BEST DIRECTOR

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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:

Linklater
Inarritu
Anderson
Tyldum
Chazelle

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.

 

 

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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.

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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.”

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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:

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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:

Birdman
The Imitation Game
Grand Budapest Hotel
Nightcrawler
Boyhood
Whiplash
Gone Girl
American Sniper
Foxcatcher
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.

2014

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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I feel lucky to be living in a time when David Fincher is making great films, dark, smart and now, funny. Gone Girl, Fincher’s highest grossing film to date, just sailed past the $165 million mark. If you’ve never heard Fincher speak about movies, you’re in for a treat. There are few films that have stuck with me this year as much as Gone Girl has. That isn’t a surprise, given Fincher is one of the best directors currently working — needless to say — who has not yet won an Oscar (their problem, not his).

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Kathryn Bigelow has seen Selma twice and did this Q&A with the director – DuVernay just posted this on Facebook.  She called DuVernay’s film “masterful,” and indeed, it is. DuVernay’s film is, like Bigelow’s work, visually compelling throughout, telling its story not just with dialogue but with expressions. It is a thrill to see both of these directors together, defying expectations, rewriting the rules for women.

bestdirector

bestdirector

The Oscar race has never been as divisive as it is in 2014, with factions splitting from the whole to create new worlds where film represents different things for different people. The critics have risen up agains the general consensus in a pronounced way, most notably by taking much of the focus off of American studio product and putting it mostly on films from other countries that have earned their admiration. Russia’s Leviathan, Poland’s Ida, France’s Two Days, One Night – good movies that ought to be considered in what should be renamed the International Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, as it was once called at its inception. Louis B. Mayer simplified it when he removed “International” from the name.

For the past four years, Best Director has gone to someone born in a country other than America – among them, only Ang Lee is a naturalized U.S. citizen. All of the others have hailed from foreign countries. It makes you wonder what the Americans are doing so wrong, why they can’t dazzle voters the way foreigners can. All that is going to change, however, as the Best Director race is already being led by several prominent Americans, like Richard Linklater, Ava DuVernay, David Fincher, Wes Anderson. They are joined by Alejandro Inarritu, the director that Anne Thompson is predicting to split with Best Picture, making the non-American winning the director category 5 years in a row.

Still, probably none of these directors have a chance of cracking either the DGA’s giant consensus vote or the smaller sampling of Academy directors who vote for the nominees in that category. The critics, though, have introduced films that might have a better chance with the Academy than with the larger guild vote.

First, a tiny factoid worth knowing if you don’t follow this website (since no other site, no other blogger that I’ve read finds this to be as important as I do). In 2012, for the first time since the DGA began handing out awards, the DGA nominees announcement came after Oscar ballots were turned in. The same thing happened last year. The same thing is going to happen again this year.

Here’s how it went down:

2013

Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips Alexander Payne, Nebraska
David O. Russell, American Hustle David O. Russell, American Hustle
Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street

2012

Steven Spielberg, Lincoln Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Ang Lee, Life of Pi Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Ben Affleck, Argo David O. Russell, Silver Linings
Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty Michael Haneke Amour
Tom Hooper, Les Miserables Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild

2011

Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist+
Martin Scorsese, Hugo Martin Scorsese, Hugo*
Alexander Payne, The Descendants Alexander Payne, The Descendants*
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris*
David Fincher, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Terrence Malick, Tree of Life*

2010

Tom Hooper The King’s Speech Tom Hooper the King’s Speech+
David Fincher, Social Network David Fincher, Social Network*
Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan*
David O’Russell, The Fighter David O’Russell, The Fighter*
Christopher Nolan, Inception* The Coens, True Grit*

2009

Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker Bigelow, Hurt Locker+
Lee Daniels, Precious Lee Daniels, Precious*
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air Jason Reitman, Up in the Air*
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds*
Jim Cameron, Avatar Jim Cameron, Avatar*

You can check out our DGA/Best Picture chart here to see how they lined up in previous years, but what’s most interesting to note is what happened two years ago, when the consensus picks Kathryn Bigelow and Ben Affleck were left of the Academy’s list. It caused quite a bit of uproar and was just one of the other details about Zero Dark Thirty and Argo that tied them together. Argo was “Zero Dark Thirty lite,” or “Zero Dark Thirty if the Americans were the good guys.” The one thing everyone seemed sure of was that both of those directors would be nominated.

But in a race with more than five Best Picture contenders, you’re not necessarily looking at Best Director the same way anymore. You’re looking at splitting up the two categories, not just how the Ben Affleck year, and the following year did it, where you had a split between Picture and director, but how you think about best Picture overall.

Academy voters have five slots to put down their nominees for Best Picture of the Year. Only five. Yet the race allows for more than five. The only real way we have of knowing how popular a film is overall with the Academy is how many branches nominate that film, but I’m going to go one further and say ESPECIALLY the director category.

The reason is that Director and Picture have been tied together for almost as long as the Academy has given out awards, give or take an early decade or two, but especially once they agreed to hand out five Best Picture nominees and five Best Director nominees.

While last year’s lineup, compared to the DGA, only missed one name, 2012’s missed three of the five names. That was a crazy irregularity when you look back on DGA/Academy history.

So if you go by nominations overall and look at what films were nominated for Best Picture in 2012 and what films were nominated for Best Director you can kind of see which films had the consensus, and therefore had a better shot at the DGA, and which films didn’t.

Let’s start with who did get nominated for Best Director that year:

Ang Lee, Life of Pi (11 nominations)
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln (11 nominations)
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook (9 nominations)
Michael Haneke, Amour (5 nominations)
Benh Zietlin, Beasts (4 nominations)

And what remaining films were there?

Argo (7 nominations)
Les Miserables (8 nominations)
Zero Dark Thirty (6 nominations)
Django Unchained (5 nominations)

The DGA went for the following five:
Ang Lee
Steven Spielberg
Ben Affleck
Kathryn Bigelow
Tom Hooper

The DGA reflects the broader, more popular tastes, which explains why these films have such high nominations. The one exception is Silver Linings Playbook which did not get a DGA nod but did get an Academy nomination.

Further complicating things, and I know it’s confusing by now, but Oscar changed how they counted Best Picture. In 2009 and 2010 they had a straight ten for Best Picture, with no wiggle room. But in 2011, 2012 and 2013, they had members choose five of their favorite Best Pictures and then expanded the list depending on what kind of numbers they got. It was supposed to be anywhere from 5 to 10 but it has solidly turned up as 9. So close and yet so far. Having 10 allowed for much more diversity in the lineup.

