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Heroines of Cinema: An A-Z of Women in Film in 2012

By Matthew Hammett Knott | Indiewire December 20, 2012 at 11:33AM

Given the difficulty in characterising a single year in film, even through a specific prism such as gender, I have opted for the catalogue format of an A-Z review.
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Zero Dark Thirty Kathryn Bigelow

Since this column began in August, it has profiled a wide variety of women - fictional and real, contemporary and historic - whose achievements in film have been considered worthy of attention. Given the difficulty in characterising a single year in film, even through a specific prism such as gender, I have opted for the catalogue format of an A-Z review. Inevitably, there will be deserving omissions -- though be aware that I have attempted to chronicle the bad and the ugly as well as the good. The film industry in 2012 remains entrenched in sexist practices, a fact which is readily apparent in the following article. Nonetheless, the wide variety of compelling characters, star performances and inspiring writers, directors and other creatives listed below give plenty of reasons to cheer 2012's Heroines of Cinema.

A is for Ava DuVernay
"Middle of Nowhere" is one of the year's best reviewed films, and its writer / director Ava DuVernay made history by becoming the first African American to win Sundance's Best Director award in January. Black female filmmakers have faced a long struggle to get their voices heard, but along with Victoria Mahoney's "Yelling to the Sky" and Amma Asante's forthcoming period drama "Belle", the future has never looked brighter.

B is for Brenda Chapman
Chapman hit the headlines when she was hired as Pixar's first female director for "Brave", but tongues wagged when she was fired from the project a year in. Keeping her directing credit (and her lips firmly shut) she shared the praise when "Brave" was released to strong reviews and became a $535 million hit this summer.

READ MORE: Heroines of Cinema: Brenda Chapman's Firing and the 5 Stages of Grief

Anne Hathaway as Catwoman
Anne Hathaway as Catwoman
C is for Catwoman
Halle Berry somewhat soured the Catwoman brand with her 2004 Razzie-winning flop. But Anne Hathaway proved its unlikely saviour this summer with her turn in "The Dark Knight Rises". Despite a lukewarm reaction to her casting, she won the critics over, adding to a good year for female action heroines, as will be proved below.

D is for Double Standards
Helen Hunt bared all in her role as a sex surrogate in "The Sessions". Unsurprising you might think - except for the fact that her co-star John Hawkes was not called on for full frontal nudity. The director Ben Lewin offered a lame excuse, claiming that there was no point in showing his character's penis if not erect (which would guarantee the dreaded NC-17 rating). But for those who witnessed a clearly prudish shot of Hawkes attempting to combat his fears by examining his (not so) naked body in a mirror, it was clear that the infamous double standard was at play.

E is for Emmanuelle Riva
85 year old Riva gave one of the year's most moving performances as a woman staring death in the face in Michael Haneke's "Amour". Though her performance hardly needs validating by the razzmatazz of the Oscars, should she pull off a Best Actress nod she would be the oldest actor ever to be nominated.

Great Gerwig in "Frances Ha."
Great Gerwig in "Frances Ha."
F is for Frances Ha
Noah Baumbach has written some pretty great female roles over the years, not least with 2007's "Margot at the Wedding", but this year he teamed up with Greta Gerwig to co-write "Frances Ha". Gerwig's writing and performance of the titular character drew rave reviews following its premieres in Telluride and Toronto.

G is for Ginger and Rosa
Sally Potter gave an inspiring interview to this column in October, detailing her triumphs and pitfalls over a wilfully unique career. This year she gave Elle Fanning a plum role as the star of "Ginger and Rosa", Potter's attempt to portray the epic scale of emotions common to what she sees as the perpetually trivialised experience of female adolescence.

This article is related to: Heroines of Cinema, Kathryn Bigelow, Ava DuVernay, Sarah Polley, Brenda Chapman, Ursula Meier, Marion Cotillard, Lynn Shelton, Nicole Kidman, Sally Field, Helen Hunt, Anne Hathaway, Emmanuelle Riva, Lauren Greenfield, Greta Gerwig, Kristen Stewart, Jennifer Lawrence