Women critics like ‘The Help,’ ‘The Iron Lady’ and ‘The Whistleblower’

The Women Film Critics Circle has come out in strong favor of “The Help,” “The Iron Lady” and “The Whistleblower.” The association (which consists of 57 female film critics and scholars) has made selections that feel generally in line with the films and performances one would imagine ought to be be highlighted in this year”s landscape.

I will confess that their choices are seasoned with one or two surprises. Having said that, organizations such a this one are absolutely crucial. One hopes that enough balance will be achieved that they eventually become irrelevant. But as Melissa Silverstein pointed out in a November 17 Women and Hollywood article on The Hollywood Reporter”s directors roundtable, the feminine voice is still by-and-large underserved.

There are no real shakeups in the Best Film By A Woman category, which resulted in a tie between “The Iron Lady” and “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” Both have been in the larger critical conversation, though primarily for the performances of their respective leads. Adapted from the novel by Kathryn Stockett by her childhood friend Tate Taylor, “The Help” feels like a no-brainer for a strong depiction of women (which is what I assume is meant by Best Movie About Women), as well as Best Ensemble. Viola Davis”s Best Actress win is another tip in a very tight Best Actress field.

Shailene Woodley”s win for Best Young Actress in “The Decedents” is absolutely right. She is more than a “scene stealer.” She strengthens and elevates the performance of her highly accomplished and seasoned co-star, George Clooney. Melissa McCarthy collects another feather with a Best Comedic Actress win for her performance in “Bridesmaids.” I loved McCarthy in the film, as I have mentioned previously, but I do wish a bit of room had been made for a few other phenomenal comedic portrayals this season, Amy Ryan in “Win Win” or Charlize Theron in “Young Adult,” for example. Which brings me to some of the categories that took me by surprise.

Though “Melancholia” ultimately took the prize, “Young Adult” was nominated for Worst Female Images In A Movie. Given “Jack and Jill””s nomination, one would imagine that any number of heinous depictions of women in this year”s painfully lacking selection of romantic comedies would be more suited to the title. To be clear, I do not as a general rule hate romantic comedies, in fact I often enjoy them. But the catty, silly or superficially driven ladies presented in this year”s rom-com fair were appalling. If they were not female friends stabbing one another in the back, they were women acting like post-adolescent males in what was meant to be some cartoonish version of “strength.” I would count “Friends with Benefits,””No Strings Attached” and “Something Borrowed” all as grotesque depictions of women, their priorities, maturity levels and general attitudes about life. Rachel McAdams in “Midnight in Paris” isn”t too bright and shiny, either.

It was admittedly not the strongest film of the year, but I was somewhat surprised to see that Michelle Yeoh”s portrayal of Aung San Suu Kyi in “The Lady” did not warrant a mention for performance, Best Female Images In A Movie, or Best Equality Of The Sexes — all of which feel perfectly applicable.

“The Debt” is a suitable fit for the Equality Of The Sexes award, though I would argue that one of the film’s great weaknesses stems from the fact that Jessica Chastain’s torment arises more from having been made pregnant by the wrong man than from the lie she took part in. In truth, I would rather see “The Iron Lady” or, as mentioned, “The Lady,” in that field.

Finally, one simply cannot argue with this: Mommy Dearest Worst Screen Mom Of The Year Award to Judi Dench for her role in “J. Edgar.” There is even that delicious moment with Leonardo DiCaprio dressing up as his mum after her death that momentarily delves into the arena of “Psycho.” It is perhaps not the most effective way to skirt around the issue of cross-dressing, but certainly makes for one of the more bizarre and unintentionally hilarious moments in film this year.

Check out the full list of winners below.

Best Movie by a Woman: (TIE) “The Iron Lady” and “We Need to Talk About Kevin”

Best Movie About Women: “The Help”

Best Woman Storyteller: Abi Morgan, “The Iron Lady”

Best Actor: George Clooney, “The Descendants”

Best Actress: Viola Davis, “The Help”

Best Comedic Actress: Melissa McCarthy, “Bridesmaids”

Best Young Actress: Shailene Woodley, “The Descendants”

Best Foreign Film by or About Women: “The Hedgehog”

Best Female Images in a Movie: “The Whistleblower”

Worst Female Images in a Movie: “Melancholia”

Best Male Images in a Movie: “The Descendants”

Worst Male Images in a Movie: “The Hangover: Part II”

Best Documentary by or about Women: “Always Faithful”

Best Family Film: “Hugo”

Best Animated Females: “Puss in Boots”

Best Equality of the Sexes: “The Debt”

Courage in Acting: Glenn Close, “Albert Nobbs”

The Invisible Woman Award: (TIE) Hiram Abbass, “Miral” and Michelle Williams, “Meek’s Cutoff”

Best Ensemble: “The Help”

Best Screen Couple: Bérénice Bejo and Jean Dujardin, “The Artist”

Lifetime Achievement: Kathy Bates, Cicely Tyson

Acting and Activism: Elizabeth Taylor

Adrienne Shelly Award (for a film that most passionately opposes violence against women): “The Whistleblower”

Josephine Baker Award (for best expressing the woman of color experience in America): “The Help”

Karen Morley Award (for exemplifying a woman’s place in history or society and a courageous search for identity): “Albert Nobbs”

Mommie Dearest (worst screen mom of the year): Judi Dench, “J. Edgar”

Be sure to keep track of the ups and downs of the 2011-2012 film awards season via The Circuit.

For year-round entertainment news and commentary follow @JRothC on Twitter.

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