As companion to AWFJ’s 2009 “Men We Love” Awards, we’re honoring the “Women We Love.” This year, they’re the female characters with character who gave us our most memorable laughs, joys, insights and inspirations during 2008, and have shown in films–both lighthearted and dark–that they’re made of the right stuff not the wrong fluff.
This isn’t a best-actress list. Although all of these characters were revealed in award-worthy performances, they were also shaped by the work of writers, directors, cinematographers, designers and entire crews who supported them.
Collaboratively realized, these characters reflected our innermost feelings, thoughts, concerns and aspirations, thrilled and moved us, guided us to places we hadn‘t been before and, when their cinematic journeys were over, they leapt from the movie screens and into our hearts and minds. These are the women we salute:
- Nazneen Ahmed – In “Brick Lane,” Nazneen (Tannishtha Chatterjee), sent from her rural Bangladeshi village to London to marry an older man she’s never met, transcends the many burdens imposed by her traditional culture and marriage to explore her own humanity and embrace her own womanly strengths and needs.
- Christine Collins – In “Changling,“ based on a real crime case in LA during the late 1920s, Christine (Angelina Jolie) is the single mom whose son disappears while she’s at work. When the wrong boy is returned to her, she refuses to go along with the corrupt LAPD’s easy-out way of handling the case, and faithfully insists that they continue to try to find her son. Christine’s fight for truth and justice challenges treatment of women as second-class citizens, helps topple the corrupt Los Angeles Police Department and does it all with the ferocious love of a devoted mother.
- Queenie – In “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” (Taraji P. Henson), Queenie, a young black woman who cares for eccentric elderly white residents in a nursing home in racially stratified New Orleans, adopts a severely ill and deformed baby when his own white father abandons him, and gives him a backward-lifetime’s worth of colorblind parental love, support and equanimity, all while falling in love and having a family of her own.
- Mrs. Miller – In “Doubt,“ Mrs. Miller (Viola Davis), a hard-working husband-dominated mother, has no doubt about defending her son’s right to attend a ’good’ parochial school when a crusading nun insinuates that the boy is being abused by a popular priest. Mrs. Miller’s tough stand presents honest and disturbing dilemmas inherent in motherhood. She believes her decision is in the best interest of her son, the lesser evil of two horrific choices. She neither flinches nor waivers from putting her son’s interests first.
- Ray Eddy and Lila – In “Frozen River,“ Ray Eddy (Melissa Leo), a working class mother who pleads for more work hours at the dollar store so she can buy a new double-wide trailer in which to house her two sons, and Lila (Misty Upham), a Native American grifter who provides for her family by smuggling illegal aliens across the U.S. Canadian border, meet each other by chance and, motivated by their desperate poverty, form an uneasy, suspicion-riddled money-making alliance that, when challenged by authorities, transforms into a genuinely inspiring bond of sisterhood.
- Sue Lor – In “Gran Torino,“ Sue (Ahney Her), a teenage Hmong girl living in a working class Detroit neighborhood, shines with humor, irony, smarts and respect for herself, her family and her culture, in direct contrast to the dark machismo of neighborhood Hmong thugs who defile her but cannot break her spirit.
- Poppy – In “Happy-Go-Lucky,” Poppy (Sally Hawkins), the seemingly stereotypically scatterbrained London bachelorette, expresses her eternally almost annoyingly optimistic outlook with a constant grin, frequent giggle and goofy penchant for flashy club clothes, but as a primary school teacher, loyal friend, girlfriend and student of a deeply troubled driving instructor, she shows she has a heart as big as London’s Millennium Wheel and a profound depth of compassion and common sense.
- Juliette Fontaine – In “I’ve Loved You So Long,“ Juliette (Kristin Scott Thomas) is an ex-con who served 15 years for killing her son, but as you learn the circumstances leading to her downfall, you not only empathize with her loneliness, you also understand the depth of her love, compassion and determination at its root, and you cheer her as she reclaims her humanity.
- Guinevere Pettigrew – In “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day,” Guinevere (Frances McDormand), a dowdy middle-aged British governess with a low tolerance for BS, seems an unlikely candidate to become the social secretary to a flighty aspiring actress, but she uses her homegrown common sense and her degree from the school of hard knocks to step up to any challenge and breaks free of the limitations imposed on pre-World War II women.
- Rachel Armstrong – In “Nothing But the Truth,” Rachel (Kate Beckinsale), a journalist who breaks a huge political story, is forced to examine her own ambitions, ethics and priorities when her refusal to reveal her extremely vulnerable source lands her in jail, away from her loving family and important work.
- August Boatwright – In “The Secret Life of Bees,” August (Queen Latifah), guided by her spirituality, watches over her sisters and a strange young girl seeking asylum, transcends the racist attitudes, is in tune with nature and welcomes whatever comes her way with great wisdom, love and humor.
- Kimberly Rivers Roberts – In “Trouble The Water,“ Kimberly (as herself), an amateur videographer and aspiring rapper, is the focal point of a documentary that paints a personal picture of Hurricane Katrina’s impact on New Orleans. Kim speaks her mind as she and her husband and their neighbors brace for the storm, ride it out and then looks toward recovery in a nonfiction film that weaves together comedy and tragedy, profanity and faith, anguish and survival.
- EVE – In “WALL-E,“ EVE (voiced by Elissa Knight) is the chic, sleek, smart machine, the Extra-Terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator, who forges a bond with WALL-E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class), another artificial life form, to take care of humans who’ve seriously faltered in their relationship to nature and each other. EVE is instrumental in facilitating humans’ return to their humanity.
Written by Betsy Pickle and Jennifer Merin
The Alliance of Women Film Journalists, a nonprofit international association of 41 professional female movie critics, reporters and feature writers working in print, broadcast and online media, was incorporated in 2006. Our mandate is to recognize, support and raise consciousness about women working in the film industry–in front of and behind the cameras, and writing about film and the film industry–through coverage on our Web site at www.awfj.org, the presentation of awards for outstanding achievements, and through outreach programs.