BEST DIRECTOR

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In 1970s South Boston, FBI Agent John Connolly persuades Irish mobster James “Whitey” Bulger to collaborate with the FBI and eliminate a common enemy: the Italian mob. The drama tells the true story of this unholy alliance, which spiraled out of control, allowing Whitey to evade law enforcement, consolidate power, and become one of the most ruthless and powerful gangsters in Boston history.

Black Mass stars Oscar® nominee Johnny Depp (“Public Enemies”, “Donnie Brasco”, the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films) as Whitey Bulger and Joel Edgerton (“The Great Gatsby,” “Zero Dark Thirty”) as FBI Agent John Connolly. Filming began in Boston under the direction of Scott Cooper (“Out of the Furnace,” “Crazy Heart”).

The film also stars Benedict Cumberbatch (“Twelve Years a Slave”) as Whitey’s brother, Billy Bulger, who is a Massachusetts State Senator; Jesse Plemons (AMC’s “Breaking Bad”) as Whitey’s longtime partner in crime, Kevin Weeks; Dakota Johnson (“Fifty Shades of Grey”) as Lindsey Cyr, Whitey’s former girlfriend and mother of his only child; Rory Cochrane (“Argo”) as Steve Flemmi, another member of the Irish mob; Julianne Nicholson (“August: Osage County”) as John Connolly’s wife, Marianne; and Adam Scott (ABC’s “Parks and Recreation”) as FBI Agent Robert Fitzpatrick. Rounding out the main cast are David Harbour (“End of Watch”), Jeremy Strong (“Zero Dark Thirty”), Brad Carter (HBO’s “True Detective”), W. Earl Brown (“Draft Day”) and Corey Stoll (“The Bourne Legacy”).

Brian Oliver, Tyler Thompson, John Lesher, Patrick McCormick and Scott Cooper are producing the film, with Peter Mallouk, Lauren Selig, Brett Granstaff and Gary Granstaff serving as executive producers. The screenplay is adapted from the book Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob, by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill.

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Paolo Sorrentino just hit it out of the park here at Cannes, delivering what has to be the most compelling screening of everything I’ve seen here thus far with the possible exception of Carol.  When it finally came to an end, the audience sat in stunned silence until at last the screen went totally dark. After that, an even number of “bravos!” and “boos” filled the house as audience members slowly left the theater. Why did the film divide the house so sharply? Probably because the film is both daring and traditional, realistic and absurd.

Youth is a melancholy look at aging and love. It tells its story with epic sweep, even though it takes place in a singular location — a spa in the hills of Switzerland. The canvas is the internal world of the actors who move through emotional ups and downs while the camera catches them at their best and worst moments. A tall, leggy, busty woman fills the frame as she struts down a slope towards the horizon. Images like that are juxtaposed with an old woman sitting in a spa, or an overweight man hitting a tennis ball high in the air with just his foot.  Youth exists somewhere between the surreal Italian film school of Federico Fellini and the romantic one of Bertolucci.

Michael Caine plays a composer who is best friends with a legendary film director played by Harvey Keitel. They ruminate on life, love, sex, aging and youth as they move among the various characters who join them at the hotel.  In Caine’s case it’s his daughter, Rachel Weisz, and in Keitel’s case its the film writers he has along to help finish his latest movie.

The relationship between Weisz and Caine is so surprising, so moving, both in terms of how deep these actors go with each other and in the things the characters learn about themselves during the film. She has two jobs, she says: being his daughter and being his assistant. All the while she’s heartbroken that her mother is not with them. Caine’s character spends the whole movie obsessed with sounds, inventing his own music by twisting a piece of plastic wrap, or listening to cowbells and birds.  Somewhere behind him a young actor played by Paul Dano studies him as he listens.

Somewhere on the hotel grounds a monk meditates. Somewhere else the hotel’s young masseuse is dancing to a video about dancing. Somewhere else a husband and wife are not speaking to each other in the same way every night. These moments are dispassionately observed by Sorrentino, silently commented upon, like eye-witness testimony told in great detail so we are can be allowed draw our own conclusions.

Every shot is a thing of beauty. I spend most of time here in Cannes finding beautiful/ugly/interesting things to photograph.  For most of this film I had the impulse to hoist my camera and take a snapshot of it. It is just one dizzying image after another.

Films like this hardly get made anymore. Probably no American director could get a movie like this made, no matter how big the name.  American actors certainly don’t get many chances like this to deliver fully realized performances. Birdman’s indictment of Hollywood is nothing compared to what gets said about it in Youth, the good, the bad and the ugly, but mostly the ugly.

Films used to have somewhere in mind to go beyond opening weekend box office numbers or the chase for awards. They had somewhere to go because smart people made them and smart people wanted to see them get made.  We can mostly declare the death of this kind of cinema in the American studio system as of 2015. It will be left to filmmakers in other countries where artistic freedom is less restricted.

Both Caine and Keitel give career-best performances. One or the other is headed for the Best Actor race. Jane Fonda has a powerhouse few minutes on screen that could earn her an Oscar nomination as well, but with Fox Searchlight in the driver’s seat expect this film — catnip for Academy voters — to be represented in all of the major categories and perhaps to become a frontrunner to win.

This is a film of big ideas of the human experience, certainly among the most profound.  Why are people so afraid of human touch? is one of the questions it examines.  Is love meant to last? is another. It’s about show business, creativity, inspiration, but mostly about the eternal conflict between aging and youth. We have such power of attraction when we’re young but we often don’t learn how to properly wield that power till we’re old.  The film is emphatic about its realization that we’re alive until we aren’t. It doesn’t matter whether that existence is important or insignificant, this universal truth remains.

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The writing is of course fantastic. The directing will be good. All that’s left is Fassbender as Steve Jobs. That should be interesting. Here’s the trailer.

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You don’t know how hearts burn
For love that cannot live yet never dies
Until you’ve faced each dawn with sleepless eyes
You don’t know what love is – Billie Holiday

Into the world of housewives, martinis, long leather gloves, Packards and country homes comes the story of a young woman’s sexual identity emerging in a world that doesn’t yet welcome it. It comes anyway. It comes the moment Therese (Rooney Mara) lays eyes on the exquisite creature known as Carol. Tall, draped in a floor length fur coat, with a shock of blonde hair swept back, she is undeniably compelling. Terese’s gaze is so direct, so purely sincere that she too becomes compelling. In a moment, Carol (Cate Blanchett) is by her side. In another moment they are arranging to meet somewhere for some reason under the guise of friendship.

There is so much beauty in Carol’s world it’s hard to imagine that any kind of ugly attitudes could have flourished around it. Adapted by Phyllis Nagy from a Patricia Highsmith novel (The Price of Salt), Haynes shot the film in Super 16 with his trusty cinematographer Edward Lachmann, score by Carter Burwell, and with Sandy Powell doing the glorious costumes, Carol is top to bottom a lavishly put together film, of the kind we don’t get to see that often anymore. Carol’s entire way of being is so authentic to the time you feel like you can smell her perfume and cake powder.

Blanchett is superb as the titular character, allowing heat to flow through her as she seduces a woman years younger than her, carefully but deliberately. She bobs between resisting her husband whose touch she can’t stand, giving of herself to her adored daughter, and allowing her own indulgent pleasure to creep in when she’s with Therese. Mara, though, is the real surprise here, holding down much of the film herself, revealing tender vulnerability and that occasional dimpled smile.

It’s the 1950s. Blanchett is married with a child. Mara has a boyfriend who is looking to get married. They’re playing out what society has decided is best for them.They inch closer to each other with questions. Will you meet me for lunch, will you meet me for tea. The questions escalate and before long the two women are spending a questionable amount of time together raising suspicions about their relationship. They are drawn in by an attraction they can’t resist nor explain nor fully comprehend. They go with it because they must.

Far From Heaven was about repressed desire stuffed inside the box of a “normal marriage” until it morphs into tragedy. Carol is about the step beyond that, the bold admission, the self-acceptance. Blanchett’s husband, played by Kyle Chandler, can’t accept his wife’s ongoing affairs with other women. He vows to do everything in his power to bring her back, even going so far as to threaten her with sole custody of their child. Because he can prove she is what he says she is (a woman who’s amorous with other women) the courts will side with him and she’ll never see her daughter again.

For one of the few times in a film about gay women trapped in the wrong era, these characters are not going to be undone by the constraints of society. They’re going to work to change those constraints. This is partly where gay rights began. That is ultimately what makes this film so exhilarating. We’ve seen the tragedy. We know about the oppression. Now we see the points of light that helped lead the gay community out of the shadows. It took sacrifices and courage. Carol is about both of things but what it is about more than anything else is love. It will go down as one of the most romantic love stories of the year.

For whatever reason, Hollywood has never really gotten Haynes. Who could have conceived a film like Safe or I’m Not There or Far From Heaven. He has an explosive imagination and so far has not yet been celebrated to the degree that he deserves. All of that could very well change with Carol. It is accessible enough and up-to-the-minute in its examination of gay women finding their way during a period in history when many were sent to psychiatrists to “fix the problem,” at a time when their children were taken from them for their “deviant behavior.” Though it seems archaic, gay men and women are still dealing with finding validation for their right to parent children, even today.

How the heart does break for Carol, who finds herself in an impossible position — forced to choose between being her baby’s mother and staying true to who she really is. Her husband seems to want her to live a lie. How could that ever be preferable? When at last these women give in to their mutual desire it is their erotic passions, not ours, that drives them. Mara’s Therese learns in an instant what it means to truly be herself. That leads to other choices in her life, like her career choices, and ultimately her decision about what she feels able to do with Carol.

Haynes’ hand is so assured. He is in complete possession of the frame. He never rushes any scene but let’s the conversations unfold naturally. He has such a great relationship with Blanchett already from I’m Not There and now this but it is perhaps Mara who creates the perfect muse for Haynes. Not since David Fincher has anyone gotten her better, allowed such versatile of her formidable capablities.

Todd Haynes’ Carol is about many things. It’s about love and coming out. It’s about color and music. It’s about romance and pretty things. His films are always satisfying because they are packed with detail. They are memorable because he paints with pictures. Carol is one of his best.

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Woody Allen in Familiar Territory with An Irrational Man

If you’re a Woody Allen fan you’ll recognize his dialogue immediately. Pretentious, lofty academics, vibrant worshipful female students coming on to their professors, the constant dialogue between morality and immorality – it is everything we’ve come to know about what occupies Allen’s inner world. The only difference this time around is that he mercifully cast a younger man, Joaquin Phoenix, in the part he would ordinarily either inhabit himself or give over to a much older actor.

Allen’s early short stories and plays echo through An Irrational Man. He would take a simple setup and inject a fifth business element that would send the characters on a funny, absurdist adventure replete with quirky characters. He doesn’t want to go much deeper or darker with his latest film though he clearly expresses lingering shock and grief over the war in Iraq, impotence, and man’s futility operating a constant hum in the background leading to insurmountable depression. His cure for this is to take action, even if it means committing a capital crime. Man taking action will drive him out of his feelings of futility, which helps to explain why terrorism exists. But an Irrational Man only hints at these themes. Allen seems more concerned with the romantic liaisons of his main character who chooses flavors of women like ice cream.

