MOVIE OF THE WEEK December 29: Best Female Characters of 2017

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motw logo 1-35With thanks to all of the movie industry women and men who’ve birthed them and brought them into our consciousness, Team #MOTW focuses attention on some of the brilliant female characters who’ve joined our pantheon of feminist film goddesses during 2017. A legion of strong, complex, and compelling fictional, truth-based and real life women have shared their struggles, aspirations and accomplishments with us. Their various stories represent every aspect of feminist activism for equality and justice. They give us insight, strength and inspiration. Browse our #MOTW roster for an overview of this year’s list of great female characters, and for Team #MOTW favorites, continue reading….

Team #MOTW’s Picks for Best Female Character of 2017:


agnes headsho croppedAgnes Varda is 89 years old and made her first film (La Pointe Courte) 62 years ago. Her latest, made with street artist JR, Faces, Places, is a documentary shot all over the French countryside. As JR makes portraits or his large-scale, ephemeral murals, the two filmmakers get to know the locals. But the character that emerges most forcefully is Varda herself–warm, curious, apparently indefatigable–as she gently infuses the film with her exquisitely human touch. With Peter Bratt’s portrait of 87-year-old United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta in Dolores; Brett Morgen’s evocation of the life of 83-year-old naturalist Jane Goodall in Jane; 82-year-old Judi Dench inhabiting the skin of Queen Victoria for a second time in Victoria and Abdul; and 87-year-old Lois Smith delivering sublime performances in Marjorie Prime and Lady Bird, 2017 has been a banner year for octogenarians. It is Varda who is my spirit animal for her love of people and of cinema, and for serving as a role model on how to not go gentle into that good night. — Pam Grady

There were so many remarkable female characters to choose from this year but for my Favorite Female Character this year, I am going to go with the real life hero of Agnes Varda. At nearly 90, Varda seems like an ageless dynamo – a mix of pixie and cinema genius (which is not too strong a word for her). She is still vital, still charming and still making interesting, fresh movies. FACES PLACES is a pure delight, funny yet deep and thought-provoking. The way Varda and artist JR work together is remarkable – easy, relaxed and creative – that it seems like they have been friends forever, when they had only known each other a short time. Despite her health challenges, Varda never seems to slow down – always inquisitive, always creative, always thinking, and always charming. Now that’s a real hero. Cate Marquis


star wars holdoMy favorite female character this year is Vice Admiral Holdo, played by Laura Dern, in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. She’s an incredible depiction of female power, confidence, authority, and competence who defies stereotypes; she’s glamorous but serious, for one. But even more importantly, her character is the vector through which the film critiques the traditional Hollywood depiction of male heroes as selfish, reckless lone-wolves who do as they please and get forgiven for it when their rash actions nevertheless win the day. Holdo is having none of that, and neither is the movie. That’s a startling position for a movie series that is built on such male behavior to take. — MaryAnn Johanson


three mcdormandIt’s a great year for strong female leads, from Meryl Streep’s heroic Kay Graham, Saorise Ronan’s questioning Lady Bird, Gal Gadot’s fearless Wonder Woman, Florence Pugh’s fierce Lady Macbeth and Rooney Mara’s resilient M. But Frances McDormand’s Mildred in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is the queen, a women driven by despair who must reshape the local narrative; she breaks the mould in every possible way, never allowing the law, community traditions or flawed antagonists stand in the way of her quest for justice in her daughter’s rape and murder. Mildred’s a precise thinker, quick with a quip, has rock solid common sense and knows right from wrong. She hard but a loving heat beats beneath that granite exterior; she shows great restraint until she doesn’t, but never does anything without thought. The best thing is all of these characters and many more this year, surprised and delighted their positive portrayals of women living their best lives in this often incomprehensible world. — Anne Brodie


