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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.



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

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.

Picture – 2 | Best Director 1 (winner)

Picture – 2 | Best Director 0

Picture – 2 | Best Director 0

Picture – 1 | Best Director 0

Picture – 0 | Best Director 0

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.


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
Steve Jobs
Bridge of Spies
The Danish Girl
Carol (I think the Academy is finally ready for Todd Haynes)

Money Monsters
Hateful Eight
A Bigger Splash

Best Director
Spielberg, Bridge of Spies
Hooper, Danish Girl
David O. Russell, Joy
Todd Haynes, Carol
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
A Bigger Splash
Money Monster
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.



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.”



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.

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.

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.

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.



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.

Writer-director Richard Linklater’s latest and unique cinematic achievement is less about a 12-year production and more because of his almost seamless blend of the melodramatic and the quotidian. One doesn’t need a context to appreciate Boyhood, but the film does need a little defense against some younger twitterers whose reactions can be summarized as “What’s the big deal?” When Gravity came out a bit more than a year ago, a thousand science-fiction-loving bloggers leapt to their keyboards to explain why the film was a “game changer”; Boyhood doesn’t have a constituency that’s quite so…naturally vocal, so this post is here for the next time someone shrugs at the marvels of Boyhood.

First, when have you ever seen a bildungsroman (a.k.a. coming-of-age story) where the plot hinged on nothing but the coming of age? No one does that! There’s always something else – Huck Finn helping Jim down the river, Pip unlocking the secret of his fortune, Narnia to be saved, Traveling Pants to be secured, the Stand By Me kids looking for the body, Pi trying to survive the raft with the tiger – authors never trust you to “only” experience a child’s maturing without some kind of larger artifice. If every other growing-up story is a symphony, Boyhood is the same song “unplugged” with no more than an acoustic guitar. And suddenly, you’re hearing the beauty of the notes in a way you never before understood.

Ever since Georges Méliès put his fantastical dreams on screen more than a century ago – dramatized by Martin Scorsese in Hugo three years ago – people have been trying to strip film narratives of their artifice. A laudable impulse against grandiosity and “unrealism” has inspired everything from the first documentaries to John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath (1940) to the Italian neo-realists to the anti-“cinema de papa” films of the French New Wave to the “gutsy” movies of the Hollywood Renaissance to the 1980s indie films by people like Jim Jarmusch and Steven Soderbergh to the Dogme 95 manifesto. That said, the exact tension between the demands of narrative and the desire for “lifelike” conditions was never expressed better, or funnier, than in Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze’s Adaptation (2002), in an exchange between “Charlie Kaufman,” played by Nicolas Cage, and screenwriting guru Robert McKee (who is still religiously followed by Pixar and half of Hollywood today), played by Brian Cox:

Sir, what if a writer is attempting to create a story where nothing much happens, where people don’t change, they don’t have any epiphanies. They struggle and are frustrated and nothing is resolved. More a reflection of the real world —

The real world?

Yes, sir.

The real f—ing world? First of all, you write a screenplay without conflict or crisis, you’ll bore your audience to tears. Secondly: nothing happens in the world? Are you out of your f—ing mind? People are murdered every day! There’s genocide, war, corruption! Every f—ing day somewhere in the world somebody sacrifices his life to save someone else! Every f—ing day someone somewhere makes a conscious decision to destroy someone else! People find love! People lose it! A child watches her mother beaten to death on the steps of a church! Someone goes hungry! Somebody else betrays his best friend for a woman! If you can’t find that stuff in life, then you, my friend, don’t know CRAP about life! And WHY THE F— are you wasting my two precious hours with your movie? I don’t have any use for it! I don’t have any bloody use for it!

Okay, thanks.

The truth is that McKee has a point: the ineffable feeling of the everyday has always taxed the patience of movie audiences. John Cassavetes and Andy Warhol well knew it while doing their 1960s experiments; today’s mumblecore artists know it as well. It’s very, very difficult to get audiences to invest in something with the veracity of a surveillance video for 90 minutes. When a filmmaker tries to produce that feeling of unrehearsed spontaneity, s/he almost always has to resort to certain tricks. Understated lighting and soft-speaking actors can help, as in films like The Bicycle Thieves (1948) and Celebration (1998). But all too often, narrative asserts its priorities, and the final thirds of such films tend to favor melodrama. Rarely, filmmakers can be boldly stylish even as they seek to highlight the everyday-ness of things, as Warhol was, and as Terrence Malick has lately been doing with films like The Tree of Life – not that everyone appreciates his efforts.

Malick’s fellow filmmaking Texan Richard Linklater, in his quarter-century of a career, has proved that he can be as bold and experimental as anyone – if you’re not sure about that, re-watch Waking Life (2001). Roger Ebert wrote that it’s not what a film’s about but how it’s about what it’s about, and Linklater found a deceptively terrific tone for Boyhood that’s all the more right for how it makes some people go “meh.” The trick is that the melodramatic moments and the “normal” moments feel all of a piece; they complement each other perfectly.

