What came after “the year of the woman?”

Posted by · 3:26 pm · December 27th, 2010

This time last year, we were still in the thick of a long-running “year of the woman” narrative, as female filmmakers enjoyed critical, festival and box-office success, plus an unprecedentedly high profile in the awards season –culminating in that history-making Best Director win for Kathryn Bigelow (as well as a Best Picture nod for Lone Scherfig’s “An Education”).

Once the dust had settled on Bigelow’s Oscar, however, the narrative tailed off a bit; with that particular blip on their conscience eased, the industry at large could go back to business as usual. Right?

Well, perhaps not. Although there’s been no major name like Bigelow for the media to make into a wider cause or mascot, when put under the microscope, 2010 has proved a quietly successful year for female filmmakers after all. Although none have managed the box-office presence that Nora Ephron and Nancy Meyers had in 2009, women in the indie sector have taken the baton from Bigelow and kept running.

The good news started at Sundance, weeks before Oscar night, as female writer-directors scored the two biggest hits of the festival: Debra Granik took the Grand Jury Prize with “Winter’s Bone,” while Lisa Cholodenko had the hottest sell of the fest in “The Kids Are All Right.” 11 months later, those two films are still very much with us, looking highly likely to maintain 2009’s statistic of two female-helmed films in the Academy’s Best Picture slate. (A corresponding Best Director nod may be a stiffer challenge, however.)

Nicole Holofcener may not have caught the awards momentum of her fellow Sundance attendees, but “Please Give” found a healthy number of fans in the critical community, and Ruba Nadda’s “Cairo Time” was a sweet summer surprise with an enviable per-screen average. As the weather cooled, newer names made a splash on the more bijou end of the indie circuit: many column inches were devoted to Lena Dunham’s “Tiny Furniture,” while Tanya Hamilton’s “Night Catches Us” was another miniature late-year darling.

Women kept pace on the documentary circuit, too: Lucy Walker’s “Waste Land” (her second release of 2010, following “Countdown to Zero”) and Madeleine Sackler’s “The Lottery” could yet land them in the Oscar hunt, while many were surprised not to be able to say the same for Laura Poitras’s lavishly praised “The Oath.”

Over on the European festival track, Cannes took some flak for its all-male Competition lineup, but Venice made up the balance: Sofia Coppola’s “Somewhere” split critics, but became the Lido’s undisputed talking-point when it unexpectedly emerged as the Golden Lion champ. Kelly Reichardt’s “Meek’s Cutoff,” meanwhile, took no prizes, but emerged with enough critical kudos that Venice 2011 felt very much like a ladies’ party. (Even the festival’s most high-profile failure, a distinction of sorts, was the work of a woman: Julie Taymor’s “The Tempest.”)

If the Europeans don’t make too much of a fuss about these minor festival triumphs for the fairer sex, it’s because they remain leagues ahead of the Americans when it comes to women in the arthouse.

As much as we applaud the achievements of Granik, Cholodenko et al, their films make for a lean portfolio when placed alongside the wealth of female-directed 2010 US releases from across the pond: Claire Denis’s “White Material,” Andrea Arnold’s “Fish Tank,” Maren Ade’s “Everyone Else,” Jessica Hausner’s “Lourdes,” Mia Hansen-Love’s “Father of My Children,” Catherine Corsini’s “Leaving,” Sam Taylor-Wood’s “Nowhere Boy,” Catherine Breillat’s “Bluebeard,” and so on. The most remarkable thing about this European output is that nobody there thinks it remarkable.

Taking cinema as the global medium it is, then, 2010 may not have been the media-appointed “year of the woman” 2009 was, but as a year of the woman, it held up rather nicely indeed. And with the aforementioned “Meek’s Cutoff” coming to leave critics breathless in the spring, plus long-awaited new works from Miranda July and Lynne Ramsay coming on the festival circuit, the arthouse, at least, should hold up its end of the bargain in 2011.

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16 responses so far

  • 1 12-27-2010 at 3:49 pm

    Simon Warrasch said...

    Female Actresses couldn’t be happier than in 2010! What a year for female power performances!

    A ballerina who couldn’t distingiush between fiction and real, a lesbian couple, a grieving mother who has to deal with her sudden childs death, a young woman who protects her family, a mother who gets the message that her son killed innocent students in his school, a mother who protects her only son who has been suspected to kill a young student, a young woman who has bound in the wheelchair who has been persuaded to a trip to lourdes, a young woman who tries to save her marriage….

    all has been brilliant performed by superb actresses! An unbelievebale year for strong female performances! Thank you for ever for these performances! Thank you!