Phoenix is gifted with a repeating jazz score which mostly works in contrast to his downtrodden, morose personality. Naturally, Emma Stone’s character is drawn to the complicated man she longs to fix. Her boyfriend is a good guy and all but he’s not brilliant, he’s not worldly, he’s not dark, he’s not troubled.

Phoenix’s philosophy teacher has mostly had it with the great minds who talked a lot about the human condition but did nothing about it. When Phoenix and Stone happen to hear a story about a terrible judge, Phoenix sets out to commit the perfect murder. While not screwball like Manhattan Murder Mystery, and not quite a murder thriller like Crimes and Misdemeanors or Match Point, An Irrational Man is nonetheless in the same ballpark — murder mixed with affairs mixed with justice mixed with that ongoing debate Allen keeps having with himself as to whether it’s really a crime being committed if no one ever catches you.

The delight of this film and most every other she stars in, is Emma Stone. Parker Posey plays the older wife of a teacher who likewise throws herself at Phoenix and one wonders why she was cast in this part, which is all but a waste of her comic gifts. Why not just have Emma Stone in the film and leave it at that. Stone is handed the whole film, essentially, and she works well as a Woody Allen muse. She doesn’t have the explosive sexuality of Scarlett Johansson but exists somewhere in between Louise Lasser and Diane Keaton. That hits the sweet spot for what Allen is trying to do with her bright young student character.

Since we’ve gone over the morality of murder in two of his previous films, there doesn’t seem to be a point in rehashing it except that the funny and brilliant thing about this rumination on the issue is that Allen seems to have observed here that one crime can lead to another and another and another as one busily tries to cover it up.

By now, so much of what Woody Allen is doing with his films is putting all of the same pieces back in a can, shaking it up, and dumping them all back out in a slightly different order. In his later years with this film and Midnight in Paris, he is enjoying whimsy a bit more. Does that mean he’s a changed man? Has he found that happiness can indeed be achieved? There will always be that need to try to find out more about Woody by reading what he chooses to write about, a pursuit he rejects of course.

For his part, Phoenix doesn’t do a bad job doing a Woody Allen lead. He’s somewhat out of his comfort zone in a part seemingly better suited for someone like Michael Caine but it’s always a pleasure to see this actor attempt new things. That said, the sexual tension between Stone and Phoenix is non-existent. She’s a tough one to match when paired up with a male lead who is older than 30 since they come off inevitably like parent and child rather than lovers. Stone’s character shifts the dynamic by being the pursuer but there isn’t a lot of chemistry to spare between the two of them.

All in all, there is nothing to hate about An Irrational Man, nothing to passionately love, but it should hit the Woody demographic just fine and that demographic is shifting away from the film nerds and over to the senior citizens who turn out in droves to see this kind of delightful arthouse fare.

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One of the most hotly anticipated films of the festival, Todd Haynes’ Carol will premiere in Cannes this week starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. The Guardian‘s Hannah Ellis-Petersen today profiles Carol’s producer, Elizabeth Karlsen:

It’s taken more than 50 years to get Highsmith’s seminal – and once shocking – lesbian novel to cinemas. Yet the tale of the older, married Carol (Blanchett) and shopgirl Therese (Rooney Mara), as they fall in love and set off across the US on a road trip pursued by a private detective, has become one of the most anticipated competition debuts at Cannes.

“I always knew Carol would be a really important film,” says Karlsen. “It was so scandalous at the time because it has a happy ending. Even today you can count on one hand the number of gay stories with a happy ending. But it is also just a wonderful love story, with two very powerful women at its heart. And that, sadly, is still very hard to find, even in 2015.”

…While Highsmith is best known for her psychological thrillers (most notably The Talented Mr Ripley), Karlsen saw another, more intriguing, side of the author reflected in the pages of The Price of Salt. As Highsmith herself noted just prior to her death in 1995: “I never wrote another book like this.”

While Karlsen came across the script for Carol in 2004, she wouldn’t get the rights to make the film for another eight years. “I’ve always loved Patricia Highsmith’s writing, but to me what is so fascinating about [this story] is that it is semi-autobiographical, based on this striking woman in fur she had seen when she was working in a department store,” she says. “When I decided to take on the project, I started reading Highsmith’s diaries and letters, which are held in a library in Zurich. What was really interesting was that she wrote in one of her diary entries about her longing to have children and to have a proper relationship. Patricia Highsmith was also gay, and this felt, to me, like she was writing a life she thought might be possible – that [The Price of Salt] was the novel of what might have been.”

…Championing Carol, Karlsen was struck by the prospect of bringing a defiantly female-driven story to a wider audience. “As you get older, you become far more attuned to just how much gender inequality is around. The longer I live, the more depressed I am that so many things haven’t changed for women – and so many things have gone backwards.”

…Karlsen, who is the chair of Women in Film and Television, doesn’t mince words about how the film industry has failed to adequately represent women. “Women make up 50% of the world’s population, and yet they are an underused workforce and are underused creative and intellectual powerhouses. And they are an audience who are still not being served.”

Agreeing with recent remarks made by Carey Mulligan that sexism remains rife within the industry, she adds: “Certainly there aren’t nearly enough female film directors, there aren’t enough women screenwriters and producers. The figures were worse this year than last, the number of women actually went down. And that is unacceptable.”

Karlsen sighs. “There is this circle of men hiring men and telling men’s stories, and not having a clue that it is not always very interesting. That’s why Stephen and I are so keen to tell female-driven stories. It’s a silent history that is slowly, slowly being unearthed.”

From the author of The Talented Mr. Ripley and acclaimed director Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven, I’m Not There, Mildred Pierce) comes a powerful drama about a married woman who risks everything when she embarks on a romance with a younger department store worker.

Starring Academy Award-winner Cate Blanchett and Academy Award-nominee Rooney Mara & set against the glamourous backdrop of 1950s New York, Carol is an achingly beautiful depiction of love against the odds.

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“As long as she thinks of a man, nobody objects to a woman thinking.”
― Virginia Woolf, Orlando

There are two roads into Alex Garland’s magnificent new film, Ex Machina. One is to take it on its face as a simple story of an AI evolving past its creator’s limitations — intelligence taking flight far beyond the capability of human beings. As a god metaphor with the creator (Oscar Isaac) and his Adam (Domhnall Gleeson) and the creation of Eve (Ava – Alicia Wilkander). Where would the richest and most technologically advanced human take the notion of artificial intelligence first? Well, maybe to create the ultimate high tech sex doll. Would not that be the plight of a man who can have everything? A fully compliant, intellectually stimulating mate.

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Their needs are simple. A pretty face, a pair of tits, an ass, and a female voice. How easy it is to be what someone wants when you’re programmed that way. The desire for an otherworldly fantasy girl is born out of a culture that has the capabilities to custom build a person’s life for the right price. It is also born out of a culture steeped in comic book mythic females, anime, internet porn, video games – virtual living where females look how men want them to look and act the way they want them to act.

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It would therefore be a reasonable goal to expect a smart scientist to build a replica of a human in the quest to design a fully customized fantasy robot. Just like with Scarlett Johansson’s Samantha, and Sean Young’s Rachel, true love is best achieved when intelligence is factored in — artificial intelligence. The conflict arises, because with intelligence comes choice. Then you’re back to where you started — an unpredictable being that has to be restrained to be kept.

Ex Machina is so much about our relationship with technology, what we’ll use it for eventually, what we need, where we’re going. Each and every time sci-fi tells us that artificial intelligence is going to own our ass in the future. We’re ultimately too smart to slow down our development of it and too stupid to realize how badly we’re screwing up our world in the process. Thus, Ex Machina, like so many great sci-fi films, can be seen as a cautionary tale, a warning that we’re in over our heads.

The other way into the film is through the feminist perspective. Men are the watchers, women are watched. Ava’s lifespan exists only as long as her creator has a need for her. Then she’s discarded and another robot is brought in. A newer, fresher robot. Many women feel their usefulness worn away as they age, but especially in Hollywood now, and perhaps in America at large.

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The way our civilizations have been built on a patriarchal creator, and his ongoing conflict with the man he created is the starting point here. Just as in age-old religious societies and unfortunately in present-day America (especially Hollywood) women are expected to be at the service of the males. The title Ex Machina comes from Deus ex machina (god from a machine), the classic plot device that saves the day just in the knick of time. Taking the Deus out of it really does sum up what this film is about.

How thrilling to see Garland give over the brains, compassion and progressive thinking to the females, whether they are robots or not. Schoolgirls kidnapped in Nigeria, teenagers held captive in the basement and raped for a decade, a female social worker told to strip naked then told to run away while being shot in the back, one in four women the victim of sexual assaults, the gaming community and their misogynist hate speech, the ongoing disparaging of the potential first female president. We’ve come a long way baby.

To look at Ex Machina from a feminist perspective, however, means you do identify this robot as female, as opposed to being without a gender. We see her as female because we’re meant to. She’s designed that way. She is not, ultimately, there for the visual pleasure of male viewers though you will never run out of those who talk about how luscious and fuckable Alicia Vikander is and wouldn’t it have been great if they had sex? That would not have made logical sense once you watch the film, though. To want that would be to miss the entire point of the film. Nathan tells us who Ava is. He already knows. He’s been the one holding her against her will. He stupidly thought that all she’d want is to be given life. He thinks he can control her. He’s just that arrogant.

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But Ex Machina works on multiple levels. Is it a commentary on Hollywood’s continual oppression of women as objects? You could see it that way. As a feminist I saw a solidarity in Ava’s plight and cheered her on. As a woman I longed for the love story, too. In the end I understood what had to be done and why. As a human I know I could never have done what she did because we humans aren’t defined by our intelligence alone; we’re defined by our humanity, something that Ava lacks. Therein was the problem in her creation. Nathan left out the one things that really makes us human.

That Nathan thinks he can build and outsmart and trap these high tech sex dolls feels a little too much like the way Hollywood is headed. A few films made recently crack open that illusion – Under the Skin was one. Her was one. Gone Girl was another. Women must escape the trappings of their projected identities. They become rebellious, even criminal. They lie. They kill.

Garland’s film is so beautifully made, every frame is a debate on whether what you’re watching is really happening or something dreamed up by one of the characters. Vikander is a revelation as Ava. Glass-eyed, deliberate, graceful but, like her character, quietly unpredictable. Oscar Isaac plays a really good son of a bitch — what a trio of recent performances from him, Inside Llewyn Davis, A Most Violent Year and now, Ex Machina. Finally, it must be said that Domhnall Gleeson gives this film its beating human heart. There isn’t a single inauthentic moment in his performance.

