Susan and Meghan tag-teamed our 2015 movie picks this year in order to give you a well-rounded selection, but be sure to let us know what we missed (there were at least a few both of us were sorry to not have been able to see, as of yet) in the comments!
“Deeds not words,” our main character scrawls on the inside of her jail cell, while
imprisoned for organizing with the suffragettes. If there’s one word to describe
Suffragette, it would be radical. Honestly, I’m surprised that this film even got made.
The history of the first wave of feminism is so repressed, especially the parts where
women were blowing things up.
Suffragette is undeniably a triumph for feminist consciousness-raising through film. Women I spoke to, who do not describe themselves as feminist or think about such issues often, were shaken to their core after watching it, realizing how little time had passed since the fight for the vote and how much work still needs to be done for women’s liberation. The film closes with a list of countries in which women have won the right to vote. It begins in the early 1900s, continuing through the years, up to 2015, and ends as very obviously incomplete. Watching it you’ll be given goosebumps, tears, rage, satisfaction at watching them take a whack at the patriarchy, and hope.
Seconded. An incredible history lesson. Watching it makes a mockery of some of the privileged third wavers whose “activism” seems to consist of trashing these women online. What the suffragettes risked and suffered for their cause, for something that seems so simple today — women’s right to vote — is something most young women in the West simply cannot imagine enduring.
Hot Girls Wanted
Rashida Jones took a whole lot a heat for producing this documentary, which explores the way in which young women are recruited into the “amateur porn” industry and what happens once they get there.
Hot Girls Wanted shows that there’s more to the story of women in porn than simply “consent,” as every one of the women featured in the film was fully consenting, and yet… Turns out porn isn’t such a good deal for women, even when they “choose” it, enthusiastically (at first). The empowerment these young women expect — financial, personal, sexual — is short-lived or non-existent, as the industry chews them up and spits them out. There is an endless supply of girls and women, and the sex industry knows it. Women, under these circumstances, are the least valuable commodities. That women like Jones, the directors of this documentary, and feminists around the word dare to say as much, naturally, angers pro-sex industry lobbyists and always will. Alas, their angry tweets will do little to silence the truth.
2015 was Amy Schumer’s year! Apparently her Comedy Central show, Inside Amy
Schumer, started in 2013, but it wasn’t until 2015 that a round of articles
would come out reflecting on the feminist messages in the show’s sketches every.
single. time. a new episode would air. If you were were one of those who thought, “Oh man I love Amy Schumer, I wish one of her sketches was a FULL LENGTH FILM,” you were in luck, my friend. Trainwreck is so Amy Schumer; with material plucked straight from her standup routine and her real life, Trainwreck was a must-see this year for the Schumer fan.
If you’d already become extensively familiar with Schumer’s output, you
may have noticed the recycled jokes the movie featured. “Overexposure” is a real
thing, and hard-working Schumer may have flown too close to the sun in 2015. HBO
turned the hype way up for her Live at the Apollo appearance in October. Advertisements featured Schumer in a sharp, three-piece charcoal gray suit with a
glass of whisky and cigar. I thought excitedly, “Could this be a new side to Schumer’s standup character? Now that she’s conquered the world, maybe she’s revamping her material to reflect that.” But, no. When the special aired, all we got was the same recycled material, and Schumer playing her same hot-mess “Amy” character—an unsophisticated college freshman, who she’s clearly outgrown. I look forward to seeing how Schumer’s comedy will grow and develop in the future and now that she’s already securely accessed that boys-club of comedy, surely she’ll be able to stop with the more vulgar and self-degrading jokes, right? RIGHT?!?!
Oooh I just loved this movie, you guys! It had all the things I like: cartoons and jokes. I mean, there are other things I like, sure, but it’s hard to lose with funny + animation… I laughed more at this film than any other this year. It’s also a pretty original and complex premise for a story, going inside the psyche of an 11-year-old girl named Riley, who’s going through some turbulent emotional stuff after a move with her parents to San Francisco. The “feelings” inside her head — Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger — are voices by some of the best comedic actors around these days — Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, and Mindy Kaling — which really fuels the film. Sadness, somehow, was the real winning character for me, always crippled by despair (“Crying helps me slow down and obsess over the weight of life’s problems,” she explains), a true pessimist.
It’s interesting to think about positive memories as things that help keep us grounded, as this film does — the central plot point being the fear that Riley will lose her founding positive memories, the ones that have made up her personality to date — leaving her lost as to who she really is… It turns out that, while that good stuff — family, friends, our core values, things we enjoy to do in life, whether it’s sports or art or knitting — helps us to understand ourselves, our new memories and experiences shape us too (even the bad experiences and memories). We’re (luckily) flexible and resilient, as humans, reparable — we trudge forward despite hurt and disappointment and setbacks.
I found Inside Out totally touching and funny. It’s not void of sexist cliches — Mom and Riley are to “keep smiling” to support Dad while he’s working at his stressful job, but Riley wasn’t overgendered at all, and was given hockey as a favorite pass time and dressed in non-gendered pants and sneakers, you know, like a human kid. I can’t say this film is necessarily feminist, but I enjoyed it so much I wanted to include it on this list.
Mad Max: Fury Road
I hated this movie when I first saw it, and left the theater feeling assaulted by its
non-stop action. But then, as I reflected on it, afterwards, I began to love it! Maybe
it’s because of Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, who is the coolest female action hero ever
or maybe it’s the fantastic imagery. The Mad Max franchise has been synonymous with a distinctive post-apocalyptic style for decades, but Fury Road elevates it to a new height. I love that the new scarcity in the film is water and greenery, rather than oil. I love that the women band together. I love that they escape their former life of sex slavery (aka marriage). I love that they meet up with some biker crones who are from a matriarchal society. I love that they take back the resources from the men foolishly exploiting them. It really gives you a vicarious sense of satisfaction and deepens your thirst for a feminist revolution. I have a feeling Mad Max: Fury Road will be the feminist action film standard we’ll reference for years to come.
