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The 25 movies that made 2017 a turning point for women in film

With wonder women, sharp teens and engrossing killers, the future of Hollywood looked very female this year


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Jennie Neufeld
December 17, 2017 8:00PM (UTC)

This year was marked an increasingly anti-feminist slant in government and an entertainment industry awakening to the reality that — surprise, surprise — it's been rife systemic sexual assault for generations.

That doesn't mean, however, that what we saw up on the screen this year hasn't been good for women. Indeed,  in terms of offering films dedicated to strong, well-rounded and grounded woman characters, 2017 has been a true turning point.

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What stands out about 2017's crop of women-led films are the ways in which they amplify voices and portray journeys we've rarely heard or seen at the multiplex. Less and less are women on screen just manic pixie dream girls, damsels in distress or psycho ex-girlfriends. Less and less are they simply there to advance the plot for their male counterparts. Thanks to the visions and efforts of female writers and directors — with stellar acting by incredible women, to boot — the future of cinema is looking increasingly, refreshingly female.

So, let's take look back at some of the most successful, well-executed films that made 2017 a winner for women with audiences and critics.

ladybird-gateway"Lady Bird"
The best way to describe one of the most enjoyable films of 2017 is delicious. Noted by the Guardian as an "antidote to Trump culture," "Lady Bird" is engaging and dynamic from start to finish.

Through first-time director Greta Gerwig’s fresh, sparkling writing, Saoirse Ronan puts on an incredible, yet silly performance as Lady Bird (aka Christine McPherson). Her tumultuous relationship with her tough mother, played wonderfully by Laurie Metcalf, and teenage insecurities make the film utterly relatable, hitting almost too close to home.

While its dynamism is limited due to its predominantly white cast — bringing into question the excessive ranting and raving surrounding the movie — Gerwig does incorporate nuance in the form of discussions about class-struggles, ostracized identities and the tough life that is being a hormonal, teenage girl. As one of Rotten Tomatos' best reviewed films of all time — it just went down from a 100 percent fresh to  99 thanks to one Cole Smithley, giving the film the only rotten review it has received — Lady Bird is certainly not one to miss.

wonderwoman-gateway"Wonder Woman"
Many women, myself included, shed a tear or two while taking in the glory that is “Wonder Woman.” It's no surprise, given that " it's one of the first truly successful major motion pictures to feature a female superhero. Directed by a woman, no less, it's a nuclear reactor of girl power.

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Played by the suddenly iconic Gal Gadot, Princess Diana is a dynamic, smart, powerful and unstoppable woman character, but one with a true heart and soul, a rarity from Hollywood. With $220 million revenue in its opening weekend and a 92 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it's not just one of biggest, best releases of the year, it's the biggest release by a woman director, ever. As well, "Wonder Woman" proves that putting women at the forefront of the comic book-film trend can pay off beautifully. Your move, Marvel.

girlstrip-gateway"Girls Trip"
Perfectly set in the midst of New Orleans' Essence Music Festival, an annual celebration of black female power and beauty, this road-trip laugher was far more than just a comedic diversion. Stars Jada Pinkett Smith, Tiffany Haddish, Regina Hall, Queen Latifah and director Malcolm D. Lee offer up a trip down south and through black womanhood that's hard to forget.

Though "Girls Trip" often veers toward absolutely outrageous, writers Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver know just when to reel the hallucinations, mid-air mists and physical humor back in for a bit of genuine feeling and gravity. With a huge dose of #blackgirlmagic, "Girls Trip" became the first black-led movie to cross the $100 million mark, making it the most profitable comedy of 2017. What's perhaps best is how evident it is that stars Smith, Haddish, Hall and Latifah had just as much fun filming it as the audience has watching it.

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itonya-gateway"I, Tonya"
Ferocious and captivating, Margot Robbie puts on a performance that leaves you wondering where fiction and dark comedy end and the reality of Tonya Harding begins. Robbie has said the film isn’t a perfect reflection of who Harding is or of the infamous day Nancy Kerrigan was attacked (keep in mind, only Harding and her compatriots know the absolute truth).

Even so, "I, Tonya," stands out as perhaps the sharpest biopic in theaters this year. In its own way, it offers what, according to Robbie, the media never did — a truthful, authentic portrait of a driven, dysfunctional women from more than just one angle. Given that "I, Tonya" has a thumbs up from the real Harding herself, it's safe to say the writers came closer to that than anyone else has.

jane-gateway"Jane"
It's due time that someone made a film about the world's favorite primatologist, Jane Goodall. "Jane" highlights the accomplishments of a passionate woman with footage that goes as far back as 1962, when Goodall was already a leading researcher at the ripe old age of 26.

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Make no mistake, this film in no way glosses the realities of sexism in science. It is, in many ways, a chronicle of the  difficulties of being a woman in a male-dominated, industry, something highly relatable.