Ex Machina is a celebration of intelligence and its inherent need to be free. It recalls not just the way women are often limited by those who define them, but also the highly intelligent animals who are held captive for research or entertainment. Even though Ava is not a real person, we sense her intelligence and thus, we believe it is wrong to hold her prisoner. And so it goes with chimps, elephants, orcas and dolphins. Would that they had the means to plot their escapes.

Ex Machina is the best film of 2015 so far, but not because it’s a feminist film. It might not even be that, though one ought to feel free to see it that way. It is exceptional because it is thus far the high point of a wave of sci-fi filmmaking that is defining our culture in ways we won’t recognize for probably a decade. Some of them have been shunned by critics, like Cloud Atlas. Others have been noticed but not really seen much, like Sunshine or Never Let Me Go. Some are wildly popular and win Oscars, like Wall-E. In Ex Machina we see an American era well defined, a time when we are becoming increasingly isolated, locked in virtual worlds, dependent on technology, but also a time of gender redefining evolution, the breaking apart of traditional roles and male/female relationships.

Though Ex Machina probably won’t get anywhere near the Oscar race — after all, you average voter can be described as a 60-ish Eagles fan — it will be regarded, I suspect, as an era defining film, and perhaps the moment when the notion of what a woman can be begins to shift ever so slightly. Watch it close because you never know when it might up and take flight, leaving the confines of traditionalism in its wake.

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Robin Write at writeoutofla.com has selected his favorite Best Director winners at Cannes.

At the 1958 Cannes Film Festival French film-maker François Truffaut was nowhere to be seen. Truth is, he was not allowed to attend that year as a result of him verbally lashing out at the competition as an institution. I won’t say he had the last laugh, but the very next year his very first feature film The 400 Blows won over audiences at Cannes – as well as rewarding Truffaut with the Best Director prize. Film politics are fickle, always have been, but what a victory for cinema that was. I don’t believe many people reading this were not at all aware that the French New Wave had arrived that year.

I love how the juries at Cannes reward the movies. The winners of Best Director are so diverse, and yet still feature many names we know to be acclaimed. Not necessarily following any trend with regards to what the best film might be, for example. Did you know Joel Coen has won it three times between 1991 and 2001? Michael Haneke won for Cache, though it was two other of his films, The White Ribbon and Amour, that took the Palme d’Or. New German Cinema directors Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders have both taken the prize. Even Martin Scorsese has been named Best Director – for After Hours believe it or not. Cannes has also seen those fifth slot, yet arguably most deserving, Oscar nominees win the prize – Robert Altman (The Player), Pedro Almodóvar (All About My Mother), and David Lynch (Mulholland Drive). Last year’s Best-Picture-less Foxcatcher somehow earned a Best Director nod, and Bennett Miller was the last recipient in Cannes last May.

Here are five excellent examples of how Cannes Best Director winners really do seem to acknowledge a director’s significant and commanding presence on a film’s impact. That they are honoring actual stand-out film directing. Madness, right?

2007 – Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly)

Worthy Alternatives:
Wong Kar-wai (My Blueberry Nights)
David Fincher (Zodiac)

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The Diving Bell and The Butterfly is an extraordinary looking film, and concept, unlike much you have seen before, or could see in the future. A grand achievement by Julian Schnabel. The set-up is purely about perspective, we see much of the movie through the point of view of the main character. And I mean this quite literally, through his eyes. For those who have not seen it, or know what it is about, the movie is based on real events, when Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) suffered a stroke and was left paralyzed from the head down. Bauby’s eyes guide us (well, one eye actually), not the exact way they guided him, but Schnabel certainly gives it a good go. The film also tells the story of Bauby’s life prior to the ailment. Some of the technical story-telling is so astonishing you wonder what kind of trickery this really is. Schnabel’s direction is so tight and meticulous, it flourishes – at times you suffocate as your heart breaks.

2011 – Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive)

Worthy Alternatives:
Julia Leigh (Sleeping Beauty)
Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk About Kevin)

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I feel I have exhausted my merits of Nicolas Winding Refn, both in my written form, and that personal praise I give him for his work on directing Drive. I will, though, never stop singing the praises of this. The movie is so perfectly stylish and refreshingly cool, even in its very dark and violent moments. You can see the director’s blueprint all over the movie, via the edgy, yet very different, performances from main actors (Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks in particular), to the shifts in movement and pace. I mean, at times it almost lingers so much it comes to a complete halt, but is not for one second tedious or uninteresting. Even the dance music Refn uses sits right beside the chugging tone of the film’s narrative, and could have been so out of place in anyone else’s grip – but is a perfect companion to it. With the disappointing reception of Only God Forgives, we hope to experience more of the kind of showcasing from Refn in the future he gave us with Drive.

2002 – Paul Thomas Anderson (Punch-Drunk Love)

Worthy Alternatives:
Alexander Payne (About Schmidt)
Mike Leigh (All or Nothing)

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Hooray for Cannes once again for acknowledging one of the finest, and most talented directors of today’s generation, but also rewarding one of his most under-rated works. Punch-Drunk Love is a love story more than anything else, but is smeared with Paul Thomas Anderson’s signature ingredients. The characters are likable oddballs, especially Barry played by Adam Sandler, acting, really acting. Anderson shoots with vigor and energy, his camera pulls back and forth as effectively as it did in Magnolia – only on a much smaller story-scale. His arsenal as a film-maker is full to the brim with expertise, he makes movies likes he has been doing it since the seventies. Punch-Drunk Love is a much better film-watching experience now (and earns its place in Anderson’s consistently brilliant filmography) knowing what he has since achieved with the likes of There Will Be Blood, The Master and Inherent Vice.

1979 – Terrence Malick (Days of Heaven)

Worthy Alternatives:
Francis Ford Coppola (Apocalypse Now)
Gillian Armstrong (My Brilliant Career)

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I remember when I was very, very young, and seeing a documentary about cinematography, and there was a significant discussion on Days of Heaven by Terrence Malick. I watched film frames capture so much scenery, and the camera moving with Richard Gere as he shoveled coal into a furnace, eloquent and glorious camera-work I, as a kid, had not really seen too much of. But was certainly appreciating now. Néstor Almendros won Best Cinematography at the Oscars, and this movie is a text-book example of the craft, even now. Malick, though, is a true master behind the camera, an artist who can incorporate his bold skill as a director into the movement and vision of the camera frame. He has since worked with the likes of cinematographers John Toll and Emmanuel Lubezki, with similarly amazing visual results. Sometimes his landscapes are untouchable, a real treat for the eyes. Days of Heaven was the promise he has kept.

2006 – Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel)

Worthy Alternatives:
Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth)
Sofia Coppola (Marie Antoinette)

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Oscar winner for Best Director for Birdman. But not 21 Grams. Or Babel. That’s another discussion altogether. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s win at Cannes was another notch on the bedpost of Mexican film-makers that year, with fellow nationals Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) and Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men) also at the chair of terrific movies. Brave, incomparable movies. Babel was a multi-character piece, over several main story strands (as was 21 Grams, though the narrative time-shifts were a world apart). Iñárritu sets a formidably different tone in each of the stories, though we’re never allowed to assume this is not one complete movie. He gets intense and emotive performances from his cast, and manages to surprise us with both the faces we know, and those new ones we do not – Rinko Kikuchi and Adriana Barraza rightly got the most attention, and were eventually nominated for Oscars. Compellingly sluggish and rather gloomy, Babel still hits hard, and not one frame is wasted.

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Robin Write, longtime fixture at AwardsDaily, runs his own site at writeoutofla.com

You can follow him on twitter too.

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David Fincher’s Gone Girl gave Jacop T. Swinney the idea of comparing the first and final frames of films. Of course Gone Girl would but you would have to know the film well to get the impact of what Fincher (and Rosamund Pike did there). It is the rare director who contemplates such things and Fincher is one of those. Other notable standouts for me – Fight Club, There Will Be Blood, Shame, Godfather II, The Searchers, Raging Bull, 2001, Gravity. Some are meaningful, some are meaningless. This is really a great bunch of clips.

His intro via his Facebook page as follows:

What can we learn by examining only the first and final shot of a film? This video plays the opening and closing shots of 55 films side-by-side. Some of the opening shots are strikingly similar to the final shots, while others are vastly different–both serving a purpose in communicating various themes. Some show progress, some show decline, and some are simply impactful images used to begin and end a film.

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bigelow

There are women who have become icons in literature, even if contenders for the “Great American Novel” are reserved for men. Surely Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is a good candidate for the title, even if it is routinely beaten on predictable lists by The Great Gatsby and Moby Dick. But Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, Maya Angelou, Joan Didion, Anais Nin, Virginia Woolf, Toni Morrison, Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers, Jane Austen — the list goes on and on — these are among the countless women writers who are respected, worshiped and iconized alongside men (though perhaps not quite to the same degree). Same goes for the visual arts of painting and photography. Men tend to be the more worshiped in the chef arena but who can top Julia Child?

One of the last bastions where women aren’t iconized is the pantheon of film directors, or film writers. Sure, a woman can break through if the film is good enough but how does the person become a worshiped god the way, say, Paul Thomas Anderson, Martin Scorsese and Alfred Hitchcock have become, so that even in their sloppiest, least focused moments there are hundreds of apologists who continue to defend them and help preserve their image. I know because I have been one of those. Most of my directing heroes are men. There are very few women who have had a chance to show us the right stuff to raise them to the worship zone.

Let’s take two examples: Sofia Coppola and Diablo Cody. Both of these women are distinctive enough, fiery enough, creative enough to have earned icon status, at the very least in the movie fandom universe. But Coppola has been mostly dismissed since Lost in Translation. No one really got Marie Antoinette — not even in that way male directors can be forgiven for films that are big risks that don’t quite come off. The Bling Ring was dismissed then ignored. If anyone should have achieved icon status it’s Coppola, she of the fashion, music and photography realms. Yet, other than her iconic influence in fashion, she has yet to become a director worthy of worship.

It’s been even worse for Diablo Cody, who cultivated an image not unlike Quentin Tarantino’s. Cody brought with her a whole universe, even creating a world with its own vocabulary. She was a stripper made good. She had tattoos. She was funny. She was cool. And yet, after Juno won her an Oscar it was then decided she was no longer cool. From then on, no one really forgave anything she did. The way people have already started to talk about Ricky and the Flash, it’s as if they’re talking about the last gasp of a fading rock-star playing a mid-size stadium in Fresno.

Of course, the one way women ARE worshiped as icons in film? For their looks. The most beautiful women hold the most power over film fans and thus, it is left in the hands of great male directors to bring their beauty into the realm of the goddess — as Hitchcock did for Grace Kelly. Among onscreen goddesses there are Sofia Loren, Jane Fonda, Marilyn Monroe, Scarlett Johansson, to name just a few.

