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Oscar and the Bechdel Test

Emma Thompson Saving Mr. Banks

This morning on Twitter, Ryan, Paddy, Tero and I were discussing women in film, specifically, women in film and the Best Picture race.  Ryan came to the conclusion that it’s been roughly 60 years since films dominated by women also dominated the Best Picture race. I took it one step further to say that films dominated by women have been steadily declining not just in Hollywood but specifically in the Oscar race, which now has a wider selection of Best Picture contenders than any time since the mid-1940s.

The last year to feature films with strong female leads was 2010, when the Academy had a solid ten Best Picture contenders. The difference between then and now is that voters could put down ten votes for Best Picture. Now they pick five.  In 2010, the Best Picture race had three films that easily passed the Bechdel test: Winter’s Bone, The Kids Are All Right and Black Swan.

So what is the Bechdel test? Oh, it’s just three little things, believe it or not:

1. It has to have at least two [named] women in it
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something besides a man
The following year, The Descendants and The Help both passed.  And last year?
What do we have on the table, Bechdel-wise, this year?
Passing:
1. 12 Years a Slave
2. Nebraska
3. Dallas Buyers Club
4. Saving Mr. Banks
5. Before Midnight
6. Blue Jasmine
7. The Butler
8. Labor Day
9. Short Term 12
10. Blue is the Warmest Colour
11. The Past
Special circumstances. Gravity – I am arguing that it passes because Sandra Bullock interacts with her daughter, even if not in a literal sense. I think you can stretch it to include what they include — they certainly didn’t have to.Not passing (I am fairly sure – but need to double check):

1. All is Lost
2. Rush
3. Her
4. Captain Phillips
5. Out of the Furnace
6. Lone Survivor (haven’t seen it so I can’t be 100%)
Not yet known:
American Hustle
Wolf of Wall Street
Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Why does it matter, someone on Twitter asked me. First off, it’s kind of sad to me that anyone would need to ask.  After that come the criticisms – it’s a flawed test, its restrictions are too confined, etc.
But think about it, is it really asking too much to simply have two female characters, named, who speak to each other about something other than a man? When 90% of the film features men, named, who speak to each other about plenty of things other than women – it does seem a bit strange that women function  only to support the male characters, considering how important women are to life itself.
This is the only thing I know about the Bechdel test – if I were a filmmaker writing a film with a big cast I might consider the Bechdel test and ask myself why my film failed something so simple.  What is it about women that cause them to be obliterated from stories on the big screen? Is it that the primary target audience are young boys and boy have unsettled issues about girls? About their mothers? Is it we women who are so competitive with each other we hate most women on film unless they’re in a romantic comedy getting married?
A great example of how badly a film fails the Bechdel test is last year’s Argo. Technically, it can be concluded that it passes, as there are a few scant lines exchanged between women. This was up for debate over at Bechdeltest.com.  But I’m thinking, really? Not a single person in the CIA or Hollywood who has any power is a woman?  These were the only lines exchanged AT ALL between two women (that wasn’t about a man, although I’m not even sure women talk to each other at all):
“Sahar, How are you doing?”
“Fine, thank you”
“Your friends from Canada, ma’am. All this time. They never go out.”
So, hey, that’s better than nothing, right?
I don’t think a movie has to pass the Bechdel test to be considered a good, or even great film. I don’t think it needs to pass the Bechdel test to be nominated, or to win Best Picture.  A movie like All is Lost is constrained by having one character, a man.  Gravity constrained by having two characters, one of them, a man.  What the Bechdel test does do, however, is shine a light on the status quo, the accepted condition of the modern woman in Hollywood storytelling.

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103 Comments

  1. Pepper
    November 12, 2013

    I am wracking my brain to figure out how 12 Years passes. Aren’t all the conversations between the named women characters in the movie about men?

  2. November 12, 2013

    A film such as “Ender’s Game” (not an Oscar contender) has several strong female characters. But they never interact at all outside of 1 line of dialogue between the mother and the sister. Seems to say much about the book and the screenplay that it just never worked out to have actual interactions between females.

  3. November 12, 2013

    Sub-headline for this post:
    ONE HUNDRED MEN AND A GIRL
    (1937 Best Picture nominee)

  4. Melissa
    November 12, 2013

    the grantland girls in hoodies podcast talked about this last week at the end of their show (also this podcast has molly lambert, one of the best writers about gender and pop culture writing today): http://www.grantland.com/blog/hollywood-prospectus/post/_/id/91941/girls-in-hoodies-podcast-skrillex-real-housewives-slow-tv-and-the-bechdel-test

    I recommend the quick listen for anyone interested. Also I think it’s important, with all “tests” and studies to at least mention some of the flaws; a film sasha brought up in the discussion, silver linings playbook, does pass the test (Tiffany and her sister Veronica talk about her health in the dinner scene) but that is not a movie you’d think of being majorly concerned with its female characters. Just food for thought really; I appreciate that there’s any sort of way to get it into conversation and the new Swedish rating system makes me wish I lived there

  5. Branko Burcksen
    November 12, 2013

    The Bechdel Test is one mechanism by which to gage how a movie tries to represent its values. It is not ideal because the three simple rules can be interpreted many different ways. As any real law can be as a matter of fact.

    When I think of the Bechdel Test, I ask myself whether the two female characters in question are talking for at least a minute and whether what they discuss serves a significant dramatic purpose like revealing something important about themselves or moving the story forward with something other than exposition.

    Animated films are just as guilty as any live action film in large part because the creative control is still so male dominant. This particular scene caught my attention because it passes the Bechdel Test while still indulging the male gaze:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u0aY3pCid9s

  6. November 12, 2013

    Another rough measure of the way Hollywood and the Oscars regard women.

    Best Picture nominees with Men in the title:

    The Thin Man
    The Quiet Man
    The Music Man
    Rain Man
    A Serious Man
    The Postman
    A Man for All Seasons
    Of Mice and Men
    All the King’s Men
    Gentleman’s Agreement
    A Few Good Men
    All the President’s Men
    No Country for Old Men
    12 Angry Men

    Best Picture nominees with Women in the title?

