The Good Eye: 2014 Top 10s
Things that gave a lady hope
1) OBVIOUS CHILD The most courageous film ever to include a woman drunkenly peeing in the street, Gillian Robespierre's well-crafted debut comedy depicts its female lead as a human first and foremost, flawed and messy as that word entails. Featuring a stand-out performance by Jenny Slate, this corrective to the Knocked-Up-and-Juno school of comedy dares to suggest that not only is abortion a legitimate choice for a woman, but every once in a while it might even be an obvious one.
2) YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS Serial may be the highest-profile podcast of 2014 – or arguably, ever – but the quiet debut and modest production values of film critic Karina Longworth's podcast You Must Remember This belie its ambition. Promising to tell "the hidden and forgotten stories of Hollywood's first hundred years," Longworth delivers insights on the industry that has, more than any other, shaped our ideas of what women and men should be. Whether she's dishing the dirt on Barbra Streisand's disastrous A Star Is Born; celebrating the languid, bisexual Thirties leading-lady Kay Francis; or dissecting Madonna's movie-star-dating habit, Longworth, like Serial's Sarah Koenig, exposes the seams of storytelling itself in the most entertaining way.
3) MARYAM MIRZAKHANI I can't claim to know the Iranian mathematician's work – I think it has to do with geodesics – but I do know that the first woman to win the prestigious Field Prize is an important role model for girls in STEM. It's been decades since Barbie first chirped "Gee, math is hard!," but girls' toys are more stereotypical than ever; just this year, Mattel had to discontinue a book called "I Can Be a Computer Engineer" in which Barbie can't even run anti-virus software on her laptop without help from her male classmates. If you think that sort of thing doesn't affect girls' performance in STEM fields, listen to "When Women Stopped Coding," an episode of NPR's Planet Money podcast. In the meantime, let's hope for a bumper crop of baby girls named Maryam who, when math class gets tough, will just sharpen their pencils.
4) MALALA YOUSAFZAI Oh, I'm sorry, did you not hear in the back row? A 17-year-old Pakistani girl who took a bullet to the head for every girl's right to an education won the Nobel Peace Prize this year. I get weepy, so I'll move on.
5) BEYONCÉ WRITES THE WORD "FEMINIST" IN 10-FOOT-TALL LETTERS OF SHEER AWESOMENESS I'm a Beyoncé apologist – as in, I apologize for kicking your ass next time you say she's not a "real" feminist. Maybe it's all her shout-outs to H-town or her brazenness in co-opting "Eff you, pay me" from Goodfellas in "Girls (Run the World)" or the fact that "Rocket" has the sexiest bridge of any song ever. She's not literally flawless – are you? – but like all great Texas women, Queen Bey is larger than life. And, unlike me, she will not apologize for kicking your ass.
6) LP1 BY FKA TWIGS On her debut album of spaced-out, R&B-inflected electronica, the British singer-songwriter created a sound equal parts cerebral and aphrodisiacal, something like if the music of D'Angelo and St. Vincent were to float heavenward in rainbow-colored spheres, procreate, and then fall back to Earth in a gentle rain.
7) URSULA K. LE GUIN AT THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARDS Accepting honors for her contribution to American letters, the grand dame of science fiction issued a clarion call for "realists of a larger reality." Quoth Saint Ursula: "Hard times are coming, when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, who can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom." Jog your memory by reading Le Guin herself, starting with The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed.
8) THE BABADOOK As I've argued before ("A Woman Possessed," Oct. 24), horror films are particularly well-suited for capturing certain aspects of women's experience – like the threat, very real in Texas, of being reduced to our reproductive function – so it's no surprise that women were behind the year's best horror films. In Australian director Jennifer Kent's debut, a single mother (Essie Davis), exhausted and effaced by her caregiving roles at home and work, lets in a monster guaranteed to have you lying awake for nights on end, trying to forget the word "Babadook." Along with Ana Lily Amirpour's A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, The Babadook made 2014 a banner year for woman-directed horror.
9) SOLANGE KNOWLES' WEDDING GOWN You thought I wasn't going to mention clothes, didn't you? Wedding style usually bores me to tears, which is why I'm doubly grateful to Solange for the single best fashion moment of the year: a Humberto Leon for Kenzo wedding gown, complete with cape and Wonder Woman cuffs, that was more high priestess than blushing bride.
10) THE TIME I BEAT ROGUE Hear me out! I started playing the computer game Rogue on an IBM PC Jr. when I was 8 years old. The ancestor of a genus of particularly existential video games called "roguelikes," the 1980 version gave you a smiley-face icon that you steered through a randomly generated dungeon, butting it up against monsters represented by letters of the alphabet until either they died or you did. Because of their randomness, and because you only get one life, roguelikes are notoriously hard to win. Last Christmas I downloaded an iPhone app that mimics the original, lo-fi version, and, after hundreds and hundreds of games, played in boredom on elevators, in lines, and whenever I needed to zone out or de-stress for a few minutes, I finally got to see what the win screen looks like. I figure if I can play a game for 28 years without winning, I can survive one year of disastrous elections and Supreme Court setbacks and live to fight the monsters of 2015.