As we move into the new year and new decade, it’s time to take a look back at the previous year. My colleagues and I are writing lists of our favorite films of 2019. I wanted to do something a little different this year. I didn’t want to write just my regular old top 5 movies. As much as I would love an excuse to heap additional praise upon the genius that is Jojo Rabbit, I thought it would be more fun to try a different tack with this list.
I decided to rank my top 5 movies of 2019 that featured a woman in the leading role. I determined this based upon which actor was given top billing in the credits of the film. It was interesting to me to see some movies excluded from my ranking. I would definitely argue that Ana de Armas plays the main character of Knives Out, but she actually received third billing! As much as I loved that film, it cannot be enter my list because of this problem. Marriage Story has the same problem. Scarlett Johannson received second billing behind Adam Driver. I find that very odd, but what do I know about casting and producing movies?
Overall, I found it enlightening to look at my list from this perspective. I don’t claim to be an expert on or paragon of feminism. I’m also aware that I’m not the target market for many of these films. But I’d like to make a concerted effort in the future to consume more art created by women. I hope that this will help broaden my horizons and expand my understanding of humanity. I hope that you’ll watch some of these movies and that you’ll find my list entertaining as well. Let’s dive in!
Leading Lady: Carrie Fisher
In spite of some people’s wrong opinions, TROS was great fun. I found it to be a very compelling conclusion to a nine-film story. So many characters have their arcs resolved in a satisfying and meaningful way. Many questions were answered (more than I thought would be). We had the best performances out of the majority of the main cast that we’ve seen in the franchise. Disney even found a way to honor Carrie Fisher’s memory and the legacy of her character that was both appropriate and touching. There were at least 3 moments throughout this film that caused me to tear up. I felt real emotion. I understood these characters and what they were going through. I really felt like I was a part of the grand experience that is Star Wars. Unless you could raise Carrie Fisher from the dead, I don’t think you could make a better conclusion to this trilogy of trilogies.
Leading Lady: Kaitlyn Dever
Booksmart really surprised me. I don’t love most R-rated comedies. Most of them feel like remixes of each other. Some of them manage to stand out, like Superbad, but most are just noise to me. Booksmart was different. The writers and director seemed to really examine the genre to see how it could be relevant in 2019. In the era of the #MeToo movement, how is a genre filled with misogyny going to be worth anyone’s time? Well, firstly, it’s very funny! Secondly, there are no villains in this film. No one is a bad guy. No one commits any truly horrible act. Every character has thoughts, feelings, and motivations. There is a reason for them to do the things that they do. What I saw here was a coming of age tale that neither pulled punches nor took easy shots. I was just really impressed by how smart Booksmart actually is.
Leading Lady: Brie Larson
It’s a shame that it took Disney so long to release a superhero film with a female lead. I’m glad it finally happened though and they chose a great character to start with. Carol Danvers, a.k.a. Captain Marvel, is cool. She’s just a cool person that I would love to hang out with. She is also absurdly powerful, which is fun to watch. The movie heavily features Samuel L. Jackson as well, which is always a plus. We are also graced with possibly the greatest cat in film history. The movie isn’t perfect and I think the writers tried to be a little too clever with nods to other MCU films, for example. But on the whole, this was a fun adventure and a great introduction to the character. I eagerly await her next outing.
2. Always Be My Maybe
Leading Lady: Ali Wong
The funniest movie I saw this year was a romantic comedy. I always enjoy a good chick flick, and this was very good. It’s a tale about two old friends that reconnect after a long time. The renewed connection has a bit of friction, but that friction ultimately leads to flying sparks. It’s a light, entertaining romance that is a joy to behold. It also has possibly the greatest cameo in the history of film. I must also give the movie extra points for going to great lengths to show the power of food to share culture and bring people together. As someone who loves to cook and to eat, it’s great to see my passion reflected on screen.
1. Little Women
Leading Lady: Saoirse Ronan
This was the last 2019 film that I saw before writing this list. I knew that I couldn’t write a list about movies starring ladies without factoring in this movie. I’m glad I waited to write this.
I didn’t know much about this classic story as I’ve never read the book. I’ve seen a few minutes of one or two of the older cinematic adaptations of the story as a child, but had never seen one all the way through. I basically went in blind. I was concerned that I wouldn’t understand the story or relate to the characters because of this. I needn’t have worried. Writer/Director Greta Gerwig masterfully weaves a tale of family, love, loss, identity, and romance.
I grew to love these characters over the course of the movie. They’re all complex and 3-dimensional. They all have wants and needs. Sometimes they are at odds, sometimes they’re not. On the whole, they’re just people. They’re trying to make their way in the world. Trying to find where they belong. It’s a very human tale. I may not know what it was like to be a woman in the 1800’s, but I absolutely know what it’s like to want to find myself and my place in the world. Little Women is a timeless tale that nearly anyone could benefit from. I know I’ll be revisiting this movie for years to come.