2013 was a great year for a few key female players in Hollywood (congrats to Jennifer Lawrence and Sandra Bullock), but for most women who work in the film industry, it was another 365 days of denied opportunities, routine underestimation, and entrenched sexism.
With that in mind, it's hard not to look to the coming year to hope and fight for a better future. Here are the 13 films of 2014 I'm most looking forward to -- and the three movies I really hope will be released in the coming year:
Veronica Mars (March 14) - I treasure every story about young heroines, but still feel frustrated that Hollywood isn't as invested in telling stories about adult women as it is about teenage girls. In that sense, the return of Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) is a double blessing: it continues the story of everyone's favorite teen detective -- and lets her grow up. The film's crowd-funded origins also make it a project to watch; its studio distribution (unique for a Kickstarter venture) might signal a way for more independent projects by and about women to make it to the big screen.
The Other Woman (April 25) - It's difficult to imagine a sisterhood harder to sustain than the one formed by being cheated on by the same man. The Other Woman has a fairly ludicrous premise -- wife Leslie Mann, Mistress #1 Cameron Diaz, and Mistress #2 Kate Upton plot revenge on handsome cad Nikolaj Coster-Waldau for stepping out on them. But the film will also hopefully allow Mann and Diaz -- two woefully misserved comedic actresses -- opportunities to shine.
Maleficent (May 30) - I've already confessed that I'm a big fan of fairy tales rewritten from the evil queen's point of view. With her sinuous horns and clifflike cheekbones, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) will soon join the pantheon of Oscar winners endowing humanity and depth to characters who were originally intended solely as cautionary figures for "good girls." (Women who want power? Bad. Middle-aged women who want to be beautiful? Bad. Virginal do-nothings who just sit around waiting to be rescued? Good.) Jolie hasn't appeared on screen since 2010's The Tourist -- she's been understandably busy with making her directing debut and her many humanitarian and health priorities -- so it will be nice to welcome her back to the big screen.
Tammy (July 2) - 2012 and 2013 saw a small flurry of projects in which several actresses, frustrated by the limited roles offered to them, wrote, starred in, and in one case directed their own films. Melissa McCarthy follows suit with Tammy, the first movie to boast the comedienne's writing credit. (Early reports had McCarthy co-directing the comedy with husband Ben Falcone, though the film's iMDB page just lists Falcone as the director.) Whatever the case, a road-trip comedy, with Susan Sarandon playing McCarthy's boozy grandmother (WTF? reality check, please), sounds like the perfect follow-up to The Heat.
Gone Girl (October 3) - Nick (Ben Affleck) is the ostensible protagonist of Gillian Flynn's thriller, but readers of the bestselling novel know that the story is really about Amy, played by Rosamund Pike in the film adaptation. Without giving away any spoilers (though if you haven't read Flynn's novel yet, you are absolutely missing out), Amy is such a wonderfully complex character -- and her husband such a boring, predictable dud -- it's clear she'll be the one to watch and be riveted by.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 (November 21) - Mockingjay, the third installment in the Hunger Games movie quadrilogy, has a great deal of box-office expectations to live up to. November's Catching Fire was 2013's second highest-grossing movie, and there's now buzz that The Hunger Games is the rare franchise where each new follow-up film is better than the last. That remains to be seen, of course -- and I'm not gonna lie: I wouldn't want the responsibility of bringing the first half of the extremely dense Mockingjay book to the big screen, but Lionsgate has thus far done an excellent job of bringing Suzanne Collins' generation-defining YA series to the big screen. I can't wait to see Katniss continue to kick ass -- and for Julianne Moore's turn as President Alma Coin.
Unbroken (December 25) - As an actress, Angelina Jolie excels at playing bad, but as a director, she is unabashedly earnest. In her second film, Jolie returns to war as a subject matter with a script by Joel and Ethan Coen, this time focusing on real-life Olympic runner Louis Zamperini's capture as a World War II POW by Japanese soldiers. I'm interested in seeing the sensitivity and compassion Jolie might bring to telling the story of an unusual life.
Big Eyes (TBD) - After 2012's wretched Dark Shadows, I never thought I'd be excited about another Tim Burton movie again. Then came news of Big Eyes, a biopic of Walter and Margaret Keane (Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams), a couple amid divorce, each claiming to be the painter behind the instantly iconic Kewpie-Goth portraits that bear Walter's name. Burton's not a director known for his female protagonists (with the exception of Alice in Wonderland), so it's refreshing to see him tackle a story about a shy, artistic woman finally learning to come into her own.