Now let’s fold in the Critics Choice and the Golden Globes and see where we are:

2013

Globes | Critics Choice | DGA | Oscar

Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Alexander Payne, Nebraska Alexander Payne, Nebraska
David O. Russell, American Hustle David O. Russell, American Hustle David O. Russell, American Hustle David O. Russell, American Hustle
Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street
Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips
Spike Jonze, Her

2012

Globes | Critics Choice | DGA | Oscar

Steven Spielberg, Lincoln Steven Spielberg, Lincoln Steven Spielberg, Lincoln Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Ang Lee, Life of Pi Ang Lee, Life of Pi Ang Lee, Life of Pi Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Ben Affleck, Argo Ben Affleck, Argo Ben Affleck, Argo
Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty Michael Haneke Amour
Tom Hooper, Les Miserables Tom Hooper, Les Miserables Quentin Tarantino, Django Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
David O. Russell, Silver Linings David O. Russell, Silver Linings

2011

Globes | Critics Choice | DGA | Oscar

Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist+ Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist+
Martin Scorsese, Hugo Martin Scorsese, Hugo Martin Scorsese, Hugo Martin Scorsese, Hugo*
Alexander Payne, The Descendants Alexander Payne, The Descendants* Alexander Payne, The Descendants Alexander Payne, The Descendants*
Steven Spielberg, War Horse Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris* Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris*
Daldry, Extremely Loud Ides of March, Clooney David Fincher, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Terrence Malick, Tree of Life*
Nicolas Refn, Drive

2010

Globes | Critics Choice | DGA | Oscar

 

Tom Hooper The King’s Speech Tom Hooper the King’s Speech+ Tom Hooper The King’s Speech Tom Hooper the King’s Speech+
David Fincher, Social Network David Fincher, Social Network* David Fincher, Social Network David Fincher, Social Network*
Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan* Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan*
Danny Boyle, 12 Hrs David O’Russell, The Fighter* David O’Russell, The Fighter David O’Russell, The Fighter*
Christopher Nolan, Inception* Christopher Nolan, Inception* Christopher Nolan, Inception*
Joel/Ethan Coen True Grit The Coens, True Grit*

2009

Globes | Critics Choice | DGA | Oscar

 

Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker Bigelow, Hurt Locker+ Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker Bigelow, Hurt Locker+
Lee Daniels, Precious Lee Daniels, Precious Lee Daniels, Precious*
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air Jason Reitman, Up in the Air* Jason Reitman, Up in the Air Jason Reitman, Up in the Air*
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds* Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds*
Jim Cameron, Avatar Jim Cameron, Avatar* Jim Cameron, Avatar Jim Cameron, Avatar*
Clint Eastwood, Invictus Clint Eastwood, Invictus

 

The only time the Globes and the BFCA matched on Best Director where their chosen film did not get in for Best Picture was in 2009, for Invictus. In all other years, when the Globes and Critics Choice matched on Best Director that movie was, at the very least, chosen for Best Picture.

So how is that list looking right now?

Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Ava DuVernay – Selma Ava DuVernay – Selma
David Fincher – Gone Girl David Fincher – Gone Girl
Alejandro G. Iñárritu – Birdman Alejandro G. Iñárritu – Birdman
Richard Linklater – Boyhood Richard Linklater – Boyhood
Angelina Jolie – Unbroken

This doesn’t prove how the race is going to go but it does show a rough, early consensus of how it might go. The one thing we can be mostly certain about is that the Globes won’t match Oscar 5/5 in the Best Director category, at least going by these years. There is a much higher chance for an Oscar Best Picture nomination for all of the Globe-nominated directors than an Oscar Best Director nod.

This is a strange year with Best Picture contenders floating into the race and dominating, despite their mostly no-name directors. Two of them, The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game. Neither director, so far, of either film has shown up in any major or minor awards. Of course, with the Oscar race for Best Director there are only two groups that count, the Directors Guild and the Academy. I’ll add a third, the Editors because editors work so closely with directors that you can almost always unify them.

First, why haven’t Morton Tyldum and James Marsh gained any traction? Who are they and why are they here? It’s either that no one really knows who they are or it’s that their films don’t have distinguishing characteristics about them that push these names above the other directors, the ones whose style takes prominence over the story. With the two British offerings, they are probably viewed on the same scale, or they cancel one another out, as suspected. If Tom Hooper got in, why can’t either of these two? Probably because there are two.

2014 feels all over the place to me, with the smallest possible consensus in the Best Director race emerging as:

1. Linklater
2. Inarritu
3. DuVernay
4. Fincher
5. Anderson

I’d order them that way, with the likelihood of either Anderson or Fincher to be replaced at the Oscars with someone else — but who that someone else might be is a mystery until we hear from the DGA.

The DGA is probably more inclined to pick Fincher because they picked him for the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which tells me they admire his work overall. But the Academy didn’t. I’m not getting my hopes up for a directing nomination at the Oscars but Best Picture is looking much more likely. Gone Girl is, to me, up there with Selma and Boyhood as the film of the year so it’s a no-brainer to me to imagine a directing five but I’m going to bet that the Academy is going to be more inclined to pick someone in the realm of:

Mike Leigh, Mr. Turner
Damien Chazelle, Whiplash
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
Morton Tyldum, Imitation Game
James Marsh, Theory of Everything
Angelina Jolie, Unbroken

Honestly, beyond Linklater, Inarritu and DuVernay I have no idea what direction Best Director is headed. Then again, I remember saying in 2012 that the only sure bets were Kathryn Bigelow and Ben Affleck. Ava DuVernay is likely to make Academy history this year so even without Gone Girl in the running it will be a fantastic year for AwardsDaily.

January 8 The Academy’s ballots are turned in
January 12 The DGA’s final ballots are turned in
January 13 DGA’s nominee announcement
January 15 The Academy’s nominee announcement

We are dwelling in a new kind of Oscar race where we’re looking at more than five for Best Picture but still five for Best Director and it doesn’t necessarily follow anymore than the director winner is going to match with Best Picture. That must be why Anne Thompson is predicting a split year between Birdman and Boyhood. I’m not feeling a split year, though. I think it’s Linklater and Boyhood all the way.

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Also titled, a room full of men stare adoringly at Angelina Jolie. Just kidding. Pretty great discussion overall. Worth a listen and a watch.

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Rather than leave her absence to what would be, no doubt, wild speculation, Angelina Jolie has decided to release a video which clearly shows the chicken pox on her chest and neck. She will be missing the premiere but can’t really be out and about to infect others. Here’s the video.

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The Golden Satellites usually look like fantasy football to me. But their Best Picture nominations in the last few years have 6 or 7 that match Oscar. Make of that what you will. Here they are. Last year, 12 Years a Slave, Gravity and American Hustle led the nominations. The year before it was Les Miserables, Lincoln, Life of Pi and Argo.