first they killed my father kidNine-year-old Cambodian actor Sareum Srey Moch delivers a riveting lead performance as Loung Ung whose young life is changed forever by the devastating Cambodian Civil War. Moch is part of an all-Cambodian cast of non-professionals in Angelina Jolie’s impeccably directed new film, “First They Killed My Father,” based on the adult Ung’s bestselling memoir about her experiences. Moch captures the heartache, raw emotions, and personal tragedy her courageous young character suffers under Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime. Today the Cambodian-born Ung is an American citizen, a survivor of the Killing Fields, and a respected human rights activist and lecturer. Her childhood story, brought to uncompromising life by the talented Moch, still resonates in our world 40 years later. — Sheila Roberts


breadwinner posterIn Nora Twomey’s beautifully crafted animated film, The Breadwinner, this wonderfully brave and soulful little girl named Parvana (meaning Butterfly or Full Moon) takes on the challenge of supporting her mother and siblings when her father is beaten and imprisoned by the repressive Taliban in Kabul, Afghanistan. Parvana cuts her beautiful long hair and dresses as a boy so she can get work, shop for food for her family, and ultimately search for her father and save him. Her animation makes her a cipher who is endearing and inspiring, and can share her message of empowerment to feminists of all ages wherever and whenever we face repression and injustice. Brava Parvana, director Nora Twomey and producer Angelina Jolie for bringing The Breadwinner to light during 2017. — Jennifer Merin


beatriz_at_dinner_stillIn Beatriz at Dinner, Salma Hayek’s empathetic masseuse stood her ground against John Lithgow’s smugly vile yet magnetic tycoon. Her humble character refused to be silent and spoke up for everyone who has felt beaten down by ugly politics and the erosion of charity to others. She made a vital case for protecting the environment, welcoming those in need and not letting greed, power and hate be our country’s guiding principles. — Susan Wloszczyna


graham postKatherine Graham, played by Meryl Streep in “The Post” — Those who complain that the story of the Pentagon Papers should have been about the New York Times, not the Washington Post, overlook the problem that the Times side of the story was about reporters reading and writing in a hotel room, while the story of the Post was about a second-tier paper trying to decide what to do when the most powerful news organization in the country had been shut down by the Nixon administration. And it was told from the perspective of a shy socialite whose father handed the family business to her husband. That was what she expected and was comfortable with until her husband committed suicide and a Georgetown grandmother was suddenly responsible for the Washington Post as a business, as a family legacy, and as a bastion of the First Amendment and keeper of democracy. The heart of the film in every sense is Streep’s Graham, growing in confidence and resolve. — Nell Minow


band aid headAnna from Band Aid is the female character that most affected me this year. Zoe Lister-Jones‘ performance runs the gambit of human emotion. You will find yourself laughing until your face hurts and then crying at her stripped down honesty. Not only does Lister-Jones masterfully give life to Anna, but she also wrote, produced, and directed the film. You will be moved by this incredible film from all angles, not to mention enchanted by her voice, and her chemistry with onscreen hubby, Adam Pally. — Liz Whittemore


wonder gal 1In a sea of male superheroes — and a few female ones — who often seem to dismiss large-scale death and destruction as unavoidable collateral damage, Diana/Wonder Woman stands out for making bystanders a priority. When she strides confidently across No Man’s Land to save innocent villagers from becoming casualties of war, she proves how important it is for humanity’s heroes to actually care about the humans they’re fighting for. And, of course, she kicks ass! — Betsy Bozdech

I pick Wonder Woman! She is heroic and strong and funny and even a little rediculous. I proudly carry my Wonder Woman lipstick and I love that her message of empowerment comes with a raised eyebrow. We are all Wonder Woman and we better get even stronger in the new year. Jeanne Wolf

Team #MOTW wishes you all the happiest of holidays!

AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Nikki Baughan, Anne Brodie, Betsy Bozdech, Cynthia Fuchs, Pam Grady, Leba Hertz, Esther Iverem, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sheila Roberts, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna, Jeanne Wolf

Previous #MOTW Selections

Other Movies Opening This Week

Edited by Jennifer Merin

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).