The big moments include one stepfather throwing things at the dinner table, another stepfather stopping Mason as he comes home late, the actual father at the bowling alley learning what his daughter remembers, Mom’s final scene about the shortness of life, Mason’s breakup on the bleacher seats, and Mom grabbing her kids and moving them out of the bad stepfather’s house. The more quotidian moments include video-game-playing, chore-doing, camping, shooting, politics-talking, and walking and biking around small-town Texas. This is a film where time marches on even as it seems like anything could occur. Thanks to some strong performances and Linklater’s clever mise-en-scène, which echoes the better filmmaking realists, Boyhood’s big moments feel as though they just happened to happen, and the little moments feel like tiny shards from some larger symbolic mosaic. When we arrive at the final half-hour, and Mason’s graduation party, we’re in a sort of giddy state between realism and melodrama that very few films have achieved. As the friends congratulate Mason, as Mom and Dad confer for one of the only times in the film, as Dad confides in Mason that he never liked his beautiful girlfriend, we almost don’t know how to feel – should we expect a big melodramatic culmination? Should we expect this to be as prosaic as pissing on a campfire? It feels like a little bit of both, and that feels almost unprecedented for a film’s final act…almost a brand-new type of imitation of life.

In 2014, we expect breakthroughs in realism to come only from television, perhaps from a show like Orange is the New Black, which is also a virtuosic modern blend of the everyday and the narrative-driven. As a movie, Boyhood has to ace the routine and stick the landing all at once. Yes, you could see a few breathless wobbles, particularly during Mason and Mom’s final scene, where Linklater shoehorned in framed photos of moments that we’d never seen, to remind us that this has been a 12-year journey – without resorting to flashbacks. (Imagine this film with flashbacks! Entirely destroying the sense of ineffable inevitability.) Mason’s spat with his photography teacher was a little too well-timed for the end of the film’s second act, just when things are meant to be bleakest (as Robert McKee teaches). But a few trembles wouldn’t stop the judges from awarding this a 10 out of 10.

Ever since someone said, “Every fiction film is partly a documentary, and every documentary is partly a fiction,” people have tried to split the difference, and if Richard Linklater didn’t quite hybridize the two classic bildungsroman franchises, 7Up and Harry Potter, into 160 elegant minutes, he came as close as anyone ever will. (As a side note, one wonders how well-received a similar movie would have been about an old man becoming 12 years older.) All this in a raw-edged, almost unsentimental film about the sensitive kids of working-class, divorced people, a film as proletarian as it is protean. Boyhood is already the film of a decade, but we’re not in bad shape if it becomes the film of this decade.

Weirdly, the most radical thing about Boyhood may be its title and the fact that it isn’t Childhood (About a Boy was taken). Deep in the red-meat heart of red-state America, even a boy named Mason is growing up painting his nails and piercing his ears, more metrosexual than his grandparents could have imagined. Brit Hume had a point when he stood up for Chris Christie: our culture is relatively feminized, but the Mason character provides compelling evidence that The Kids Are All Right with that. Because Boyhood begins in 2002 and ends in 2014, Mason naturally signifies a sort of sifter that decides what to keep and what to throw away from the previous century. And what a beautiful testament to our country and culture, that despite our divisive politics, divorce epidemic, and digital overload (Mason loudly rejects the latter), we can still raise Masons and Samanthas. That final bend in the river still leads to America, and “always right now” isn’t as bad as it sometimes seems. Boyhood skeptics, tell me: how is that “meh”?

If anything distracts from the achievement of Boyhood – notice that in 1500 words I haven’t yet mentioned this aspect – it’s the chance to see the film’s lead actor growing from age 6 to 18, which critics are fawning over perhaps a bit too much. Not that I’m not one of them: there’s something about the very actual aging that warms a rarely touched zone of the heart, like the first time you see a 30-second time-lapse video of a day in the life of a flower, extending its petals to the sun and then withdrawing. Having said that, I’d like to go out on a limb here and suggest that if Linklater had cast four different actors as Mason and shot the whole thing in one summer – like most filmmakers would have – Boyhood would have been about 85% as good. Going back to my Gravity comparison, 3-D long-take shots were to Gravity what the 12-year production was to Boyhood, the decorative frosting that masked a surprisingly meaty filling. We might express surprise that the initial premise – kids navigating divorced dating mom and absentee dad through wackadoo new century – was so durable, but we really shouldn’t be surprised that the author of the Before trilogy, given 12 years on his labor of love, was able to conjure up so many effective scenes. As expressed in the final edit, the script was nothing short of magnificent. But oh, oh…that 15% of watching them grow up is worth all the long takes in Gravity.