Looks like it breaks down this way:

Birdman – 10
Imitation Game – 8
Boyhood – 7
Gone Girl – 7
Whiplash – 5
Selma – 4
Budapest Hotel – 3
Interstellar – 3
Foxcatcher – 2

Actor in a Motion Picture
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game, The Weinstein Co.
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything, Focus Features
Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler, Open Road
Michael Keaton, Birdman, Fox Searchlight
Miles Teller, Whiplash, Sony Pictures Classics
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher, Sony Pictures Classics
David Oyelowo, Selma, Paramount

Actor in a Supporting Role
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash, Sony Pictures Classics
Edward Norton, Birdman, Fox Searchlight
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood, IFC Films
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher, Sony Pictures Classics
Robert Duvall, The Judge, Warner Bros.
Andy Serkis, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Fox

Actress in a Motion Picture
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl, Fox
Anne Dorval, Mommy, Roadside Attractions
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything, Focus Features
Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Belle, Fox Searchlight
Julianne Moore, Still Alice, Sony Pictures Classics
Reese Witherspoon, Wild, Fox Searchlight
Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night, IFC Films

Actress in a Supporting Role
Emma Stone, Birdman, Fox Searchlight
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game, The Weinstein Co.
Laura Dern, Wild, Fox Searchlight
Tilda Swinton, Snowpiercer, The Weinstein Co.
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood, IFC Films
Katherine Waterston, Inherent Vice, Warner Bros.

Art Direction & Production Design
George DeTitta Jr., Kevin Thompson, Stephen H. Carter, Birdman, Fox Searchlight
Andrew Menzies, Peter Russell, Fury, Sony
Debra Schutt, Mark Friedberg, Noah, Paramount
Dylan Cole, Frank Walsh, Gary Freeman, Maleficent, Disney
Adam Stockhausen, Anna Pinnock, Stephan Gessler, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Fox Searchlight
Maria Djurkovic, Nick Dent, The Imitation Game, The Weinstein Co.
Best Ensemble
Into the Woods, Disney

Cinematography
Hoyte Van Hoytema, F.S.F., N.S.C., Interstellar, Paramount
Dick Pope, BSC, Mr. Turner, Sony Pictures Classics
Emmanuel Lubezki, ASC, AMC, Birdman, Fox Searchlight
Robert Elswit, Inherent Vice, Warner Bros.
Benoît Delhomme, The Theory of Everything, Focus Features
Jeff Cronenweth, ASC, Gone Girl, Fox

Costume Design
Anushia Nieradzik, Belle, Fox Searchlight
Milena Canonero, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Fox Searchlight
Colleen Atwood, Into the Woods, Disney
Anna B. Sheppard, Maleficent, Disney
Michael Wilkinson, Noah, Paramount
Anais Romand, Saint Laurent, Sony Pictures Classics

Director
Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman, Fox Searchlight
Damien Chazelle, Whiplash, Sony Pictures Classics
Richard Linklater, Boyhood, IFC Films
David Fincher, Gone Girl, Fox
Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game, The Weinstein Co.
Ava DuVernay, Selma, Paramount

Film Editing
Sandra Adair, Boyhood, IFC Films
Gary Roach, Joel Cox, American Sniper, Warner Bros.
Douglas Crise, Stephen Mirrione, ACE, Birdman, Fox Searchlight
William Goldenberg, A.C.E., The Imitation Game, The Weinstein Co.
Dody Dorn, ACE, Jay Cassidy, ACE, Fury, Sony
Stan Salfas, ACE, William Hoy, ACE, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Fox

Motion Picture
Whiplash, Sony Pictures Classics
The Imitation Game, The Weinstein Co.
The Theory of Everything, Focus Features
Mr. Turner, Sony Pictures Classics
Selma, Paramount
Gone Girl, Fox
Birdman, Fox Searchlight
Love is Strange, Sony Pictures Classics
Boyhood, IFC Films
The Grand Budapest Hotel, Fox Searchlight

Motion Picture, Animated or Mixed Media
Big Hero 6, Disney
Song of the Sea, GKIDS
The Boxtrolls, Focus Features
The Lego Movie, Warner Bros.
Wrinkles, GKIDS
The Book of Life, Fox
How to Train Your Dragon 2, Fox

Motion Picture, Documentary
Red Army, Sony Pictures Classics
Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq, Koch Lorber Films
Art and Craft, Oscilloscope Pictures
Citizenfour, Radius-TWC
Finding Vivian Maier, IFC Films
Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, Area23a
Jodorowsky’s Dune, Sony Pictures Classics
Keep On Keepin’ On, Radius-TWC
Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles, Cohen Media Group
Virunga, Netflix

Motion Picture, International Film
Greece, Little England,
Israel, Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem,
Poland, Ida,
Sweden, Force Majeure,
Russia, Leviathan,
Canada, Mommy,
Estonia, Tangerine,
Mauritania, Timbuktu,
Argentina, Wild Tales,
Belgium, Two Days, One Night, IFC Films

Original Score
Antonio Sanchez, Birdman, Fox Searchlight
Alexandre Desplat, The Imitation Game, The Weinstein Co.
Thomas Newman, The Judge, Warner Bros.
Steven Price, Fury, Sony
Hans Zimmer, Interstellar, Paramount
Atticus Ross, Trent Reznor, Gone Girl, Fox

Original Song
“Everything is Awesome”, The Lego Movie, Warner Bros.
“I’m Not Gonna Miss You”, Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, Area23a
“Split the Difference”, Boyhood, IFC Films
“We Will Not Go”, Virunga, Netflix
“I’ll Get What You Want”, Muppets Most Wanted, Disney
“What Is Love”, 127 Hours, Rio 2, Fox

Screenplay, Adapted
Paul Thomas Anderson, Inherent Vice, Warner Bros.
Graham Moore, The Imitation Game, The Weinstein Co.
Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl, Fox
Anthony McCarten, The Theory of Everything, Focus Features
Jason Hall, American Sniper, Warner Bros.
Cheryl Strayed, Nick Hornby, Wild, Fox Searchlight

Screenplay, Original
Paul Webb, Selma, Paramount
Alejandro González Iñárritu, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo, Nicolas Giabone, Birdman, Fox Searchlight
Richard Linklater, Boyhood, IFC Films
Ira Sachs, Mauricio Zacharias, Love is Strange, Sony Pictures Classics
Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler, Open Road
Christopher Miller, Phil Lord, The Lego Movie, Warner Bros.

Sound (Editing and Mixing)
Craig Henighan, Ken Ishii, C.A.S., Skip Lievsay, Noah, Paramount
Erik Aadahl, Ethan Van Der Ryn, Peter J. Devlin, C.A.S., Transformers: Age of Extinction, Paramount
Anna Behlmer, Mark Holding, Taeyoung Choi, Terry Porter, Snowpiercer, The Weinstein Co.
Ben Wilkins, Craig Mann, Thomas Curley, Whiplash, Sony Pictures Classics
Blake Leyh, John Casali, Michael Keller, Michael Prestwoood Smith, Renee Tondelli, Into the Woods, Disney
Ren Klyce, Steve Cantamessa, Gone Girl, Fox

Visual Effects
Eric Durst, Snowpiercer, The Weinstein Co.
Stephane Ceretti, Guardians of the Galaxy, Disney
Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter, Paul Franklin, Scott Fisher, Interstellar, Paramount
Ben Snow, Burt Dalton, Dan Schrecker, Marc Chu, Noah, Paramount
John Frazier, Patrick Tubach, Scott Benza, Scott Farrar, A.S.C., Transformers: Age of Extinction, Paramount
Dan Lemmon, Joe Letteri, Matt Kutcher, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Unbroken_6

Nothing has won anything major yet. The Imitation Game won the top People’s Choice award in Toronto, which is a good thing. Way too many people were predicting Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken to win Best Picture, which will likely go down in awards history as one of those years where expectations were so impossibly high the film couldn’t possibly live up to them. But no pundit will take the blame for this, nor will they change their practices next year when a Big Oscar Movie on paper lands in their number one spot. I think it’s easy to predict a nominee that way, just not a winner. Never a winner. A winner happens organically. It is seen, then it wins. There are very few ideas so big they can trump a movie being seen.