    Little Women
    An Unmarried Woman

    (Scent of a Woman and Kiss of the Spider Woman barely count, do they?)

    Women in Best Picture contenders fare better if they’re “Girls”

    Bad Girl
    Three Smart Girls
    The Country Girl
    Funny Girl
    The Goodbye Girl
    Working Girl

  7. Aaron B
    November 12, 2013

    Why can’t someone both sympathize AND acknowledge that using this test to critique films individually is flawed? A good example is given in your list of “failures” from this year. Why should “All is Lost” be criticized for not meeting this criteria when the film is a one man show?

    The test is really only good for highlighting how few films meet the criteria and how under-represented women in film are currently. We should strive toward a scenario where this doesn’t happen so frequently, but not to the point of discouraging any sort of film with an all-man cast. Just as we shouldn’t discourage any sort of film with an all-woman cast.

  8. caleb roth
    November 12, 2013

    Is it too much?

    Yes, sometimes it is. You can’t put two women to talk in a movie like Captain Philips, for example, because its story was not about women.

    Every movie is particular. A test like this shows nothing.

  9. moviewatcher
    November 12, 2013

    I think there’s a deeper issue that lies beneath this. And that is the fact that there aren’t that many women screenwriters out there, unfortunately. So the male screenwriters, through no fault of their own, are left to their own devices to write the movies. And men, attempting to write what they know, will often write stories from the male perspective and about what men are worried about. We’ve seen many instances (just like this year with Blue is the Warmest Color) where directors/writers are attacked for making female-centric stories, with the criticism being that they have no idea what they are talking about and how could they possibly KNOW what women feel like. Obviously, I think those sorts of criticisms are ridiculous and, under the guise of equality, end up stifling the creative process in filmmaking and the diversity of characters end up having. It’s reductive. Writers and directors of all races and genders should be allowed to tell stories about people from all other races and genders. Just look at the controversy that surrounds every single african-american-centered film that comes out that is not directed by an african-american.

  10. November 12, 2013

    The fact that All Is Lost doesn’t pass the Bechdel test perfectly shows how sometimes it simply doesn’t mean anything. There isn’t dialogue between two characters PERIOD.

  11. November 12, 2013

    One simple solution to passing the Bechdel Test would be to have a Greek Chorus of 1960s’ honeys named Crystal, Ronette, and Chiffon to magically glide into all the man-on-man scenes to comment on the action.

  12. Too Many AJs
    November 12, 2013

    The importance of the test should be to look at films in the aggregate, not to nitpick specific films. It is important to see how many films do fail the Bechdel test, in thinking about the status quo of Hollywood.

    But for specific films, the test is overinclusive and underinclusive. It’s unfair to expect a film like All Is Lost or, say, Saving Private Ryan, to force multi-female conversations when that just isn’t what those movies are about. But plenty of films have multi-female conversations yet still feature stereotypical conventional gender roles for women.

  13. rufussondheim
    November 12, 2013

    The Bechdel Test is a nice place to start, but it’s foolhardy to think it’s a good place to end.

    I hereby introduce the Rufus Test. It consists of three rules.

    Does the movie

    1) Have two gay (named) men
    2) Who talk to each other
    3) About something other than fashion.

  14. rufussondheim
    November 12, 2013

    So how many Best Picture nominees pass the Rufus Test? One?

  15. Christophe
    November 12, 2013

    Artistic Freedom! ’nuff said… that BS test reeks of thought police.

  16. steve50
    November 12, 2013

    A test like this shows nothing.

    There may not be a lot of value in it, but it does show cumulative data about winners and nominees.

    My favourite method is the simplest. Most Oscar winners have one-word or three-word titles. Three words usually trumps two words, esp. using the next criteria: The most common word used in Oscar-winning BPs is the importance designator, “the”.

    Therefore, a three word title beginning with “The”, is a sure winner. The King’s Speech, The Hurt Locker, The French Connection, etc.

  17. November 12, 2013

    Does “Lincoln” pass?

  18. November 12, 2013

    One-word titles are a perennial Oscar favorite too. Bonus points if that one word is a proper noun.

  19. November 12, 2013

    If the 1 or 3 words titles give films a leg up, then Gravity and Saving Mr Banks’ prospects just got a tiny bit sunnier.

  20. Rob Y
    November 12, 2013

    I think this is an extraordinary test. Is it statistically valid? No. But is it valid for a discussion? Hell yes!

    I think that the 3 requirements essentially require that female characters are drawn fully. The fact that Gravity fails at these would hardly diminish the fact that it nails the essence of the goal of the test. (I feel that Bullock’s character has more of a meaningful discussion with herself than with her daughter.)

    If a film fails the test does it mean that it is an awful film? No. Lawrence of Arabia had no female characters at all, and it is one of the greatest films of all time.

    The goal of the test is to alert writers that if you are going to write a female character, then make her a fully dimensional character.

  21. Ellsworth
    November 12, 2013

    If you compare the filmography of say Bette Davis, Ellen Burstyn or Jane Fonda, these standards to ‘make the list’ seem pretty low (and sad in my opinion):

    1. It has to have at least two [named] women in it
    2. Who talk to each other
    3. About something besides a man

    Where are the great stories about real, complex women?

  22. Bryce Forestieri
    November 12, 2013

    Ken Russell’s masterpiece WOMEN IN LOVE was nothing short of a Oscar success!! And Jean-Louis Trintignant was gorgeous in GOD CREATED WOMAN!!

  23. November 12, 2013

    So how many Best Picture nominees pass the Rufus Test? One?

    This one?

  24. Raphael
    November 12, 2013

    Quick: Name a movie that fails the reverse-Bechdel.

  25. Bryce Forestieri
    November 12, 2013

    Nobody’s gonna beat Ryan now so I might as well go for accuracy.

