5. "The Valley of the Dolls" (1967)
Though this is frequently regarded as pure trash, there's just something so deliciously female about this film that it's tough to discount. Adapted from the enormous best seller by fab Jacqueline Susann, it tells the story of three women (Barbara Parkins, Patty Duke and Sharon Tate) whose show-biz lives take them from fame and riches to depression, disease, death and drugs (the real "dolls" of the title). One endures rocky failed marriages. One self-destructs Judy Garland-style. One becomes suicidal and depressed. And yet, it's all so fun and trashy! This gives viewers a nasty look at women that, in more modern times, is less un-realistic than you'd think. Paris Hilton would fit right into this doll-laden universe. So would Courtney Love. Hmmm ... Maybe a re-make?
4. "Thelma and Louise" (1991)
Susan Sarandon plays no-nonsense Louise, a single woman who convinces her unhappily married best friend, the loopy Thelma (Geena Davis), to take a road trip with her for much-needed chick bonding. After a sweaty night of line dancing (whew, these gals are living it up!), Louise finds herself shooting a guy in the parking lot. Did he deserve it? Well, he was about to rape Thelma and gosh, men are so rude sometimes .... The girls go on the lam, robbing stores, driving their classic convertible through the gorgeous desert. Oh, and they sex up Brad Pitt. Women went nuts for this simultaneously reckless and in-charge crime duo, making its blaze-of-glory finale even more emotional. Some ladies could never accept the ending, however, which is why you'll still occasionally see a "Thelma and Louise Live" bumper sticker on the back of a (probably recently divorced) family station wagon.
3. "White Oleander"
This is a film about women in all their vanity, insecurity, ugliness, beauty and frustration. Michelle Pfeiffer expertly plays an obnoxiously beautiful L.A. artist and imprisoned murderess. Her daughter Astrid (Alison Lohman) is left to fend for herself in a series of (very blonde) foster homes -- one with a born-again Christian/ex-stripper Robin Wright Penn, the other with a sweet but neurotic actress (Renee Zellweger). A terrific ensemble picture, the film explicates Astrid's experience via the various motivations behind women doing both good and bad (like, trying to kill you or buying you expensive clothes). It is about growing up, facing your mother and a whole slew of chick issues that come off much grittier than the Oprah audience it was intended for. How many chick flicks come with the line (said by Pfeiffer): "Love strangles. Hate cradles you"?
2. "Imitation of Life" (1959)
"I'm going up and up and up!" So declares aspiring actress Lana Turner to John Gavin's photographer in Douglas Sirk's masterpiece of female empowerment/female entrapment, "Imitation of Life." Working from Fannie Hurst's novel, this lush, Ross Hunter-produced Technicolor dream dealt with single motherhood, racism, class-ism and what it means to better yourself and your children. Turner stars as an actress who befriends a black woman (Juanita Moore) while the two are in their leanest of years. Roommates through the whole picture, these two single mothers (Lana's a widow, Juanita's white husband left her), the picture shows how the ladies adapt to Lana's eventual rise to theater superstardom while raising their respective daughters: The neglected squeaky clean (or is she?) teen (Sandra Dee) and the tortured sex-pot mulatto (Susan Kohner) who tries passing through life as white. What marks "Imitation" as so womanly is its early look at female ambition. That, and Lana Turner's wardrobe.
1. "Gone with the Wind" (1939)
The mother of all chick flicks, Victor Fleming's 1939 film is a masterful Civil War epic, but also a timeless classic of girly "fiddle-dee-dee" power. Lavishly produced by David O. Selznick, the gorgeous soap opera adapted from Margaret Mitchell's popular novel has Vivien Leigh playing quintessential Southern belle Scarlett O' Hara to manipulative, beautiful spoiled-brat perfection. Chick issues? Scarlett's in love with the nice guy (AKA boring) Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard), but winds up marrying men she doesn't care for twice (the whole Civil War dying thing gets in the way). When she's at the end of her tether, she does what every girl would do -- go to the bad boy for whom she always had the hots. Enter smirky cool Rhett Butler (a fantastic Clark Gable), some tumultuous fighting (sexy!) and foreplay that entails grabbing Scarlett and dragging her up the stairs. Of course, he eventually leaves her. Ouch. Double ouch, when after finally realizing she loves him most, he walks out the door with the movie's most famous line: "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." A great woman's picture, it's also a terrific study for men in understanding womanly indecision and how to handle it (with a firm grip on reality). When Rhett rejects her, it's oddly the most romantic scene in the film.
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