Next week is my big brother’s birthday. He’ll be 28 (proper getting on) and if there’s one thing this guy loves, it’s a film. If there’s one thing he loves only ever so slightly more than a film, it’s a list.
As long as I can remember he has been writing lists; fantasy rugby teams in which Gerald Davies plays alongside Liam Williams, ascending populations of each American state in the order in which he intends on visiting them or even the greatest sports stars of all time (Serena is always, rightfully so, the Queen of this category).
There’s one list that is the most frequently recurring however; Top 10 Favourite Films of All Time.
Now this is no mean feat. My list has changed so frequently over the last decade and given that DP springs the demand for a list on ya when you are least expecting it, you have to be ready at a moment’s notice to explain the finest creations in the world of cinema, anytime, anywhere.
It got me thinking about my favourite films and since I can’t comprehend such a scenario without examining what it is doing for gender equality (as my A-Level English so aptly once said the phrase that encapsulates me most would be ‘I love dem women’) I decided to re-examine my list and where perhaps the intentions are slightly skewed, ensure I put the films firmly back on the road to female empowerment. Huzzah!
I thought if I included all 10 we would be here forever so I have managed to narrow it down to just five. So without further ado, and in no particular order, let’s crack on…
This film came out in the summer I arrived from my mother’s womb and is always, always, always in my Top 5. Loveable heroes, moral questions asked of human kind and a bloody good adventure across an island infested with genetically recreated dinosaurs. What more could you possibly need?
One of the most notable reasons to love this film which is responsible for some of the finest scenes that cinema has ever seen is Dr Ellie Sattler, played by the wonderful Laura Dern. Not only is Dr Sattler a botanist with expert knowledge of Cretaceous era fauna (handy) she also determinedly runs to the rescue all the protagonists on the island through a forest full of velociraptors, promptly deterring the ugly head of patriarchy (bugger off Hammond) on her way, effortlessly epitomises the tied shirt, khaki short, safari chic look decades before it was a thing and utters the brilliant line that made me whoop with joy from aged 14 onwards when I actually understood what she meant. Man creates dinosaur, dinosaur eats man, woman inherits the earth. Preach sister.
We also soon find out that all the dinosaurs in the park are actually female. Why else do you think they were able to so easily over-power mankind’s attempt to control life, overcome adversity when forced to live in an unfamiliar world and, despite the odds being stacked so firmly against them, the dinosaurs still manage to take over Isla Nublar in what, 12 hours?
The girls promptly eat all the blokes who kept them in cages, develop a way to counter the power imbalance and create the next generation of baby dinosaurs firmly living their best lives on the mantra that sisters are doing it for themselves. Who runs the world? Girls. Even the prehistoric, formerly extinct ones.
Muldoon was daft to underestimate that raptor who was a heck of a lot more than just a clever girl.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
The director of this film, Alfonso Cuaron, has gone on to win two Oscars and not without reason. POA is hands down my absolute favourite Harry film because not only is it beautifully shot and incredibly brilliant, it captures the essence of the world Jo Rowling created in such an accessible way on screen for a whole new load of fans to enjoy.
You would never have to read a Harry Potter book (sacrilege!!) and could still enjoy and appreciate this film.
The Potter books are absolutely jam-packed full of amazingly strong female characters; Luna, Lily, Molly, Ginny (book Ginny, not film Ginny- don’t get me started!), Minerva and of course, the wonderful, brilliant Hermione Jean Granger who continues to teach little girls everywhere that being clever, well informed, passionate, brave and true to yourself are the coolest things in the world to be.
Not only does Hermione save the day in Prisoner (seriously, Harry would be nothing if he wasn’t best mates with the smartest witch of their age) she also completes the entire school year having undertaken double the amount of lessons compared to her peers, punches Draco Malfoy in the face (if that isn’t smashing the patriarchy I don’t know what is) and most importantly is a loyal and fierce friend and fighter, as ever, until the end.
Hermione, played by the lovely Emma Watson, is truly on top form, putting stroppy and pubescent lads firmly in their place, fighting the forces of evil however it manifests itself and saving an innocent man from losing his soul. Oh, and she also faces her fear of flying head on and jumps on the back of a hippogriff because her friends need her. An absolute goddess in an absolutely brilliant film.