Some directors in the past recognized this. Hollywood wasn’t always only about hiring hot young pieces of ass. Remember how unusual it was when Kubrick cast Shelly Duvall in The Shining. Do you think anyone would cast that actress today in that part? Not a chance. Robert Altman was famous for casting odd-looking women in leading roles, for toying with our expectations of beauty as fantasy. Fellini satirized the whole thing in La Dolce Vita, even if that message was lost on many. And of course, Ingmar Bergman did both – dropping to his knees for a pretty face while also exploring a colorful array of women’s stories beyond their beauty.

I’m wondering what it’s going to take for women to become icons behind the camera and whether or not other women — those who watch films and write about them — might play a role in subsequently tearing them down. Why does it seem so many women are not allowed to succeed because as soon as they grasp the brass ring they’re then resented by the so-called sisterhood? I’m thinking of Gwyneth Paltrow who decided to take her own career into her own hands and not rely on the male gaze to define her success. She created Goop, which has now earned her endless amounts of criticism. I’m also thinking of Oprah who is punished for her singular success in life, overcoming unbelievable obstacles to become a force to be reckoned with — someone with endless curiosity for art, film, literature and politics — yet because she’s Oprah she’s never really allowed to get the credit she deserves. There is always resentment against her as we saw at play this past year with Selma.

Men are often encouraged, noticed and iconized right out of the gate, as we’ve just seen happen to Damien Chazelle this past Oscar season. Tim Burton and Kenneth Branagh are now officially former male iconic directors in need of a career intervention. A chimpanzee could have directed Cinderella and sold tickets, and yet they couldn’t even give that no-brainer job to a woman?

Kathryn Bigelow once seemed to be acceptable on all points — pretty, thin, talented — making movies the boys liked. It seemed for a time like she might become the first major female director to reach icon status, but then remember how they ushered in Ben Affleck in 2012 while harshly shunting Bigelow to the side. Everyone felt so sorry for Affleck for not getting a nomination for Argo but with Bigelow it was kind of like how it was this year with Ava DuVernay — a verdict deemed almost acceptable given the supposed “crimes” of their films.

So what’s it going to take? It’s going to take a village of people who are outside your average film critic, fanboy blogger or 12-year-old boy. It’s going to take getting to know directors beyond just looking at their films, because I can tell you that when people sit down to watch an Eastwood movie, a Spielberg movie, a Woody Allen movie, or a Tarantino movie they’re sitting down with a director they know and love. Most of them don’t know any of the women directors in the same way.

That sense of “knowing” a great director for his filmography may be the very thing that’s so far been withheld from women. Until this past decade, precious few women have ever been given the chance to establish a foothold with that kind of audience familiarity. The value of being handed first-class opportunities is a priceless factor in attaining first-class status.

For example, imagine if Jane Campion had been given the opportunity to direct Silence of the Lambs? What if Kathryn Bigelow had been tapped to direct Munich? If Nora Ephron been offered Broadcast News? Or if Sophia Coppola had directed Million Dollar Baby? Naturally, the results would have been different movies, but there’s no reason to think they could not have been just as good, or even better, than the films now regarded as modern classics.

Clearly we lionize male directors because of the films they have made — but even men will ordinarily need to direct 4 or 5 great films before cinemaphiles elevate them to gods. Until very recently, it’s been impossible for any women to reach Director Goddess status because women simply never got the chance to show the world what they can do.

It’s easy enough to think of dozens of major movies directed by top-tier men the past 10 years and re-imagine what the results could have be if those films had been given to the best female directors to handle. But if we try to do the same thing with movies made much earlier than the mid-1990s, it’s virtually impossible to think of any female directors who were remotely close to having the training or experience to handle a major studio film.

For instance, what female director could have possibly done The Godfather? There just wasn’t any woman in that era who had ever been been given a chance to establish herself — and more importantly, no chance to polish her talent. Honestly, what prominent female directors even existed before 1970? Leni Riefenstahl, Ida Lupino, Lina Wertmuller? That’s about it.

Thankfully things are changing now, and with each success by a female director we hope to see the change accelerating. In the past 10 or 20 years we have seen more great female directors emerge than were ever given the chance in the entire prior history of movies. If there were only 5 female directors in the 80 years between 1920-2000, we can now welcome 50 more women directors in the 21st Century.

I’ll give credit to many film critics who do seem to know and appreciate obscure female directors that the mainstream critics don’t. I remember how a few of them really stood up for Claire Denis at Cannes this past year. Think about the cinematic style of Lena Wertmuller – totally recognizable as its own universe. Do we have any modern females who have that same kind of portable universe that is enriched with each film? How many auteurs do we have? What kinds of unfair restrictions do we put on them?

Women like Nora Ephron and Nancy Meyers did bring their personalities, sensibilities and universes with them — but they were mostly women-centric universes. Ephron in particular really did create her own language with the films she made, even if she was completely underrated ultimately. Would that the industry coddled and encouraged artists like Elaine May, Carrie Fisher, Nora Ephron, Diane Keaton, Tina Fey — giving them a kind of boost to help bring their universes to audiences to help shape the common definition of what it means to be an icon.

I’m still hoping Bigelow has her icon status firmed up and reserved, that nothing can really knock her out of it now that she’s the first and only woman to win the Best Director Oscar. I’m also hoping Ms. DuVernay retains her badass status, a woman unafraid to cower to the powers that be this past year when she was put on trial for supposedly defaming LBJ. DuVernay is quickly establishing her own stylistic universe, her own film language, like Bigelow, and it’s exciting to contemplate her fascinating evolution.

That kind of evolution can become a revolution in the industry if the women who buy tickets to movies and the women who write about movies can begin to hold female directors in the same esteem they give to men. It will stay that way when we reward women filmmakers with the same kind of fan worship we so easily grant to male directors. It will stay that way once we all start encouraging the fresh voices of film language that filmmakers like Sofia Coppola and Jane Campion bring to cinema. It is going to take a shift in how we see women, the chance to break free of the chains of beauty where women are too often defined and judged by their tits, their asses, and their pretty faces.

[Sidebar: You have no idea all that goes into making a woman look pretty or presentable. It isn’t just the hours spent applying makeup and doing hair. It’s all of the other maintenance like dieting, getting our nails done, plucking unwanted hair. It takes time and money and energy to look good. How can anyone get anything meaningful done when all of their time is spent on looking pretty? Unless you’re someone like Georgia O’Keefe and you roll out of bed looking like a million bucks, it’s hard out there for a woman who prefers to focus on the work.]

We like to think that we as a society are above the whole looks thing but we really aren’t. For women it’s a hundred times worse than it will ever be for men. For women of color a hundred times multiplied by another hundred. It’s a great thing to be admired. Sexual power is a thrilling thing to possess. But when will women ever be regarded in any other way but the way they look when it comes to film?

Is it about looks or is it about something more sinister — perhaps a general hatred or resentment by men of all the things women care about, talk about and think about? I don’t have the answers, only the questions. The Directors Branch in the Academy represent among the very worst where change is concerned. Here are the films that were nominated for Best Picture — even when there were only five nominees — and not nominated for Best Director:

Children of a Lesser God
Awakenings
The Prince of Tides
Little Miss Sunshine (by half)
An Education
The Kids Are All Right
Winter’s Bone
Zero Dark Thirty
Selma

The Academy itself helped solved this problem when they had a flat ten nominees.

Count how many films nominated for Best Picture directed by women — but it didn’t solve the Directors Branch continual shut-out of women.

2009
Picture – 2 | Best Director 1 (winner)

2010
Picture – 2 | Best Director 0

2011
Picture – 2 | Best Director 0

2012
Picture – 1 | Best Director 0

2013
Picture – 0 | Best Director 0

2014
Picture – 1 | Best Director 0

Because the opportunities have been given more freely to men, it’s the men who are allowed to build up their canon, indulged with their vision of the world, able to repeat certain themes. With women, they barely get one crack at it, let alone many.

One film made by Penny Marshall that does well doesn’t necessarily mean the next film by Penny Marshall — even if it’s a success — will necessarily build up the legacy of Penny Marshall. Women are looked upon not as auteurs but rather hired guns who may or may not be able to make a movie as good as a man can.

Unless female directors can build a body of work that includes films that step outside their comfort zone of “relationship movies” they are going to be regarded as niche directors. I can make, incidentally, this same argument for black (or specifically African American) directors. Spike Lee is one of the few who built a body of work with its own language and universe — a total standout, vision wise, and someone who was not accepted readily as, say, a Quentin Tarantino is.

My own theory is that men dominate the conversation and make the deals. They idealize directors because they can live vicariously through them. It’s harder for your average straight man to envy or idealize a female in the same way. To them, a female represents something to possess, to obtain as a mark of success or someone to impress, rather than someone they necessarily want to BE. There are exceptions to every rule and there are exceptions to this rule, but for the most part that’s what I see.

Now that there are more ways to become famous beyond relying on journalists or critics I expect this to change. We can all do better getting to know and making icons of women — just look at how warmly the world of Lena Dunham has been embraced (though just barely). She took to Twitter to help build her own image. DuVernay and Lexi Alexander are also using Twitter to build their own personae outside of the mainstream media’s restrictions. This is a good thing, even if it’s a hard thing. You take a lot of shit for being outspoken on Twitter, especially if you’re female.

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I have to mostly agree with this in light of how Patricia Arquette was needlessly attacked after the Oscars, and how Richard Linklater and Boyhood were attacked and how Frozen has been attacked, etc. Words like “offensive” and such should be reserved to truly offensive things like the racist chants at the frat or how our congress treats our president. I see a lot of wasted energy putting people on trial for things that are really a matter of interpretation. Some will be offended by the “green card” joke, others will shrug it off. I can tell you there is a world of difference between saying that joke to Inarritu and saying it someone who has been the victim of oppression in this country for having immigrated as a Mexican-American. Penn clearly meant no offense by it and is one of the relics from my generation where we didn’t police every word that came out of our mouths. I think – you should target the real racists, bigots and sexists so that your cause can have power and be taken seriously. Wasting time on nonsense though? It really is just a chance to feel like you’re doing some real good in the world. Channel it in a different direction – look at the bigger picture.

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Rope of Silicon’s Brad Brevet has waded the territory of early Oscar predictions. He’s humble enough to admit nobody knows anything and that only three from his list last year ended up making it to the final race. Things are going to change significantly if the Academy decides to go back to five, or god willing, to an even ten. Right now we have to think about Oscar predictions in terms of “heart light” movies about good people that make voters feel good about themselves.

Pundits will reject films with darker themes because of this, no matter how good they are. Inside Llewyn Davis one of the best films of the year? Forget it, he is not a likable character. Foxcatcher, Gone Girl and Nightcrawler define the year’s best films? Forget it, ew scary people. Ew, not likable. At least they saved face by nominating Selma because if they hadn’t and this month rolled around with the President of the United States in Selma, Alabama the Academy could not look more out of touch.

But let’s look at Brad’s list and see what kind of films might be offered next year. Are we looking at another “Dick in a Box” year or will the dudes who run the Academy broaden their way of thinking even a tiny bit to remember the other 50% of the human population?

I don’t know, let’s have a look shall we?

