Women Crowded Out of the Picture in the 2010 Oscars Race

What do most of the awards-season favorites have in common? No female characters of any great consequence — if any women at all

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think so.

“The King’s Speech.” “127 Hours.” “The Fighter.” “True Grit.” “Social Network.” “Inception.” “Biutiful.”

What do these awards-season favorites have in common?

None of them has female characters of any great consequence.

Some have no women at all.

I absolutely loved "The King’s Speech,” but I have never seen the iconic Helena Bonham Carter look more like furniture.

“True Grit,” we've not yet seen, has a central female character, but she’s not even hit puberty. And she's outnumbered by central male characters, three-to-one.

“Social Network” has already stirred up a fuss for its offhand depiction of libido-centric women and made Aaron Sorkin get all defensive.

I was at TheWrap’s screening of “Conviction” last week and threw this grenade into a conversation with Swank, Minnie Driver and Juliette Lewis:

Why are there so few women's roles from which to choose?

Swank rolled her eyes. “I hear this every year,” she said. “I’ve been lucky. I’ve gotten great roles. But there aren’t a lot of them.”

Watch the Video: Hilary Swank, Minnie Driver and Juliette Lewis at TheWrap's "Conviction" Screening.

She has had a career filled with substantive, daring, break-the-mold characters — from “Boys Don’t Cry” to “Million Dollar Baby.” But she’s also well aware of the sparse landscape.

Minnie Driver was less cautious than her colleague: The roles that exist are thin, she said, and it’s up to actresses to turn them into something real.

“You begin as an appendage, and it’s sort of like a magic trick,” she said. “People underestimate a woman’s approach to filmmaking.

“Your job as a woman in this business is to elevate material because it isn’t going to be there on the page,” she said.

Driver has made a career out of doing this – turning a few lines on a page into a flesh-and-blood character, starting with “Good Will Hunting” through “An Ideal Husband” to a lively interpretation of Abra Rice in “Conviction.”

Nobody in this conversation is a babe in the woods.  Swank and Driver and Lewis (and me) understand the economics of the movie business.

“Male-driven movies make more money,” said Driver. (Swank and Lewis were far more cautious about going on the record.)

What works these days in Hollywood is “The Hangover,” and “Pineapple Express.” What works are comic-book movies like “The Dark Knight” and “Spider-Man,” and the lasting memories made by “Jackass 3D.”

And we all get that. With the notable exception of “Twilight” and "Sex and the City," the big blockbuster franchise movies still focus on young men.

But can’t we expect a little more effort, more thought, more reality, in our Oscar-season movies?

“Conviction” is one of the few films that has strong female characters — a strong lead in Swank as Betty Anne Waters, and two other significant female characters, both based on real-life figures.

We bow to “Black Swan” and writer-director Darren Aronofsky for wrapping his psychological drama around a central woman character, played by Natalie Portman.

“The Kids Are All Right” gives not one but two strong female characters, embraced by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore.

“Winter’s Bone” gives Jennifer Lawrence a heartbreaking canvas on which to work.

“Made in Dagenham” is a working-class liberation romp, mainly about women. Let’s hope a lot of people go see it, but we know that it will probably stay in the realm of the arthouse.

These are the exceptions that prove the rule. And it’s no coincidence that “Winter’s Bone” and “The Kids Are All Right” are both directed by women, Debra Granik and Lisa Cholodenko.

Film is a director’s medium. They drive the story. They inspire the lead actors, who more often than not channel the director’s energy, vision and even physicality. (I’ve got lots of examples – don’t you? Here’s one: Leo DiCaprio actually looks like Chris Nolan in “Inception.”)  

With only 7 percent of this year’s films directed by women – dropping by 2 percent in the year after the first woman director won Best Picture at the Oscars – the lack of female roles is not such a surprise.

But it is a severe disappointment.