A blokes guide to the best chick flicks
Curators of obscure movie history will, if they’ve had their eyes open, likely record 2009 as the year the ‘chick flick’ smartened up.
Rounded female characters showed up in everything from straight-out Oscar bait to rock ‘em-sock ‘em horror flicks, while some of the best films of the year centered around women and their distinct set of needs and challenges.
2009’s diverse honour roll includes everything from Drag Me to Hell and Whip It to An Education and Coco Before Chanel.
This year’s femme flicks starred women saying and doing interesting things, a seismic shift from the decades of wish fulfilment pap clued-up female moviegoers have had to sit through.
Last year they got Confession of a Shopaholic, this year it was 500 Days of Summer. Spot the difference?
And it’s about time too. Even comic book movies tapped a solid vein of wit and style before the chick flick… just compare the sass and snap of Iron Man to the garish hamming of the old Batman films.
Anyway, here in no particular order is a list of 2009’s best efforts for chicks of all ages. Why not rent a few, get your GFs over for a slumber party and stay up all night talking about boys and makeup and shiny, pretty things?
The September Issue
I can scarcely remember the last serious documentary aimed at female viewers. The September Issue brakes the drought by going inside the offices of Vogue’s US imprint for a verite glimpse of fashion heaven and a revealing look at the world’s best stylists at work.
A caricature of real-life editor Anna Wintour was played by Meryl Steep in 2006’s The Devil Wears Prada and this fly-on-the-wall depiction of the real Wintour shows just how wrong Hollywood got it. The bad old days of girl movies, remember?
500 Days of Summer
After decades as a straight paycheck gigs for name actors, even the formulaic ‘romantic comedy’ broke its creative banks this year. 500 Days of Summer gave the genre an indie spin, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel as not-quite-connecting paramours.
Screen romance hasn’t played this real and affecting since that one where the billionaire businessman played by Richard Gere marries a street hooker. On a tangent, I would have loved to see a sequel where Gere funds research into memory erasing pills – his ‘n’ hers.
Drag Me to Hell
Name the last horror film with a crucial scene where the lead girl has to impress her boyfriend’s snobby parents at dinner. Minimal gore, maximum shock and a doing-her-best central character juggling a noisy demonic haunting with work and romance make Drag Me to Hell a girly delight.
Horror fans were practically drowning in estrogen this year – Orphan played directly on motherhood themes, while Sorority Row was essentially a Pussycat Dolls video with extra cattiness and homicide.
Females also drove the soapy New Moon, number two in the Twilight franchise, to box-office records while completely dismissing the clever-clogs Jennifer’s Body, a far sharper girl-centric high school vampire romp from the writer of Juno.
Women… I’ll never understand ‘em. They queue up for New Moon but almost totally ignore Whip It, the liveliest girl flick in years. Juno’s Ellen Page plays an outsider finding her place on the underground roller derby circuit, with debuting director Drew Barrymore’s eye for detail marking her as a considerable behind-the-camera talent.
This one’s got the lot: chick wish fulfilment, sports flick oomph and cute/punk attitude to burn. Destined to be the sleepover DVD in coming years.
Coco Before Chanel
This rather lovely Coco Chanel biopic had Amelie’s Audrey Tautou as the intriguing designer, a fleshed-out adult romance and costumes that stun as much for their look as their place in history.
The film plays like visual catnip for the aesthetically in tune by laying out - in ‘Batman Begins’ style - the formative elements of Chanel’s life and design principles. Why this film wasn’t deafeningly trumpeted in the fashion press is beyond me.
Julia and Julie
A movie about cooking? Starring Meryl Streep? And it’s actually great? Watch this one with your mum, it’s a generational thing.
This sublimely handled coming-of-age tale has a ‘60s Brit schoolgirl baby-stepping towards romance with a smooth-talker nearly twice her age.
An Education, already a minor classic, is widely favoured for recognition at next year’s Oscars in the screenplay, best picture and best actress (for newcomer Carey Mulligan) categories.
Ignored in theatres, the film’s reputation will boom on DVD – the same arc travelled by the decidedly male The Shawshank Redemption 15 years ago.
Also keep your eyes peeled for Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, a big budget femme flick about a teenage murder victim watching over her family from the afterlife. It opens Boxing Day.
So, how did all this happen? Of course it’s hopelessly naive to think Hollywood actually upped the artistic value of its product in order to better serve audiences… but it’s all I can come up with.
The not such good news is that, with the obvious exception of New Moon, none of these films did strong business in theatres.
That indicates either movie marketers are letting the side down or female ticketbuyers are indifferent. It also means 2009’s bumper crop of quality femme flicks might pass into history as a blip rather than a milestone. Thoughts and feelings?
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