  26. Tony
    November 12, 2013

    Well, “Come Back to the 5 & Dime…” fails the reverse test, but I love that movie.

    (Also: 1939′s “The Women”)

  27. Pepper
    November 12, 2013

    The Help failed the reverse Bechdel – there was a lot of conversation about that on feminist film sites back when it was a Best Picture nominee.

    Also, All Is Lost and Gravity.

  28. Tony
    November 12, 2013

    Meanwhile: Sasha listed “Dallas Buyers Club” as passing. I’m having a hard time trying to recall a conversation between two named women in it.

  29. November 12, 2013

    I might as well go for accuracy…

    I won’t say this is a hot clip, Bryce, but the title cards repeated use of “Jack” and “shoot” aren’t exactly helping set a more somber tone.

  30. Paddy Mulholland
    November 12, 2013

    You can’t put two women to talk in a movie like Captain Philips, for example, because its story was not about women.

    That’s not the point. The point is that too many such films are made. Why did Billy Ray and Paul Greengrass have to make a film which features solely male characters save the back of a few women’s heads for the odd second or two? Why can’t projects like these be fewer in number, and projects like Blue Is the Warmest Colour and Blue Jasmine be greater? It’s not like we exactly needed Captain Phillips, as good as it is. There’s an infinite number of potentially great concepts that haven’t been turned into movies this year.

  31. November 12, 2013

    Interesting. Does “Zero Dark Thirty” fail because they are talking about OBL?

    Yeah, pretty robust test.

  32. Paddy Mulholland
    November 12, 2013

    Does “Zero Dark Thirty” fail because they are talking about OBL?

    Don’t they talk about other things too?

    I don’t think it’s supposed to be robust. I think it’s supposed to send a message out. And it does that pretty well.

  33. Mac
    November 12, 2013

    Oh God, here they come – the idiots who argue: “Why not 1) Have two gorillas who 2) talk to each other 3) about something other than a monkey” just to be contrary.

    If you, a serious film student or cinephile, do not realize “women issues” are lacking in Hollywood (which is what the Bechdel Test demonstrates) then just concede to being dull.

    The Bechdel Test started to become relevant in the mid-Seventies when… Jaws and Star Wars came out. Steven Spielberg and, to a lesser extent, George Lucas are great, but their cheap imitators have ditched actresses in favor of special effects.

    The top grossing film each year in the Eighties were ALL guy movies.

    Actresses peaked in the 1960′s, with varied actresses like Elizabeth Taylor, Doris Day, and Julie Andrews actually wearing the crown of Top Box-Office Draw. Others, like Barbra Streisand, Audrey Hepburn, and Shirley MacLaine. Actresses top-billed The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, Cleopatra, Mary Poppins, West Side Story, Doctor Zhivago, all of which would have grossed north of $400 million in today’s dollars.

    The absence of actress-loving, money-making directors like Cuckor, Wilder, and Hitchcock also happened around this timeframe, supplanted by Spielberg and Lucas and the like.

    The good news is that actresses have started to embrace special effects now, too. The Hunger Games, Twilight, Oz the Great and Powerful, and upcoming blockbusters like Maleficent are all raking in the dough just like the “Guy Flicks”. It’s worthwhile not because the movies are any good (few are), but because the playing field is becoming even again and I believe overall, the stories will improve because of it.

  34. Mac
    November 12, 2013

    To clarify, even though the Test didn’t come around until recently, it would have been a great barometer starting in the mid-Seventies.

  35. unlikely hood
    November 12, 2013

    I hope you’ll indulge me as I do something rare around here – quote from a published book (not a website):

    “Biopics of women are structured so differently as to constitute their own genre, and they are studied as such in Book Two. The conventions of the female biopic, as I have mentioned, have proved much more intractable than those of the female biopic. This is due to the culture’s difficulty with the very issue of women in the public sphere. The stars of the studio era were kept emotively busy playing queens, be they Greta Garbo as Queen Christina or Katharine Hepburn as Mary of Scotland, powerful women either born or married to the throne. It was the warts-and-all mode that began in the mid-1950s that proved perfect for patriarchy’s concept of women, trapping them for decades in a cycle of failure, victimization, and the downward trajectory.” – Dennis Bingham, ‘Whose Lives Are They Anyway?’

    Do you realize how many Meryl Streep films have been nominated for best picture? I think three: The Deer Hunter (she’s barely in it), Out of Africa, and The Hours. NOT Sophie’s Choice, not Silkwood, not Doubt, not The Iron Lady, not Julie & Julia (despite many predictions). She’s almost a curse.

    Look over the many, many female biopics passed over for Best Picture nods: I Want to Live! (six other nominations), Lady Sings the Blues, Gorillas in the Mist, Boys Don’t Cry, Marie Antoinette…other than Out of Africa and Julia, the only really high profile one was also the only BP nominee to consist entirely of a person’s whole name (thanks to steve50, we know it thus had no chance of winning): Erin Brockovich. Basically, we don’t consider that such stories rise to the level of BP. Usually.

    Considering we live in the King’s Speech-Argo era, I think these statistics about biopics say a LOT – as much as any Bechdel test.

    I could add to Bingham’s point with stats from my own book about how and why the New Hollywood was all male (with exceptions like Jane Fonda) and how we’re still living with these lunatics running the asylum…but I’ll just let Bingham’s point stand.

    And I’ll say it again, though without the full explanation I gave on the other thread: if this Oscar race comes down to Banks v. Slave, brace yourself for a lot of “you’re likable enough, Hillary”-style tension and hand-wringing – on this site and between tweets between Sasha, Ryan, Tero, and Paddy – as the “black” biopic and the “white woman” biopic fight to become the first non-white-man biopic BP winner since 1985.

  36. unlikely hood
    November 12, 2013

    Oops, I forgot to name the book! Ryan if you’d be so kind, put ” – Dennis Bingham, ‘Whose Lives Are They Anyway?’ ” under the big paragraph quote I typed in my post. If you’d be so kind.

