Each Friday, WVFC will publish a round-up of stories about — and of particular interest to — women over 40. Today we focus our lens on women in film.

"After a decade of domination by the younger generation of Hollywood actresses, including Hilary Swank, Reese Witherspoon and Charlize Theron — the last three Best Actress winners — this year will be the one when older stars step into the spotlight as the awards season reaches its climax next month," writes Jason Solomons in The Observer (UK).

In a story rich with analysis of why roles for older women are so good this year, Solomons looks at the front-runners for Oscar nominations, including Judi Dench, for her role as Barbara Covett in "Notes on a Scandal"; Helen Mirren, who plays Her Majesty in "The Queen"; Meryl Streep, a diva magazine editor in "The Devil Wears Prada"; and possibly Annette Bening for the self-deluded mother in "Running With Scissors."

The Oscars will be announced Jan. 23 at 8:30 a.m. EST.

Solomons writes:

Susan Sarandon was the last actress over 40 to win a Best Actress Oscar for Dead Man Walking back in 1996 and in the intervening years the winners have been a parade of young cover stars. The Oscars have always been a popularity contest but in recent years the Academy has been particularly keen to reward youth over experience, which has not been difficult because it has long been the case that there are few substantial roles for women once they hit 40. Now, it seems, moviegoers and voters have decided that it might be time for a change.

"I think it’s fantastic for all these women, especially Helen Mirren. The Queen is a beautiful film about a woman that is not about her sexuality or being naughty. But it is about a serious adult player on the world stage," says Ariel Levy, the American author of Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture. "I like to think that audiences crave depictions of women as complicated human beings. With every passing year as women make more progress, it becomes preposterous that movies don’t capture women in their full humanity or cover their lifespan. If you were a Martian and came down to watch a Hollywood movie you would think all women dropped dead at 45."

Liz Hoggard, writing in The Independent, adds:

Not only were there better roles for women than at any time in the past decade, all the leading contenders for Best Actress are over 45 – and none is playing a babe role. In her role as an embittered spinster who preys on a female colleague in Notes on a Scandal, Dench, 72, is a million miles away from her glam M image in Casino Royale. At 61, Mirren is happy to play a character almost two decades older than herself in The Queen.

If Mirren wins her first Oscar, she’ll be the fourth-oldest actress in the history of the Academy. If Streep wins again, she’ll create a new record. No lead actress has ever won the Oscar between the ages of 50 and 59. Only three women (Marie Dressler, Geraldine Page and Jessica Tandy) have won Best Actress over the age of 60. Tandy holds the record for being the oldest woman, at 80, to have won, for Driving Miss Daisy.

Best Actress winners are nearly always much younger than their male counterparts when they receive their first Oscar. But this year even the "younger" generation of actresses tipped are all over 30: Kate Winslet in Little Children, Penelope Cruz in Volver, Toni Collette for Little Miss Sunshine, Renée Zellweger for Miss Potter, and Cate Blanchett for Notes on A Scandal. Maybe — just maybe — the ageing of the baby-boom generation is creating a backlash against Hollywood’s blind worship of youth, making it easier for over-40 actresses to get good parts.

Plus: Stephanie Bunbury of The Age (Australia) looks at the sexual desire of middle-aged women and taboo-busting films.

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