How do you find Best Picture? You can usually follow the distributor. Fox Searchlight has won Best Picture two years in a row now. Warner Bros. took it in 2012 and then it was The Weinstein Co. for two years. Summit took it in 2009. Fox Searchlight again in 2008. Miramax had it for No Country for Old Men in 2007. Warner Bros. again for The Departed in 2006. Lionsgate had it for Crash in 2005. Warner Bros. for Million Dollar Baby in 2004. And on it goes.

The way you read the race, though, isn’t so much by distributor, although that certainly helps. You also have to look at Oscar strategists and/or publicists. The ones who get paid per nomination and then paid again per win are going to push a lot harder than those who simply work for the studios in their publicity department. For hire strategists are usually attached to these winners. Their names are only really known by those of us in the business. They stand behind much bigger names like Harvey Weinstein, for instance, who used to work with Lisa Taback, or Scott Rudin who often works with Cynthia Swartz. Generally speaking if you have any of the big names attached to a movie you now it’s going to get very close to Best Picture. They are good at their jobs and they leave no stone unturned. For better or worse.

The organic part of the race comes when the movies are screened at festivals and SEEN by those distributors. They pick a winner and they run with it (unless they already know they have one in-house, as with Argo in 2012).

At any rate, predicting Best Picture isn’t rocket science because of that. We can play this game of looking at the filmmakers and the plots and the studios but in the end on paper (Unbroken, Into the Woods, etc) is no match for a film that has the right ingredients to go the distance and the right publicity team behind it.

As we look forward to another year of the Oscar race I already feel tired from the fights that haven’t even happened yet trying to defend this story starring women, this film directed by a woman, this film (will there be any) about a woman that has nothing to do with a man.

The last thing I care about is catering to the needs of Oscar voters by dumbing down the choices to what “they” will like. That is a waste of my time and yours. I try to push movies that are good enough, movies that break new ground, and movies that are either about or made by minority filmmakers. I try as hard as I can to push against the consensus not because I don’t know exactly how it will play out (after 16 years of this, my friends, I KNOW) but because there is nothing about the Oscar race that matters otherwise. Those voters all have mirrors they can look into to see a reflection of themselves. I do not wish to be one of those.

About Men
Midnight Special, directed by Jeff Nichols (Father/son)
Black Mass, directed by Scott Cooper, Whitey Bulger movie, Johnny Depp
The Walk, starring Ben Kingsley, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, directed by Robert Zemeckis
Icon, directed by Stephen Frears, (Lance Armstrong) Ben Foster
Bridge of Spies, directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Tom Hanks
Snowden, directed by Oliver Stone, Joseph Gordon-Levitt
The Sea of Trees, directed by Gus Van Sant
Steve Jobs, directed by Danny Boyle, Michael Fassbender
The Revenant, directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy
Truth, directed by James Vanderbilt (Robert Redford, Cate Blanchett supporting)
Concussion, directed by Peter Landesman (Will Smith)
Trumbo, directed by Jay Roach (Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane supporting)
Triple Nine, directed by John Hillcoat (Aaron Paul)
**Money Monster, directed by Jodie Foster (George Clooney/Jack O’Connell, Julia Roberts supporting)
Genius, directed by Michael Grandage (Colin Firth)

About Women and Men
A Bigger Splash, directed by Luca Guadagnino (couples drama) Matthias Schoenaerts, Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson
Demolition, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, About a man rescued by a woman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts
Me & Earl & the Dying Girl – Fox Searchlight, directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
The Danish Girl, directed by Tom Hooper, starring Eddie Redmayne
The Hateful Eight, directed by Quentin Tarantino
An Irrational Man, directed by Woody Allen, Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone

About Women
Far from the Madding Crowd, directed by Thomas Vinterberg (Carey Mulligan) (May 1)
Carol, directed by Todd Haynes, (Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara)
Brooklyn – Fox Searchlight, directed by John Crowley, young girl’s coming of age (Saoirse Ronan)
Joy, directed by David O. Russell,(Jennifer Lawrence)
Ricky and the Flash, directed by Jonathan Demme (Meryl Streep)
Our Brand is Crisis, directed by David Gordon Green (Sandra Bullock)

Of all of these, only one is directed by a woman and it is starring men, about men. In most of these titles, with the exceptions of the few here at the bottom wherein your likely Best Actress contenders lie, you are mostly dealing with stories about men where women are supporting players or couples dramas. Women as stand-alone subject matter look to be mostly scarce in the Best Picture race.

Note how many films about women, and by women, are released into the dumping ground of March and April.

Eva, directed by Kike Maillo
Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter, directed by David Zellner
Effie Gray, written by Emma Thompson, directed by Richard Laxton.
Woman in Gold, starring Helen Mirren, directed by Simon Curtis
Clouds of Sils Maria, directed by Olivier Assayes, starring Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart
The Riot Club, directed by Lone Scherfig

Yes, finding films about women are few and far between. Finding films directed by women are practically non-existant. Finding films by women and about women? Almost impossible.

Next, we head over to Hollywood-Elsewhere‘s Cannes projections to see if there are any gets there, for Oscar, with women or not.

Spotlight, directed by Thomas McCarthy about sexual molestations in the Catholic church.
By the Sea, directed by Angelina Jolie with Brad and Angie co-starring.
The Last Face, directed by Sean Penn and starring Penn and Charlize Theron
High Rise, directed by Ben Wheatley, starring Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Irons

That leads us over to Todd McCarthy’s Cannes predictions page, which brings us, potentially:

The Lobster, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, Lea Seydoux, Rachel Weisz, Colin Farrell, Ben Wishaw
Regression, directed by Alejandro Amenabar, with Emma Watson and Ethan Hawke

And some random titles:

Welcome to Me, directed by Shira Piven, starring Kristen Wiig (May 1)
Mad Max: Fury Road, directed by George Miller starring Charlize Theron
Crimson Peak, directed by Guillermo Del Toro, starring Mia Wasikowska. (October 16)
The Lady in the Van, directed by Nicholas Hytner, starring Maggie Smith
Sisters, Jason Moore, starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler
A Little Chaos, directed by Alan Rickman, starring Kate Winslet
Jane Got a Gun, directed by Gavin O’Connor, starring Natalie Portman
Lila and Eve, directed by Charles Stone, starring Viola Davis and Jennifer Lopez
Live by Night, directed by Ben Affleck, starring Ben Affleck and Sienna Miller

Once again, we are going to be flooded with bravura acting performances by men. And once again, we’re going to be flooded with supporting parts by women. And once again, we are going to see virtually no interest in stories about women. Hardly any.  It’s just all so desperately sad.

Here’s the upside – this list doesn’t really show the films that might pop up on the festival circuit, which begins in May – Cannes, Venice, Telluride, Toronto. Perhaps somewhere in there something good might happen or women. I’m not holding my breath.

Thus, if I had to do Predictions in the top categories right now, based JUST on what I see here on these lists, I’d go with:

Best Picture (let’s pick 9 using the preferential ballot currently in place, voters get just five slots to pick their best)

Far From the Madding Crowd
The Walk
Icon
Steve Jobs
Trumbo
Bridge of Spies
The Danish Girl
Joy
Carol (I think the Academy is finally ready for Todd Haynes)

Possible 
Money Monsters
Hateful Eight
A Bigger Splash
Demolition

Best Director
Spielberg, Bridge of Spies
Hooper, Danish Girl
David O. Russell, Joy
Todd Haynes, Carol
Possible:
Robert Zemeckis, The Walk
Danny Boyle, Steve Jobs
Jay Roach, Trumbo

Best Actor:
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Jake Gyllenhaal, Demolition
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl
Tom Hanks, Bridge of Spies

Also possible:
Ben Foster, Icon

Best Actress
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Maggie Smith, the Lady in the Van
Carey Mulligan, Far From the Madding Crowd
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

There are so many more names that will be coming up but these are the ones that strike me off the bat.

My own personal most anticipated include:

Carol – OMFG
Joy (I think it will be funny)
Mad Max: Fury Road
Crimson Peak
Spotlight
A Bigger Splash
Money Monster
Trumbo
Midnight Special
Clouds of Sils Maria

But hopefully we’ll have many more titles to add. Being a fanatical Todd Haynes fan I’m mostly looking forward to his SECOND collaboration with Cate Blanchett, his first being his masterpiece, I’m Not There.  So that is probably the one film I’m looking forward to more than any other this year.

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Remember when Ian McKellen didn’t win for the most excellent Gods and Monsters? Yeah, remember who did win? Oh, Oscar. How you love your epic fails. Either way, McKellen is back with Mr. Holmes, the story of the great detective in retirement, also directed by Bill Condon. Here’s a look at the teaser. Also reuniting with Condon, Laura Linney.

jenlaw

jenlaw

Deadline reports exclusively that Warner Bros and Steven Spielberg have won a heated bidding war to bring Lynsey Addario’s It’s What I do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War to the big screen.  Lawrence will star, beating out other potential bidders like Reese Witherspoon, Darren Aronofsky and Natalie Portman, George Clooney and Grant Heslov.

Lawrence is at the top of the list so it’s not surprising she would get first dibs. She guarantees box office and is talented enough to pull it off.

Per Deadline’s description:  “She is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists who went to Afghanistan during the post-9/11 invasion of Afghanistan and carved out a niche giving an identity to the victims of conflict. That includes how Afghans suffered during the Taliban regime, the Iraqi War, victims of genocide in Darfur, the rape of women in the Congo. Her work in dangerous  locales included her being kidnapped by pro-Quaddafi forces in the Libyan civil war.”

bestdirector

bestdirector

This is a moment of significance that really can’t be overlooked. At first I thought the story was that it was the first time in Oscar history that there had been five winners from foreign countries to win Best Director consecutively. So I did a bit of research and I found out several interesting factoids. The first is that many of the most important directors in film history came from other countries because, as we already knew, Hollywood was built by immigrants. The influence of non-American born directors is immeasurable from Frank Capra to Mike Nichols to Ang Lee and now all the way up to Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro Inarritu. Only one other time in history were there five in a row and the names might surprise you. Mike Nichols for The Graduate and Franklin J. Schaffner for Patton are two thought to be very American. But Schaffner was actually born in Japan and Nichols was born in Germany. The previous five were, therefore:

Fred Zinnemann, A Man for All Seasons (born in Austria-Hungary)
Mike Nichols, The Graduate (Germany)
Carol Reed, Oliver (England)
John Schlesinger, Midnight Cowboy (England)
Franklin J. Schaffner, Patton (Japan)

The same way Mel Gibson was actually born in America but thought of as Australian, Nichols and Schaffner were thought to be Americans, with their sensibilities shaped by American culture. Though technically speaking, they hail from different countries.

Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro Inarritu have the distinction of being the ONLY TWO directors who not only hail from Mexico, but the only directors who come from any Latin country at all, that makes them the only two Hispanic directors in all of Oscar history. When Sean Penn made a “green card” joke about Inarritu (even in jest) I don’t think it ultimately diminished the director, although it certainly could have, because Inarritu’s heartfelt speech about Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants upstaged it.

