As the 2014/2015 Oscar race begins to take shape, pundits are circling the possibilities. They are predicting films that haven’t been seen over films that have because they have a 50/50 chance of delivering the goods. Oh, and hope springs eternal.
They are also cautiously omitting films they think will be either “too rough” for the Academy, or not “serious” enough. Don’t forget there is such a thing as “The Oscar Movie.”
When we ask ourselves “where are all the women?” — both behind and in front of the camera — where the Oscar race is concerned, there are a variety of answers people will give you. Some will shrug and say “those movies aren’t good enough.” There is always something wrong with them and/or there are always ten better movies standing in front of them. Better is a matter of opinion but when we talk about the awards race it’s a matter of a consensus.
That consensus is dominated by men. The precious few women that do get to play ball with the big boys can’t really be caught dead siding with women over the agreed-upon standard or else they will be written off as unprofessional feminists, poisoning the well by putting their gender politics ahead of objectivity. Insert comical eye rolling here.
What I’ve observed in the 16 years I’ve been watching films get released, critics and bloggers chew through those films, and the awards race that follows, tells me that movies by or about women have to resonate with men and women to get attention. Ye olde “universal story.” Stories about women aren’t usually considered “universal,” or at least not anymore. Where a Terms of Endearment or a Broadcast News might have been considered universal enough once upon a time, those movies can’t even get made anymore, let alone get anywhere near the Oscar race.
Making matters worse, the cycle repeats. The generations who have come of age under this major shift in film have been conditioned to respond to the male narrative. It was assumed a while back that movies could only really be sold to the male demographic or more to the point, the preteen male demographic. But we know this is changing fast. The box office tells us so, even if the critics do not. The people out there in the dark, the ones for whom films are made, are turning up, shelling out their hard earned to see — gasp — films that star women as the central protagonist, not the supporting character! Frozen has broken all records and become one of the highest grossing films of all time with a lead character who — GASP — doesn’t even have a love interest. And Lucy? The critics simply did not know what to do with Lucy but audiences did. They bought tickets, a bucket of popcorn, and sat down and enjoyed the fuck out of it.
This is mostly an American problem. If you go to the Cannes film festival you will be astonished to find that filmmakers in other countries (while almost exclusively male) think women are people. They actually make movies about them, tell their stories — even stories of elderly Korean poets! They tell stories of unfuckable women, older women, sometimes very young women. But even when Cannes turns out dozens of great movies about women, the only one that’s going to get major acclaim here in the states…? Well, you know how that one goes. Do I even need to tell you?
Back in the 1930s and 1940s the Best Picture race was divided almost 50/50 between stories about women and stories about men. Women were very active movie goers (Purple Rose of Cairo) and probably during World War II they also turned up. Back then, and up to about the year 2000 or so, box office drove the Best Picture race so if women were buying tickets to movies that then became successful they were considered Best Picture material and were nominated.
This was helped along by the Academy having more than five Best Picture nominees, up until 1944. Once they went down to five there were still years where films about women dominated but for the most part it became mostly a man’s game. Bitching about things does seem to generate shifts here and there — but gone are the days when you had All About Eve, Born Yesterday and Sunset Boulevard all nominated for Best Picture. Look at the room they had for varying portrayals of the female experience, which mattered as much as men’s.
Not the case anymore. Fanboy culture, gaming culture and the internet have done strange things to American culture where women are concerned. Women have lost a good deal of power and are, it’s fair to say, treated like shit online. Young men are growing up watching films that center on the male protagonist. Women are always portrayed in a supporting role, helping the male character along to achieve his rightful place as hero of the day. This dynamic has proved very successful at the box office and pretty soon it became such an accepted form of storytelling men coming of age today might not even think women’s stories are worth telling at all.
I watch every year movies by or about women get knocked out of the race. This year it’s happening already: Eleanor Rigby, maybe The Homesman, maybe Wild — if they’re about women they’re the first to be cut on the march to Best Picture. The two strong female directors heading into this year’s race, Angelina Jolie and Ava DuVernay are only being considered because they’re making films about famous men. If either of them was making a film about a famous woman I’m going to roll the dice and say they aren’t considered frontrunners for Best Picture and Best Director.
But on the bright side, things are looking mighty fine this year, at least so far. There’s still plenty of time to kill dead any of the progress women are making. But let’s look at the good that’s happening right now.
Question: How many Best Picture winners throughout Oscar history can you name that were co-written by women and men?
Answer: Two. Return of the King and Mrs. Miniver. 71 years apart.
Question: How many since Return of the King won, ten years ago?
Question: How many Best Picture nominees have been written solely by a woman without a male co-writer?
Question: How many Best Picture WINNERS were written solely by a woman?
Question: How many films currently in the Oscar race being predicted for Best Picture were written or co-written by women?