  37. Tony
    November 12, 2013

    Uh, “Kramer vs. Kramer”

  38. November 12, 2013

    What the Bechdel Test IS NOT:

    The Bechdel Test is NOT a revisionist attempt to render all movies worthless that do not pass the test.

    The Bechdel Test is NOT a tool to punish or scold great movies that have no desire or no need to pass the test.

    What the Bechdel Test IS.

    The Bechdel Test is a standard to remind us how few movies ever portray women in the same way men are typically portrayed.

    The Bechdel Test is a guideline for filmmakers who would like to help establish a better balance in the portrayal of women in film.

  39. jorge
    November 12, 2013

    @Felipe

    Ha! Made me laugh.

    Well, it makes me wonder why 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days and films of that exceptional calibre were never acknowledged by Oscar.. considering the brilliant characters and dialogue. It’s a good way to think about it. But obviously, it would be great to see more female film-makers and writers getting green-lighted as one would imagine the stories would too. As a male, I’d watch them.

    Maybe Bigelow should direct the Bridesmaids sequel? I joke..

  40. Josh
    November 12, 2013

    How many movies have won best pic with a numerals in the title?

    and i see you don’t include Inside Llewyn Davis…but I would assume it does NOT pass the test.

  41. Evan
    November 12, 2013

    Tony, I imagine that the two women in Dallas Buyers Club are Jennifer Garner’s character (whatever she’s called) and Jared Leto’s Rayon.

  42. November 12, 2013

    Inside Llewyn Davis doesn’t technically pass the test because there really isn’t two women talking to each other, but there are well drawn female characters that talk about other things than man issues, like Llewyn’s sister, for example. I’d say it passes in spirit. Its also fan-fucking-tastic, by the way. Completely predictable that I would have that reaction, but there you go.

  43. November 13, 2013

    Can we all please accept the notion that a movie can fail to satisfy the Bechdel Test and still be fantastic without the inclusion of a scene between two lesbian philosophers? Can’t we agree that it’s ok if every movie doesn’t always strictly adher to Bechdel standards. The goal here is simply to wish there were many more movies that DO fulfill the Bechdel prerequisites, right? (Not that Argo or Django wouldn’t have been vastly more interesting if they had each featured a few lesbian philosopher scenes. Black Canadian lesbian philosophers, even better.)

  44. Tony
    November 13, 2013

    Rayon counts? Oh, geez. Maybe some of the crew in “Captain Phillips” self-identified as female, but we’re not evolved enough to pick up on it.

  45. Someone
    November 13, 2013

    If this was the only scene passing the Bechdel Test in “Argo”:
    “Sahar, How are you doing?”
    “Fine, thank you”
    “Your friends from Canada, ma’am. All this time. They never go out.”
    than “Argo” does not pass this test unless the woman who says “Fine, thank you” has a NAME in the movie. I don’t remembert when this scene happenes so I’m not sure but as you pointed out women must have NAMES to pass it.

    And no, “Gravity” isn’t a “special case”. It simply doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test.

  46. Sonja
    November 13, 2013

    @unlikely hood

    Quote: “Do you realize how many Meryl Streep films have been nominated for best picture? I think three: The Deer Hunter (she’s barely in it), Out of Africa, and The Hours. NOT Sophie’s Choice, not Silkwood, not Doubt, not The Iron Lady, not Julie & Julia (despite many predictions). She’s almost a curse.”

    Do you realize that 3 of Meryl’s picture did WIN BP?
    And you forgot “Kramer vs. Kramer”.
    Plus she was not “barely” in The Deer Hunter. She had more screen time in that then in Kramer.
    Sophie’s Choice, Silkwood, Adaptation and Doubt had also screenplay nods, so I think they could have been potential BP nods.

  47. rufussondheim
    November 13, 2013

    did anyone notice that Labor Day date change? It’s now listed on Box Office Mojo for January.

  48. Paddy Mulholland
    November 13, 2013

    Wide, rufus. It’s still on for late December in limited.

  49. Pepper
    November 13, 2013

    Meryl made her debut in Julia, which was also a BP nominee that definitely satisfies that Bechdel Test. (She actually is barely in that, though.)

  50. steve50
    November 13, 2013

    Argo or Django wouldn’t have been vastly more interesting if they had each featured a few lesbian philosopher scenes. Black Canadian lesbian philosophers, even better.

    Rumor has it that it was considered for both. Affleck said it was too much of a stretch and would impact his playing Batman, and Jamie..well, been there, done that.

    Really stirred the pot with this test. It’s been a fun read.

  51. Kane
    November 13, 2013

    Paddy, I believe there are too few films out there that feature well written female characters. However, it’s Greengrass’ choice, like other filmmakers, to make the movies they want to make. Greengrass has made some pretty important films out there, female protagonist or not, so I’d say he’s pulling his weight in the film medium overall. If someone has a passion project then that’s something they should focus on.

  52. steve50
    November 13, 2013

    Kane is right, and that is precisely the reason we not only need more women writers, directors and producers, but more women in positions above the glass ceiling at parent corporation levels where the working bottom line is determined. You can’t expect the current crop of hot filmmakers to take up the burden of change on their own.

    It’s a top down adjustment that’s needed – more high level execs willing to take a chance on something other than fanboy fodder or male-centric stories. Imagine if female anchored stories became cool again, like they were in the 50s and 60s, as someone pointed out.

  53. L,ogan
    November 13, 2013

    Good grief. Why did you ignore “August: Osage County” when its center is family conflict, mainly between the matriarch Violet, her three daughters (all named), and her sister Mattie Fay?

  54. rufussondheim
    November 13, 2013

    As always, people blame the power brokers in Hollywood when certain films are not being made. Yes, sometimes artistic choices affect what films get made, but most films are made because of the marketing teams in the studios. Will people go see this film?