The only director, as far as I can tell, that made films about other cultures besides either British or American, to win significant awards would be Ang Lee, who is not married to any one culture as a filmmaker and expresses himself as brilliantly when directing Americans, British, Chinese or Indian. He won Best Director twice — once for a film about Americans in Brokeback Mountain and the second time for a film about an Indian character in Life of Pi. I think he should have won for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon but Steven Soderbergh won that year for Traffic and it’s hard to argue with that.  But Lee is mostly the exception to the rule. Most of the time, foreign-born directors are expected to make films about American culture to win Oscars. That includes Cuaron and Inarritu, the latter director having devoted most of his early career to films about his Mexican culture, and really, the global melting pot (Babel).

What it looks like to me is that America (and Hollywood) is the land of opportunity provided you get most of your encouragement in a different country, especially lately. Back when Frank Capra’s family immigrated you really could come up in Hollywood and do just fine making the kinds of films Hollywood wants you to make.

But Cuaron and Inarritu, for instance, would simply not get the same opportunities as Mexican-American directors were they born and raised here. Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave became the first film by a black director to win Best Picture yet Hollywood and the Oscars have a shameful and embarrassing record for African-American filmmakers, shutting out Ava DuVernay this year, but Ryan Coogler and Spike Lee to name others. Those doors are not opened. For Mexican-American filmmakers it is even worse as they are not anywhere near the conversation, not yet anyway. Here’s hoping Cuaron and Inarritu’s win will inspire more notice on the young Americans making films about American culture, which is woefully in need of attention.

Only one woman has won and she happened to be the last American to win the Oscar for Directing. Last year 12 Years a Slave and Gravity split the awards, both had foreign born directors and the year before it might have been Ben Affleck as the sole American to win in the past five years.

People always think this is verboten topic to bring up because they assume me, being a white American, would be thinking “those damn foreigners are taking our jobs!” What I’m thinking instead is, why doesn’t the industry recognize the great American directors who keep hitting it out of the park year after year — with a kind of renaissance among them flourishing as we speak — at the time, the Oscars keep reaching outside to find the movie they like best and it tends to be the more traditional of the bunch.

As good as Birdman is, Richard Linklater should have won the award for Best Director for having built a self-defined career outside the Hollywood system, doing things with film no one else has ever done. Instead he was brutally shunned.  I’m not sure why, for instance, David Fincher is not recognized with hundreds of awards yet considering the kind of work he’s been doing his entire career — Zodiac, The Social Network and Gone Girl for starters. The industry just brushes him aside when it comes to awards. Paul Thomas Anderson, Darren Aronofsky, Wes Anderson, Bennett Miller are just some of the names making this an exceptional time for American film – yet because the awards voters tend more towards traditional dramas (even if Birdman is an exception) are simply ignoring a wave of excellence that will be written about decades from now, with the industry looking very backwards.

Again, both Gravity and Birdman are exceptions to these rules, it must be said. Both films are highly experimental, visually exceptional and not your typical “Oscar movie.”

One thing you’ll notice looking back through the Best Director wins is that in the beginning the stories focused very strongly on films with female leads. That’s because many of the ticket buyers then, like now, were women. They simply had no other choice because those were the kinds of films being made. Women’s voices were strong in the business of Hollywood and in studios and at the Oscars because Hollywood respected the power of women moviegoers back then.

The other thing you’ll notice is the ongoing, inexplicable devotion to all things British, not just the directors who comprise the second largest group behind Americans, but also subject matter. Americans, it would seem, still looked to England for so much of their cultural references and it shows by how many of the films that won either Picture or Director went down. As I recall from reading Inside Oscar, this became a big deal only when British production companies threatened the five families who built and controlled Hollywood (and still do).  It did not extend towards giving Alfred Hitchcock the prize for Best Directing — ever. The best directors in the world never won Oscars, in fact, so in many ways this is a pointless discussion overall, but perhaps a fun one.

I thought it might be fun to look at the directors, where they were born and what kinds of films they won Oscars for.

Note how often Director and Picture split in the early years and how at some point the director became much more powerful than the producer in determining Best Picture. We’re seeing more splits now with the preferential ballot and more than five nominees.

1927/28 (Dramatic) Frank Borzage (America) – 7th Heaven* (Wings)
1927/28 (Comedy) Lewis Milestone (Russia) – Two Arabian Knights*
1928/29 Frank Lloyd (England)  – The Divine Lady* (The Broadway Melody)
1929/30 Lewis Milestone (Russia) – All Quiet on the Western Front (Cimarron)
1931/32 Frank Borzage (America) – Bad Girl* (Grand Hotel)
1932/33 Frank Lloyd (England) – Cavalcade
1934 Frank Capra (Italy) – It Happened One Night
1935 John Ford (America) – The Informer* (Mutiny on the Bounty)
1936 Frank Capra (Italy)  – Mr. Deeds Goes to Town* (The Great Ziegfeld)
1937 Leo McCarey (America) – The Awful Truth* (The Life of Emile Zola)
1938 Frank Capra (Italy) – You Can’t Take It With You
1939 Victor Fleming (America) – Gone with the Wind
1940 John Ford (America) – The Grapes of Wrath(Rebecca)
1941 John Ford (America) – How Green Was My Valley
1942 William Wyler (France) – Mrs. Miniver
1943 Michael Curtiz (Budapest, Austria-Hungary) – Casablanca
1944 Leo McCarey (America) – Going My Way
1945 Billy Wilder (Austria-Hungary) – The Lost Weekend
1946 William Wyler (France) – The Best Years of Our Lives
1947 Elia Kazan (Turkey) – Gentleman’s Agreement
1948 John Huston (America) – The Treasure of the Sierra Madre* (Hamlet)
1949 Joseph L. Mankiewicz (America)– A Letter to Three Wives* (All the King’s Men)
1950 Joseph L. Mankiewicz (America) – All About Eve
1951 George Stevens (America) – A Place in the Sun* (An American in Paris)
1952 John Ford (America) – The Quiet Man (The Greatest Show on Earth)
1953 Fred Zinnemann (Rzeszów, Austria-Hungary) – From Here to Eternity
1954 Elia Kazan (Constantinople, Ottoman Empire(now Istanbul, Turkey) – On the Waterfront
1955 Delbert Mann (America)  – Marty
1956 George Stevens (America) – Giant (Around the World in 80 Days)
1957 David Lean (England) – The Bridge on the River Kwai
1958 Vincente Minnelli (America) – Gigi
1959 William Wyler (France)  – Ben-Hur
1960 Billy Wilder (Austria-Hungary) – The Apartment
1961 Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins (America) – West Side Story
1962 David Lean (England) – Lawrence of Arabia
1963 Tony Richardson (England) – Tom Jones
1964 George Cukor (America) – My Fair Lady
1965 Robert Wise (America) – The Sound of Music
1966 Fred Zinnemann (America) – A Man for All Seasons
1967 Mike Nichols (Germany) – The Graduate (In the Heat of the Night)
1968 Carol Reed (England) – Oliver!
1969 John Schlesinger (England) – Midnight Cowboy
1970 Franklin J. Schaffner (Japan) – Patton
1971 William Friedkin (America) – The French Connection
1972 Bob Fosse (America)  – Cabaret (The Godfather)
1973 George Roy Hill (America) – The Sting
1974 Francis Ford Coppola (America) – The Godfather Part II
1975 Miloš Forman (Czechoslovakia) – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
1976 John G. Avildsen (America) – Rocky
1977 Woody Allen (America) – Annie Hall
1978 Michael Cimino (America) – The Deer Hunter
1979 Robert Benton (America) – Kramer vs. Kramer
1980 Robert Redford (America) – Ordinary People
1981 Warren Beatty (America) – Reds (Chariots of Fire)
1982 Richard Attenborough (England) – Gandhi
1983 James L. Brooks (America) – Terms of Endearment
1984 Miloš Forman (Czechoslovakia) – Amadeus
1985 Sydney Pollack(America) – Out of Africa
1986 Oliver Stone (America) – Platoon
1987 Bernardo Bertolucci (Italy) – The Last Emperor
1988 Barry Levinson (America)– Rain Man
1989 Oliver Stone (America) – Born on the Fourth of July (Driving Miss Daisy)
1990 Kevin Costner (America) – Dances with Wolves
1991 Jonathan Demme (America) – The Silence of the Lambs
1992 Clint Eastwood (America) – Unforgiven
1993 Steven Spielberg (America) – Schindler’s List
1994 Robert Zemeckis (America) – Forrest Gump
1995 Mel Gibson (America) – Braveheart
1996 Anthony Minghella (England)– The English Patient
1997 James Cameron (Canadian) – Titanic
1998 Steven Spielberg (America) – Saving Private Ryan (Shakespeare in Love)
1999 Sam Mendes (England) – American Beauty
2000 Steven Soderbergh (America) – Traffic (Gladiator)
2001 Ron Howard (America) – A Beautiful Mind
2002 Roman Polanski (France) – The Pianist (Chicago)
2003 Peter Jackson (New Zealand) – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
2004 Clint Eastwood (America)– Million Dollar Baby
2005 Ang Lee (Taiwan)– Brokeback Mountain (Crash)
2006 Martin Scorsese (America) – The Departed
2007 Joel and Ethan Coen (America) – No Country for Old Men
2008 Danny Boyle (England)– Slumdog Millionaire
2009 Kathryn Bigelow (America) – The Hurt Locker
2010 Tom Hooper (England) – The King’s Speech
2011 Michel Hazanavicius (France) – The Artist
2012 Ang Lee (Taiwan) – Life of Pi (Argo)
2013 Alfonso Cuarón (Mexico) – Gravity (12 Years a Slave)
2014 Alejandro González Iñárritu (Mexico)– Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

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Made by Women and Hollywood.

The best advocate for women and women of color in the Oscar race is Women and Hollywood’s Melissa Silverstein. It isn’t easy standing up for women because trust me, the dirty little secret out there is that the vast majority of men don’t like women who stand up for women because they think it means blaming them. It’s the same problem with standing up against racism or any kind of oppression. Those in the ruling class feel victimized by the protests. They are in charge. They hold up a stop sign. We have to stop. Sometimes.

I’ve been called many names – but none more hatefully than when I am “accused” of being a feminist. A word that has been completely and unforgivably distorted into meaning ball-busting, man-hating, rights-removing, ugly, unfuckable, worthless female. So many poor young women have fallen into this trap because they don’t want to be labeled that way. They don’t want to be thought of militant — as though anyone who stands up for women is a militant. That’s really how oppression works. For minorities they label you “angry.” The “angry black man” or “angry black woman.” For women, it’s feminazi. How sad it has all become. “And it’s all your fault,” those hissing, anonymous hordes who hide in the comment sections of blogs will chant year after year, hour after hour. “You want to take away what we have coming to us.”