That is how rare Gillian Flynn’s presence in Oscars 2015 really is.
If you don’t believe me, read it and weep:
*Boyhood – Richard Linklater
*Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn
*The Imitation Game – Graham Moore
*Birdman – Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo
*The Theory of Everything – female book author, Jane Hawking. Adapted by Anthony McCarten
*Unbroken – Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese, William Nicholson
*Interstellar – Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan
*Foxcatcher – E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman
*Selma – Paul Webb
*American Sniper – Jason Dean Hall
*Wild – Nick Hornby
*Into the Woods – James Lapine
*A Most Violent Year – JC Chandor
*Whiplash – Damien Chazelle
The Homesman – Tommy Lee Jones
The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson
Fury – David Ayer
Rosewater – Jon Stewart
Inherent Vice – Paul Thomas Anderson
Mr. Turner – Mike Leigh
Big Eyes – Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski
Still Alice – Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland
St. Vincent – Theodore Melfi
*The films pundits believe have the best shot at getting nominated.
Are you getting that? One female screenwriter in all of the Oscar contenders for Best Picture and that’s being very generous about what might get through.
Of all of the films that were based on books written by women, these were adapted by men:
Wild – Cheryl Strayed —>Nick Hornby
Still Alice —> Lisa Genova –> Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland
Unbroken — Laura Hillenbrand — > Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese, William Nicholson
Theory of Everything — Jane Hawking –> Anthony McCarten
Of all of the films that were based on books written by women, only one was adapted by a woman:
Gone Girl — Gillian Flynn —> Gillian Flynn
Granted, they need names, to be sure. And granted, these writers of the source material aren’t screenwriters. But does it always have to fall in the hands of male writers? Always? All but once: credit must be given to director David Fincher because he is one of the few in town with the power and the prestige to say: no, I want Flynn to write the screenplay. And he did. The studio wanted the book to be rewritten, or run through the man-o-meter with a “name” but it was Fincher who held fast. Flynn worked hard on the screenplay, rewriting pages, reworking the material — in essence, shredding her own original concept of novel to make it work on film.
Even given that, there are still holdouts who preferred the book (there always are) but make no mistake, what Fincher and Flynn have done here is remarkable.
Moreover, Gone Girl represents one of the few contenders (yes, FRONTRUNNERS) that is full of women. Smart women, old women, young women, evil women, nice women, funny women — he brought back Sela Ward, for chrissakes:
While Gillian Flynn remains the only female who was invited to adapt her own book, there are some films headed for the Oscar race this year that not only STAR women but their plot actually REVOLVES around women.
As usual with the Oscar race, the films that aren’t about a white male central figure fall away, leaving the status quo of late very much intact.
The films about women that still have a chance of getting in for Best Picture this year include:
Gone Girl (a hive of women with one monster at the center)
Wild (the whole movie is about a woman)
Into the Woods
The Homesman (the title is about a man but the story is about women)
Outside the realm of pundit predictions:
Big Eyes (probably out)
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (probably out)
Still Alice (still maybe)
And that makes up the sum total of Oscars 2015. Gravity was the rare exception last year, which was a cool move by Alfonso Cuaron to cast Sandra Bullock when he was pressured to cast a male lead. He stuck it out and the film did extraordinarily well.
And now we have David Fincher’s Gone Girl — two weeks in a row at number one. Written by a woman. Starring a woman. The early buzz about the internet was a snide put down of Flynn’s novel, called “trash” by Slant’s Ed Gonzalez, among others. The critics seemed split between respecting Flynn’s success and wanting the film to be more like the book and those who thought the book was “trash” and Fincher improved it, to “the book is trash” and the “movie is hollow fluff.”
Yeah, whatever. Thankfully money shuts people up.
Kathryn Bigelow’s win was written about for years afterwards as being a one-off. It won’t change things for women, it was said. But little by little more women are dipping their toes in the water and more actresses are doing what their male counterparts have been doing for decades now: using their star cred, their good looks and their charisma, to launch themselves into the world of directing. Some are being taken seriously and some aren’t, but one who seems to be is Angelina Jolie who has already directed one movie, In the Land of Blood and Honey and is now entering this year’s Oscar race with Unbroken, the true story of Louis Zamperini. Where Jolie succeeds as a filmmaker is that that she isn’t trying to play anyone’s game of what she should be doing. Like Bigelow, she is making films about the subject matter she cares about. In Jolie’s case, she’s really putting her money where her mouth is — again and again, with her charity work and now with her films which shed light on the kinds of causes she’s devoted herself through in her life — like refugees, like prisoners of war — and next up, the horrendous poaching of African elephants for their tusks.