    As a result, we have ourselves to blame. If we consistently choose to see films that fail the Bechdel test then those will be the films that get made.

  55. unlikely hood
    November 13, 2013

    Sonja: got me there. I wrote that on the fly and also forgot about Elizabeth, The Queen, and any other BP-nom’d female biopics.

    You’re right that under a 5-10 BP flex system, those films might have gotten to BP. So now that they’ve watered down the rules, nice to know that women can get in. :/

  56. steve50
    November 13, 2013

    But, rufus, how do you explain the change over the last century? The power brokers, most of whom are outside the actual industry, create circumstances that prefer to green light the fast buck, fast turnover product over more diverse, lower income product.

    That was not the case with the old moguls, who were only interested in promoting their own stock of performers and perceived brand of films. Even the new breed of filmmakers in the late 70′s balance/parity between the male/female features.

    All of a sudden, technology created a boom in the big-buck effects laden action feature that almost always relies on a male lead. At the same time, the studios were bought by companies who, in turn, were bought by megaconsortia that were dazzled by the money-making potential of these blockbusters. It was game-over for parity within the system.

    Plus – they own the lionshare of cineplexes, where they ensure that their films get seen. It’s a fixed game until new blood can penetrate the top.

    That’s how I see it, anyway. It’s either that or the movie-going public is evolving toward dumb and dumber.

  57. Kane
    November 13, 2013

    Rufus, exactly. Like it or not (and in this case I do not) male driven stories make far more money at the box office than female driven stories. It’s a fact of life that I hope can change. If studios went against the grain and tried making movies to shift change then chances are they will lose a lot of money. The film industry is a business and you hire/make those who will return the money you put into them two fold.

  58. Kane
    November 13, 2013

    Also that last line I said, I didn’t mean that like, “And they’re doing a damn good job putting out great work.” They make good money and play it smart by the projects they pick but I’m not saying they’re putting out less than 90% junk food.

  59. rufussondheim
    November 13, 2013

    Steve, I don’t know what caused the change, perhaps the advent of television may have caused the change, maybe the availability of female-driven storylines on the television satiates the desire to see female-driven filmed entertainment.

    I do know that if female-driven stories were filling the multiplexes on a regular basis, we’d get more of them. Now, of course, we do have a lot of female driven hits of the last few years, and I’m talking adult oriented fare not teen stuff like Twilight and The Hunger Games. So you would think we’d start seeing a change, but I think Hollywood might not have caught on yet. Who knows?

    The fact that many filmgoers choose to not see female-centered films is certainly part of the problem, but is it the whole problem? Probably not. But this isn’t something that will change overnight, the overwhelming success of Gravity means we will get more lost in space films not middle-aged women saving themselves in perilous situation films. That’s how Hollywood works. It’s something that will take years to evolve, maybe even decades.

    Heck, maybe never.

  60. November 13, 2013

    I’m not saying they’re putting out less than 90% junk food.

    Maybe even as much as 95%. 300 feature films eligible for the Oscars every year. Are there really more than 15 Hollywood films per year we consider to be truly “great”? Furthermore HAS THERE EVER BEEN a year in film history when Hollywood produced more than 15 masterpieces? No. No, there has not.

    But you know what. That’s how the economy of the film industry works and I don’t care. It’s ALWAYS been that way. I can easily name 50 new movies every year that I’m glad I saw, happy they were made. Any more movies than than 50 great movies (plus 100 more worldwide per year), I’d have to be watching movies 5 hours a day just to keep up with the global output of cool movies.

    I get something like 150 TV channels with my cable package. Could be 200, I don’t even know. I rarely turn on the TV. So that’s more than 4000 hours of TV per day that I’m missing and I don’t mind missing it because it’s 99% junk. But I know all those mountains of junk helps churn up middlebrow viewers and it all feeds into the moneymaking machinery that can occasionally produce 60 hours of Breaking Bad.

    Without all the crap on TV, am I under any illusion that we could possibly have 5000 hours of Breaking Bad caliber programming on all the channels? No way. There’s no market for it. There are bottom feeders in the population all around us who consume the crap like it’s caviar. Those bottom-feeders make the studios rich. Then the rich film industry can afford to lavish a few millions on movies 12 Years a Slave. A studio that can con moviegoers into buying a $1 billon of tickets for a POS like The Hangover I, II & III can then afford to lose a few million on movies like Pacific Rim. (Thanks, WarnerBros, xox)

    …As a result, we have ourselves to blame…

    I know you’re speaking abstractly on behalf of the entire US population, rufussondheim, but NO. Fuck most of those assholes you’re blaming. Fuck ‘em and shrug ‘em off. Those people aren’t me and they aren’t you. They’re not any of us here. We don’t blame ourselves for voting for Bush and Romney if we didn’t vote for them. Likewise, we don’t need to “blame ourselves” for movies like Fast & Furious 6 either. I didn’t spend a dime to see Fast and Furious 1,2,3,4,5, so I’d be lost at part 6. It sounds really fast and full of furious fury and all that, but who gives a shit. Not me. So I don’t have to “blame myself” for those movies. Universal brought us Fast and Furious and Les Misérables last year, rufussondheim — are you gonna be mad at the studio that gave you Les Misérables? Are you blaming the Fast and Furious fans for all the millions they pumped into Universal so Universal could afford to spend the big bucks to do right by Les Misérables?

    I don’t hold any hard feelings about movie like Grown Ups 1 and Grownups 2 either, because that studio, Sony/Columbia, last year brought us Zero Dark Thirty — a movie that still needs a studio and distributor no matter how much money Megan Ellison throws at it. Because Megan can’t do it all by herself.

    So thanks, to all the people who bought tickets to Fast and Furious 6. Thanks to the dumbass Grownups 2 fans who inadvertently helped make Zero Dark Thirty possible. (Thanks also to the smart people who went to see Fast and Furious simply to have a good time with some friends). hey, I’ll confess, I eat junk food potato chips too. I just don’t have time to consume junk movies. So I don’t blame myself when they get made. I’m not mad they got made either. Because it’s all money money money for an industry that manages to make plenty of movies I admire.

