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Golden Globes Nominations: At Least It Was a Good Year for Strong Female Roles

Looking across the Golden Globe film and TV nominations, it’s a banner year for movies driven by some of the most unlikely female characters to get the big-screen treatment.

In “The Shape of Water,” Sallie Hawkins plays a mute cleaning woman in 1962 Baltimore who has an supernatural encounter. In “The Post,” Meryl Streep plays a woman in her mid-50s who is thrust by circumstance into a leadership role. Margot Robbie and Allison Janney deliver tour de force performances in “I, Tonya,” a movie that on paper sounds like B-grade cable material. And the great Laurie Metcalf is the hero of “Lady Bird” and its touching look at mother-daughter and familial dynamics, for which Saorise Ronan received a best actress, comedy nom.

None of these are projects tailored to the conventional notions of the audiences who drive movie-going or indie film success. The shutout of female directors from the Globes race is particularly striking this year given the volume of femme-focused projects. The options — from “Wonder Woman’s” Patty Jenkins to “Lady Bird’s” Greta Gerwig to “Mudbound’s” Dee Rees — were numerous.

Female auteurs, showrunners, and producers, meanwhile, are all over the Globes television noms. Hollywood Foreign Press Association voters solidified Frankie Shaw’s status as a major comer to watch, landing a comedy series nom and lead comedy actress bid for “SMILF,” the Showtime series that she created, directs and stars in. Two of Shaw’s fellow contenders in the comedy actress race — Pamela Adlon (FX’s “Better Things”) and Issa Rae (HBO’s “Insecure”) — are also creator/stars of their own vehicles.

“It certainly does give rise to the idea that this is the year of the woman in popular media,” Leonard Maltin, film critic and historian, told Variety. From “Lady Bird” to “I, Tonya” to “The Post,” the portrayals of women tackling existential crises largely on their own steam, with grace and grit, made for a strong crop that bucked convention.

“‘The Post’ is essentially a coming of age story — but a coming of age story for a mature woman, which is most unusual,” Maltin said. At the other end of the scale, “Lady Bird” adds up to “a modest movie that is exceptionally well done”  particularly for a directorial debut, Maltin said. “Greta Gerwig has obviously had her eyes and ears wide open as she’s been making films. To create a film that is so empathetic and believable, relatable and poignant is no small achievement.”

The comedy series race features two female showrunners — Amy Sherman-Palladino at the helm of Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” with Dan Palladino — and Shaw of “SMILF.” Among drama series, only “This Is Us” has a female showrunner, Elizabeth Berger who steers the NBC hit with Isaac Aptaker. Drama series nominees “The Crown” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” revolve squarely around themes of women, power, privilege, and sexism.

The top TV nominee in the Globes race this year is HBO’s “Big Little Lies,” the extraordinary assemblage of talent pulled together by Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman out of frustration at the lack of meaty film roles.

The wealth of work for seasoned stars in TV is on display with the six noms for “Big Little Lies” as well as the four bestowed on FX’s “Feud: Bette and Joan.” “Feud’s” Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange will once again face off against Witherspoon and Kidman for golden hardware in the lead limited series actress field. Jessica Biel is also a contender in this starry crowd for her career re-defining role as a murderer in USA Network’s “The Sinner.”

And if all the great female roles in the first season of “Big Little Lies” weren’t heartening enough, season two will be directed by Andrea Arnold, for an even stronger all-women team.

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