This is the time of year for lists – not just for gifts or for party guests but for the “best of” just about everything. We think that television and movies did a particularly great job at articulating situations – dramatic and comic – that are faced by professional women employed in male-dominated workplaces.
We’ve never done this, but we’d like to take a moment to urge you to take a look at some of the things that amazed, pleased, even angered us this year. Most of our selections follow the theme of women succeeding in difficult circumstances – which is of course what we have been encouraging and helping you do this year. Here are our picks.
Best Movies of 2019 (and 2018 and 2017)
I’ve never watched a movie that didn’t hold some interest, but here are some of my recent favorites. Again these are all movies that comment in some way about our Getting Heard theme that we’ve been advocating. I threw in two films from previous years, because, why not?
Marriage Story. Written and directed by Noah Baumbach, starring Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver. There is nothing flashy or innovative in the filmmaking here, but the story centers around a little explored situation: that a womn who marries a charismatic genius will be diminished over the course of her marriage. She is little heard, not allowed to blossom or follow her own dreams, but instead is expected, by herself and her husband, to serve his needs. Johansson is brilliant: a tiny unglamorous ball of suppressed anger who finally taps into and understands her unfulfilling life and demands to be set free. Streaming on Netflix.
The Farewell. Written and directed by Lulu Wang. This is a story about prescribed silence. American-raised Billi is sworn by her family to observe the Chinese tradition of not telling her beloved grandma that she has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Billi visits her Nai Nai without being able to say good bye or properly acknowledge her love and her fears for her. It’s a quiet film, filled with longing and suppressed anxiety, carried by an American actress whose talents are just emerging (Akwafina) and an elderly actress (Shuzhen Zhao) with a long and distinguished career in China.
The Favorite. Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, starring Olivia Colman, Rachel Weiss and Emma Stone. Frail Queen Ann presides over England as her two supporting ladies battle it out for her affections and the power that gives. This is a story of traditional gender reversal as the feckless men eat pineapple and race ducks while the women engage in a power struggle of enormous antagonism and wit. One is given power through her royal birth, one is elevated to power by her intelligence, charm, rapier tongue and one steals it by sheer cunning and opportunism. A wonderful trio of superlative performances and a impressive tale of how women can thrive and transform in a traditionally male world.
The Florida Project. Written and directed by Sean Baker, starring Willem Dafoe and Brooklynn Prince. This is a movie of deceptive depth and power. It follows the lives of the residents of grade Z motel on the outskirts of Disney World through one difficult summer. It is in particular the story of Moonee, a resourceful and determined little girl who finds inventive ways to survive and even thrive in hand-to-mouth poverty while caring for her occasionally-available, drug-addicted mom in a place that has no amenities or interest in children. Irony abounds as poverty and dysfunction run havoc at the edges of the happiest place on earth.
A Golden Year for Television
There are many television programs that held my attention and earned my admiration this year.
Fleabag. Written and performed by Phoebe Waller Bridge. In my mind, this is not only the best television of 2019, but of the last several years. It is smart, honest, naked with truth and feeling. In particular the season two opener dissects the horrors of a dysfunctional family with precision, compassion, and unexpected clarity. With jaw-dropping brilliance Fleabag unveils the ugliness and the heartbreak that great tragedy can cause. PWB has adopted a technique of breaking the fourth wall to include us in her bewilderment, amusement and sadness that fills her life with meaningful looks right into our hearts. Amazon Prime
Documentary Now! Created by Fred Armiston and Bill Hader. A parody of documentary films now in its fourth year. In particular, I was impressed by The Return of the Artist starring Cate Blanchett in a hilarious turn as Hungarian performance artist, Izabella Barta, who manages to slowly and carefully get her revenge on a self- satisfied and oblivious colleague who has plagued her for years. Amazon Prime.
G.L.O.W. (The Gorgeous Women of Wrestling) This may seem an odd choice because — wrestling? Really? But this Netflix series is alternately hilarious and moving as a group of women under the guidance of an angry and washed up director and a clueless producer create and inhabit the over-the-top characters of a women’s professional wrestling show. Particularly great are wrestlers Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin and their director Marc Maron who are ashamed that their lack luster careers have put them in need of this low-level employment, and finally recognize the gift they’ve been given. An added bonus is the 1980s setting which features glorious big hair and sparkly spandex and annoying pre women’s-lib harassment.
Unbelievable. This short procedural crime series is based on real events. It stars Toni Collette and Merritt Dever as detectives who piece together disparate clues about a serial rapist. The show is particularly harrowing because the first victim is a troubled teen bouncing around the foster system whose story is cruelly and repeatedly dismissed by male cops. She is even charged with lying about her rape and brought to trial. The care and persistence of the two women detectives is heartening, redemptive, without sentiment or melodrama. On Netflix.
The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel. This Amazon Prime series, now in it’s third season, is set in the fifties when women wore stylish hat and white gloves, raised babies and stayed home. Mrs. Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan), who is indeed marvellous, breaks barriers and traditions right and left as a stand up comic with the help of her understated manager, Susie (the brilliant Alex Borstein). There is great chemistry between the two, angst and folly as well. Like many professions the lot of the female comic is exceedingly tough with the usual different standards and rewards for men.
So, that’s what we have. Please let us know if you agree or disagree and have alternative suggestions. And happy holidays to you all.
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