  • 2 12-27-2010 at 4:02 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Not really what the piece was about, but sure, it’s been a good year for female leads too.

  • 3 12-27-2010 at 4:38 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    Hell YES Lynne Ramsay in 2011. Combine her with Tilda Swinton and I’m not sure how they won’t produce the most fascinating, inscrutable and significant indie of the year.

  • 4 12-27-2010 at 4:39 pm

    Loyal said...

    Too bad Ondi Timoner’s Cool It didn’t pan out. We Live in Public was one of my top films of last year.

    Bigelow lucked out with Avatar in the race. A huge part of her winning last year had to do with the battle of the (s)exes storyline. Oscar loves a good narrative, not to mention the fact that Bigelow is as attractive as any leading lady. Male dominated and image conscious Hollywood is unlikely to allow a Granik or Cholodenko into the Boy’s Club anytime soon, Jane Campion and Lina Wertmüller be damned.

  • 5 12-27-2010 at 4:59 pm

    Andrej said...

    I think Debra Granik might have a shot at a directing nod. If Boyle and Coen Bros. fall, she’d be the next in line, I guess.

    Also… have you heard of any new projects from Katheryn Bigelow?

  • 6 12-27-2010 at 5:09 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    I think she’s got something about the Triple Frontier (the tri-border area along Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil…rife with organized crime and believed to have terrorist connections) with Tom Hanks. I’m guessing 2012 is when we’ll see it.

  • 7 12-27-2010 at 6:21 pm

    forts said...

    And for the 120th year in a row, it was another hell of a year for male filmmakers… Even if a man did make Yogi Bear

  • 8 12-27-2010 at 6:24 pm

    Jacob S. said...

    She has two projects on her slate. Triple Fronteir, and another she wants to do before that. She’s trying to get funding now for both of them.

  • 9 12-27-2010 at 6:32 pm

    Alberto said...

    My choice of the best actresses of the year:
    (no diff. between leading and supp. actress)
    1. Lesley Manville, Anothe Year
    2. Jackie Weaver, Animal Kingdom
    3. Kim Hye-ja, Mother
    4. Juliette Binoche, Certified Copy
    5. Yoon Jeong-lee, Poetry
    6. Olivia Williamns, The Ghost Writer
    7. Jennifer Lawrence, Witer’s Bone
    8. Sylvie Testud, Lourdes
    9. Blake Lively, The Town
    10. Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
    For commentary and analysis:

  • 10 12-27-2010 at 7:07 pm

    Glenn said...

    Five of my top 10 (or thereabouts depending of fluctuating moods and positions) were directed by women. “The Tree” (Julie Bertuccelli), “Fish Tank” (Andrea Arnold), “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” (Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg), “Somewhere” (Sofia Coppola) and “The Runaways” (Floria Sigismondi) so, yes, it’s been a good year too. Not to mention Claire McCarthy (“The Waiting City”), Rachel Perkins (“Bran Nue Dae”) and all the other titles you mentioned, Guy.

  • 11 12-27-2010 at 7:26 pm

    Mitchell said...

    @Andrej and RH: The latest news was that she and Boal are going to make an indie black ops thriller and then start Triple Frontier fall/winter 2011.

  • 12 12-27-2010 at 7:43 pm

    red_wine said...

    2011 will be the year of women, if only for Juliette Binoche’s towering performance in Certified Copy. :P

    But yes, some of the most perceptive and observant work this year was done by women. The Kids Are All Right and Fish Tank are obvious favorites (in my Top 10). I really liked and admired Please Give, Somewhere, White Material and Winter’s Bone, specially the latter which it would please me immensely if it were to grab a Best Director nomination at the Oscars, even more than a nod for Cholodenko whose film I like more.

    But the one work which towers above these all and which really reaches out and makes a grab for greatness is Maren Ade’s Everyone Else, a work of dazzling humanity and insight and one of the absolute best films of the year, one of the films that I hold in the highest regard.

  • 13 12-27-2010 at 8:57 pm

    Filipe said...

    Somewhere is immensely best than TKAAR and Winter’s Bone.

  • 14 12-27-2010 at 11:49 pm

    Vince in WeHo said...

    enjoy now because 2011 is looking pretty grim for the ladies.

  • 15 12-28-2010 at 6:23 pm

    Alex said...

    Says you, Vince. Ramsay and July will do me just fine next year :)

  • 16 12-29-2010 at 9:24 am

    ninja said...

    This will be the Year of the Natalie who gave unforgettable performance in unforgettable movie (unlike the Year of the Woman Who Directed yet Another Forgettable Best Picture Winner).