The first time I remember being struck by a actress’ performance was while watching Gone With The Wind when I was 8 years old. Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara leapt off my living room TV screen, a woman who could just as easily cut your face off out of spite as she could seduce you into oblivion. She was ambitious, and cunning, and sometimes heartless. But she was also fiercely loyal, and ready sacrifice for those she loved.
In the years since, I’ve come to grapple with the many mitigating factors that make Gone With The Wind a complicated film to watch, but that memory of watching a woman drive a narrative, and rooting for her, not despite, but because of her complexity, is one that has shaped my understanding of film in a fundamental way.
And yet, it’s still an all-too rare occurrence. According to a 2017 study by the USC Annenberg Inclusion initiative, only 34 out of the 100 top films in 2016 depicted a female lead, or co-lead. Of those women, only three were from an underrepresented group, and only 8 were over 45. The study also found that out of 900 films with balanced casts boasting a total of 39,788 speaking roles, only 31.4% were women.
In that context, it’s all the more important to celebrate the characters we do have. And in a surprise twist, trash year 2018 has given rise to some of the most fascinating women characters in a long time, thanks to some powerful portrayals by Hollywood’s leading and supporting actresses. So, whether you’re looking to relive a great moment, or figure out what movie is worth your time, scroll through for a look at some of the best female (but also just best) performances of the year.