Just when we think we’ve seen it all, Boyhood challenges what we think is possible in film, even what we think during films, without ever being formally flashy like Linklater’s Slacker (1991), Waking Life (2001), and A Scanner Darkly (2006). Boyhood is a challenge to every future attempt at feature-length realism, but perhaps its most salient feature is that it feels nothing like a challenge. Instead it feels like a culmination of themes that ran through the Before films, Tape (2001), Dazed and Confused (1993), and even School of Rock (2003). Linklater’s patience, decency, humility, and generosity of spirit come through in every frame. His directorial signature has been to give his characters room to grow, and with Boyhood he found (created) the ideal canvas. Like John Sayles and Mike Leigh, Linklater must hurry up his actors just to stay on-budget, but you never sense that. Instead you feel life as it happens, life as it is: that gossamer-grabbing feeling of how 12 years can feel like 2 hours, that sepia-fading sensation of how one day you turn around and your kid is going to college. Boyhood will someday sit next to other films in the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry, and there it will reside like a treasured photo album placed next to a group of great books.


Read more from Daniel Smith-Rowsey at his blog, Map to the Future


And the winners:



Boyhood (Universal)


Leviathan (Curzon Artificial Eye)


Under the Skin (StudioCanal)


Citizenfour (Curzon Artificial Eye)


Michael Keaton – Birdman (Fox)


Julianne Moore – Still Alice (Curzon Artificial Eye)


JK Simmons – Whiplash (Sony)


Patricia Arquette – Boyhood (Universal)


Timothy Spall – Mr Turner (eOne)


Rosamund Pike – Gone Girl (Fox) & What We Did on Our Holiday (Lionsgate)


Alex Lawther – The Imitation Game (StudioCanal)


Richard Linklater – Boyhood (Universal)


Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel (Fox)


Yann Demange – ’71 (StudioCanal)


Under the Skin – Mica Levi, score (StudioCanal)


Miranda Richardson

TOP 10 FILMS of 2014

1. Boyhood

2. Birdman

3. Under the Skin

4. Whiplash

5. Mr Turner

6. Leviathan

7. The Grand Budapest Hotel

8. Ida

9. Nightcrawler

10. The Theory of Everything

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 3.34.37 PM

Lucas is not a voting member of the Academy and wouldn’t want to be. Speaks up for David Oyelowo and Ava DuVernay.


One of the most slippery categories, alongside Best Picture, is Best Director this year. There is really no precedent to what we’ve been seeing at all. While on the face of it, the circumstances look like 2012 all over again, where the consensus was rejected by Academy voters, swapping out the popular choices, Kathryn Bigelow and Ben Affleck with Michael Haneke and Benh Zeitlin, indeed, the DGA itself broke with consensus by inserting Clint Eastwood (American Sniper) and Morton Tyldum (Imitation Game) for David Fincher (Gone Girl) and Ava DuVernay (Selma).

Here are a few things to look at. Only recently, since 2012, did the Academy push its date back to announce Oscar nominees before the DGA announced.  It was previously easier for the Oscar voters to rely on what the DGA said, especially if they really had no clue where the race was headed — or whether they even saw the movies up for contention. “Go with the DGA’s picks, it’s easier.” Also, that thing about humans wanting to be on the winning side? That comes into play big time with larger consensus votes.

In 2012 all hell broke loose with Affleck being shut out. Bigelow, it was silently accepted, “deserved” the diss because she made a movie “advocating torture.” But Affleck? He was just this nice guy making a fun movie that everybody liked. Why did he get shut out? Those mean old Academy members! And so it went.

But cut to: 2013, the following year, LAST year, there wasn’t much of a disconnect between the DGA and the Academy, even with the dates swapped. But last year, unlike this year, there was a clearer consensus. There were a handful of really strong films with popular directors – everyone was mostly in sync, give or take a Paul Greengrass.  Last year, Alexander Payne and Paul Greengrass duked it out.

But in the years since 2011, all the directors who got both Globes and Critics Choice nominations also got Oscar nominations for Best Director. Why?

Because the super-early ballot deadline happened before the Golden Globes, before the surge of a late breaking film. A lot longer ago than the race right now “feels like.”

The David Fincher Factor

He can’t really win with them, as you’ve all seen if you’ve been following this site. Any director with a movie as successful, critically acclaimed and talked about as Gone Girl, in any other era of the Academy’s history, would be in for so many reasons. Any Academy in the past would appreciate a director who makes an adult film that does that well. Only difference here? The woman factor. A movie written by a woman, starring lots of women, aimed primarily at women. Even the really great “Gone Girl honest trailer” proves what it is (straight) men can’t get around with Gone Girl: that he stays. Why can’t they get around it? Because 1) men hate to admit that they are easily pussy-whipped, and certainly don’t want to see that on screen. 2) They are used to having their cake and eating it too (Fatal Attraction) and 3) We are conditioned to see women like that get punished.  This all has to be factored in when predicting this category – because otherwise, looking at the stats, Fincher would be in.

