What makes a female movie character badass? I chose four criteria:
1. They reject, or are indifferent to, social norms, niceties and expectations. These women ignore the rules.
2. They do not bend to the patriarchy, or conform to the roles put upon them by male-dominated society. Why would they want to?
3. They’re in control of their sexuality. Whether they’re using sexuality as a weapon or instrument of manipulation, or having sex because they bloody well feel like it, these women are not defined by the people they sleep with.
4. They refuse to accept a life of unhappiness.
Without further ado, here are the ten most badass women in movies of the 2010s so far. Spoilers ahead!
10. Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”
No “Most Badass” female movie characters list would be complete without Oscar nominee Rooney Mara’s brainy and beguiling Lisbeth Salander, a raw-nerved, computer-hacking prodigy whose inky sangfroid in David Fincher’s film is hard to pinpoint. And that’s what makes her fascinating. She’s an enigma wrapped in a riddle, an avenging angel as designed by Stieg Larsson who feels feelings, but knows when to discard of them. Though Lisbeth’s chilly exterior begins to break when she falls in love with disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), her worldview is perfectly captured in the film’s final scene: she brings him a present, only to find that he’s found a prettier, bouncier cool girl, and promptly throws it in the trash. Goodbye love.
9. Robyn Davidson (Mia Wasikowska) in “Tracks”
To speculate why The Weinstein Company failed to deliver Mia Wasikowska a robust Oscar campaign (see: any Oscar campaign at all) is above anybody’s pay-grade. But it’s safe to say that the 25-year-old Aussie gives one of the great performances of the decade in this under-seen travelogue of dust, dirt and blood. She plays Robyn Davidson who, in 1977, walked across the punishing Australian continent with her trusty pooch, Diggity, and four camels. She doesn’t let a brief night-to-forget with National Geographic photographer Rick Smolan get in her way. Robyn, as played by Wasikowska, is simply disenchanted with the triteness of life, and the narcissism so fashionable among her generation; she out-“Wild”s “Wild,” the other woman-schleps-across-the-desert-to-find-herself pic that’s likely to nab Reese Witherspoon an Oscar nomination this week.
8. Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas) in “Only God Forgives”
Kristin Scott Thomas’ bitchy, cigarette-flicking nightmare-of-a-mother Crystal would eat Cate Blanchett’s Stoli-loving “Blue Jasmine” for brunch. Wearing a Donatella-inspired wig and a spray tan, Scott Thomas leaps far out of her comfort zone — and into saying things like “cumdumpster” — to play a modern day Lady Macbeth who doesn’t feel any guilt. While the scene-chewing role is mostly her spewing vitriol at dopey son Julian (Ryan Gosling), Scott Thomas has never been better. Had more critics and audiences appreciated Nicholas Winding Refn’s unfairly trashed blood ballet, she may have stood a chance in the 2013 awards race.
7. Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) in “Gone Girl”
Amazing Amy really is amazing. A barb in America’s concept of “the woman,” a pebble in the shoe of feminists everywhere, blond bombshell, bomb-hurling Amy is the female movie character we need, a woman whose dark parts are laid bare and celebrated, even cheered, by director David Fincher. It’s hard not to admire what a mastermind she is, carefully plotting her demise (and everyone else’s) and owning the fact that she can see through all the jockeying and posturing that goes into our everyday days and ways. Writer Gillian Flynn gives her so many delectable lines — “I am so much happier now that I’m dead,” “For Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d buy a gun,” “I wax-stripped my pussy raw” — what’s not to love?
6. Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) in “Nymphomaniac”
As with “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” absolutely no “Most Badass” women list is complete without a nod or two to Danish director Lars von Trier. While he suffered complaints of misogyny for “Antichrist” (probably rightly so), the provocateur finally figured out exactly what to do with his right-hand leading lady. Here she plays a woman who, for four-plus hours, is entirely in pursuit of her own orgasm, with or without a man. And she’s willing to do horrible, terrible things to have one, whether leaving her toddler to die or trampling over her wisp of a husband. While these may be morally indecorous behaviors, Joe, while fed up in a sex addicts anonymous meeting, delivers a plug-your-ears provocative manifesto for our trying times: “I love my cunt, and my filthy, dirty lust.”
5. Maya (Jessica Chastain) in “Zero Dark Thirty”
She’s the motherfucker who found this place, sir. All controversies and complications involving Kathryn Bigelow’s political manhunt movie aside, Jessica Chastain goes for fiery red-headed broke as Maya, a CIA officer who’s able to hack through all the bullshit in pursuit of justice. Though she’s offscreen in the final takedown, we know that Maya has been pulling the strings all along and that, as seen in the film’s final devastating shot, her entire life rests on the capture of a war criminal.
4. Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin) in “Margaret”
17-year-old Lisa has as lot to learn about the ugliness of the world in Kenneth Lonergan’s sprawling of-the-moment epic “Margaret.” She’s precocious as hell, even annoying, but Anna Paquin makes her journey so compelling as she confronts the realities of growing up after witnessing a tragically horrific bus accident that she may or may not have caused. She fights, kicks, claws and screeches things like “Why are you being so fucking strident?!” when she doesn’t even know what that word means, but Lisa is also one of the most deeply realized, lived-in characters in movies, a crystallization of all our post-9/11 anxieties and a reminder that we, too, were once young and awful but also inquisitive and knowing, until that died.
3. Mia (Katie Jarvis) in “Fish Tank”
Though a Cannes 2009 premiere, Andrea Arnold’s “Fish Tank” (released in 2010 stateside) deserves kudos for its unabashed, warts-and-all protagonist, a spiky young woman who briefly enters an affair with an older man (Michael Fassbender). She’s a hip-hop dancer and a dreamer, a problem for her single mum and a girl probably too curious about the terrible ways the real world works. When besmirched by her elder lover, who turns out to be a manipulative man of secrets, she exacts the ultimate, “pissy” revenge. But she also knows suburban hell for what it is, and knows that she has to get out.
2. Emma Recchi (Tilda Swinton) in “I Am Love”
Luca Guadagnino’s sumptuous 2009 delicacy is wrongly remembered as a trifle, when actually it’s a fable of a socially imprisoned woman’s escape from the haute bourgeoisie of literary dimension, like “Madame Bovary” (and the name Emma Recchi’s no coincidence) but less tragic. We applaud Emma’s magnificent escape from her tired marriage and bored upper-crust life as she chases the sexy young chef Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), who lights a long-dormant fire inside her. The film’s volcanic finale secures Emma’s place as one of cinema’s great heroines, as she exchanges a knowing glance with her daughter and, well, follows her heart. As trite as that may sound, it’s an admirable and triumphant gesture.
1. Justine (Kirsten Dunst) in “Melancholia”
Justine, as she professes in the face of utter, inexplicable doom, “knows things.” Which is why when her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) suggests that, in Earth’s final hours, they decamp to the terrace to drink champagne and sing songs, Dunst’s vacant and pained-eyed woman suggests, “Why don’t we meet on the fucking toilet?” Justine’s slowly unspooling decision to leave her husband on their wedding night, quit her job and screw the best man on the golf course because, what the hell, cowardly as it may seem, is subversive and even heroic. Why? She understands the pointlessness of the marriage plot, and that all the little things we try and do to manicure our lives mean nothing and are inevitably futile. “Life is only on Earth, and not for long,” she says. A toast to oblivion.