Once again the pages flew off our calendars, and in the blink of an eye 2010 has come to a close. It seems like only yesterday when I wrote about the Female Feats of 2009. Remember back that far? Kathryn Bigelow was making waves with 'The Hurt Locker,' and heck, women directors were making waves all over the place, from the swelling romance of Jane Campion to the May-December love affair that is 'An Education.'
This year brought its own charm, but how well did it all come together on the mainstream scene? It doesn't take much to come up with films that offered great female characterizations (like 'Agora,' 'Easy A,' 'Red,' 'The Kids Are All Right'), but all of those rest outside of the Top 20 Grossing Films of 2010.
If we step back from our movie lover ways and investigate the films the casual moviegoer frequented, do female characterizations hold up?
The Top 20 comes courtesy of Box Office Mojo's list from 12/27/10.
20-16 -- 'Valentine's Day,' 'Jackass 3D,' 'Salt,' 'The Other Guys' and 'Shutter Island'
Talk about a wild mix of films to kick things off. However, as varied as the themes might be, for the most part the characterizations offer more of the status quo. 'Valentine's' is absolutely riddled with cliched women who melt into emotional messes eager for chocolate who lust for love. 'Jackass 3D' is a boys' club of, well, jackassery. 'The Other Guys' is wildly funny, but also upholds the hot wife syndrome with the comedy's lead female character (played by Eva Mendes) being the hot other-half of Will Ferrell. Alternatively, the women in 'Shutter' are fairly marginalized, but pack a powerful punch due to the talents of Patricia Clarkson, Michelle Williams and Emily Mortimer.
'Salt,' obviously, reigns supreme in the first segment of films, being the action flick that morphed Tom Cruise into Angelina Jolie and didn't change the whole tale to do so.
Overall: Female cliches, boys' club, women in action, trophy wives, strong supporting players.
15-11 -- 'The Last Airbender,' 'Megamind,' 'Tangled,' 'Grown Ups' and 'Clash of the Titans'
M. Night Shyamalan's controversy-riddled fantasy film did manage to make the Top 15 (though $131 million isn't as impressive when you compare it to a $150 million price tag), and find one solid supporting lead in Nicola Peltz's Katara. 'Tangled', meanwhile, deserves props for trying to change up how we see princesses in fairytales, but did so by making the focus on her savior -- Flynn. One step forward and one step back. 'Grown Ups' raises up the trophy wife idea as (per usual) the slacker types get beautiful partners like Salma Hayek and Maria Bello. 'Titans' has some women, but let's be real -- the flick is about Sam Worthington's rounded muscles and flat acting.
Roxanne Ritchie (Tina Fey) in 'Megamind' fared the best of this bunch; Todd wrote in his review that the film "gives female viewers a character with enough substance, depth, intelligence and independence to hold her own against her male counterparts."
Overall: Female sidekick, modern Lois Lane, spunky princess, trophy wives, goddesses and sacrifices.
10-6 -- 'The Karate Kid,' 'How to Train Your Dragon,' 'Shrek Forever After,' 'Despicable Me' and 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1'
Kids' fare definitely dominates the Top 15, especially slots 6-10, which feature family films, or slightly less family films that have evolved out of tyke fare. Child or adult, the same characterizations apply. '
And then there's Hermione Granger in 'Harry Potter.' Though a supporting player in Harry's world, Hermione has always been seen as the smartest and most talented wizard, and in 'Deathly Hallows,' offers a sublimely resonating strength. (Revisit the moments when Hermione must wipe minds.)
Overall: Love interest, love interest/friend, wifely ogre, pawns with heart, super-smart support.
5-2 -- 'Inception,' 'The Twilight Saga: Eclipse,' 'Iron Man 2' and 'Alice in Wonderland'
And now things get wonderfully interesting. The top 5 includes solid supporting roles and two female stars.
'Inception' is a dreamscape of testosterone, but Ellen Page and Marion Cotillard bring, respectively, excellent brains and emotional heart. Bella might get chastised a lot as 'The Twilight Saga' unfolds, but scribe Melissa Rosenberg has always strove to make Bella stronger on film than in the books, and in 'Eclipse,' Bella becomes a much more active participant in her life. Meanwhile, Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts is the supporting player and possible future love interest, but she's also one of the most capable of the Stark bunch, and Tony realizes that. And Alice, well, she is a tough lead offering heaps of female empowerment.
Overall: Supporting smarts and a femme fatale, vampirism addict, supporting brains, girl adventurer/savior.
The Top-Grossing Film of 2010: 'Toy Story 3'
Naturally, there won't be any female leads in this story. Since it first hit in 1995, 'Toy Story' has mixed the worlds of little Andy with his lead toys, Woody and Buzz Lightyear. However, it's also a passing-of-the-torch story, and between its thematic structure and placement in the #1 spot, I can't help but wonder if this will be seen as a switch in overall, mainstream female characterizations.
When little Bonnie sees Andy's toys, and grabs the lost Woody, she does set them down for a little tea party, but quickly finds her imagination taking off with her as she races around and imagines a whole action sequence where her and her toys must run from an evil fiend. There's no strict gender constraints with Bonnie. She mixes her play between typical female and male fare. She's got short hair, a necklace, overalls and a tutu. In short, Bonnie is a wonderful mix of aspects of childhood that make for a wonderful and well fleshed-out female character.
Overall, there's still a palpable sense of the supporting syndrome -- women presented as help or plot pushers for the male leads, and of love-centrism, whether we're talking about leading ladies wanting vampires or wifey supporting gigs. However, Hollywood has also managed to diverge from those habits as well, offering up some delightful verve from Evelyn to Alice, Hermione to Bonnie. And, the fact that the Top 5 does not have one film that doesn't boast a female lead or strong supporting female character is certainly a step in the right direction.
As much as there is still room for advancement, there's also a sense of progress as we head into 2011. We're coming out of a year that -- beyond the Top 20 -- offered us massively strong action heroines ('Dragon Tattoo,' 'Salt,' 'Alice in Wonderland,' 'Red'), immensely intelligent women (Hypatia in 'Agora') and excellent leads from Julianne Moore and Annette Benning in 'The Kids Are All Right' to the awesome power of Emma Stone in 'Easy A.'
Let's hope 2011 is even better.