  61. Kane
    November 13, 2013

    Ryan, I was really about to wonder if you ever indulge in a bit of junk food yourself because I felt like a dog hit on the nose with a newspaper. I am a fan of the Fast and Furious franchise but I don’t for a second take it as the next Picasso. I’m pretty highbrow myself but…it’s sort of like this. When I eat healthy and exercise I generally do so 6 days a week and the 7th day is just junk food. It’s kind of a good way to restart your system. That’s me and movies. I watched 12 Years a Slave on Sunday (loved it), L.A. Confidential again on Monday and (finally!) The Sessions last night with the wife. I have the urge to watch GI Joe or even finish The Man With the Iron Fists (notice how I say “finish”?) just because I need to turn my brain off now and again and watch some colorful costumes with Bruce Willis smirking and making da ‘splosions on blu-ray. It is a shame when people would rather watch junk than provocative, intelligent art but honestly if there were 5000 hours of Breaking Bad-like shows out there then Breaking Bad wouldn’t have been the gem it is.

  62. Kane
    November 13, 2013

    And maybe that’s a bad way of glorifying Breaking Bad but otherwise you wouldn’t be able to say “Breaking Bad is unlike anything else on TV.” Don’t mean to keep talking about Breaking Bad, it could be any great show or movie :)

  63. November 13, 2013

    Kane, I see movies that other people think are junk but still taste delicious to me. Movies like The Counselor and The Place Beyond the Pines. (And World War Z! and Pacific Rim!)

    I honestly have no idea if Fast and Furious movies would be fun for me or not. I did see about 45 minutes of one of them on HBO once and it was hard to switch the channel while it had hold of my balls. I should give them a chance.

    I didn’t mean to bash that franchise. It was just the first huge moneymaking juggernaut of men-talking-to-men-about-men-stuff movies that came to my mind.

  64. November 13, 2013

    Regarding Breaking Bad, from another angle: Bryan Cranston plugged away on dozens and dozens of TV series since 1980 so everything he does as an actor is a result of honing his craft for 25 years and acquiring the clout it took for him to become Walter White. He sprung from the depths of TV mediocrity — a fetid foundation that needed to be there in order for his career to grow.

    And who would’ve ever guessed that Vince Gilligan had it in him to create a series like Breaking Bad after being stranded on that island for all those years with Ginger and Mary Ann.

  65. November 13, 2013

    ” I felt like a dog hit on the nose with a newspaper.”

    (Sorry. I calmed down, went back and toned down my language, softened my harangue).

  66. rufussondheim
    November 13, 2013

    Last year we were lamenting the lack of quality films with black casts (I can’t recall why, maybe because of Middle of Nowhere) and that was the last time I blamed the movie going public. And lo and behold we have four high quality films that reached mainstream audiences (well, Fruitvale reached mainstream highbrow audiences) and now we might have our first film directed by a black man win Director and Picture. Plus we had the modest hits of 42 and The Butler, the probably hit of 12 Years and maybe just some good old fashion sentimental fun with Black Nativity. That’s five (hopefully) good films that should reach non-black audiences. Maybe studios will perk up and realize that there’s a world beyond Tyler Perry and his imitators.

    I don’t go seeking out female films or black films, I just look for films that are of high quality. And I think most of us are the same way. But when a film like Middle of Nowhere comes out and it doesn’t get audiences to see it, then it’s us. And I don’t mean a collective mainstream us, I mean it’s us, the people here on this website commenting and reading.

    I have no answers. But you get what you pay for.

  67. November 13, 2013

    rufussondheim, my friend, I don’t want to argue with you because I know without doubt that you have a big heart and its in the right place.

    But you cannot blame people all across the country and around the world for neglecting to go see Middle of Nowhere when the distributor NEVER got it into more than 24 theaters. 24 theaters. Maximum. 24 theaters for one fucking week.

    And it’s STILL NOT ON DVD. It’s inaccessible to anyone who might be dying to see it. Right?

    We can praise a film like Middle of Nowhere till our voices are exhausted, but if a tiny gem of a movie made basically on a credit card budget cannot get any advertising or distribution support, then you cannot scold the readers on this site for their failure to hop on a plane to fly to Manhattan to see it.

  68. Bryce Forestieri
    November 13, 2013

    Couple of thoughts:

    Bryan Cranston, yeah he mainly did forgettable TV stuff before BREAKING BAD, but I’d exclude MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE from that. Great TV, highly entertaining, precipitously funny, and smart without having “smart dialogue” except for Malcolm’s occasional rants. I’d recommend it in a heartbeat. Like THE WONDER YEARS and BOY MEETS WORLD, it’s a product of its time and daresay essential. Cranston even got Emmy nominations for his role there, and rightfully so. The character is also the complete opposite of White so you can appreciate Cranton’s rage by watching one episode of MALCOLM.

    Regarding the FAST franchise from a non-highbrow perspective,

    Disclosure: I liked 4 of them, and enjoyed another one, but #2 is horrible.

    Given the fact that it’s six freaking movies, I can confidently say that it’s not worth anyone’s time. The first film is a fun “serious business” kind of actioner that relied big time on the sexiness of Paul Walker and (back then?) Vin Diesel. It’s very, very 2001. sort of what RUNNER RUNNER was going for except the concept expired a decade ago after THE ITALIAN JOB. #2 was garbage, but since then they have progressively morphed into something else, and as of now the potential enjoyment of the flicks rest on:

    A) Whether you buy into Dwayne Johnson’s persona and supposed charisma
    B) Vin Diesel highly affected way of talking
    C) Cartoonish and illogical action by the ton
    D) Excessive, yet inadequately shot, hand-to-hand (think OBLIVION)
    E) Character interaction that only consists of “hilarious”, immature, unremarkable banter

    I admire a lot about THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES, first and foremost the ambition, but at some point I felt its reach exceeding its grasp (I know, I know, it’s the consensus’ complaint). It’s obvious to me this guy must have shot a ton of material. The couple deleted scenes (10min) we get to peek in the extras of the BD are so good you don’t understand why they were taken out, but in this market nobody’s gonna buy a ticket for a 3hr+ drama. Did he fall into a trap? Does the film behave well in this running time given the way he shot it? I read many people comparing it to THE GODFATHER for its epic and family-saga qualities, but I bet what Cianfrance was going for is a modern HEAVEN’S GATE. The acting was superb, but it feels like both generations were robbed of 40 min each, especially the Gosling character who was hypnotic on the film, and no I don’t mean because he was insanely fine, but he was.

