film installment of Suzanne Collins’ girl-power trilogy finds Katniss post-victory in a Panem yearning for revolution. With Peeta (Josh Hutchinson) by her side (and Liam Hemsworth’s Gale back home pining for her in a love triangle scenario), she shows her strength by re-entering the arena for the 75th Hunger Games and rebelling against the dictator, President Snow (Donald Sutherland). The Hunger Games series alone encourages women to take on problems with their own abilities, and this second film is no exception. Katniss is a literary and cinematic role model for young fans of the series who are tired of being Bella Swan-ed into personality-free submission.
Best Indie: Frances Ha
Directed and written by indie film royalty Noah Baumbach (Wes Anderson’s co-writer for Fantastic Mr. Fox, director of The Squid and the Whale), this black-and-white take on a New York woman’s dream chasing encapsulates Woman’s free spirit and independence. Frances (Greta Gerwig) is an aspiring modern dancer with little talent but huge ambition who lives in the moment and won’t be tethered down by convention. Part comedy, part character study and part relationship saga, Frances Ha refuses to be put in a single genre. The character is not the typical manic-pixie-dream-girl seen in indie films such as Garden State or (500) Days of Summer, but instead is a realistic portrait of modern women seeking success through pure joy.
Best Horror: The Conjuring
Based on a terrifying true story (of events that may or may not have actually happened), The Conjuring was this summer’s top earning horror film and tenth-highest earner at the box office overall. A normal family moves into an idealistic house only to find that — surprise, surprise — there’s a demonic presence that possesses mothers to kill their children. Where the film’s pro-female element stands, however, is in the character of tough medium Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) as she comes to the rescue. Although so many horror films show women to be solely the victims or tormentors, The Conjuring features a woman as the problem-solver and hero against evil.
Note that these winners are all movies up to today’s release date. This holiday season promises a few honorable mentions. Saving Mr. Banks tells the story of P.L. Travers’ (Emma Thompson) struggles with Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) over the making of Mary Poppins. Already on limited release, Philomena tackles motherhood through a woman searching for the son she gave up for adoption decades ago. David O. Russell’s newest film, American Hustle, features Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence as members of a con-men ring working with the FBI in 1970s America.
What were some of your favorite woman-power films of the year? Share in the comments below or write to us on Twitter!
Kate Everson is Chicago journalist and University of Missouri alumna. By day she is an associate editor for four HR industry magazines. By night, she reviews films, outlines fiction novels with tough female leads and dreams of being the first person to win two Oscars in the same night for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Screenplay. When her fingers aren’t getting exercise bouncing across her keyboard, she’s reading Palahniuk and Vonnegut, practicing her Batgirl skills in the dojo or waiting by the mailbox for her Hogwarts letter. As Katharine Hepburn said: “Life is to be lived. If you have to support yourself, you had bloody well better find some way that is going to be interesting.”