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June 27, 2007

Woman on Top - some thoughts on the AWFJ Top 100

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The Alliance of Women Film Journalists posted their list of the one hundred best films Monday. Created in part as a reaction to the AFI list, the AWFJ list includes, not surprisingly more films by women, and is international in scope. What surprised me is both who was included as well as who was not named at all. In some ways this list is more conservative than what I would have expected.

Alfred Hitchcock, Frank Capra and Howard Hawks made the cut. Conspicuously absent is John Ford. Men without Women pretty much sums up Ford's films. Still, Ford's filmography includes Katherine Hepburn in Mary of Scotland and Shirley Temple in Wee Willie Winkie. A film that could have, and maybe should have made the AWFJ list is Grapes of Wrath, as much for Jane Darwell's performance as Ma Joad, as well as Henry Fonda's stirring speech.

My Brilliant Career launched Gillian Armstrong's sometimes brilliant career, but for me it is a less interesting film than High Tide or Last Days of Chez Nous. Her version of Little Women is also given short shrift in favor of George Cukor, who is the most beloved director on the list.

Not listed at all is Ida Lupino. Mike Nichols, makes the list, but not Lupino? Three films by Mike Nichols, and not one by Ida Lupino, or Elaine May for that matter. My suggestions: Lupino's Outrage and May's A New Leaf.

Also missing is Kathryn Bigelow. Andrew Sarris noted that Raoul Walsh's characters go on adventures for the sake of adventure. In some ways, Bigelow's characters are similar. Perhaps Blue Steel and The Weight of Water to the contrary, Bigelow's best known films are about men literally plunging into adventure. Women are absent from Point Break and K-19. Those two films are particularly Walshian in their depiction of rivalry, friendly and not-so-friendly, between men. What I like about Strange Days is the end of the film which displays Bigelow's training as a painter, the film becoming the cinematic equivalent to abstract expressionism.

This list lacks any titles from the silent era, and the only experimental filmmaker included is Maya Deren. No films by or about women in Africa or the Middle East, especially Iran or Israel is noted. The only Asian film listed is Raise the Red Lantern.

Hong Kong has several female filmmakers worth noting including Sylvia Chan, Ann Hui and Clara Law. One of the best is Mabel Cheung with the remarkable Soong Sisters, the true story of three sisters, one of whom married Sun Yat-Sen, another who married Chiang Kai-Shek. In terms of female action heroes, a Hong Kong tradition since the mid-Sixties, Alien's Ripley has nothing on the women portrayed by Brigitte Lin, especially the appropriately named Asia the Invincible.

And if gay male directors like George Cukor and Pedro Almodovar are cited, mama's boy Yasujiro Ozu should be part of the club. Not only are Ozu's films consistently good, but I would think a list of all time great films would include at least one of his family tales featuring Setsuko Hara. In film after film, Hara stoicly sacrifices her happiness and almost silenty suffers on behalf of others. In comparison, Meryl Streep is a self-serving shrew.

The AWFJ list has picked films from a narrow, almost exclusively Western, perspective. I was hoping to see a group of films from a, pardon the pun, broader point of view.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at June 27, 2007 12:16 AM


Thanks for sharing this Peter. It was interesting to read.

I will confess that I've been put off by the Alliance of Women Film Journalists ever since reading this piece on the website. I was really bothered by Maitland McDonagh comments since she's a critic I respect. Oh well... the whole "anti-blogger" attitude has been bothering me.

After looking over the AWFJ list, I've come to the conclusion that I just don't have a lot in common with the ladies of AWFJ. It's a bad list in my humble opinion and might even be worse than the original AFI list which I also disliked. Either way, both lists are really lacking in my opinion.

Film lists are really silly when you break down all the factors in what makes a movie great. These lists are so personal and often reflect the writer's narrow views or their lack luster film viewing habits.

The lack of Asian cinema on a lot of these types of "best of" lists always bugs me... as well as the lack of sixties era films.

Posted by: Kimberly at June 27, 2007 11:28 PM

Thanks, Peter, for your intellegent, insightful and well informed posting re AWFJ's Top 100 Films List. As explained with the presentation of the list at www.awfj.org, we don't consider this list to be definitive. In fact, many of the 'missing' films and filmmakers you mention in your post were nominated (without directives as to gender, nationality, theme) by our members, and were on the ballots that were sent out for voting. The relsulting list is a straight up tally of votes, nothing was weighted, nothing skewed. Some beloved films probably didn't make the cut because there were multiple choices by the same filmmaker, others simply didn't tally in consensual popularity. And. I'm sure that neither AWJF members-- myself included-- nor movie devotees at large don't feel sad or irked that one or two specific favorite titles are missing, and that another film that made the list is really all that worthy. The point is, however, that the list is a point of discussion. And the coverage it has received (the list is posted on www.awfj.org, with links to the various sites, including yours)is evidence that this discussion is timely and important. Women-made films are being talked about and, hopefully, that will translate into more people seeing them-- classics and contemporary, American and Asian and from everywhere. Comments from readers do indicate that their personal 'to view' lists now have new titles on them. So, thanks very much for your part in spreading the word, and for so beautifully enhancing the debate.

Jennifer Merin

Posted by: Jennifer Merin at July 9, 2007 07:18 AM