  69. Tony
    November 13, 2013

    Ryan,
    Why spoil your otherwise good post with a political dig? I buy tickets to good movies, then I purchase the discs. I don’t buy tickets to crap movies or purchase the discs. I voted for Romney, and I don’t regret it. (The regret I see is coming from DC Democrats who voted for the Obamacare monstrosity. Good intentions alone don’t lead to good law. The latest Quinnipiac Poll: over 50% of Americans don’t find POTUS trustworthy.)

  70. Bryce Forestieri
    November 13, 2013

    Oh and finally I’m not in love with any of them but, but

    42 > LEE DANIEL’S THE BUTLER

    Insane how one has so much “Oscar potential” and the other is a nonstarter. Also think something like THE GREAT DEBATERS is miles better than THE BUTLER, while something like REMEMBER THE TITANS is superior to the collective of THE ARTIST, THE KING’S SPEECH, SLUMDOG, and ARGO.

  71. November 13, 2013

    Why spoil your otherwise good post with a political dig?

    It’s not a dig. I write in my own voice, Tony. As do you.

    If you think Romney is wonderful you say so. I think he’s a fraud and I say so.

    I don’t consider it a “dig” when you harp on the Affordable Care Act or make silly and crude wisecracks with your gender identity insults earlier today. I let it slide.

    You speak you own mind, Tony. So do I. Anyone here is free to side with the way I feel or oppose anything I say.

    How about I write 10 words on this page that annoy you and you’ve written 150 words that annoy me.

  72. November 13, 2013

    Universal brought us Fast and Furious and Les Misérables last year, rufussondheim — are you gonna be mad at the studio that gave you Les Misérables?

    Oh but I am. *is so pissed off*

  73. November 13, 2013

    Oh but I am. *is so pissed off*

    Think you’re pissed off now, just wait for Les Misérables II, III, IV, V and Les Misérables VI

  74. Tony
    November 13, 2013

    I was serious, when I asked about Sasha listing “DBC” as passing the test. I couldn’t recall a conversation between two named women. One person said Rayon was the second woman. No one else weighed in. Is Rayon indeed the second woman or not? That’s all I want to know! Sheesh.

  75. Tony
    November 13, 2013

    There was a side discussion above about small films. Yes, there’s no excuse for not putting out DVDs, but blame must rest with the elites in NYC, etc. for not going to see some of the small films. Which distributor will increase the theater count, when even the self-proclaimed smarties and arbiters of good taste don’t go?

  76. November 13, 2013

    Which distributor will increase the theater count, when even the self-proclaimed smarties and arbiters of good taste don’t go?

    2012. Rampart.
    opened in 5 theaters
    opening weekend – $60,000
    per screen average – $12,000

    Awards won from “self-proclaimed smarties”? NOTHING.

    Rampart eventually expanded to 106 theaters, was allowed to stay in theaters for THIRTEEN WEEKS — even when its per screen average dropped to a paltry 363 bucks per theater — so it earned a total of $969,000 and another $2 million on DVD and Blu-ray.

    2012. Middle of Nowhere.
    opened in 6 theaters
    opening weekend – $68,000
    per screen average $11,000

    Middle of Nowhere was cut off after expanding to 24 theaters, was yanked from theaters after only FOUR WEEKS when it was still earning a healthy $2,000 per screen. So it only earned $236,000. No DVD earnings at all because DVD? WHAT DVD?

    Awards won from “self-proclaimed smarties”?

    Sundance: Won Best Director, Ava DuVernay
    Spirit Awards: Won John Cassavetes Award, Ava DuVernay
    Black Reel Awards: Won Best Screenplat, Ava DuVernay.
    ……………….Won Best Director, Ava DuVernay
    Gotham Awards: Won Breakthrough Award, Emayatzy Corinealdi

    next question, Tony?

  77. November 13, 2013

    I believe that you were seriously baffled about the seriousness of gender identity for the gender conflicted, Tony.

    I also believe you “ruined” your serious question by turning this issue of personal torment and social hostility into a wink wink giggle giggle.

  78. Tony
    November 13, 2013

    Good for you, Ryan. You found a financially unsuccessful movie, “Rampart,” that managed to expand to a whopping 106 screens. Of course, the cast in “Rampart” consisted of known actors. I could see trying a little expansion beyond NY, LA, SF, DC. At least there was an outside chance that the movie would fare better outside of those places. When “Middle of Nowhere” couldn’t thrive in the “core” cities, it was done.

  79. Tony
    November 13, 2013

    Look, Ryan, I sympathize with people who have gender identity issues, sexual orientation issues, etc. I think we’re both around the same age, but I was born and raised in San Francisco. I’m pretty confident that I KNOWINGLY AND WILLINGLY socialized with more LGBTQ people, and more often, than you did. So, you had a problem with what I said about “Captain Phillips?” I guess that rhetorical devices, satire, irony, they belong to you exclusively.

  80. November 13, 2013

    I’m pretty confident that I KNOWINGLY AND WILLINGLY socialized with more LGBTQ people, and more often, than you did.

    Don’t be so confident. I lived in Bangkok for 7 years. I try not to joke about things that could hurt the feeling of people who’ve grown up bearing the brunt of jokes all their lives.