There are so many of us clucking about, pretending to be experts, giving advice, predictions — making broad statements, dismissing films we shouldn’t. It seems like the number of people covering this race, which doesn’t have much of a story to it this year, has tripled since last year. It is an industry onto itself and half of the time I’ve forgotten what any of it means.

The simple of fact of it is, nobody knows squat, my friends. We think we know but we don’t. One movie could win a major award and the whole thing could be turned around. One movie could seem like it has everything it needs to get in — like Inside Llewyn Davis — and not get in. American Hustle can seem like a big sloppy mess of a movie and it can top the critics awards on the march to Oscar. In truth, the Oscar race starts tomorrow. Before that, dear friends, it’s just a lot of hot air in a dry desert.

Finally, Unbroken screened for audiences. It is by no means a bad film. Jolie shows promise as a director — she’s getting there. She’s not quite great yet, nor should she be expected to be. She seems drawn towards stories of suffering and Unbroken is no exception. Where other actors turned directors usually deal with feel-good material or else very solid stories, Jolie is dealing with telling the true life story of someone she came to love and admire. Her respect, admiration, and yes, love for Louis Zamperini shines through the film. It is a heartfelt dedication to a truly exceptional man. Does that make it a good movie? It has its moments. It is tough to sit through, meaning, it doesn’t let up. It’s one awful scene after another because it’s depicting Zamperini’s life, which was a whole lot of faith-testing suffering. To that end, it is not unlike Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. There are God references throughout Unbroken, which makes me think it is going to play well with the faithful.

In terms of Oscar – well, who knows. Look, Munich got in for Picture and Director and it had about as much hype as Unbroken had. Its momentum kept it in the race. Can Unbroken make the top five ballots of enough Academy members to get in? Right now, that isn’t a question that can be answered. There are too many variables. We don’t yet know where any of these films are going to land. We have our guesses. Most people think I’m nuts to see Gone Girl as a solid entry but how could anyone not see it that way with the kinds of films that have been opening? Gone Girl is one of the few entertaining movies in the whole lineup, one that isn’t depressing or hard to sit through. It’s creepy fun. But I could turn out to be wrong and you can all throw pies in my face and tell me how much you told me so. Another year, another dumb Oscar game.

I see it placed this way in the Best Picture race:

Boyhood
Selma
Birdman
Imitation Game
Gone Girl
Theory of Everything
Foxcatcher
Whiplash
Into the Woods
Mr. Turner

Next tier:
Unbroken
Interstellar
The Grand Budapest Hotel
A Most Violent Year
Wild
The Homesman

So I see it with potential but it’s not a slam dunk. If the critics praise it to high heavens that changes the perception. If it wins a major critics award, that changes perception. The Oscar race is fluid, not static. It is not determined by we who write about it. It is determined by industry voters, a giant consensus that picks and chooses.

Best Director has to be carefully considered this year because I think, with such a wide open year, you could be looking at two vastly different director lineups from the DGA to the Academy.

DGA might go:
Linklater
Inarritu
Fincher
Miller
Tyldum or Marsh

Academy might go:
Linklater
Inarritu
Miller
Chazelle
Leigh

You just never know. Good thing we have a whole bunch of awards coming up that will help guide us into the right hole. Right now, we’re just stabbing at things that look like holes. That’s too big to be a space station!

If Unbroken has one problem it’s the score. It just kept telling us what we were supposed to feel. I think it would have been better served with less of an obvious/sentimental score. But that’s just me. Let’s wait to hear what the critics say.

Last thing, it would be nice if this moment was the moment Oscar bloggers stopped putting movies at the top of their list based on what they look like on paper. But you know that ain’t happening any time soon.

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The Imitation Game had a huge opening with $482K in just four theaters, making it the year’s second best debut. This isn’t that surprising considering the very motivated fanbase for Benedict Cumberbatch, especially since he’s got such strong buzz in the Best Actor race. But it’s worth noting that the reviews did not prevent anyone from seeing the film.

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What a run for Gone Girl, though I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who seems to be noticing this or caring about it in the world of Oscar punditry. I guess because I’ve been here long enough to see how Hollywood has changed. For a rated R movie that isn’t a remake or a sequel to finish a 9 week run at $160 domestic is rare indeed.  It has zoomed past all of the past Best Picture winners of the last ten years, second only to Return of the King. It is extremely rare for a rated R film to make that kind of coin here in uptight, child-oriented America.   Gone Girl done proved you don’t have to be 22 Jump Street to make lots of money. You can stir debate, challenge audiences, deliver uncomfortable endings and still make lots of money.  Huh. This is also what happens when you put women in movies and give them something to do other than smile and talk pretty. Bridesmaids earned $169 million in its release but was too much of a genre comedy to get a Best Pic nod, despite the noble efforts of the studio.  Gone Girl, which wasn’t too much for American audiences, could prove too much for the Academy.

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There is much ado these days about how the Spirit Awards aren’t honoring independence anymore but are really another step in the Oscar race. I don’t know if that’s true or if the Oscar race is slowly becoming more independent, valuing and honoring films that don’t cost much money.

Maybe now they need an actual independent spirit awards that is even more independent than these to honor truly groundbreaking indie film. Beasts of the Southern Wild which was made with crowdfunding not beating Silver Linings Playbook was an example of just how dramatically the awards have changed, hewing closer to the general consensus and farther away from the fringe.

Getting the biggest boost today has to be Ava DuVernay’s Selma, which just got its first jolt with Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actress and Cinematography. None of the Feature nominees got a corresponding Screenplay nod, which is interesting, but four out of five of the Best Directing nominees have corresponding Best Picture nods – that makes this an extremely tight race.

We used to call the Spirit Awards the kiss of death for Oscar because usually a film would win there and then another, bigger movie would win the Oscar. But The Artist won in 2011 and 12 Years a Slave won in 2013 so perhaps it must no longer be referred to that way.

While Ava DuVernay does not quite make history as the first African American female to earn a Best Director nomination, she does make history with a Best Picture and Best Director nomination there, which is significant, I think, because it shows how popular Selma is right now. With three strong contenders for the win the Spirit Awards will be a nail-biter. I’m going to bet Best Picture goes to Boyhood, but that Ava DuVernay wins Best Director, which Inarritu and Linklater split that vote there. I could be wrong and we have a long way to go before then.