The Globes + Critics Choice Factor

Like Fincher, Ava DuVernay received the Critics Choice and the Golden Globes honor for Director. Only one director since 2011 has not gotten in for Oscar with those indicators and it was Paul Greengrass for Captain Phillips.  But Greengrass also had the DGA, making it even more surreal that he didn’t get in. If you go back to the beginning of the Critics Choice you only have one year, 2007, when two directors were nominated for both significant precursors and did not make either the DGA or Oscar and that was Tim Burton for Sweeney Todd and Joe Wright for Atonement. For whatever reason, they were replaced by the DGA for the more male-centric Paul Thomas Anderson for There Will Be Blood and Tony Gilroy for Michael Clayton, both of those ended up heading for the Oscars.  Clint Eastwood was nominated for Invictus by both groups but was replaced by Quentin Tarantino for Inglorious Basterds.

In 2006, the year before, Clint Eastwood for Letters from Iwo Jima and Paul Greengrass for United 93 both skipped DGA and got Oscar nominations.

The Macho Macho Man Factor

The directors are mostly straight white and male, let’s face it. You can’t get around that. Give them a war movie, a shoot ’em up, anything with violence — think GI Joe toys. This hurts both Selma (woman director) and Gone Girl (all womany up and down it).  ON THE OTHER HAND, in 2012 they picked Beasts of the Southern Wild and Amour – hardly MACHO MACHO MAN stuff. Are the times changing? I don’t know.

Let’s look at our locks:

Richard Linklater for Boyhood
Alejandro G. Inarritu for Birdman
Wes Anderson for the Grand Budapest Hotel

Next, you have four names that could be selected:

Ava DuVernay, Selma
David Fincher, Gone Girl
Clint Eastwood, American Sniper
Morton Tyldum, The Imitation Game

Next, factor in the BAFTA’s choice of Damien Chazelle for Whiplash.

The BAFTA did not choose Morton Tyldum for The Imitation Game, which is awfully strange, for it being a British film and all.  That seems fairly significant to me, enough that I personally am going to predict Chazelle in for Tyldum. ON THE OTHER HAND… Tyldum has the DGA, which is also significant and would be more important IF the DGA had announced before Oscar ballots were turned in.

That leaves my own list with four so far:

Richard Linklater for Boyhood
Alejandro G. Inarritu for Birdman
Wes Anderson for the Grand Budapest Hotel
Damien Chazelle, Whiplash

That leaves one spot left. It’s the wild card slot and it could be filled with just about anyone, including Dan Gilroy for Nightcrawler.

Gold Derby says:

gddirectorThe Gurus say:

gurusdirectorVulture’s Kyle Buchanan says:


Hitfix Guys:

Kris Tapley predicts:
Clint Eastwood, “American Sniper”
Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”
Alejandro González Iñárritu, “Birdman”
Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Morten Tyldum, “The Imitation Game”

Gregory Ellwood predicts:
Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”
Alejandro González Iñárritu, “Birdman”
Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Ava DuVernay, “Selma”
Damian Chazelle, “Whiplash”

Scott Feinberg predicts:

Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”
Alejandro González Iñárritu, “Birdman”
Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Morton Tyldum, Imitation Game
Damian Chazelle, “Whiplash”

I see many different options here with many chances to be wrong. The safest bet is probably Kris Tapley’s above. He’s going 5/5 with the DGA. I don’t think that’s going to happen – it’s incredibly rare and hasn’t happened since the Oscars changed its date to turn in ballots before the DGA announced. So I don’t think it’s going to work – I do think the BAFTA’s decision to count Chazelle does matter.

My final predictions are:

Richard Linklater for Boyhood
Alejandro G. Inarritu for Birdman
Wes Anderson for the Grand Budapest Hotel
David Fincher, Gone Girl
Damien Chazelle, Whiplash
My sixth choice is Clint Eastwood for American Sniper.
But watch out for: Dan Gilroy for Nightcrawler
Hope is the thing with feathers: Ava DuVernay for Selma
Same old song: Morton Tyldum, Imitation Game

The reason I doubt he’ll be included in the Oscar’s lineup is the date. American Sniper’s surge came later and surprisingly – with not enough momentum to gather steam. On the other hand, that the screeners alone were enough to get it in the for the Eddie makes a huge difference here. Morton Tyldum didn’t get in for BAFTA, and that makes me think he won’t get in for Oscar either. Take it all with a grain of salt – as always, follow the better predictors like Scott Feinberg and Hitfix for your office pool.

The only reason I don’t think Ava DuVernay will get in is because the straight white males seemed personally offended by the LBJ controversy that was hitting its peak during voting. It rallied and came back from that but I fear it was too late – I also think this might mean it misses out on a Best Picture nod but I’m not going to take that chance.

My full predictions coming later today.





Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s naming
For the loser now will be later to win
For the times they are a-changing – Bob Dylan

You know you’re in trouble when the Hollywood Foreign Press threatens to upstage all of the other voting bodies with its diverse choices, when 90 outsiders have their fingers on the pulse of changing American culture better than thousands of insiders who work in the industry. Today, the DGA named their choices for five Best Directors of the year. They named Richard Linklater for Boyhood, Wes Anderson for The Grand Budapest Hotel, Alejandro G. Inarritu for Birdman, Clint Eastwood for American Sniper, and Morton Tyldum for The Imitation Game. They omitted two of 2014’s most memorable films by anyone’s definition, David Fincher’s Gone Girl and Ava DuVernay’s Selma. In case you haven’t been paying attention, that’s the ONLY film in the race written by a woman, and the only film still left in the race directed by a woman. Seeing a pattern here?

The race for Best Picture is mostly settled and has been since Telluride. Nothing came along to really challenge Boyhood, a beautifully made film about the tender upbringing of a young man coming of age in a complicated country. It’s the crowning achievement of Richard Linklater who has been reinventing what can be done with cinema with each new film he’s made throughout his career. Linklater has never been in it for any reason except to make great art. That is worth all of the awards the film is about to reap.

For a while it seemed like Alejandro G. Inarritu’s Birdman, which launched in Venice, might be that actors’ movie that could overtake it in a Crash/Brokeback kind of dramatic last act. But Boyhood has proved much more resilient than anyone thought. Next up was the Weinstein Co’s Imitation Game, which did very well with the Telluride crowd, won the audience award up in Toronto, and excited the festival-going demo to no end. It has the stamp of “importance,” a persecuted gay man, without any of the messy gay sex to go along with that. That’s the way the straight world likes it — all tidied up and hidden away. I didn’t think the movie deserved the criticisms it got for that omission, nor did I think the strange story behind the real Chris Kyle was any reason to punish American Sniper. They’re movies, after all. All of that changed, however, when the DGA shut out Ava DuVernay’s Selma, a film that got so much heat in the days leading up to the Oscar ballot deadline. The controversy might effectively knock it out of the competition altogether.

The attacks against the film were so fevered and so intense they made it all the way up to the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, CNN and TIME magazine. Intelligent journalists were “bothered” by the film’s treatment of LBJ, specifically regarding J. Edgar Hoover. It felt personal, this. They were uniting in their defense of a blighted American president who they complained was not given his due in this film. There was a suggestion that the film’s depiction of LBJ was somehow sinister or mean or, dare we say it, ANGRY?

If you’re black you can never afford to be thought of as angry. You have to smile and smile some more and smile yet more times, no matter what people say to you. This is doubly so if you’re a woman. Be nice and SMILE! DuVernay comes from film marketing and knows full well how this sick little game works.

And just how does this game work? It works when Mississippi Burning gets in for Best Picture — in spite of the way it turned the facts inside out and made white men the heroes of a black struggle. It works when a community of voices came together to protest the way the slaves were being portrayed in Gone with the Wind, but instead of it getting shut out, it sweeps the Oscars. Even Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple got in for major nominations, winning the DGA, with controversy following it every step of the way. But Selma? Not so fast, little girl, that’s a US President you’re talking about.

The degree of unanimous protests against Selma were all too creepily timed to hit the airwaves just as ballots were sailing into the hands of not too savvy industry voters who are never really paying attention that closely.

They weren’t catching the wave of excitement Selma’s mere presence brought to audiences – not because history was about to be made with the first black female director in the Oscar race, but because Selma was such a very good film, such a moving film, such a sensual, breathtaking, wholly original work that no one really knew what to do with it. They were scared of it, probably.

It was very unlikely The Imitation Game was going to unseat Boyhood, and less likely that Birdman would. But Selma? That was looking too strong for comfort. Something really had to be done about Selma. Thus, the “controversy” likely gave voters a reason to stay home, and if no screeners arrived in time? So be it.

It isn’t that any of the five DGA nominees are bad. It isn’t even that their decision to honor Eastwood at his old age being able to still direct great war scenes was a bad one. Or that their adherence to the old film awards cliche with The Imitation Game, getting traction for being a film about an oppressed gay protagonist. They’re perfectly fine. It isn’t so much that they were included, it’s what got excluded that makes all the difference here.

I could go on and on about David Fincher not getting in for Gone Girl. Low-level misogyny and disinterest in anything that’s popular with women seemed to put Gone Girl in the “unimportant” pile, no matter that it’s likely one of the few films that reached the public at large, at least this year. That it isn’t an “Oscar movie” is a reminder that this whole dumb circus is a sham because Selma IS an “Oscar movie,” so what’s their excuse this time? They didn’t get screeners in time? They couldn’t get off of their lazy, entitled asses to go out and see what many are calling the most “important” film of the year? Aren’t they all about “important”? Ah but you see, they aren’t. The word “Important” has an asterisk next to it and next to the asterick is the following fine print:

*We here in the industry define important as that which matters to white men. If it doesn’t involve white men or else the white men aren’t the saviors we have little interest in it. We don’t care about anything other than that which makes us feel good about ourselves.

Gone Girl did virtually no FYC advertising. They did not play the Oscar game this year the way the other films did. It would have to succeed on merit alone. If anything can be learned about this year’s race it’s that merit alone means squat. I don’t even think Boyhood would have gotten in without a heavy awards push. Ditto Birdman, ditto Grand Budapest, both in the capable hands of Fox Searchlight.