Laggies (TBD) - Filmmaker Lynn Shelton impressed indie audiences with 2012's Your Sister's Sister. She's been busy since, releasing last year's Touchy Feely and working on the Sundance-premiering Laggies, about a woman-child (Keira Knightley) whose fears of her upcoming nuptials has her hanging out with a 16-year-old (Chloe Grace Moretz) for comfort. Working off a script by Andrea Seigel rather than her usual M.O. of having her actors improvise on set, Laggies looks like it could be Shelton's ticket to a mainstream big hit.
Serena (TBD) - If Jennifer Lawrence earns another Academy Award nomination for American Hustle, she just might get three consecutive nods from Oscar. Golden statuette-talk has already begun for Lawrence's performance in fellow Oscar-winner and Danish director Susanne Bier's Serena, which follows a young woman through her mental decline. Co-starring Bradley Cooper as Lawrence's newlywed husband, the film finds the couple struggling in Depression-era North Carolina as they deal with a failing business and infertility.
Tracks (TBD) - Mia Wasikowska's desert-set star vehicle has been on my radar for awhile and has been getting great notices at festivals. The film is an adaptation of adventurer Robyn Davidson's memoir and her nine-month, 1700-mile journey across the Australian desert. Wasikowska plays Davidson and Adam Driver co-stars as a National Geographic photographer, as the trek was funded (reluctantly on Davidson's part) by the magazine. In the trailer, Davidson is told by men, 'Your plan is ridiculous,' 'You must be mad, girlie,' 'You want to die out there or something?' With its lead sun-burned and dirt-streaked, the film looks like it'll put forth an alternate vision of glamour -- one that finds joy and meaning in solitude and self-sufficiency.
The Voices (TBD) - After 2007's animated memoir Persepolis, director Marjane Satrapi disappeared off the American film map, despite having made two more films, both rather well-received. The Sundance selection The Voices, Satrapi's first English-language film, will hopefully have a chance at another American release this year. The horror-comedy sounds delightfully deranged: a factory worker (Ryan Reynolds) finds himself taking advice from his evil cat and benevolent dog -- both newly endowed with speech -- after he is implicated in a co-worker's murder.
Wild (TBD) - It's been a long time since Walk the Line, especially for Reese Witherspoon. Though she's not my favorite actress, Witherspoon has proved ridiculously easy to admire, especially as an eagle-eyed producer who snatches up the movie rights to white-hot books by and about women. (I have great faith that Rosamund Pike will be excellent as the female lead in Gone Girl, but I was sorely disappointed to see Witherspoon wouldn't play the role after she bought the rights to Gillian Flynn's thriller.) Cheryl Strayed's bestselling memoir Wild, about the author's therapeutic 1100-mile hike of introspection and trauma-healing, just might be the crowd-pleaser Witherspoon needs to get back on track. I'm rooting for her. No one should keep Tracy Flick down.
The three films I'm crossing my fingers I'll get to see released in the upcoming year:
Abuse of Weakness - French auteur Catherine Breillat (Fat Girl, Anatomy of Hell) isn't to everyone's tastes, but I personally can't get enough of her idiosyncratic, sexually bizarre films. After a US debut at NYFF this past fall, Breillat's autobiographical work -- about a director (Isabelle Huppert) who suffers a stroke and is robbed of her life savings by a seductive con man -- disappeared from the radar. If there's one foreign film I'm dying to see get a release in 2014, it's this one.
Appropriate Behavior - Persian. Hipster. Lesbian. In her Sundance-approved feature debut, writer-director-star Desiree Akhavan atttempts to reconcile these disparate identities through her protagonist Shirin, who's also busy trying to win her ex back. Given the Brooklyn setting, comparisons to Lena Dunham's feature debut Tiny Furniture and HBO series Girls are already part of the PR campaign. But I'm glad to see a film finally explore the lives of "girls" in ways that are culturally, racially, and sexually diverse.
Night Moves - Indie director Kelly Reichardt's fifth film was originally slated for release in 2013, but legal wrangling has unfortunately shelved the environmental thriller for the time being. Centered on three radical eco-activists who plot to blow up a dam, the film boasts Reichardt's most high-profile cast to date, with actors Dakota Fanning, Jesse Eisenberg, Alia Shawkat, and Peter Sarsgaard in the main roles.