The footage, much of it filmed by Goodall herself, is often as glorious as anything you'll see in BBC's "Planet Earth". It allows viewers to venture into the forests themselves, to experience, at least for a moment, unique symbiosis with the primitive world Goodall enjoys. With a 99 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, "Jane" is easily one of the best documentaries of the year.

thefloridaproject-gateway"The Florida Project"
From the mind of Sean Baker, the director who brought us “Tangerine” comes one of the most heart-wrenching and heart-warming films of the year. Standout child-actor Brooklynn Prince, along with Willam Dafoe and Bria Vinaite, shines in this warm, colorful film about life just outside the bounds of Disney World and in essence, the American dream.

 

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atomicblonde-gateway"Atomic Blonde"
There’s nothing better than seeing a powerful woman kicking ass all over the big screen. Grossing $96 million worldwide, it’s clear that the public feels that “Atomic Blonde” is a perfect example of that. Starring Charlize Theron, the film revolves around the journey of an undercover M16 agent looking to put a stop to the destruction wrought by the global intelligence community. With stunningly choreographed fight scenes, Theron is a female James Bond, but sexier, wittier, sharper and ever more fashionable.

thepost-gateway"The Post"
"The Post" tells the story behind the Washington Post's publishing of the "Pentagon Papers," a moment that changed the periodical, political journalism and the country thanks to one brave decision. Meryl Streep brings to life the incomparable and indomitable Post publisher Katharine Graham as she powers through a wall of men unwilling to accept her authority. Though it’s not yet in theaters nationwide, Variety predicts the film will be a mainstream success, perhaps grossing $100 million. With Streep and Tom Hanks portraying editor Ben Bradlee, it's a good guess it will.

 

afantasticwoman-gateway"A Fantastic Woman"
"A Fantastic Woman," is just that, a fantastic film about a fantastic woman. Daniela Vega is stunning in this heart-wrenching, tear-worthy film centered on loss and identity. After the death of her partner, Marina must navigate life in this mournful world as her identity as a woman is brought into question. In casting trans woman to play, well, a trans woman the film is quite a rarity (cisgender men typically take those roles . Many are begging for Vega be nominated for an Oscar, something that would be a major feat in the trans community. Yet, identity aside, Vega is more than worthy of all the acclamations she has so far received, her talent outshining many nominated this awards season.

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beautyandthebeast-gateway"Beauty and the Beast"
In this live-action adaptation of a Disney classic, intelligence is what makes the princess a  a princess. Emma Watson brings a big slice of her fierce, driven Hermione Granger of the "Harry Potter" franchise to this tale as old as time. Yes, the happy ending is contingent on her ending up with the beast, who magically transforms into a prince. But it is a Disney movie, after all. But even at that, it's a fairy tale that doesn't give women short shrift.

 

womenwhokill-gateway"Women Who Kill "
For those who've had enough sweet and soft stories about women who love women, "Women Who Kill" is the dark-comedy lesbian thriller they never knew they needed. Satirical and smart, "Women Who Kill" plays on classic lesbian tropes on its way to its 100 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Exes Morgan, played by the film's writer and director, Ingrid Jungermann, and Jean, played by Ann Carr, are trapped in the hellscape that is living together after a messy breakup as they continue to record their podcast profiling female serial killers. Things take a turn for the worse, and what appears to be a silly film turns into an unexpected, well-done horror. By the by, never trust the pretty lesbian at the local grocery store. If your meet-cute seems to good to be true, it probably is.

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roxanneroxanne-gateway"Roxanne Roxanne"
Based on the life of freestyle rap-battle star Roxanne Shanté, “Roxanne Roxanne,” represents women in a way "Straight Outta Compton" could not. Here we learn the mid-'80s story of the original viral diss track recorded by this "feminist teenage street queen," a tale full of profundity, brilliance and heart.

 

princesscyd-gateway"Princess Cyd"
What's so refreshing here is that the violence and sadness which is usually endemic in popular queer films largely takes place off camera, leaving the rest of the movie to imagine what life could be on an ideal, utopian planet where its teen lesbian protagonist can simply be and love without fear. In this, the emotional and vibrant "Princess Cyd" is a piece of solace in this dark, often homophobic world.

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beguiled-gateway"The Beguiled"
Psychological thriller meets fantasy in Sofia Coppola's much talked about period piece. Set in Civil War-era Virginia, this remake and rework of Don Siegel's 1971 film of the same name, features Nicole Kidman, Elle Fanning and Kirsten Dunst and no more than a glance at slavery, a problem for many.

Yes, the film offers commentary on femininity, privilege and repression, but only insofar as they effect the romanticized white of Southern belles of the narrative. Yet, for all of its many faults, "The Beguiled" offers a slow, dark and simmering vision executed by women. The talent here is hard to deny even if the film's problems can't be ignored.