The predictions for the Best Picture race look eerily like the best five films the Spirit Awards just nominated for Best Picture, with one exception:

Birdman
Boyhood
Love is Strange
Selma
Whiplash

How wonderful for Ira Sachs to receive this honor in a season that has paid little attention to Love is Strange. It is sandwiched between what are considered to be among the most competitive films in the Oscar race so far, minus the Imitation Game, which did not make the list, nor did Wild, which was also eligible.

Compare this list with last year’s:
12 Years a Slave
All is Lost
Frances Ha
Inside Llewyn Davis
Nebraska

At the time, we thought four of those were sure bets for Oscar’s Best Picture but in the end, only two received crossover nominations.

The same thing happened the previous year:
Silver Linings Playbook
Beasts of the Southern Wild

Bernie
Keep the Lights On
Moonrise Kingdom

We thought three would make it but in the end, only two did.

And the year before:
The Artist
50/50
Beginners
The Descendants
Drive
Take Shelter

Two also got in.

But when we get to 2010, when there a solid 10 slots for nominations, it broadens somewhat:
Black Swan
127 Hours

Greenberg
The Kids Are All Right
Winter’s Bone

And finally, 2009:
Precious
500 Days of Summer
Amreeka
The Last Station
Sin Nombre

The question is, will this be a year where more than two get in? Where four get in? We have no way of knowing except that to say that in the years that matched this one – five Spirit Award nods to the Academy’s five slots for nominations (plus spillover films with enough votes) only two have gotten in.

It’s hard to imagine the Oscar race without:
Boyhood
Birdman
Selma
Whiplash

But in a year like this one, anything could happen.

The Best Actress lineup is also kind of strange, especially since Reese Witherspoon did not get a nomination for Wild. Julianne Moore will win there, quite easily:

Marion Cotillard
The Immigrant

Rinko Kikuchi
Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter

Julianne Moore
Still Alice

Jenny Slate
Obvious Child

Tilda Swinton
Only Lovers Left Alive

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One of the early announcements, along with the Los Angeles, New York Film Critics and National Board of Review, will be the AFI top ten films of 2014. Through December, critics will be ringing in with their top ten films of the year, and eventually, a consensus will be born. How does the AFI stack up against the aggregate top ten? Movie City News compiled the Top Tens every year. I have compared the big top tens against it, with AFI and Producers Guild, along with Oscar’s Best Picture.

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These top ten lists were compiled in January before the Oscars. Predicting the Oscar nominations off of these lists are not the easiest thing in the world to do for the simple reason that none of these groups tally their votes the same. With Movie City News, the AFI and the Producers Guild members who vote get ten slots. The Academy, since 2011, only has five nominee slots. As you can see, 2009 and 2010 were a lot easier to predict than Best Picture was, say, last year.

Even among these groups, though, there is a mix of what films they think are best. The Academy hovers somewhere between the producers and the critics, I’d say. While the AFI picks a small committee of judges to carefully select their nominees, the Producers Guild has a giant membership closer to the Academy’s, with 5000 members or thereabouts. Movie City News critics round out to roughly 200. The Producers Guild, like the Academy, uses a preferential ballot. They are the only voting body that does. But they get 10 nomination slots and not five, as I keep repeating because it doesn’t seem to sink in. Think five, not ten.

In Contention’s Kris Tapley does not participate with either Gurus of Gold or Gold Derby, thus we must click over to In Contention to find his predictions. His latest update is from the 17th — and he’s going with 8, not 9, assuming that this year there won’t be enough favorites to name the usual maximum of 9. Somewhere in the math universe that perhaps Christopher Nolan or Stephen Hawking can explain are how the new voting system arrives at 10. So far, they have never gotten there since reducing the nomination slots from 10 back to 5. It’s been only 9 for three years in a row. But, so the theory goes, this is a “Weak” year and thus, Tapley is betting one less than 9.

Here are Kris Tapley’s top 8 (not 9) for Best Picture:
“Birdman”
“Boyhood”
“The Imitation Game”
“Selma”
“Mr. Turner”
“The Theory of Everything”
“Unbroken”
“Whiplash”

I know our jobs as pundits is to anticipate what five films the Academy voters will choose but I look at Kris’ list and I think, what a bunch of wimpy picks. These are all good movies but the sum total of them, looking at them as a group? That’s a whole lot of soft sauce.  And it isn’t the kind of lineup anyone producing that telecast is going to jump for joy over.  Not a single hit in the lineup? Mmmm. It won’t do.

Right now, closing in on the end of November and heading into the critics awards (which could change everything), the Gurus of Gold’s latest looks like this:

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And Gold Derby looks like this:

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There are still so many questions unanswered so far in this year’s race that it’s tough to figure out how it might go.  If you track back to last year at this time we were convinced of All is Lost and Inside Llewyn Davis getting in. Neither did. Dallas Buyers Club and Philomena, tracking kind of low and outside on the pundits’ charts, did get in. That is a really good example of the “think five” rule can push films that have deeper emotional impact over ones that don’t.

That is perhaps why Dave Karger, Scott Feinberg, Thelma Adams and Kris Tapley are all predicting Gone Girl will be shut out of the Best Picture race, never mind that it’s the highest grossing film of twice-nominated David Fincher’s career, and never mind that it will finish the year as the top earning adult drama, barreling towards $160 million, they are shaking their heads no because they don’t think “they” will go for it. Me, I’m looking at films like The Fighter and Black Swan and I’m thinking, there are going to be men with low hanging heavy balls who are going to want a film like Gone Girl in the race, despite it having the “chick flick” label.

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So I disagree with my pundit pals, even Anne Thompson who has pushed Gone Girl way down to number 10, which would mean it would not get in.  Here’s the scary part – they could turn out to be right.  That would mean they really are going to spit in the face of the hordes of ticket buyers who came out to see one of the year’s most provocative and talked about films.  A film so successful it seeing repeat viewings, driven by strong word of mouth. They’re going to say, nah, doesn’t matter because that isn’t the kind of movie we want representing us globally.

They said movies had to have pat endings to make money.They were wrong. They said a movie had to be touchy feely feel goody to make money. They were wrong. They said it’s better to have an established (code word for male) screenwriter adapt Flynn’s work and nope, they were wrong. It’s just been one long list of wrongs as far as estimating Gone Girl’s success.

One screening didn’t go well at the Academy on the film’s path to making, potentially, $180 million and that sinks its chances because the Academy members are resemble that small sampling of voters on that one day. That isn’t the industry I know and it isn’t the Academy I know.   This isn’t the Spirit Awards and it isn’t the Gothams. It isn’t even the BAFTAS (yet). It’s the mother fucking Oscars, my friend. They know what a muscular hits means to their bread and butter.

But let’s look at how this thing could shape up from here, with no critics’ top tens to go off of yet, and with no one having seen Unbroken. Into the Woods was seen but it doesn’t look as though it has impacted any of the charts thus far, with the sole exception of Scott Feinberg, who has added it to his top Best Picture contenders.