But Selma did do the campaigning, tirelessly. DuVernay was everywhere. The film was being written about, talked about, advertised heavily everywhere. The Hard No is like an ancient, flaking wall that’s been standing tall for too long; it’s a barrier that holds back everything that’s great about our changing culture in 2015 and what might be coming next. It’s a dream extinguisher, a font of decay that represents an old world. It’s the card game in Sunset Boulevard all over again.

In a year with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, in a year that has been rife with heated debate about civil rights and voter rights, issues which are still far from settled, the DGA puts its head in the sand and forgot that the defining movies in a given year should not reflect the singular tastes of an elitist, separatist entity, but should reflect the broader cultural conversation, the movies that people are really talking about, because otherwise, why bother making movies for the public at all? Why not just make them for your own private little club, a club that has limited membership and strict rules about appropriate content.

This is an important day to remember. The industry will discover, too late probably, that the walls are closing in around them. They won’t exist for much longer because great filmmakers will stop making movies entirely and head to television. All that will be left is that one arrogant rich guy standing in the balcony clapping for the one thing he wanted to see on stage, whether it was good or bad, successful or not.

These voters have given us their choices for best of this year. Some of them deserve it, some of them don’t. The glaring omissions are the only films that were backed by women – the only one written by a woman, Gone Girl, and the only one directed by a woman that had the remotest chance, Selma. Hollywood has given us that Hard No with a fleshy white palm beaming at us from the road not taken, a disappointing roadblock, a needless obstacle.

What they’re missing, and it will ultimately be their demise, is that they are rendering themselves slowly but surely irrelevant. Voices of the many are not interested in an outmoded conversation. They will fly past the awards race stopping momentarily to gaze at the diorama of what the Hollywood industry looked like back when it refused to adapt.

Or as Dylan would say:

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fading
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a-changing

Thursday, the Academy will announce, at last, its nominees for the 87th Academy Awards.


MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell delivers the Last Word with a lesson about how and why filmmakers dramatize real life events.

“Movies are movies. History books are history books. Movies are works of art — some great art, some good art, some terrible art. Selma, to me is great art… We want to have that experience we can only have in a dark theater, locked in the grip of a movie. I had that watching Selma — which ended with the biggest and longest standing ovation I have ever experienced in a theater.”



Good directors are everywhere. They populate the awards race this year and every year. They dazzle with their first movie, try to live up to it in their second movie and with each hyped film try to beat back the seduction of Big Hollywood and its long inappropriate affair with superhero movies and films about branded toys. I’m lucky that 2014 turned out to be a year David Fincher released a movie. I don’t think people who cover films are sexist but they don’t have many options this year, not when great filmmakers young and old finds the stories of men so fascinating. They are fascinating. They are not the problem. The problem is the lack of an equally fascinating female characters.

Enter Amazing Amy.

Because Fincher trusted Gillian Flynn to adapt her own novel, stuck to that commitment, we get a retwisted adaptation of Flynn’s book that is a dramatic departure the book’s fans weren’t expecting. The cinematic Amy was far less likable, but far more compelling. The daring and heartstopping ending still confuses people. “It’s got a dumb ending,” at least one guy will tell me on Twitter. They didn’t believe Ben Affleck’s character would stay with Amy. But if you follow the film closely you’ll learn the reason why; you’ll dig deeper into Affleck’s character to find that reason. That’s the beauty of Fincher’s work – he lays out tiny mysteries like breadcrumbs to be uncovered and discovered on multiple viewings. There aren’t many directors like that anymore.

Yet, Fincher is, for some reason, still the “enfant terrible” where the Academy is concerned. His early films were ignored completely, as was Zodiac, a terrifying rumination on obsession. It was, by far, one of the best films of that year yet it was not acknowledged by the Academy. They liked Benjamin Button better. But they really liked The Social Network, which nearly took the Oscars by storm, famously, in 2010. In the end, the Academy and the industry would reject outright Fincher’s film, which still holds the record for most love from the critics. It was also such a final NO to film critics that it left them forever changed. Never again would they unite around a movie the way they did that film, not even this year’s Boyhood. There were two Best Pictures that year, the industry’s choice of the King’s Speech and the critics choice of the Social Network, two films that were polar opposites in every way: sympathetic royal overcomes speech impediment to help win World War II versus a self-made billionaire who changed the world forever but ends the movie unloved and mostly alone.

There is also a story to be told behind the scenes of titans and strategists and publicists and money and rumors and the British Film Council but for our purposes we’re going to ignore all of that – must never shake loose the mirage that the Oscars are a magical night of worthy winners.

To work this job you have to accept the rules of the game. Or at least know them. I know them and most of the time I choose to ignore them. I don’t think the Oscars were ever intended merely to repeat one style of film over and over again.  It isn’t that the King’s Speech did not deserve to win – it is like the King himself; it was born to win. The Social Network was kind of accidentally there. It didn’t look like an Oscar movie and nobody liked the people in it.