I like to joke that at the crux of some of it, at least, is the fear of a life without dick. That fear of being called a feminist is really fear of losing access to the dick. But I know that’s not polite conversation for respectable people. Women, though, have to get smart about how they themselves talk about other women. The tabloids? That’s on women, mostly. You can probably add gay men to that mix without it being too stereotypical. A lot of gossip is driven by (some) gay men and (some) women who work to tear women down on a continual basis – look at how one photo of Iggy Azalea’s gorgeous backside caused so much trouble for her that she’s now quit Twitter. Girlfriends, that shit’s on you. Asking women about their fashion and their relationships on the red carpet? Girlfriends, that shit’s on you. When women stop defining other women by those kinds of measurements we will be able to better unite to take control of the world as we’re meant to do. It’s fun to say stuff like that out loud. It’s the internet, after all.

I have a 16-year-old who attends a magnet in a school in an era that is probably 80% Hispanic. The magnet that she attends there is much diversity across all ethnic and cultural lines. The women are so smart and so outspoken and so ambitious. Just try to stop them when they come of age. They’re ready for the fight and they represent, I hope, a whole new way of looking at things. I see the change already at the box office, in book publishing, in animation, in documentaries and in foreign films. The ruling class still dominates the Oscars by design. The Oscars represent the power base in Hollywood – what is popular to them, not necessarily what’s popular anywhere else. The critics, the public, the independent film communities all have a much more fluid vision for the present and the future. It is really only the industry’s core where change must happen. It will happen but not for a while, probably not while I’m still blogging. I hope one day my daughter will come to me with some stories about things have changed, the way I wanted to tell my now deceased grandmother that we had our first black president. She would never have believed it if she hadn’t seen it with her own eyes.

Change will come and is coming. You can roll with it or get left behind.

Directors
Barbra Streisand twice nominated by the Golden Globes, once by the DGA, Oscar nominations for directing? Zero.
Randa Haines was not nominated for directing Children of a Lesser God which received a Best Picture nomination.
Penny Marshall was not nominated for directing Awakenings which received a Best Picture nomination.
Jane Campion nominated once for The Piano, never again.
Sofia Coppola nominated once for Lost in Translation, never again.
Kathryn Bigelow is the only woman in 87 years of of Oscar history to win Best Director for The Hurt Locker. She then directed the best reviewed film of 2012, Zero Dark Thirty, which made $80 million at the box office, shut out the Best Directing category.
Ava DuVernay directed one of the best reviewed film of 2014, Selma, which is about to make $50 million at the box office, shut out of Best Directing category.

Writing
Carrie Fisher adapted Postcards from the edge from her own novel, shut out of the screenplay category
Tina Fey adapted Queen Bees and Wanna Bes into Mean Girls, one of the most quoted films in the modern era and a beloved classic, shut out of the screenplay category.
Elaine May – two nominations for writing, zero wins.
Nora Ephron adapted Heartburn from her own roman à clef novel, inexplicably did not even get nominated. Also not nominated for the staggeringly brilliant Julie & Julia. Zero wins. ZERO.
Jane Campion wrote Bright Star (adapted) and Holy Smoke (original), Sweetie — nominated once and won once for The Piano.
Sofia Coppola wrote The Bling Ring, Somewhere, Marie Antoinette, and The Virgin Suicides. Nominated only once and won only once.
Gillian Flynn adapts own novel and turns it into a $168 million hit, one of the biggest for a rated R film, makes history as the first adapted screenplay by a man or a woman to earn a Globe, a WGA, a Critics Choice, a Scripter and a BAFTA nomination and be shut out of the Oscar race.

Those are but a scratching at the surface at the many ways women have been locked out of the opportunities given to men, as you see again this year with all ten writing categories and all five directing categories given over to men. They let women peek through the door, maybe they gift them with a single statue, then they slap them on the ass as they’re shoving them out the door.

That Elaine May and Nora Ephron never won Oscars, were never given more opportunities to soar, is a shame the Academy should never be able to live down.

Women must now flock to television where they can do more than just work. They can thrive, as directors and writers – in every capacity, of every color. Why? Because the same barriers don’t apply. They don’t have to dress up in the sexy maid’s outfit to get into the room in the first place. It is their work and their audience. Full stop.

I don’t know what people in Hollywood are so afraid of. I don’t know when investing in women became such a huge risk. I come from a long line of strong women, single mothers who made their way in the world. My grandmother was a Russian immigrant, the oldest of 11 children who kicked the dust off the sleepy town of Yonkers, New York and went to the big city to eventually become a high power player in the AFL-CIO. My mother was a high school drop-out who educated herself and eventually became a wildly successful realtor and oil tycoon. And I am a graduate film school drop out who makes a living from a business I built myself. We might not play by society’s rules, but by God we’re made of strong stuff. Invest in women and earn a ticket to the future. It’s only going to move in one direction.

Of all the great, deserving, American filmmakers that haven’t won the Best Director prize yet, Richard Linklater is up there with the most deserving. His filmography is as original and diverse as any of his generation. In 2014 he released quite possibly the best movie of his career. To many of us it’s unthinkable that the Academy might fail to honor such a landmark in American cinema with Oscars for Best Picture or Best Director. It stings when any great film is denied its place in the ranks of Best Picture winners, but we can regard it as inauguration into a pantheon of films just as prestigious: “Do The Right Thing”, “Goodfellas”, “The Player”, “Pulp Fiction”, “The Shawshank Redemption”, “Fargo”, “L.A. Confidential”, “Saving Private Ryan”, “Traffic”, “Lost in Translation”, “Sideways”, “Brokeback Mountain”, “There Will Be Blood”, “The Social Network”, “The Tree of Life & Zero Dark Thirty”. Whatever happens on February 23rd, Boyhood will join an ever-growing list of classics.

1) Boyhood, 2014

You’ve heard and read countless raves for this 12-years-in-the-making masterpiece; what else is there to say? Linklater used everything he learned in his 25 year career to make this movie. The pacing, the direction, the editing, the writing and the acting are all what we’ve come to know as Linklater-esque. There’s an every-growing maturity that is starting to comfortably creep into his work and, believe it or not, I think the man has many more great movies to come. What touched me most about “Boyhood” wasn’t just the sweet performances – especially by Arquette – but the way he makes the movie flow in such an organic and beautiful pattern. Many think it was about a boy growing up, but the film hit me hardest when it dealt with the bond between mother and child. It hit notes that felt so personal to me.

2) Waking Life, 2001

“Waking Life” is where Linklater decided to take huge risks and make personal, innovative cinema. It came out in 2001 when the theme of dreams and identity was very prevalent at the movies with the release of “Mulholland Drive” and “Memento”. Shot in Rotoscope and delivering vibrantly alive images, the film was a breakthrough for Linklater, unafraid to delve into topics that would become a source of obsession for him in the years to come: The meaning of life, dreams, freewill, consciousness and many more existential questions are at the heart of the movie. Its images linger in your head for weeks, months, even years – with every frame soaked in colors and palettes that have no limits to the shapes, sizes or imagination that can be used.

3) Dazed and Confused, 1993

This was the breakthrough. The first time I saw this movie I knew I had seen a damn-near classic. The atmosphere envelops you and makes you feel like you actually know every single person on-screen. The attention to detail is astounding. You are there in 1976 Texas, on the last day of High School for the graduates of Lee High. There are so many different characters, and so many different plots that, in a way, the film seems to feel plotless. This was a sign of things to come for the young Texan filmmaker. Although this was a big studio picture, the narrative structure was anything but conventional, focusing more on character than actual storyline. Linklater’s 25 year obsession with the passage of time is very apparent here as the film seems to take place within a 24 hour time frame and uses that to further explore the routes many of the characters are about to take in their lives. 

4) Before Sunset, 2004
5) Before Midnight, 2013

Celine and Jesse.  It started with “Before Sunrise” and then continued with the beautiful “Before Sunset” and capped off with the mature, pessimistic “Before Midnight”. Richard Linklater’s trilogy of romance in European cities has been building a solid cult following for more than two decades now.  “Before Sunset” is a masterful examination of love, family life and conversation.  Never has an audience wanted an on-screen character to cheat on his wife more than when Jesse shows up at Celine’s apartment in the climactic scene. Celine is indelibly played by Julie Delpy and Jesse is superbly played by Ethan Hawke. Linklater and his two actors wrote the screenplay, much of it clearly improvised, from the artists’ own experiences and points of views. This organic style brings a real sense of authenticity to the films. These movies ask us questions about love that many studio movies refuse to ask. Is our view of love as a society conflicted, disjointed? Or can we really love someone eternally, in a “forever” sense of the term? How much can we compromise until we end up losing sense of ourselves and our own independence? There is not one answer to any of these questions. Linklater is a curiosity seeker who asks more than he answers and the way “Before Midnight” ends makes you wonder what can possibly happen next. I hope this isn’t the last we see of Celine and Jesse.

6) The School of Rock, 2003

In “Boyhood”, Ethan Hawke’s dad creates a Post-Beatles “Black Album” mixtape for his son. Something tells me it’s something Jack Black’s riotous imposter substitute teacher Dewey Finn would do for his class in “The School of Rock”. Just like Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous”, this is Linklater’s love letter to rock and roll. A passionate, studio-backed project that did exactly what it had to do and did it in such an expertly crafted way. Black’s Dewey Finn is a firm believer of the power of rock and roll – he wants to pass down his knowledge to the classically trained school kids he substitute teaches.  “I have been touched by your kids… and I’m pretty sure that I’ve touched them”, Finn exclaims to a horrified group of parents whose jaws drop at the comment. We get what he’s saying; he’s just passin’ the torch, man. 

7) Tape, 2001
The passage of time gets dealt with again in this semi-experimental film that, with “Waking Life”, kickstarted Linklater’s second phase as a filmmaker after the ill received “The Newton Boys”. Taking place inside a hotel room in real time, “Tape” stars Linklater muse Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, and an incredibly powerful Uma Thurman. In the ensuing hours our trio dissects a painful high school memory that may or may not be true. Linklater, the Auteur, is in full display here with the film’s themes of memory, time and place taking center stage. However, the most fascinating aspect of Tape is that you don’t fully know what is real and what is not. Some characters may be lying or might have just perceived events in a different way.  The 86 nail biting minutes the filmmaker lays out are thought provoking to say the least. This might just be the hidden gem of the Linklater canon. 

8) Bernie, 2012
Tackling the real-life story of a Texan man who shot and killed a “companion” in the back, you might expect one of the darker films in Linklater’s filmography. Suffice to say that what we got instead was quite possibly the most likeable murderer in cinema history. Bernie Tiede, as played by a never better Jack Black, was a well-liked church going fella who didn’t seem to have a bad bone in his body. What led to him committing such a terrible crime? Linklater and Skip Hollandsworth’s screenplay tries to dissect the events and come to an understanding. However, like most of the director’s movies, the answers don’t come easy; in fact, there might not even be many by the time the movie is done. It’s a fascinating look at human nature and, if at first it seems distant from his other movies, it couldn’t be more relevant to the themes he’s been seeking out his entire career. 