I’m going to start with what I know about the AFI, even though their juries change. I don’t think anyone in their right mind working in Hollywood today, with the entire enterprise being turned over to tent poles and international super hero movies are going to look at Gone Girl’s success – a hard R movie made by a major studio that is that big of a success – and turn their nose up at it. They are just not that stupid. Best Picture of the Year means those films that achieved something exceptional and for Gone Girl, its box office is exceptional. The AFI named The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I suspect they will add Gone Girl to that list.

Wes Anderson has made the list a few times, including Moonrise Kingdom and The Fantastic Mr. Fox. I’m going to bet The Grand Budapest Hotel gets in.

I suspect they might go:

Boyhood
Birdman
Gone Girl
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Foxcatcher
Selma
Whiplash

I feel most confident about these for AFI. Then, if you add in the two Brit films, which are US productions so they could qualify you would have:

Boyhood
Birdman
Gone Girl
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Foxcatcher
Selma
Whiplash
Imitation Game
Theory of Everything

And that leaves one. That last one could be and might be either Unbroken or Interstellar.

That is how things might go for AFI. I have no idea what is in store for Unbroken and I refuse to speculate until I see it. If it is good and worthwhile it will be chosen by the AFI no doubt, which will put two films by women on their list like there were in 2010, when Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right and Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone made the list.

Moving on to the Producers Guild, Gone Girl is assured a slot there, especially, as with AFI, with ten slots.  So I’m still seeing the same list for PGA, with the same two stragglers, Interstellar and Unbroken fighting it out for the last slot.  I think it’s possible the PGA goes:

Boyhood
Birdman
Gone Girl
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Foxcatcher
Selma
Whiplash
Imitation Game
Theory of Everything
Interstellar

That’s just a guess, of course.  But looking over the list of films and the pundits’ predictions I can’t help but zero in on these movies. We’ll see where Gone Girl, Selma, Grand Budapest, Interstellar and Unbroken land once the lists start coming in. This lineup could easily change.

 

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Thanks to Ryan at Indiewire for the link.

“What happens when a man stands up and says enough is enough?” All things happen at once: the good, the bad and the ugly.

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Here is one of the first looks at Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken, the film about WWII survivor Louie Zamperini who could not be broken.

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In addition to Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken, which is being screened and will be reviewed soon, many women already have taken center stage in the Oscar race. Instead of unveiling just a thirty-minute showreel of Selma at the AFI Fest, director Ava DuVernay decided to go for broke, acknowledging that moments like these don’t come around very often. Go big, or go home was the idea. It paid off big time as it seemed that everyone involved in the film, including DuVernay, either didn’t know what a great movie they had on their hands or they were just so used to the door closing on women each and every time they’ve come up to bat.

Either way, Selma turned out to be not only magnificent, receiving not one but two standing ovations so far, but also that rare creature in the Oscar race that has the ability to take the Best Picture race as a late entry. Selma is now considered a major frontrunner to win that prize, as Mike Hogan, Katey Rich and Richard Lawson over at VanityFair.com have written. But hey, no pressure. It’s only a black woman who made a career change over the age of 40, started her own releasing company to bring more black ticket-buyers to the arthouse, whose indie career has been ticking along steadily, who won Best Director at Sundance in 2012 but was overlooked in the original screenplay category. This auteur steps into the Oscar race and the film industry as an original – there has never been anyone like Ava DuVernay. That makes it quite possible she has the ability to change the Oscar race as we’ve known it for a while.

As things stand right now, Selma is (to my mind) in the number 2 spot right behind Boyhood. I still think Boyhood could catch the consensus as it plays right into the Academy’s wheelhouse. But Selma could start winning stuff and not stop. It could Slumdog Millionaire or Million Dollar Baby its way right through this race. What helped it? Lowered expectations. Any film benefits from lowered expectations. The higher those expectations go the harder it is for any film to meet them – that is why it is important to get your movie out as early as possible, have it seen and then talked about. That is also why building momentum for late entries is so hard. Zero Dark Thirty and American Hustle are two that caught the wave of last minute momentum but both were derailed for various reasons.

Even the notion of Angelina Jolie stepping into the race as a high profile director along the lines of Kathryn Bigelow, David O. Russell or Clint Eastwood is exciting and adds mystery to this race while also helping to erase the line between powerful and not powerful women. The more powerful Jolie is as a director, the better for all women in film. Even if the movie is a nominee and not a winner (we have no way of knowing and I’ll never be that person who predicts a film to win no one has seen) that is still a major win for women in film, that a woman could be powerful enough to shake up the race without her film even being seen. In another post I chalked that up to her celebrity – but even still, she’s using her celebrity to change the power dynamics in Hollywood and that is nothing less than admirable.

DuVernay has a distinctive signature as a director and is far more of a visual storyteller than are many of her female contemporaries. Not many women come at directing from a visual standpoint. Most tend more toward the Richard Linklater vein of depth of story and character. DuVernay’s Selma is a mood piece on the one hand, about the impact of Martin Luther King, Jr., and all of the players that worked with and against him leading up to the enactment of the Voting Rights Act.

Though it depicts a pivotal moment in American history, and is about an American civil rights icon, it always feels like a personal story from the ground up rather than a stodgy history lesson. It is alive and vibrant filmmaking by a powerful new voice in American film.

Do we even need to ask the question of how many black women have been nominated for Best Director? How about how many black women have even gotten close to being nominated for Best Director? Ava DuVernay’s nomination, should it come to pass, would make history in so many different ways — but Selma is a good enough film that making history is really the least of it, though the excitement of that possibility is going to be hard to resist.

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Gillian Flynn makes history in the adapted screenplay race as she stands to become the first female nominee to ever adapt her own novel. Plenty of men have done it. Only 2 women in all of Oscar history adapted their own material but they were plays already. Not only did David Fincher insist upon Flynn as the adapted screenplay writer (the studio wanted to go with a more well-known male writer) but his good instincts and Flynn’s talent as a writer have taken Gone Girl to #13 among the highest grossing films of 2014 — and still climbing. That level of success is extraordinarily rare and significant for any movie that isn’t a sequel or a family film. This hard R film is drawing both male a female audiences. Indisputable proof that women will show up if you give them something worth their time. Gone Girl not only gets credit for bringing women to theater, but it also dispels the tired notion, lazily floated by a defensive male demographic, that tries to dismiss the novel as “airport reading,” and claim that anything that appeals to women must be “chick lit” or “chick flicks.” That David Fincher is the director prevents them from totally disregarding Gone Girl, and its massive box-office haul makes further attempts to dismiss it sound flaccid.

Gone Girl comes wholly from Flynn’s imagination. Like DuVernay, she also made a mid-career change and at the age of 43 has achieved the kind of success most writers of any gender would kill for. Flynn bravely dives into the darker side of the female psyche. Amy Dunne in the book creates a necessary personal relationship with the reader. Women especially (although certainly not exclusively) recognize the various female tropes Dunne sends up in Gone Girl, the least of which is to harpoon at last the false notion that “cool girls” exist. This manifestation of every intelligent man’s dreams is a concoction by television and film to create a perfect woman – from the “manic pixie dream girl” to the hot chick who likes football and wears a size 2. Those women exist somewhere but they are usually a lot more flawed than they appear to be, as we all are. Flynn’s adaption of her own work is a collaboration with David Fincher, a director who always operates from his own vision, while allowing the writer their own “voice” within that collaboration. Compare The Social Network to Gone Girl to Zodiac. There are three various writer voices in three very different films. What unites them is what Fincher brings to cinema: a visual translation of the story on the page.