Gone Girl has remained the year’s biggest question mark where Best Picture is concerned. Most of the top named pundits in the race, like Dave Karger, Scott Feinberg, Kris Tapley and Pete Hammond have all said Gone Girl would not make it in. There were several reasons for this but namely there were too many other movies coming that would knock it out. And, as Kris once said, “there’s that Dragon Tattoo thing.” What is that, you might want to know? Perhaps it’s best if you look at the following chart:


Even with all of that guild support and an AFI nomination, in the end Dragon Tattoo was not deemed serious enough to be nominated. It was too much of a genre picture, too popular, too airport novel-y. Even still, no matter that the entire industry, up to the DGA, thought Dragon Tattoo good enough, the Academy said no. Tapley thinks, and I’m betting he could right, that the same thing is likely to happen to Gone Girl.

By this point, I’m fairly certain the last person who cares about this is Fincher himself. Clearly if he were gunning for Oscar he’d set his movie way in the past, with a script about a man who overcomes obstacles and makes good. The best films THIS year were not tailor-made for Oscar, like the frontrunner, Boyhood. The reason being, if you want to have impact as an artist the last place you’re likely to be recognized is in the Best Picture race. They are very much about the seriousness of good character. They want movies that reflect the goodness in people, that sweet sweet lie we tell ourselves to get through another day. Their lives aren’t miserable so why would they want to dwell in misery? Isn’t it enough, they might think, they have to stock up on antidepressants when confronting the screener pile? Is it too much to ask for a little lightness, a little brightness and a bit with a dog?

Indeed, many Oscar voters are in the twilight of their lives – they’ve seen it all, done it all. Now, they’re more about the comfort of that twilight, the embracing of each day. At that point, and really at every point, just waking up in the morning and standing on two legs is cause to celebrate. So why would they want to dwell, necessarily, in discomfort? No, David Fincher did not set out to make an Oscar movie with Gone Girl but wouldn’t you know he would accidentally make one of the best pictures of the year?

When you look at 2011, and the other years where the race expanded, you’ll see that the Academy punishes success in some ways. Bridesmaids was a silly comedy that would never have gotten nominated but it was also a resounding success that starred and was written by women. The Hangover was successful also and was shut out for the same reasons. Dragon Tattoo was successful and popular in the industry but not deemed ‘important’ or at least MORE important than its competitors, more important than War Horse or Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. The Oscars are probably never going to change.

2014, though, might force the Oscars to change unless they surprise everyone by picking divisive films like Interstellar and Unbroken. These are much more in keeping with Oscar’s traditional sensibilities than Gone Girl, Nightcrawler or Foxcatcher. There is likely the notion that success is its own reward, even with the drastically altered landscape of the film industry, even with the need to preserve hard R films aimed at adults. Success, Gone Girl style, could be both its own reward ($167 million) and a good example of how the Academy refuses to ever really change.

Even if David Fincher gets a DGA nomination it won’t mean the film is in for Best Picture. It still has to reach enough number one ballots to secure a spot. With our PGA ten one of them has to go – and if you make room for Selma, two have to go:

The Imitation Game
Grand Budapest Hotel
Gone Girl
American Sniper
Theory of Everything

There are only two films Gone Girl and The Theory of Everything that have possible Best Actress nominees. If you take out Gone Girl that leaves you with one film that has a lead actress Oscar contender in it. Compare that with all five of the lead actor contenders represented in Birdman, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, Foxcatcher and Nightcrawler, even Ralph Fiennes could squeak in, or Bradley Cooper.

I would have fought for this film anyway – because I can’t stop watching it, because it’s the most visually, emotionally and intellectually satisfying film I’ve seen this year. That it also represents the female voice in the race, perhaps the ONLY ONE in the writing categories who will get in at all, makes me want it to succeed.

If I had to put aside my heart’s desire and be more objective I would say Gone Girl is out for Best Picture. I would say I think Scott Feinberg, Kris Tapley, David Poland and Dave Karger‘s instincts are correct. Nearly everyone else over at Gold Derby has it getting in.



Both Unbroken and Selma were headed for the box office on Christmas day, along with Into the Woods, Big Eyes and American Sniper. Unbroken just barely edged out Into the Woods (which was in fewer theaters and had a higher per theater average), to become the Christmas day winner.


Source: Box Office Mojo

The box office success of Unbroken will likely put it in the Oscar camp where pundits had preordained its spot long ago. The machine is the machine and no one can really derail it, especially when so many of us don’t really want to derail it. After all, look at all the waving cocks around The Interview story. We see plenty of bad movies do really well every year, so why shouldn’t Angelina’s movie do well too? Unbroken was the movie that was preordained to get in and whether it was good or not hardly matters. It only had to be passable and to be emotionally wrought enough to take that newly minted 9th slot where the emotionally-driven movies that critics don’t like earn the approval of Oscar voters. It’s that awkward moment when the Hollywood Foreign Press will become the only group that didn’t fall for Jolie’s star power. Everyone thought they would and they didn’t. The same cannot be said for the Critics Choice, which gave the movie a low score but nominated it and its director for Best Picture anyway. An Oscar nod for Best Picture seems all but sewn up, per the machine’s request very early on.