 

theincrediblejessicajames-gateway"The Incredible Jessica James"
If there's a movie that best exemplies what it is to be a strong woman in the digital age, "The Incredible Jessica James" is it. Following Brooklyn-based adventures of the "freakin dope" James, played by former "Daily Show" correspondent Jessica Williams, the Netflix original achieves what Lena Dunham and "Girls" failed to do: represent a relatable, real woman's struggles with success and love. It's as fiery, sharp and charming as Williams herself.

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allthispanic-gateway"All This Panic"
There's something magical about teenage girls, their persistence, their passion. Yet, the world often revels in mocking them for that which they are most admirable, painting them as shallow, silly, snooty. "All This Panic" undoes all that by documenting the real stories of a clutch of young women as they come to terms with their capabilities and identities. Stunningly shot and stunningly told, the documentary is on a mission to remind you that the teen girl is a force to be reckoned with. It succeeds.

 

battleofthesexes-gateway"Battle of the Sexes"
A warm retelling of the moment Bobby Riggs baited Billy Jean King into a televised gender showdown, "Battle of the Sexes" reveals the humans underneath the media madness. We see the insecurity behind Riggs' infamous over-the-top displays of cockiness and misogyny and the unsure, closeted King who offered up a fierce, unstoppable attitude and game for public consumption. It offers dimension, heart and yet another opportunity to watch King kick Riggs' ass.

ladymacbeth-gateway"Lady MacBeth"
What happens when a woman becomes consumed with power? In Shakespeare's "Macbeth," it leads to madness and death. The same can be said for dear Katherine, the protagonist of "Lady Macbeth," a take on Nikolai Leskov’s novella "Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk," though not quite for the same reasons.

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Locked into a northern-England life of boredom and subservience, Katherine, played beautifully by Florence Pugh, turns the tables with a vengeance. Unlike her Shakespearean counterpart, Katherine finds liberation, but something darker and more frightening, too.

Though certainly supported by excellent writing and directing that incorporates nuanced commentary on both gender and race, it's Pugh's bearing, facial expressions and, most of all, her eyes that ties the film up in a messy bow in all the right ways.

thisiseverything-gateway"This is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous"
When internet celebrity Gigi Gorgeous came into public prominence, she first openly identified as gay, then as a trans woman. In both respects, Gigi Gorgeous was a trailblazer, a source of comfort for ostracized identities looking for someone with whom they could relate. In the documentary, “This is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous,” tells the story of her life, from start to present, a coming-of-age work sprinkled with moments of sadness and joy.

 

paintitblack-gateway"Paint it Black"
Amber Tamblyn has been a comforting, yet firm, voice inside the #MeToo movement currently transforming the industry. As writer and director of "Paint it Black," rated 90 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, she brings to life something powerful and resounding about the realities of grief. Akin to "A Fantastic Women" in its theme, plot and characterization, "Paint it Black" is simultaneously shallow and deep, leaving its deeper secrets unknown.

okja-gateway"Okja"
Equal parts action, dreamy fantasy and pointed commentary, Okja is the tale one girl, Mija, fighting to save her one-of-a-kind pig, Okja, after he is stolen by corporate monster Lucy Mirando, played with eccentric ruthlessness by Tilda Swinton. This Netflix original is not so much about massive barnyard animals, though, as it is about saving the things we love — animals, the environment, people, ourselves — from those that would devour them — corporations, political movements and base cynicism.

landline-gateway"Landline
"
Travel back in time with Jenny Slate, Edie Falco and Abby Quinn to the distant age that is the 90’s in this nostalgic, quaint comedy about life and the realities of love. From Gillian Robespierre — the director of “Obvious Child, a sweet, humble and honest comedy about abortion — “Landline” is slightly generic in its characterization, but in a way that is reflective of real life. After all, everyone's a little basic when it comes down to it.

 

novitiate-gateway"Novitiate
"
Revolving around the "sacrifice, seclusion and austerity," of a life dedicated to God, "Novitiate" illustrates the world of a monastery where things aren’t all they are chalked up to be. Sister Cathleen, played by Margaret Qualley, faces a choice between remaining passionately true to Christian values and fighting back against the authoritarian power of the Reverend Mother, played by Melissa Leo in a blistering performance. Written and directed by Margaret Betts, “Novitiate” fearlessly dives into difficulties that come with faith.

ingridgoeswest-gateway"Ingrid Goes West"
A commentary on the effect of social media, and what can go wrong, “Ingrid Goes West” is darkly funny, but also necessary. The film is an illustration of what is at risk in a society obsessed with both public opinion and publishing every aspect of one’s life through social media. It’s a fair warning and a good lesson learned wrought with fierce charm.

personalshopper-gateway"Personal Shopper"
From the mind of Olivier Assayas comes a film nearly impossible to peg. Once again, Kristen Stewart channels the chicly wearisome life of waiting on celebrities — à la "Clouds of Sils Maria," — though with more intensity, intimacy and fright. "Personal Shopper," is chilling in the most perfect way, an unusual and unpredictable horror film that typifies the innovation and diversity seen in 2017.


Jennie Neufeld

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