2012 has been a fantastic year for women in film and TV. Below are four women (and one special mention) that gave feminism a good name last year:
1. Lena Dunham
You didn’t really think she wouldn’t be first, did you? Love her or hate her (but seriously, how can you not love her?), Dunham is an incredible role model for women. She’s smart, witty, and, at 26, the creator, director, head writer and co-executive producer of the most feminist show on air. Girls depicts the lives of four realistically complicated women, females who have emotions, goals, and interests that revolve around more than just the men in their lives. Dunham’s characters aren’t always likeable or “pretty” in the typical sense, but that’s exactly the point. Girls doesn’t adhere to stereotypes of what twenty-something females should look or be like; in fact, it happily and purposely steers far, far away from labels and pigeonholes. Impressively, Girls wasn’t the only reason Dunham made my list this year; somehow, she found the time to co-write the screenplay for the indie film Nobody Walks, released in October. It got middling reviews, but that’s so not the point. Dunham sums it up best herself, in a quote from the book proposal that won her 3.5 million: “There is nothing gutsier to me than a person announcing that their story is the one that deserves to be told, especially if that person is a woman.” Well said.
2. Rashida Jones
Most of you probably only know her as Karen from The Office or Ann Perkins from Parks & Rec. You’re missing out – Jones is a great actress, and those are quality TV shows, but what you likely don’t know is that her best work is behind-the-scenes. She co-wrote the screenplay for and co-starred in August’s Celeste and Jesse Forever, a sweet, funny movie about a divorcing couple trying to maintain their friendship. She wrote a great role for herself as Celeste, a successful, high-strung woman who can’t figure out what she wants. In someone else’s hands, this might have veered dangerously into anti-feminist territory, but Jones gives Celeste the emotional complexity she deserves. With Celeste and Jesse, Jones proves that she’s a force to watch out for. I’m excited to see what she will do next.
3. Kathryn Bigelow
In 2010, Kathryn Bigelow directed The Hurt Locker, a stunning movie about a bomb squad in the Iraq war. Among its many accolades, the film made Bigelow the first woman ever to win an Oscar for Best Director (and only three others have ever been nominated). This month, she’s back with Zero Dark Thirty, and, weeks before its widespread release, it’s already being called the frontrunner for Best Picture. Bigelow directed and co-produced the film, which chronicles the true story of the years-long hunt for Osama Bin Laden and stars Jessica Chastain as the female – yes, you read that right – operative who lead the mission. A movie directed by a woman, starring a woman, winning raves for its smart dialogue and fast-paced action sequences? It seems to good to be true, but thankfully, Bigelow’s always been about breaking barriers and shattering glass ceilings. With Thirty, she cements herself as one of America’s best filmmakers. Come February, she’s widely expected to take home her second Best Director trophy at the Oscars, making history – again.
4. Jennifer Lawrence
2012 was the year of Jennifer Lawrence. In March, the then-21 year-old actress who first caught our attention in Winter’s Bone surprised us all by kicking ass and taking names as Katniss Everdeen, the fiery star of The Hunger Games. Her powerful performance shut down critics who feared she was too old or too pretty to play the series’ central character, and Games soared to the top of the box office. Today, it’s the eighth highest-grossing film of 2012, and has a solid 85% score on Rotten Tomatoes. In September, Lawrence starred in House at the End of the Street, a horror film that bombed with critics but showcased Lawrence’s range as an actress. Then, in November, everything you thought you knew about Jennifer Lawrence changed with Silver Linings Playbook. In a film filled with formidable acting, she gave a performance so ferocious, so remarkable, that she outshone everyone around her. With an ensemble that includes Robert De Niro, that’s saying something. Lawrence’s banner year extends outside of the big screen. In response to critics’ comments about her weight, she rolled her eyes and brushed them off, saying that she refuses to starve herself for parts because she wants to be a good role model for young girls. Now that’s what we like to hear.
Special Mention: Judd Apatow
Here’s something you didn’t see coming: Judd Apatow, the guy behind the fart-filled, man-centric bromances that are Knocked Up and Superbad, is the biggest feminist in Hollywood. Within the last few years, Apatow has become a leading force behind producing, writing, and directing an impressive quantity of female-centric films and TV shows. In 2011, he produced Bridesmaids, which, as we all know, had a pretty sizeable role in quieting the “are women funny?” debate. Earlier this year, he made Wanderlust and The Five-Year Engagement, two surprisingly smart, funny movies that featured women in leading roles. Then, of course, there isGirls. Apatow was the driving force that got it onto the air, and is now an executive producer. Without him, America would likely not know the fantastic feminist role model that is Lena Dunham (see above). Finally, there is This is 40, Apatow’s upcoming sort-of-sequel to Knocked Up. Its star, Leslie Mann, is already winning raves for her performance as a woman whose views on marriage, parenthood, and work are wonderfully, realistically complex. All in all, not too shabby for the man who made Step Brothers.
This article was originally posted on TheReelist.com.