It’s never my favorite thing about the Oscars when a not so great movie gets in. That’s because it takes the spot of a better movie, usually, and because I have to write about the fallout in the years to come where people say “how in the hell did that movie ever get in?” Well, this is how. Hype and PR drive the thing, the pundits play along, the Oscar voters comply and a Best Picture nominee is born. The fix is in, as they say.

If I were giving out prizes for great publicity this year I would give it to the team behind Unbroken and behind Interstellar. In both cases, they needed to try, as long as they could, to keep people from talking about it. After Unbroken’s premiere there was a strict embargo in place. They held back people like me and critics from dumping on the movie so that it could open big and make money, which is what you want any Hollywood movie to do. Unbroken took Christmas Day’s box office with $15 million and will likely earn $40 million, only $20 million shy of its costs. Jolie will be successful enough with this, earn a Best Picture nomination and make another movie. Maybe that one will be better. Interstellar had a similar kind of rollout, though the reviews were a smidge better. Its domestic box office did not do what it should have, though internationally, it has more than made up for its domestic take.

I’m all for the Oscar race for Best Picture to honor films that did really well with audiences, even if they don’t fit the sappy Oscar mold. You do have to kind of marvel at that 9th slot film that has gotten in each year since they changed from a solid ten (and even then you had The Blind Side) to the new system of anywhere from 5 to 10 except for last year. You don’t see better Academy taste born out of that system. You see the Ugly Cry exposed.






People ask why aren’t you supportive of a movie directed by a woman? Isn’t this what you’ve fought for for so long? Well, there were other films directed by women that came out this year that will be ignored by voters because they don’t have a movie star directing them and they don’t have a giant PR team behind them. Their reviews are even better than Unbroken’s. Why aren’t they going to get Best Picture nominations? What are we talking about here? Getting in just because you’re a woman or getting in just because you’re Angelina Jolie? I don’t know. Extremely Loud, War Horse and Les Miserables all got in — so why shouldn’t this movie? I don’t have the answer to that.



I have supported the one film directed by a woman that I personally think deserves to be named one of the year’s best, Selma, directed by Ava DuVernay. Unbroken isn’t so terrible that it’s worth the energy expended to hate. It is only mildly offensive in its treatment of “the Japs.” But I didn’t giggle uncomfortably at it or shake my head thinking: this is SO BAD. It’s just that it’s a film that spends the entire time marinating in the scenes of torture – it was like Jolie was fascinated pulling the wings off of flies. If she wants to go that grotesque, by all means, let her unleash her inner David Cronenberg. But why try to make it seem like a conventional Hollywood story of heroism?

It’s a film that has very little story and has erased any possible humor or irony the Coens (or Hildenbrand) may have put in. It is a story without a story, a film that is just kind of goes from A to Z without any conflict in the story other than he is a POW, he gets tortured, the war ends, he devotes his life to God – he’s a great man and clearly Jolie wanted to do him proud. Perhaps she fulfilled that need for herself and for fans of Zamperini. So people will pat Jolie on the back and say “good job.” That faint praise is a house of cards that will one day fall and when it does it will add itself to the rubbish heap of rumor that women can’t make great films – in the tradition of Penny Marshall, Nora Ephron and Nancy Meyers. Maybe their movies made money but no one really took them seriously. But look over here at Selma and you’ll find a great film directed by a woman that does prove that women make GOOD movies, even great movies. If I choose to shine a light there instead of on the “good job” vote (which hardly needs my support at this point) you’ll know the reason why. I’m in it for the long game.

There are a lot of good intentions out there, a lot of love and passion for subject and a lot of dedicated hard work. Why does anyone think that Angelina Jolie should be measured by those things and no one else? If that’s how we’re measuring Best Picture let’s redefine what Best Picture means. I personally did not think Belle was good enough to champion but it’s a far better film, more fully realized, with deeper meaning and a better story than Unbroken. The reviews are better – it is one of only two films released by women of color about women of color. If I were to champion any film I thought deserved it despite my own opinion of it, it would be Belle. But hey, no one really cares what I think, right?

Because there are so few women who get in to the Oscar race, one is put in that awkward position of having to champion THIS film and THIS woman. Most people like me will shut up about it because she’s a woman and I may very well do that – just suck it up and deal when the nominations come out. So the next time a movie like this is sold packaged and ready to pundits who dutifully put it atop their lists because it looks like an Oscar movie and smells like an Oscar movie, the same thing will happen again. It likely won’t change until Oscar goes back to five nominees. And even then…the machine is the machine. It keeps on keeping on. Let’s not kid ourselves that it has anything to do with “best.”

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