As I’ve written before, 2010 was actually a good year for movies. The King’s Speech, The Fighter, Inception, Toy Story 3, Tangled, and How to Train Your Dragon were all great entertainment. We’ve seen terrific starring roles from actors ranging from the heretofore unwatchable James Franco to the ever impressive Christian Bale, from the magnificent Colin Firth to the chameleonic Geoffrey Rush. We’ve seen some actresses in supporting roles who have outshone their second-tier parts: Melissa Leo and Amy Adams in The Fighter, Helena Bonham Carter in The King’s Speech.
But when we look at the leading actresses of 2010, the dearth of great performances and great parts is stunning. The Golden Globe nominees for best actress this year were Halle Berry in the anonymous flick Frankie and Alice, playing a crazy person in her usual over-the-top style; Nicole Kidman in the anonymous flick Rabbit Hole, playing a grieving mother in her usual cold and remote style; Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone, playing a teenage girl looking for her meth-making dad; Natalie Portman in Black Swan, playing a crazy person with a constipated look plastered on her mug; and Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine, playing a spoiled girl who gets knocked up, married, and presumably divorced. Has anyone seen any of these women in any of these films? And if the disastrous Natalie Portman – Queen Amidala masturbating, anyone? – is the frontrunner for Best Actress at the Oscars, how far have female figures fallen?
Far. Quick, think of the ten greatest living film actors. It’s not that tough – we have iconic male film stars all the time. Now think of the ten greatest living film actresses. Now take away all women over 50. Still thinking, aren’t you?
The simple truth is that actresses were far more iconic fifty years ago than they are now. We may want to shtup most of the actresses we see on screen today, but we don’t show up to see them because of their standout screen personas. That isn’t because today’s actresses are less talented than their predecessors – we have many talented actresses on the scene. It’s because screen executives have decided that truly feminine women, with both brains and looks, are no longer in keeping with the times. Instead, film execs have cut a sharp dichotomy between “sexy” women and “smart” women – it’s either Megan Fox or Kate Winslet. Charlize Theron can’t play a strong, graceful, beautiful woman – she’s got to be either a lesbian serial killer or a piece of eye candy.
The feminism embraced by most of today’s execs is antiquated. They still think that women must act like men in order to promote equality of the sexes. Make Natalie Portman’s character a man in Black Swan and take away Darren Aronofsky’s idiotic and self-centered camera movements and you’ve got an oversexed Ronald Colman in A Double Life. There’s nothing feminine about Ellen Page in Juno – she’s more of a dude than Michael Cera in the same film. What ever happened to Bette Davis, to Vivien Leigh, to the old-school, unmannered Meryl Streep? They’re gone, replaced with pale imitations starring in angst-filled nonsense glorifying aberrant behavior.
Ironically enough, the feminism of today’s Hollywood has killed the female movie star. If Hollywood wants to restore that luster, they’ll need to embrace femininity, in all of its three-dimensional glory, once again.