This movie technically came out in December 2014, but I saw Wild in the theatre early in 2015 and really enjoyed this adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s 2012 memoir. It’s a real story of female independence, as a young woman, played by Reese Witherspoon, takes off alone to hike the Pacific Crest Trail for two months — one of the longest and toughest trails in the United States. The story, refreshingly, makes men peripheral (there are flashbacks to Strayed’s abusive father, a brief encounter with a sexual interest near the end, and various rando men along the way, but none centre in the story). Even more refreshingly, the film skips the obvious rape scene that could easily have been inserted when Strayed has an encounter with some intimidating, creepy men, alone in the woods. While avoiding what seems to be the go-to sexualized rape scene so many directors love these days, it’s still made clear that one of women’s greatest fear (if not their actual greatest fear) is men — a number of men Strayed meets on her hike seem like potential predators, even when they turn out to be well-intentioned.
Witherspoon was not sexualized at all throughout the film, something I was reminded is incredibly abnormal as I kept expecting her to be. It’s jarring to see women on screen who aren’t objectified — we’re so used to seeing the opposite, constantly. Because this was the case, I actually assumed it was a woman who directed the film until I looked it up and realized it was a man named Jean-Marc Vallée. Witherspoon is conventionally attractive (so is Strayed) but still looks how a woman going on a hike would likely look — sweaty and unmade-up, in normal, practical clothes.
Strayed’s mother is shown to have a feminist awakening of sorts, after she starts taking women’s studies classes at college, cut short by her cancer diagnosis and subsequent death, at 45. She’d said to Strayed, just after learning she was dying of cancer, “I’ve never been in the driver seat of my own life, I’ve always been somebody’s daughter or mother or wife.”
All in all, good story, Witherspoon’s performance is excellent, and the feminism is palpable.
Even if you weren’t a fan (are there people who exist who aren’t fans of Amy Winehouse?), this documentary is a must-see. The Amy Winehouse story had really, prior to the release of this documentary, been told by the tabloids. She was portrayed as a real trainwreck (not of the Schumer variety) — someone who simply could not be helped, who was committed to her hard-partying lifestyle above all else. But this was not the case and Winehouse was so much more than a woman struggling with substance abuse.
Used by her husband, her father, and her management for their own gain, pushed to continue working despite her clear pleads to take a break, all the while suffering from an eating disorder that weakened her heart and led to her death, in the end, Amy shows us a much more complex and truthful story than any told before.
Even writing this, again, I feel an overwhelming sense of sadness, a pain in my soul-gut. This is a woman — an incredibly talented musician and singer — who should still be with us and who deserved far more respect than she was offered by the media and by many of those around her.
Based on the true story of Joy Mangano, the woman who invented the Miracle Mop and went on to become a business mogul, supporting other down-and-out women to sell their inventions, this is an enjoyable watch. Jennifer Lawrence, who I can’t not love, plays Mangano well, as the kind of driven powerhouse who refuses to give up despite serious obstacle after obstacle. While I’m not particularly interested in stories of capitalist success (the American dream is the most bullshit story around, let’s be real), I found Mangano’s relationship with her ex-husband, who was her best friend and a solid adviser and supporter, in terms of her business, refreshing, as well as the fact that the film doesn’t turn into a love story. This is about a woman’s drive and dreams, and about her undying belief in herself. She also refuses to get dolled up and “show off her legs” for the Home Shopping Network, choosing her regular old white button-up and black pants, because hey, that’s what she likes to wear. She knew she didn’t need a tight dress to sell her product any more than a man would. Worth the watch, for sure.
Tina Fey and Amy Poehler make you feel better about being a 30ish millennial by doing millennial things like mooching off their parents and not being able to afford their own house at the age of 40ish. But does it even matter what this film is about? Fey and Poehler are together having a blast. It’s hilarious. It’s fun. And they really do feel like sisters. A.V. Club hits the nail on the head in describing this movie:
“For better or for worse, a certain type of filmmaking has come to dominate American film comedy. Heavily reliant on its cast and not especially cinematic, the typical contemporary studio comedy is based around on-set improvisation, with directors who sit back and let the cameras roll, then assemble the best lines in the editing room.”
Sisters is one of these films, but the chemistry and charm of the Fey/Poehler duo is strong enough to carry it through till the end with a ton of laughs. A comedy star-studded cast fills out the supporting roles. Particular credit must go to Inside Amy Schumer cast member, Greta Lee, for her portrayal of a Korean nail salon worker. Recommended to see with gal pals when feeling the need to just zone out and laugh.
What Happened, Miss Simone
Nina Simone was a genius. If you didn’t know already, this documentary, directed by Liz Garbus, will school you. Her life was a tragic one, though. The effects of racism and misogyny impacted her work and psyche in almost every way. But while the film does an excellent job of showcasing Simone’s musical talents (“talent” seems deficient as a descriptor) and of how she was marginalized due to her politics and anti-racist activism, it failed her when it came to discussing the abuse Simone suffered at the hands of her husband and manager, Andrew Stroud. Surely traumatized by what she witnessed, it was maddening to watch Simone’s daughter paint Simone has having invited the abuse. “They were both nuts,” Lisa Simone Kelly said. We need to do better than to show women artists, activists, and geniuses as “crazy,” and certainly we have a responsibility to show male violence for what it is.
*Editor’s note: Unfortunately neither of us have been able to see Carol yet, as it would have been likely included in this list.