A. O. Scott writes:
"There is a smattering of evidence to support the impression that they have, because 2012 was, all in all, a pretty good year for movies and also a pretty good year for female heroism. In addition to “Snow White and the Huntsman,” there was “Brave,” whose flame-haired heroine, Merida, combined Disney-princess pluck with Pixar’s visual ingenuity; “The Hunger Games,” which drew on young-adult literature to find, in the resourceful person of Katniss Everdeen (played by Jennifer Lawrence), a new archetype of survivalist girl power; and perhaps best of all, “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” in which a scrappy child of the Louisiana bayou named Hushpuppy (the amazing Quvenzhané Wallis) faced down hurricanes, monsters and the power of the state. And we should not forget the culmination of the “Twilight” saga, speaking of Kristen Stewart, whose Bella Swan, grown from a sulky, indecisive teenager into a fiercely protective vampire mother, fought alongside her in-laws against the supernatural forces of evil. Forget about Team Jacob and Team Edward: it was Team Renesmee that triumphed in the end."
"Naomi Watts in “The Impossible” is surely the mother of the year, a lioness fighting to restore her family in the wake of catastrophe. All of those themes are breathtakingly present in what might be the single finest film of the year, Michael Haneke’s “Amour,” which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in May. Emmanuelle Riva plays Anne, who is a wife, a mother, a musician and a teacher and whose decline and death, in the company of her faithful husband, Georges, constitute as intensely particular and as grandly universal a story as you could want. Anne is completely (and painfully) human. She is more than the sum of her domestic, artistic and professional roles, even though she bears the traces, in her extraordinary face, of the various roles she has performed."
"It is a fact beyond dispute that the roles available to women in what movie-lovers nervously call the real world have expanded significantly in the last half-century, a fact at once celebrated and lamented in backward-looking pop-cultural phenomena like “Mad Men.” But the things that women do — the people they insist on being — remain endlessly controversial. It takes very little for individual tastes and decisions to become urgent matters of public debate. It takes, basically, a magazine cover article. Women are breast-feeding their babies, pushing their children to practice violin, reading “50 Shades of Grey” on the subway, juggling career and child care, marrying late or not at all, falling behind or taking over the world. Stop the presses!"
"The problem is not that these issues are not important but rather that they are presented with a sensationalism that tends to undermine their ongoing and complicated significance. The behavior of a woman who appears on the public stage can be counted on to provoke a contentious referendum on the state of women in general. Is this good for women? Is she doing it wrong? This happened, in the last 12 months, to Sandra Fluke and Paula Broadwell, to Rihanna and Ann Romney, and, closer to the matter at hand, to Lena Dunham."
"You did not really think I would get through a whole essay on gender and popular culture without mentioning her, did you? But the reception of “Girls,” even more than the show itself — which is, to keep things in perspective, a clever half-hour sitcom about a bunch of recent college graduates — is an interesting sign of our confused times. Dunham was mocked for her body, sneered at for her supposed nepotism, scolded for her inadequate commitment to diversity and lectured about the inappropriate things her alter ego, Hannah Horvath, does in bed. That much of the criticism came from Dunham’s peers is both evidence of a robust feminist discourse in the cultural blogosphere and a legacy of the under- and misrepresentation I have been talking about. Dunham was not quite allowed just to explore her own ideas and experiences. She was expected to get it right, to represent, to set an example and blaze a path."
"All of which she did, but not quite in the ways that immediately grabbed attention. “Girls” is not primarily about kinky sex, dull boyfriends and creepy older guys who suddenly turn into marriage material (or not). Its real subject is the fraught, funny relationship, in Hannah’s life, between ambition and friendship."
"That is also, by the way, the subject of “Bridesmaids” and, even more so, of “Pitch Perfect,” one of the unheralded hits of this year and yet another platform for the fearless and hilarious Rebel Wilson. There are boys in the movie, but the romantic prospects of the heroine, Becca (Anna Kendrick), are even less relevant to the story than those of Katniss Everdeen. The real arc of “Pitch Perfect” is Becca’s growth as a singer and a functional member of a fractious all-girl a cappella group. The movie is, literally and symbolically, about a young woman finding her voice."
"As is Sally Potter’s “Ginger and Rosa,” an uncommonly sensitive early-’60s coming-of-age story anchored by Elle Fanning’s subtle and heartbreaking performance. Her character, Ginger, is the child of Bohemian British parents who longs, above all, to be taken seriously, to grow from a precocious schoolgirl into a grown-up poet."
"Anna Karenina, who reappeared on-screen this year in the lithe and energetic person of Keira Knightley."
"In Joe Wright’s version of “Anna Karenina,” the heroine is a wild bird in a gilded, highly stylized cage, a modern spirit imprisoned by archaic custom. Her entire world conspires to flunk the Bechdel test. She vacillates between the cold, righteous Alexis Karenin and the shallow Count Vronsky, and neither man seems adequate to the force of her passion, which is finally less erotic than existential."
"My point is not to hold any of these characters and films up as positive images. Nor is the purpose of this year’s photography portfolio to advance an agenda, score an ideological point or address a historic imbalance. It is, instead, to acknowledge the range and depth of 13 remarkable and very different actresses, and also to convey, through the suggestive medium of pictures and words, an array of intriguing, troubling, inspiring and contradictory possibilities. A partial list of the roles the women in these pages have played this year would include a slave, a sex therapist, a trainer of killer whales, a randy Texas dowager, a 19th-century factory worker driven to prostitution and the two most compelling and morally complicated characters in the semicompelling, morally simplistic “Dark Knight Rising.” And also, of course, Katniss and Hushpuppy, authentic superheroes with the power to turn the world upside down."
Wow, what a treat.
There's only one missing in this shoot and that someone is Jessica Chastain. Pity.