Little Miss Sunshine
If you haven’t seen this brilliant film where have you been?!
It follows the tale of a dysfunctional family who are driving across America in a yellow camper van so that Olive Hoover, played by the gorgeous Abigail Breslin, can compete in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant. It will make you laugh and cry in equal measure and is a wonderful tale of love, tragedy and why you should always dance to Superfreak as a family unit.
Olive doesn’t look like the other little girls in the pageant, she works really hard to chase her dream and gets up on that stage and struts her stuff like it’s nobody’s business. Breslin is supported by a wonderful cast with Toni Collete, Greg Kinnear, Paul Dano, Steve Carell and an Oscar winning Alan Arkin, all of whom soar with a wonderfully moving and witty script. An absolute corker of a film with a strong, wonderful female lead at the heart who loves her family and teaches us all the important life lessons in an hour and half; eff beauty standards, love fiercely and always dance like nobody’s watching.
A late contender to my Top 5 but an example of Disney’s finest work in recent years.
Sumptuous animation, a brilliant heroine with comedy chicken side-kick, Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson and a soundtrack supplied by the genius Lin-Manuel Miranda. What is not to love?!
Moana is a coming of age story about a Polynesian Princess who has to return the heart of Te Fiti to save her family, her home and restore the health of her island. Arguably, none of this would need to be done if Maui the demi-god hadn’t nicked the goddess Te Fiti’s heart in the first place (motives for doing this remain hazy) but in the end, Moana doesn’t need to be saved by the hulking, tattooed hero because she’s more than capable of saving herself.
She has an adult conversation with the goddess in question and they figure it all out, woman to woman. This scene is one of my absolute favourites; the soaring music, the slow-mo animation, Auli’l Cravalho’s beautiful vocals and the wider message of caring for our planet to make the world a better place make this the emotional crescendo of the entire film.
This and of course when Granny Moana tells her grandaughter irrespective of where Moana goes, her grandmother with always be with her. I’m not crying, you are!
If you haven’t yet experienced the joy of this film, please go watch it. Like, now.
The Sound of Music
Last and by no means least, The Sound of Music sees Julie Andrews at her absolute finest and if you aren’t crying solidly for the last half hour then you aren’t doing it right!
Rogers and Hammerstein’s beautiful musical tells the tale of a novice who becomes a governess to the seven Von Trapp children and brings music and joy back in to the home of an Austrian sea captain (Austria is land bound but we will let that slide) who has lost his wife and needs to learn to love again. Ah, I’m sobbing already!
It’s got nuns, Nazis and timeless musical numbers that fill the heart with absolute joy. Andrews is a dream as Maria. She is full of gusto, spirit, speaks out for what she thinks is right and is the best governess those singing kids could ask for. She is also definitely my spirit animal as not only is she late to everything, she never misses a meal. A woman after my own heart.
Christopher Plummer as Capt. Von Trapp (fondly known as CVT in this household) is dashing, grumpy, brooding and a bit of rubbish as a father at the beginning of the film. Maria calls him out on his bullshit and he eventually comes around to her way of thinking. You’d be mad not to!
Without fail if this film is on the TV, no matter at what point I find it at, I will always have to watch it through to the end to see Mother Superior (I once played her in another life!) telling Maria that she’ll never be alone going over those mountains. Again, there is a theme developing here and I’m definitely not ugly crying, there’s just something in my eye…
So there we have it, five dissections of some of my favourite female film characters and why they have all bought me a great deal of joy over the years. So many films very nearly made it on to the list; Mean Girls, Little Women, Mulan, Hidden Figures– I could go on for hours!
Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off to watch all of these films in one sitting, cry tears of joy into a large box of Dairy Milk, sing along at the top of my voice to every song and imagine I am running up an Austrian mountainside like my girl Julie and loving every single second.
Oh, and I also need to plan my escape in the event of a dinosaur apocalypse. Best bit of advice I can give you is stay out of the long grass and if you see your glass of water shaking, get the hell out of there!
This is one is for my brother who has taught me so much about films and introduced me to many a kick-ass heroines.