EARLIER this week Time magazine released its 9th annual list of the most influential people in the world. As with every year, this census has courted self-publicising controversy, containing within its ranks a varied who’s who, and frequent who’s that, of global politicos, ecumenical activists, titans of the sporting world and champions of the creative arts. Novak Djokovic, Rihanna, Xi Jinping and Christine Lagarde all secured a spot on the hallowed list, complete with gushing praise from contributing celebrity groupies, but if 8-time stalwart Oprah can fail to make the cut, anything seems possible.
As is the custom, the Time 100 always endorses the heavy hitters of the film industry, and 2012 is no exception. It should come as no surprise, for example, that Harvey Weinstein, producer and premiere mover and shaker of the Hollywood machine, finds his particular branch of knock-out indies and studio sluggers punching his way into list-worthy recognition, though only for the first time
But the realm of cinema did throw up a number of surprises for Time readers and commentators everywhere, as no film actors were counted among the year’s most influential people. While Clooney, Gosling and Fassbender will have to console themselves with mere fame and fortune rather than game-changing cultural significance, four movie actresses did manage to gain the relevant international attention to make it, and their inclusion says big things about the current climate of women’s role in cinema.
Viola Davis, Kristen Wiig, Jessica Chastain and Tilda Swinton all make for a mixed and unlikely bag of blockbusting babes, but in many ways they’ve broken the mould for Hollywood starlets, and done so with considerable talent.
Davis is a deeply expressive character actress, one who forged her formidable talent on the stage and transferred it to the screen with affecting performances that dominate her films. Wiig is the funny girl whose razor sharp script has redefined female-driven comedy, but whose skilfully underplayed pathos as a self-destructive adult was equally as shrewd. Chastain had critical hit after critical hit, owning the screen in diverse roles as Malick’s Marian mother, the wife of a Shakespearean warmonger, a Mossad agent and a deep South housewife in need of some help. And as for Swinton… well we don’t even need to talk about how effortlessly her chameleon face can convey so much in a single look.
What is of note about these ladies’ inclusion on the list is that in a celebrity culture captivated by youthful perfection and conventions of beauty, these four are unlikely to be gracing the cover of Maxim. In their own way, each one of them is very sexy: Nubian Amazon, quick-witted clown, ethereal beauty and alternatively androgynous. But flat-chested gals, dowdy domestics, and, worse still, women in their 40s are rarely considered capable of filling a few cinema seats, let alone packing screens full to the rafters. That they have all achieved this, despite not being household names in the league of Kidman, Jolie or Bullock, goes some way towards explaining why they exert such influence.
Furthermore, the fact that no male actor graces the list is certainly a point of interest. At a time when the cinematic landscape has, for some, been reduced to an endless stream of hackneyed sequels and tired remakes, where a board game of gridded guesswork can become a $200m juggernaut of the juvenile, it is noteworthy that four female film stars have outshone the explosions and CGI excess.
By praising these intense and considered performers, their varied but enthralling roles, their game-changing writing and brittle depictions of contemporary women, the Time 100 has decisively shown that the hour of the actress is truly at hand.