- La La Land
- A Monster Calls
- Atomic Blonde
- Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2
- The Last Jedi
- Wonder Woman
- Thor: Ragnarok
- Hidden Figures
- The Carmilla Movie
- The Limehouse Golem
- Almost Adults
- Trainspotting T2
- The Ritual
- Murder on the Orient Express
- Beauty and the Beast
- The Mountain Between Us
- What Happened to Monday
As usual several groups here. The top five movies are all, in my opinion, great and by great I mean entertaining and something I’m likely to watch several or many times over. By and large they appeal to different parts of my taste, some might think Atomic Blonde and Guardians of the Galaxy are similar as action movies of a sort, but one is a ultra-chic, brutalist neon-noir spy flick while the other is an action-comedy classic, at least in my mind so they tick different boxes for me. On different days they might get ordered differently but this is my commonest order. These are the films I will not only rewatch repeatedly without a doubt and without a quibble: I will also make an effort to watch them.
The next group of films don’t quite make it into that territory. There were little quibbles, they ran a bit long, they had troublesome final scenes or, in the case of Hidden Figures, however inspirational they told a story I don’t feel the need to see again. Most of them I will happily watch again but I won’t necessarily go out of my way to watch them. I’ll watch them when they crop up on TV, possibly even on Netflix, but I won’t try to watch them and if something else comes up, I’ll pass without too much regret. I’m a bit surprised to find Wonder Woman in this territory but, like Thor: Ragarok that final big fight scene…
I should say I think Hidden Figures is a really good film and everyone should see it once but all the films above it I will make some effort to see more than once while this is the first film I wouldn’t object to seeing again but I won’t actually try to. If I judged by other standards this would be right up there at the top of the list probably. It’s the most inspirational film on the list, it’s probably the most important film in so many ways I’ve seen or will see for a number of years. But wonderful, worthy, and enjoyable though it was, which picks it up, I just don’t want to watch it again, which ranks it low in my films of the year.
The third group of films are all films I enjoyed but with larger reservations. They’re niche (for me and my tastes), or flawed in ways that I can cope with but mean I have to be in the right frame of mind to watch them. I don’t mind them, at all, but if, now as I write, Beauty and the Beast was on TV, I would turn over to avoid it - I’m really not in the mood. On another day, that might not be the case. I might watch Trainspotting though, I’m more in that sort of a mood.
Then we get into the bad films. I can’t help feeling that I might be judging What Happened to Monday unfairly - but as a fan of Orphan Black, Tatiana Maslany and the sestras did clones much better and the actual storyline here was really quite predictable which was a shame. Life was just terrible. Victoria, however, was worse - a film so poor I couldn’t even finish it!
14 of the 20 films passed the Bechdel test, and one I scored as null, for legitimately having no female characters. So 14/19 is 74% passes. This is an improvement on the last two years, and quite a step up from the 57% of last year. The Russo test is more tricky. Five films clearly passed. Two I scored as null - one is a first narrative from the eyes of a pre-pubescent boy, so sex is not important and doesn’t register (A Monster Calls), the other doubtless has gay people (Dunkirk) but doesn’t show anything sexual - they’re focussed on getting off the beach. Two I scored as queries (Thor: Ragnarok and Beauty and the Beast) because we’re told that characters are bi or gay respectively, but we’re not clearly shown it. I’m going to score that as 5/18 or 28%. 28% is pretty good to be honest, although still low compared to TV (not only the TV I consume from what I read and hear). There is still more the movie industry could do.
Although I’m not going to change my reporting, the people at FiveThirtyEight (perhaps best known here for their election polling in the US) recently approached a number of industry insiders to suggest a replacement for the Bechdel test to better assess how women are represented on screen and, perhaps, assess how the industry is doing both as an employer and for the audience. The whole process is detailed on their site as Creating The Next Bechdel Test and makes quite an interesting read.
Some of the tests are hard to administer - on set crew is 50% female for example, and honestly I’m not sure this is a reasonable test. A film could have 101 on set crew, 50 female, and fail. Given it’s post-hoc by estimating likely gender from names, 45% (all the movies would still have failed at this level) might be a more reasonable test level. There was an easier version of this, where every department has two or more women, and only 30% of movies passed - one of those that passed this had 73% of its crew estimated as male, so it seems that test is not that great a test for gender balance.
Other tests looked at non-white women leads, or the quality of the female lead. And here, particularly the quality of the female leads it starts to get hard to administer the test in another sense. How do you determine if a character has dimension and exists authentically in an objective manner?
Of them all, four tests leap out at me (I won’t be using them all though), covering most of the areas FiveThirtyEight identified. The Landau Test assumes a film passes until a primary female character dies, ends up pregnant or causes a plot problem for a male protagonist, at which point it fails (ironically Noga Landau, the person who generated this test, writes for The Magicians and that show has used all of these devices…). This is a nice, clear test, unlike the other two. It also has problems with non-mainstream movies, The Carmilla Movie has only one male character, very much in a sidekick to a supporting character role. But the villain (female) dies and one of the main heroes (also female) becomes a vampire (again) which might count as dying. The Carmilla Movie spills over with positive female and LGBTQ+ representation, and probably passes all the behind-the-scenes tests too, but it actually fails the Landau Test because the underlying assumption of the test is that there are mostly male characters. The Ko Test picks up all the non-white female characters. There are two other tests (Villalobos and Waithe) which pick up specific tests for Latina and Black women characters respectively with specific issues relating to how they’re often portrayed, but they rely on personal judgement (is in a healthy relationship, is not sexualised) whereas the Ko test is a non-white woman, appears in 5 or more scenes, speaking English (or the native language of the film) so it’s pretty objective. The Carmilla Movie certainly passes this one. The Koeze-Dottle Test looks at the supporting cast, and counts the gender balance among the top 10 highest-billed supporting actors (non-leading characters and non-cameos). The film passes if at least 5 are female. The Carmilla Movie certainly passes this one too. The Feldman Test is a bit of fiddle, but pulls together a lot of bits of other tests, score points for a female director or writer, score for three female producers or department heads, score for not victimising, stereotyping or sexualising any female characters and so on. Score 5 to pass. This isn’t wholly objective, particularly the last one I listed, but it covers a lot of the territory covered by some of the other tests into one meta-test.
Their conclusion is that we need more than one test. Personally I going keep the Bechdel and Russo Tests, I don’t think the Bechdel test has had its time - not every movie passes it, despite it being a ridiculously low bar to pass, even with those where there are legitimate reasons to score the movie as null rather than failing - and add the Landau, and Koeze-Dottle Tests. I would love to add the Ko Test too, and I will try but I can do the Landau Test easily enough while watching the film or from memory, the Ko Test requires a bit more effort in a lot of films and I go to watch movies, not make notes on them. The Koeze-Dottle test requires a few minutes effort of IMDb after the film which is not too onerous. I do care about the crew and employing women but I’m not sure I can apply the test in a sensible amount of time.
Bechdel Test: There are at least two named female characters, who have a conversation, which isn’t about a man.
Ko Test: A non-white woman speaks in the native language of the film, in more than five scenes.
Koeze-Dottle Test: The top ten listed supporting cast has at least five female members on it.
Landau Test: A film passes until a female protagonist dies, becomes pregnant or causes an issue for a male protagonist, when it fails.
Russo Test: There is an LGBTQ+ character, who is important to the story, and has a more rounded character than just “the queer X”.
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