  81. November 13, 2013

    You found a financially unsuccessful movie, “Rampart,”

    You miss the point. Rampart was an indie made on an indie budget so its total earning of $3.5 mil was probably 3 or 4 times what it cost. Nobody lost money. In fact, wealthy people involved with Rampart got wealthier.

    Ava DuVernay’s Middle of Nowhere was not allowed to break even.

    106 theaters vs 24 puts Rampart in every major city in the country — it even screened in multiplexes in a town of 60,000 (trust me)

    24 theaters never lets a movie expand beyond the a few cities on each coast, plus Chicago and maybe Detroit. And — more importantly — it’s gone from all the markets before word of mouth has time to get around. Gone in one week.

    4 weeks and yanked vs. 13 weeks to find an audience. Yes, Tony, I think there were distribution issues that killed Middle of Nowhere. And yes, I think racism in smaller towns has a lot to do with it.

    Let me be clear. It’s not the distributor’s fault because Ava DuVernay had to act as her own distributor. Rampart had Roadside Attractions behind it, and that meant an advertising budget and advertising means awareness. If you can’t see that, there’s no point trying to explain the facts and show you the numbers.

    It’s not the distributor’s fault. It’s the fault of tight-ass theater-chain owners.

  82. Tony
    November 13, 2013

    I forgot. Some people can joke about some things. Other people can joke about some other things. Still others can joke about nothing at all. We all need to lighten up. If I had a nickel everytime I heard:
    – Italian? Broken anybody’s legs lately?
    – Catholic? Surprised that you can still sit down after all those priests.
    And on and on. Do I love the jokes? No. Do they scar my psyche? No.

  83. November 13, 2013

    Do I love the jokes? No. Do they scar my psyche? No.

    Bravo. You’re so brave. And because you’ve got such tough skin of course that means you assume everybody else has lizard scales too.

    You feel you have to endure Italian/Catholic jokes, so that gives you license to sneer about people whose “psyche” vulnerability put them at risk among the highest suicide rates in the country.

    Please continue teaching transgender kids how to “toughen up and take an insult like a man,” Tony.

  84. Tony
    November 13, 2013

    Theater ownership is a business, not a charity. You proved my point by bringing up Roadside. They have relationships with the theater owners, who will cut a little slack to one of their films that isn’t setting the box office ablaze.

  85. November 13, 2013

    – “Theater ownership is a business, not a charity.”
    – “Theaters cut a little slack to one of their films that isn’t setting the box office ablaze.”

    Which is it? Business? Or charitable slack-cutters?

  86. Tony
    November 13, 2013

    I never said to take it “like a man.” Yes, take it. Respond in kind; don’t respond at all. Do whatever you want, whatever makes you happy. Care more about what you think about yourself than what everybody else does.

  87. Tony
    November 13, 2013

    Slack cutting is not charity when you profit from the relationship overall.

  88. November 13, 2013

    I forgot. Some people can joke about some things.

    Here’s the deal Tony. You joked about the pirates in Captain Phillips maybe being transexuals and nobody noticed because we’re “not evolved enough.” Snide.

    Snide, but I shrugged it off because I know how you are and we’re pals and I’m accustomed to you sometimes sounding abrasive to me.

    But then I make 12-word remark about “Don’t blame me for voting for Romney and Bush because I didn’t.”

    And you crawl up my ass about “getting in a dig” and “ruining” everything I was trying to say — just because you’re hypersensitive about your favorite Republican shitheads.

    So yes, you want to get in my face about writing what I think, I’m tired of it. Okay?

  89. Tony
    November 13, 2013

    Full disclosure: I made a small investment in a theater chain a year ago. They’ve paid me a 5% dividend, plus a nice special dividend; and the stock price is up 20%.

  90. November 13, 2013

    That’s great. I mean it. Goodnight.

  91. November 13, 2013

    Can we please now have two female characters join this discussion so Tony and I can exit stage left and put our swinging dicks away? Thanks.

  92. Tony
    November 13, 2013

    Yes, we’re pals in spite of it all.

    I took your Romney comment as implying that Romney voters are stupid, just like the stupid people who go to crappy movies; they are the same people.

    It looks like you took my comment to mean transsexuals, whereas I meant that some of the crew might be questioning their gender identity. I sincerely was trying to determine if/how Rayon fit into the Bechdel Test.

  93. November 13, 2013

    whereas I meant that some of the crew might be questioning their gender identity.

    I thought that much was obvious. They’re sailors.

  94. Tony
    November 13, 2013

    Yes, please! (Besides, “Modern Family” and “American Horror Story” are on soon.)

    Jeez, one of the other threads encouraged everyone to rub one out. Now, I’m encouraged to put it away!

  95. November 13, 2013

    Okay I have a question. What happened to when movies used to travel? For example I remember wanting to see MULHOLLAND DRIVE knowing it would never get here. So I went to Boston to see it. However, it did eventually get here which surprised me. If I remember right from watching the release pattern there were never that many copies but they kept travelling. So one theater would get it for a week or two and then that copy would move. So over award season it kinda got everywhere.

  96. Tony
    November 13, 2013

    Ha ha! Indeed, any port in storm will do for seamen. It’s the only explanation for my paternal grandmother having 7 kids.

    (Maybe there has been a female the whole time. One of those Bensonmum is Yetta situations. Or maybe not.)

  97. Tony
    November 13, 2013

    Antoinette, digital projection came along a few years after MD.

  98. November 13, 2013

    Oh right. Thanks. :)

  99. Manuel
    November 14, 2013

    Tony: The Jennifer Garner character is having some but short dialogues with the nurses at the hospital in Dallas Buyers Club

    The Rufus test:
    Brokeback Mountain
    Elizabeth
    Milk
    The English Patient
    Deliverance
    Kiss of the Spider Woman
    Midnight Cowboy

  100. December 12, 2013

    本当は空気に触れさせないのが一番なのですが、洋服ですからね。そういうわけにはいきませんよね。

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