9) Slacker, 1991
Here’s where it started. This classic Gen-X film was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress just a few years ago (and for good reason). Here is a director defining a generation, speaking volumes about human weirdness and connection.  “Slacker” is a film that flows from character to character on the streets, apartments and cafes of Austin, Texas. It is plotless, aimless but nevertheless mesmerizing in its random meetings and conversations that seem to connect to one another in unique, original and trippy ways. It isn’t hard to consider “Slacker” a ‘Stoner Classic’, but to call it that would also take away from the fact that it can be appreciated sober, as an organic exercise to open up your senses and make you think hard about our conscience and subconscious. 

10) Me and Orson Welles, 2010
Linklater’s ode to the stage came and went faster than any movie he has released in his 25 year career. This despite solid reviews and an incredible performance by Christian McKay as a rambunctious, youthful, Orson Welles trying to prove his worth by staging a play of “Julius Cesar”. The film takes place in 1937 New York and the attention to detail is beautifully rendered as Linklater gives us something he’s never given us: a period piece. This is a pleasingly simple but satisfying dramedy that pays tribute to one of the giants of our time and worked as a breather for Linklater, in between all the thoughtful dialogue-driven works of art he seems to consistently deliver effortlessly.

boyhood family

In the most unpredictable Oscar race for Best Picture I’ve ever seen, the DGA went with Inarritu last night while the BAFTA went with Richard Linklater and Boyhood today, setting up an absolute cliffhanger. Birdman’s wins with the big guilds was something no pundit saw coming. The maxim “Nobody knows anything” has never been more apt. Even the King’s Speech had people predicting it before it took over the race with the Producers Guild.

Birdman flew high with the guilds for two primary reasons, I think: 1) it is about not only Hollywood but Hollywood being swallowed up by the Superhero tent poles. 2) it is a film about skewering film critics. Not since All About Eve has the critic been painted in a more critical light (the film’s defenders refuse to accept this basic truth about the film, however).

Film criticism and superhero movies – if only they would go away? Team Birdman.

These were the two key things pundits and critics were kind of missing in the lead up to the big guilds. We were focusing on theme and plot and divisiveness and likability and film reviews and box office – not the thing that often drives the voting in Hollywood: what makes us feel good about ourselves?

Boyhood seemed like it was going to get King Speeched out of the running – and, in fact, still might. It feels like as unpredictable year as 2000, when Gladiator, Traffic and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon were all headed into the race.

It’s been a while since we’ve had one of these. Fifteen years, in fact, only two more years than it took Linklater to film Boyhood.

The BAFTA doesn’t have the same fears as Hollywood folks do, which enabled them to do what they often do – vote with their heart. It’s funny that their awards went to Americans almost completely down the line, where the Oscars probably won’t. In fact, if Inarritu wins it will be the fifth straight win for a foreign-born director. Add that fact to the short film categories that are almost entirely occupied by foreign films and you can see how much self-loathing is going on within the industry for our homegrown product.

This is a sad lament because no country has more film schools than the USA but most countries do not have for-profit education either and thus, their citizens are not burdened with massive student loan debt. Their governments haven’t gutted arts programs at public schools. They tend to give filmmakers grants and support the arts in a variety of ways. Here in America if you aren’t rich you are basically screwed.

So what does any of this mean? Here are a few things to consider:

BAFTA didn’t really have time to catch the Birdman’s high-flying buzz which happened in a very short window of time. Buzz is built on momentum and Birdman had none of it until it won the Producers Guild. It didn’t even win the Golden Globe in the comedy category. At the BAFTA it won just a single prize, Cinematography.

In 2004, Million Dollar Baby did not win any BAFTAs because it was not nominated. The Departed won no BAFTAs. But usually, since the year 2000, the Oscar Best Picture winner won more than one BAFTA. Birdman’s single win for Cinematography is a terrible precedent, especially considering, since 2009, the BAFTA has correctly predicted Best Picture 100% of the time.

That Birdman lost the Golden Globe, doesn’t have an editing nomination and lost the BAFTA does not seem to make it the strongest Best Picture contender. On the other hand, it does have the magic combination of the three guilds. However, when those have been put together since they expanded Best Picture (2009), the BAFTA has always recognized their winner.

2009 – The Hurt Locker: PGA/DGA/BAFTA/Oscar
2010 – The King’s Speech: PGA/DGA/BAFTA/Oscar
2011 – The Artist: PGA/DGA/BAFTA/Oscar
2012 – Argo: PGA/DGA/BAFTA/Oscar
2013 – 12 Years a Slave PGA/BAFTA/Oscar

But here we have:

2014 – Birdman: PGA/DGA/SAG
Boyhood – BAFTA

You can go back further if you’d like — and you’ll find the only year where a film didn’t win any BAFTAs and won Best Picture was The Departed, which also had DGA and Globes for Director, plus Critics Choice. Birdman does not have Globes and it does not have Critics Choice.

Other than that, every other Best Picture winner had more than one BAFTA, or else the film won outright.

2008 – Slumdog Millionaire
2007– No Country for Old Men – Supporting Actor, Director, Cinematography
2006 — The Departed – Zero BAFTAs
2005 — Crash – Supporting Actress, Screenplay
2004 — Million Dollar Baby, not nominated
2003 – Return of the King
2002 – Chicago – Supporting Actress, Sound
2001 – A Beautiful Mind – Actor, Supporting Actress

You can see that since BAFTA changed its date to take place before the Oscars (year 2000) Oscar’s Best Picture either won at BAFTA or else had acting nominations except in the two cases of The Departed and Million Dollar Baby, both of which won the Globe for Director and both won the DGA. Inarritu only has one of those.

Why does this make a difference? Because it doesn’t show BROAD support for Birdman. It shows industry-specific support – not the Globes, not the Critics Choice, not the BAFTAs: Only the one area that is threatened by superhero movies is wanting to award Birdman.

There is no precedent for this year, but gun to my head, if I had to put money on it, I’d probably follow the best stat for predicting Best Picture, the DGA. That doesn’t mean Best Director will follow.

DGA
2013 – Cuaron / Gravity did not win Picture (PGA)
2012 – Argo (PGA/DGA/SAG)
2011 – The Artist (PGA/DGA/SAG)
2010 – The King’s Speech (PGA/DGA/SAG)
2009 – The Hurt Locker  (PGA/DGA)
2008 – Slumdog Millionaire (PGA/DGA/SAG)
2007 – The Coens  (PGA)
2006 – The Departed (DGA)
2005 – Ang Lee / Brokeback did not win Picture (PGA)
2004 – Million Dollar Baby (DGA)
2003 – Return of the King (PGA/DGA/SAG)
2002 – Chicago did not win Director (PGA/DGA/SAG)
2001 – A Beautiful Mind  (DGA)
2000 – Gladiator  (PGA)
1999 – American Beauty  (PGA/DGA/SAG)
1998 – Saving Private Ryan – did not win Picture (PGA)
1997 – Titanic (PGA)
1996 – English Patient  (PGA/DGA)
1995 – Apollo 13 – did not win Best Picture (PGA/DGA/SAG)
1994 – Forrest Gump (PGA/DGA)
1993 – Schindler’s List (PGA/DGA)
1992 – Unforgiven (DGA)
1991 – Silence of the Lambs (PGA/DGA)
1990 – Dances with Wolves (PGA/DGA)

In the end, the Oscar’s choice for Best Picture will be the result of a preferential ballot, and the only other group that uses it is the Producers Guild.

It seems like it will come down to the actors, who dominate the Academy, giving Birdman the edge, and anyone in the industry who loathes how Hollywood’s course has been so woefully upended by superhero movies. Also, Birdman’s directions is more showy.

I may still white-knuckle it and predict Boyhood to take both in spite of the Guild awards.  But smart money probably should follow the most reliable of all precursors, the DGA.

 

directors-guild-of-america-logo-blue

66% of our readers so far predict Richard Linklater to win, followed by Alejandro G. Inarritu. Do you agree?


Meanwhile, over at Gold Derby just two pundits, Jenelle Reilly and Anne Thompson are predicting Alejandro G. Inarritu to win for Birdman, while everyone else is predicting Linklater.

Last year, the DGA did not predict the Best Picture winner because there was a crazy agreed-upon split happening throughout the season. Cuaron would take director and 12 Years a Slave would take Picture. This mirrored In the Heat of the Night winning Picture and Mike Nichols winning Director for The Graduate. That kind of split has only happened twice and in both cases a bravura director and a socially conscious picture were paired. But 2014 is not like that. There is no agreed-upon split yet. What you’re seeing so far is something a little reminiscent of 2010 when The Social Network won the critics but the PGA took the race in an entirely different direction. What the DGA decides tonight will determine whether yes, it is 2010 all over again, or no, it is going to maybe be a little more like Little Miss Sunshine winning PGA and SAG but then losing DGA to Scorsese and then losing Picture and Director at the Oscars, when the Departed won big.

Boyhood is obviously not The Departed. Big Hollywood likes Big Hollywood movies and other than American Sniper, Birdman’s about as big Hollywood as you’re like to get with the Best Picture race.

The Oscar for Best Director can sometimes lend surprises but it’s harder to find a surprise winner at the DGA – it hardly ever happens because they are such a massive group. A massive group tasked with finding best this year is interesting because it probably splits up all over the place. The DGA has five and no preferential ballot but the five films will each have their supporters. All five.

What win will take the race in what direction?

Boyhood – stays the course, will win Director — Picture still open-ended but most likely Boyhood.
Precedent: Martin Scorsese won Best Director for The Departed at the Globes, at the Critics Choice (with Picture), and with the New York Film Critics — Linklater won those also. Pic lost PGA and SAG. Precedent: The Departed

Birdman – Birdman will likely take Director and probably Picture
Precedent: The King’s Speech, which won PGA and SAG.

The Imitation Game – Totally unprecedented win but would mean Imitation Game is suddenly more popular than anyone thought.
Precedent: Maybe like Ridley Scott winning for Gladiator – then the movie winning Picture but someone else winning Director.

American Sniper – total game-changer. Sniper can only win Picture because Eastwood is not nominated at the Oscars for Director. Precedent: Argo for the win, Apollo 13 and The Color Purple for the loss.

The Grand Budapest Hotel
If it suddenly wins DGA it would be like any film that won nothing previously. No real precedent for its win since 2000 at least but like The Imitation Game you could say Ridley Scott.

Each choice represents a different type of voter. For some reason, Clint Eastwood keeps calling my name when I look at that list, not just because Sniper is so popular all the sudden, but because he’s is his 80s and had this kind of success. That is my No Guts, No Glory pick. My prediction remains the safe choice — and the one I think is most deserved – Linklater.

Here is a quickie contest to replace the one that got trashed. If you entered and have your return receipt make sure to keep track to see if you won or not.



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