The same way that Stephen King’s The Shining is a wholly different experience from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, you don’t hire a director like David Fincher and expect the Gone Girl on film is going to be the Gone Girl on the page. Like Kubrick, and Paul Thomas Anderson this year as well, a cinematic interpretation becomes an artist’s rendering of a familiar story. The Amy Dunne as filtered through Fincher is far more monstrous than the Amy Dunne in the book, who, though clearly sociopathic seems like the girl next door. She’s plucky and containable. The Amy onscreen, Rosamund Pike’s Amy, is a cinematic blonde that plays into the female tropes in the language of film. Pike’s portrayal doesn’t necessarily reflect girl culture or literature. It’s cinematic instead — specifically, film noir, Hitchcockian. Fincher goes right there and together with Flynn’s funny dialogue creates an interesting concoction that gnaws at you throughout.

With Jolie’s film still hanging in the balance, Selma and Gone Girl are two strong contenders heading into the race which put women filmmakers front and center.

The other area where female directors are flourishing to an unbelievable degree is in the documentary film race. Right now, there are three strong contenders for Doc Feature that were directed by women. First, what I consider to be the best one I’ve seen so far, Rory Kennedy’s The Last Days of Vietnam about the mess we left behind when our country decided to cut and run and leave South Vietnam to be overtaken by North Vietnam. That war of ideology did not pay off in the slightest. The film is a powerful lesson about our empire, where we choose to exercise our power and why. Mostly it’s about the unsung heroes who helped the refugees flee Vietnam in the last days, risking life and limb to do so. It’s an incredibly powerful, suspenseful documentary.

The one that is getting more publicity is Laura Poitras’ CitizenFour about the moment Edward Snowden contacted Glenn Greenwald to release the information he had on our government’s NSA surveillance of its citizens and other countries. Many see this film as an important message for Americans, and see Snowden as a patriot whose goal was to get the truth across no matter what harm he did to himself and his privacy. Poitras was also contacted by Snowden at the time and was able to capture the drama behind the scenes as it unfolded.

There is also Fed Up, currently showing on VOD, directed by Stephanie Soechtig. Fed Up is one of the most eye-opening documentaries I’ve seen this year. It is about the dominance of the special interest food corporations making Americans fat and unhealthy then exporting that deadly diet to other countries. Why is there soda in schools? Why is there only junk food by well-known fast food empires? That is really what America has become: a fast food empire (or nation, if you will). Interviews with Bill Clinton, Mark Bittman and others, Fed Up is a film they should show in schools to help kids realize the harm our government is inflicting upon its citizens by its unwillingness to face down powerful lobbies. What a shame.

CitizenKoch (to which I am a Kickstarter donor!) bravely exposes the all-powerful Koch brothers for making ordinary Republicans in the red states bow to their every whim all in the name of Capitalism. Elena is a brooding, beautiful look at depression and suicide.

Indiewire puts the number of docs directed by women at 37% – which is astonishing. Other than those named above, here’s the list of women-directed documentaries up for consideration:

“Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq” – Nancy Buirski
“American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs” – Grace Lee
“Anita” – Frieda Mock
“Art and Craft”- Co-directed by Jennifer Grausman
“Awake: The Life of Yogananda” -Paola di Florio and Lisa Leeman
“Born to Fly: Elizabeth Streb vs. Gravity” – Catherine Gund
“Cesar’s Last Fast” – Co-directed by Lorena Parlee
“Citizen Koch”- Co-directed by Tia Lessin
“Cyber-Seniors” – Saffron Cassaday
“Dancing in Jaffa”- Hilla Medilla
“The Decent One” – Vanessa Lapa
“The Dog”- Co-Directed by Allison Berg
“E-Team” – Co-directed by Katy Chevigny
“Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me” – Chemi Karasawa
“Elena”- Petra Costa
“The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden” – Co-directed by Dayna Goldfine
“Getting to the Nutcracker” – Serene Meshel-Dillman
“The Great Invisible” – Margaret Brown
“The Hacker Wars” – Vivien Weisman
“I Am Ali” – Clare Lewins
“Journey of a Female Comic” – Co-directed by Kiki Melendez
“Last Hijack” – Co-directed by Femke Wolting
“Little White Lie” – Lacey Schwartz
“Llyn Foulkes One Man Band” – Co-directed by Tamar Halpern
“Manakamana” – Co-directed by Stephanie Spray
“Monk with a Camera” – Co-directed by Tina Mascara
“The Only Real Game” – Mirra Bank
“Pelican Dreams” – Judy Irving
“Plot for Peace” – Co-directed by Mandy Jacobson
“Private Violence” – Cynthia Hill
“Pump” – Co-directed by Rebecca Harrell Tickell
“Remote Area Medical” – Co-directed by Farihah Zaman
“Rich Hill” – Co-directed by Tracy Droz Trago
“The Rule” – Marylou Tibaldo-Bongiorno
“Shadows from My Past” – Co-directed by Gita Kaufman
“She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry” – Mary Dore
“A Small Section of the World” – Lesley Chilcott
“The Supreme Price” – Joanna Lipper
“Tanzania: A Journey Within” – Sylvia Caminer
“Thomas Keating: A Rising Tide of Silence” – Co-directed by Elena Mannes
“20,000 Days on Earth” – Co-directed by Jane Pollard
“Under the Electric Sky” – Co-directed by Jane Lipsitz
“Underwater Dreams” – Mary Mazzio
“Waiting for August” – Teodora Milhai
“Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago” – Lydia Smith
“Watchers of the Sky” – Edet Wurmfeld
“Watermark” – Co-directed by Jennifer Baichwal

Here’s the bad news. Oscar will only accept five of these wonderful documentaries — which is an embarrassing low number that does not, in any way, reflect this flourishing branch of the industry.

The other bad news? There is only one writer in the entire Oscar race thus far who is a woman: Gillian Flynn. Every other writing contender is male.

Finally, most of the stories heading into the Oscar race are still about men. It is as though women do not matter anymore and that their stories have become so marginalized, so worthless, the film community has just decided they are expendable.

I am heartened by these women in the Best Director race, because I know that their universal stories about American heroes will resonate across the board. I also know that the majority of voters in the film critic community and the industry are male. They seem to be unwilling to respond to stories about women unless they have more options on a ten nominee ballot. With only five, their preferences will continue to lean toward male-driven stories.