Another filmmaking pioneer this year is Ava DuVernay who, like Jolie, is not making a “woman’s movie” but a movie about what she cares about: Civil Rights. DuVernay is an activist as well as a one-woman movement to help bridge the gap between African American audiences and the art house, a surprising thing to confront in 2014 but there it is. The early footage shown of Selma indicates that it could be a strong contender for Best Actor at the very least. Beyond that, like Unbroken, it has to be seen before anyone can conclude anything about its Oscar prospects.
At the New York Film Festival, Laura Poitras’ CitizenFour made waves, resulting in a lengthy ten minute standing ovation for the film. Poitras zooms to the head of the pack of the doc race — although it’s always a long road to Oscar, that one. Still, it looks promising — check out what Anne Thompson has to say about it over at Indiewire.
Actress Rose McGowan has a short film that will get an Oscar qualifying run, per Indiewire:
Intriguingly, distributor Black Dog Films has announced that “Dawn” will have an Oscar-qualifying run in Los Angeles at the Downtown Independent Theater, starting September 19th. Could McGowan possibly win her first Academy Award? Time will tell, but she’s certainly gunning for it. The qualifying run will be accompanied by the first annual “Dawn Festival,” for which McGowan has hand-selected seven films featuring complex female performances to screen throughout the week.
2015 might be a breakthrough year for women behind the camera, and possibly in front of it if the few films left starring women aren’t selected out. It’s theoretically possible there could be a woman director in each of the major categories — from Best Director to Best Documentary to Best Live Action Short. That would be a significant step to change the landscape of Hollywood, which is really the very best thing the Oscars still have power to do.
There are too few David Finchers. There are too few Richard Brodys at the New Yorker — too few Linda Holmes’ at NPR — too few Melissa Silversteins at Indiewire. I love and admire what Devin Faraci is doing at Badass Digest to completely transform the way his mostly male readers think about women in gaming and in film. We need more Devin Faracis. There are too few of the broad-minded thinkers and too many of the uniform thinkers who cohere around a standard being taught generation by generation that says only stories about men matter. Women are the toughest critics when it comes to other women. We need more women writing about women who care about the future of women more than they do fitting in with the boys on the playground.
It will be left those who think outside the box to be big enough pains in the ass to make things change. I can’t tell you how many former readers of mine went on to become writers of their own sites and you can bet that by the time they left Awards Daily they were well schooled in feminist and racist agendas in Hollywood, whether that makes any difference or not I can’t say.
You can’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse. A bad movie is a bad movie. Some are more bad that others. But to those who show promise, to people with balls big enough to try to change things even a little bit — they ought to be rewarded and congratulated not criticized and bullied out of the industry because their film isn’t exactly right or to the taste of the masses.
I’m not saying bad movies should be in the Oscar race because they were directed by women or tell women’s stories but I am saying more careful consideration should be taken to lessen the anal gazing that goes on every time a movie comes out. Look up, there’s a big picture right in front of you, a whole world to be seen. And changed. This is as good a time as any.
Current predictions in Major Categories
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything
Dark Horse contenders:
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Good Lie
Not yet seen:
Into the Woods
A Most Violent Year
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
David Fincher, Gone Girl
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
Alejandro Inarritu, Birdman
James Marsh, Theory of Everything
Dark horse contenders:
Morten Tyldum, Imitation Game
Jean-Marc Valle, Wild
Not yet seen:
Angelina Jolie, Unbroken
Christopher Nolan, Interstellar
Ava DuVernay, Selma
Clint Eastwood, American Sniper
JC Chandor, A Most Violent Year
Rob Marshall, Into the Woods
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Ben Affleck, Gone Girl
Dark horse contenders:
Chadwick Boseman, Get on Up
Miles Teller, Whiplash
Russell Crowe, Noah
Ellar Coltrane, Boyhood
Bill Murray, St Vincent
Richard Gere, Time Out of Mind
Not yet seen:
David Oyelowo, Selma
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
Jack O’Connell, Unbroken
Oscar Isaac, A Most Violent Year
Matthew McConaughey, Interstellar
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild
Hilary Swank, The Homesman
Felicity Jones, Theory of Everything
Dark Horse Contenders:
Jessica Chastain, Eleanor Rigby
Shailene Woodley, The Fault in Our Stars
Julianne Moore, Maps to the Stars
Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Belle
Still to come:
Emily Blunt, Into the Woods
Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year
Amy Adams, Big Eyes
JK Simmons, Whiplash
Edward Norton, Birdman
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
Tyler Perry, Gone Girl
Still to be seen:
Albert Brooks, A Most Violent Year
Best Supporting Actress
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Keira Knightley, Imitation Game
Emma Stone, Birdman
Kristen Stewart, Clouds of Sils Maria (or Still Alice)
Laura Dern, Wild
Dark Horse Contenders:
Carrie Coon, Gone Girl
Kim Dickens, Gone Girl
Still to be seen:
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods
Anna Kendrick, Into the Woods
Maps to the Stars
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything