These women and girls represent the sly, and clever. They are humanitarian, or an upholding of family values. They are, at a very young age, able to deal with pregnancy, protect their new friend, possess a maturity in youth. These women might also carry strength, beauty, and bite in middle-age, a winning mentality – hell, be a buck-toothed, but powerful spokeswoman. They can, or must be, willing to defy what they know for the greater good. They are kick-ass, in so many different ways.
Ava – – – Ex Machina (2015)
Ex Machina was the Motion Picture of the year with the site’s Film Honors last year, and largely thanks to a breakthrough performance by the seemingly versatile and prolific Alicia Vikander. Her artificial intelligence Ava can understandably be mistaken for a human, luring you in with charm and keenness to learn about the world.
For her own gain it seems in the end, a definition of intelligent the, as Ava outsmarts the humans, supposed experts and pioneers. Encapsulating a kind of power of the woman, Ava is free to explore the world for herself, equipped with limitless intellect, ambition, and poise. – – – Robin Write
Tessa Quayle – – – The Constant Gardener (2005)
Tessa Quayle learns the hard way that big pharma is as deadly as big oil, tobacco, or arms when it comes to third world exploitation and the lengths to which they’ll go to guard their secrecy. The film begins with the activists death and the story behind her demise unravels in flashback.
Rachel Weisz is that kind of unique, once-in-a-lifetime actor who can play anything and manage to elevate the entire piece, large budget or small. She shines here as the humanitarian with her own agenda and seizes the focus of the film – even when she’s not onscreen you feel her presence and the impact she is having on the other characters. Weisz’s face betrays just how far convictions can carry us, always fearless and perhaps a bit blinded by the foolish belief that we can, and must, set things right.
Weisz deservedly cleaned house during award season. Whether or not her role should be considered lead because of its power over the film, or supporting because of screentime and the fact that she’s not the actual protagonist is debatable. A flawless and passionate performance by a most exciting and accomplished actor. – – – Steve Schweighofer
Connie Corleone – – – The Godfather Part III (1990)
One of the less obvious choices, Connie power-runs in the background with her strength in the unassuming, the subtle details scattered throughout Coppola’s epic crime drama. In a rare cinematic opportunity, we get to watch a girl’s growth organically ebb and flow across the decades, transforming from a temperamental firecracker always seeking the shelter of a strong man’s wing, to a razor-sharp matriarch who proves unafraid to not only grab the reins but wrap them tightly around her cherished, fulfilling her predominant purpose in life; keeping the family together.
Abuse, manipulation, death are being thrust upon her yet she bends but doesn’t break. Having not only had siblings killed – one in her name, one under her silent agreement – but also a betraying love perish at the explosive end of her brother’s righteous wrath, much like Michael’s, Connie’s status quo trajectory boomerangs back to ground zero – using rubble to build bridges, all the while keeping one hand mixing sugar in the baking bowl and the other merrily lacing the frosting with poison.
And although her actions are often more condemnable than commendable, there is still importance in the lesson Constanzia Corleone so motherly feeds us. Through self-definition, accepting and making the most of stone-etched circumstances is sometimes the extraordinary thing to do. – – – The Greek
Juno MacGuff – – – Juno (2007)
Hats off to Diablo Cody for writing such a colorful, brash, but ultimately human character in Juno, and also kudos Ellen Page, another break-out actress, for bring the character to the screen with such vigor and wit. Given the subject matter, an unplanned pregnancy of a teenage girl, Juno is a girl who is aware of the dilemma she faces with casual admirer and potential boyfriend Paulie Bleeker.
Not to mention her best supportive best friend and concerned family. Juno decides against an abortion, rather to have a couple adopt the baby. It’s a decision you don’t take likely, and as much as Juno comes across at times unable to take life seriously, here she has made a choice that defines her as strong, even when we see the heartbreak she feels. – – – Robin Write
Jackie Brown – – – Jackie Brown (1997)
Pam Grier as Jackie Brown; Jackie Brown – If I mention Pam Grier, some will think of her roles in blaxploitation flicks such as Foxy Brown and Coffy where she played the protagonist as a vigilante seeking revenge in the streets. In Quentin Tarantino’s crime drama/comedy, she’s…a middle-aged stewardess for an airline company. I know, it’s a far cry from her earlier roles as the baddest chick around, but what she lacks in youth, she more than makes for in her attitude and her wits.
She goes from getting busted by the feds for smuggling money for Odell Robie (Samuel L. Jackson), to hatching a plan that gets her out of trouble with both her handlers and Robie and walking away with $1million in cold, hard cash, all while looking good in a black-and-white suit. Watch her turn the tables on Jackson’s character as he tries to off her, only to realize he’s about to have his junk blown off, and tell me she still doesn’t have it after all these years. – – – Jonathan Holmes
Gloria Beatty – – – They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969)
Gloria may be a one-time aspiring actress who has fallen into the pit of lost dreams and the existential metaphor of a world that is the dance marathon, but she’s not going down without a fight. This was Jane Fonda’s serious breakout performance that changed her career trajectory from light comedy and Barbarella and led directly to Klute and all points beyond. Round and round she goes, squabbling, trying not to get too emotionally attached to anyone, changing partners, even dragging the body of her dead partner over the finish line in an effort not to be last and, ultimately, eliminated from the contest.
In spite of – or perhaps because of – the collapse of fellow contestants around her as the marathon grinds on, there’s a cynical fierceness for winning in Fonda’s portrayal that constantly battles with her desire to just give up, and when hope finally snaps and she finds out it’s been a fixed game all along, we can feel the wind leave her sails. “Here they are again, folks! These wonderful, wonderful kids! Still struggling! Still hoping! As the clock of fate ticks away, the dance of destiny continues! The marathon goes on, and on, and on! HOW LONG CAN THEY LAST?” – – – Steve Schweighofer
Eli – – – Låt den rätte komma (2008)
Let the Right One In (Swedish title Låt den rätte komma in) still stands as an inspirational diversion of not just the vampire flick, but the romance too. 12-year-old boy Oskar is bullied by idiotic classmates, and privately wants revenge. He starts to come out of his shell when he meets the pale girl who appears to be his age, Eli, having just moved into the next apartment.
Eli, who we soon realise is a vampire child, not only inspires Oskar to defend himself, but also resists the urge to feed off him given a couple of opportunities. Instead they form a warm, loyal relationship. The final sequence as Oskar is held under the swimming pool water by bullies is astonishing, as Eli off-screen rescues him, killing and dismantling the boys – in its violence it is still a triumphant moment. – – – Robin Write
Suzy Bishop – – – Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Suzy Bishop (Moonrise Kingdom): At the tender age of 12, Suzy Bishop is already wiser than most 20 year olds. When they run away together, Sam brings camping equipment, whereas Suzy brings her trademark binoculars, six books, her cat, and her brother’s record player – because what good is two lots of camping equipment? You’ve got to keep entertained somehow when you’re living feral with your Khaki Scout boyfriend in the suburbs of New Penzance.
After the film’s release, Suzy was hailed as a style icon (that blue eyeshadow and plum beret in particular) and her desire for maturity but underlying reluctance to forfeit the virtues of her youth resonates with all audience types. Suzy Bishop is the tenacious heroine of confronting confusion, and she rocks a raven costume like it’s nobody’s business. – – – Rhiannon Topham
Mason – – – Snowpiercer (2014)
One could select just about any Tilda Swinton performance for this list, so let’s just go with her most outrageous – that of Mason in Bong Joon Ho’s dystopian Snowpiercer. Swinton’s Mason is a bizarre creation that is remarkably similar in purpose and execution to the Trump surrogates that proliferate TV news at the moment.
As spokesperson for the powers-that-be, she boldy and blindly defends, excuses, and promotes in ways that are both ridiculous and vicious: “When the foot seeks the place of the head, the sacred line is crossed. Know your place. Keep your place. Be a shoe.” Only Tilda Swinton could pull of this kind of dialogue. Buck-toothed, googly-eyed Mason is the goofy pit-bull in charge of maintaining order on the train to nowhere and does so at any cost.
She oversees a rigid class structure in which every passenger knows their place, and when the situation begins to fall apart, we see shadows of doubt pass over Mason’s face as she begins to panic over her impending failure and survival. This is not an easy trick to pull off, but Swinton somehow manages to convey a glimmer of pathos while literally wearing a shoe on her head. Bold stuff from a completely fearless actor. – – – Steve Schweighofer
Atafeh Hakimi – – – Circumstance (2011)
Written and directed with such seductive realism by Maryam Keshavarz, Circumstance (شرایط Šar’ayet in Persian) touches the skin and rumbles steadily with the social and political landscape of Tehran. Two teenagers, Atafeh (Nikohl Boosheri) from a wealthy family, and Shireen (Sarah Kazemy), an orphan, gradually take their friendship to a physical relationship, but discretely given how homosexuality is viewed in modern Iran – not to mention their late-night party scene, and dipping into drink, drugs, and sex.
Atafeh’s brother Mehran is a former drug addict, also taking an obsessive shine to Shireen, damaging his relationship with Atafeh. Their parents are nostalgic about their past, but seem to not want to change the present. As Shireen succumbs to cultural ritual, the defiant, forthright Atafeh continues to represnt a brighter future in these restrictive times and goes her own way. – – – Robin Write