But hey, you have to start somewhere.
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86th Annual Academy Awards - Arrivals

A funny thing is happening in the Oscar race. A film that most people haven’t seen, that hasn’t been reviewed by critics – major or otherwise – is being touted as this year’s Best Picture winner. At first it seemed business as usual. Then the film premiered in Australia with a strict embargo of December 1. The film is currently being screened with that embargo in place. I Many of us will see on November 30.  But the weird thing is, everyone is acting like it’s a go, like it doesn’t really even matter if the film is seen or not. She’s really that big of a star, that beloved by fans and the industry that it will get into the Best Director and Best Picture race anyway.

If Universal pulls this off it will be unlike anything I’ve ever seen in 16 years. We’ve had actors in the director race many times – big ones, like George Clooney and Ben Affleck. But their movies were seen first and the accepted or rejected by the awards voters. In fact, Clooney’s Ides of March seemed like it was going to get very close to the Best Picture race but did not. Ditto for Affleck’s The Town.   I’ve never seen a movie star lead the hype as the film’s director. They always do it when actors are involved.  This film is being rolled out as though Angelina Jolie were the star. And maybe, in the end, that will prove true.

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The surprising thing about movie stars and Best Director is that they really can be like a supernova descending. Ben Affleck’s star power during Argo was a major force for the film’s success.  If you’ve ever stood in a room with an actor-turned-director you can feel their charisma from all the way across the room and it’s nearly impossible to resist it. Affleck’s charm offensive was notorious. No one was safe from it. Everyone fell immediately in love with him upon sight – men, women, forget it. But Affleck had a movie a lot of people thought was really good. They saw the movie and then they celebrated him. With this, they’re celebrating Angelina long before they even see the movie – and I’m wondering if anyone cares.

Jolie is as big a star as Affleck and already has one major blockbuster behind her this year with Maleficent, to name just a tip of the Jolie iceberg. She was also given an Oscar last year for her humanitarian efforts.  She even flew off to make another movie with husband Brad Pitt while Unbroken was still in post – all the while raising six kids.

You have to wonder if, indeed, it doesn’t matter if Unbroken is good or not. The story is already so big perhaps it will devour the need for the film to be good. After all, they vote for whom they like anyway, right? This past week I’ve been told by Oscar pundits from experts to amateurs that Unbroken will win, including Entertainment Weekly and Oscar blogging veteran, Dave Karger.

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I find myself conflicted over this. On the one hand, I’ve long championed women filmmakers and if Jolie and Ava DuVernay (whose film has been seen and highly praised already, which put her in the race – no star power needed) manage to get in the same year that would be a record breaking year for women and something to celebrate. Worse case scenario the movie is bad and she gets in on her star power. That’s still a woman in the race and lord knows they’ve nominated enough men who didn’t deserve to get included either.

On the other hand, if she does get in and she doesn’t deserve it that could be more devastating for women in the long run because people will say all you have to do is be pretty and popular and you can get nominated for Best Director with a sub par film. We already have one woman in the race whose movie is being praised with standing ovations at press screenings, which hardly ever happens. And yet, all I hear from my Oscar pundit pals is all about Angelina Jolie. I’m perplexed, Oscar watchers.

Then again, maybe the movie really is that good and her star power and popularity only enhances her position in the race, one she would get anyway even if she weren’t Angelina Jolie. Maybe it’s really that good – as good as Selma, as good as Gone Girl and Boyhood and Birdman. That would be the most awesome thing to happen to the Oscars since Halle Berry and Denzel Washington won on the same night.

Though stars can’t lose if they have a reasonably good movie, they are often looked upon negatively in the years to come, especially if they beat a much better film.  Robert Redford beating Martin Scorsese, Kevin Costner beating Martin Scorsese. Clint Eastwood beating Martin Scorsese.

What I sense with Unbroken and Angelina Jolie is a tsunami of good cheer and encouragement towards her.  I do not know if those accolades are well deserved or not. Yet. I will find out on November 30.  Either way, I’m fascinated by the way Universal is controlling the conversation with that embargo, while also taking full advantage of who Angelina Jolie is in American culture. That’s some really hot shit publicity at work, folks.

May the best woman win!

 

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Unbroken will be seen in various places before getting to critics and bloggers over here, mainly due to scheduling around the film’s director, Angelina Jolie, who will be doing appearances and Q&As to give the film the best possible landing. This is how films usually roll out at festivals, with directors there (at the very least) to give q&as after the screening. This does two things. The first, if “talent” is in the room the crowd is usually much more responsive. You can imagine how responsive they would be with Angelina Jolie in the room. But also it ensures people will at least SHOW UP to the screening, which ensures the film will be seen. In a competitive season, that becomes the most important thing.

Variety reported on the first screening, which said “largely well received” with “warm applause” and several gasps at the violence. I guess the best they could have hoped for was a standing ovation but from where I sit, that it was warmly received is good enough. The film is a victim of Oscar season hype already, being touted as the winner long before anyone has seen it. We put it on our list because it MIGHT be that movie. If it isn’t that movie we blame the movie, not ourselves. We see a movie in our heads and thus, if the movie falls short of that it suffers during this madness. This movie is being hyped as Jolie + Coens + Deakins + WWII + American hero – how can it go wrong? And the thing is, it might not go wrong, number 1. Number 2, unfortunately its goal now is to fill our cup not live out its own intended trajectory. Such is the insanity of Oscar season.

I don’t know what the film’s fate will be but being unable to talk about it right after it screened is causing a bit of an Oscar season flatline. There are too many people like me trying to come up with anything semi-exciting that isn’t just random publicity (interviews, profiles, pictures). Now, we’re just chewing off our own limbs and pretending it’s dinner.

One thing Unbroken has going for it over all of the other films in the race is the simple fact of Ms. Jolie herself. If you notice the different ways Unbroken is being rolled out compared to other films, or even Selma which is also directed by a woman, is that Jolie’s star power is so gigantic her face is almost all that is required to sell the thing. Those set pictures from Unbroken were like an Annie Leibowitz photo spread. She is so pretty that her face on the cover of Vanity Fair sells her movie. There is no other director in the race that famous or that famous for her looks. Ava DuVernay is also beautiful and thus, that will also help her in the race, being that women are always going to be judged on looks first. Always. Sadly.

Of course, Jolie is famous for many other things, too – her unsurpassed humanitarian efforts with refugees, her marriage to Brad Pitt, raising six children but at the end of the day human beings respond to beauty. They (we) like pretty people and for Jolie, considered one of the most beautiful people in the world, that is starting to look like her biggest and most powerful weapon in this regard. Many will come to screenings of the film just to have a look at her.

That isn’t to say she won’t be judged on her work but it’s interesting to watch how the publicity for her film is so tied up in ongoing obsession on her image. Then again, since the movie hasn’t been seen there isn’t much to go on. Oscar season hype has put it in the conversation but the conversation only has one place to go.

Since the film isn’t seen, there isn’t much to discuss except for my own private wish that her film wasn’t being predicted to win. When you start the race at the top like that you have nowhere to go but down. It isn’t her fault, of course. If anything, it’s the fault of Oscar season. We never seem to learn this one crucial lesson about sight unseen frontrunners.

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