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An – a film about sweet red bean paste and the simplicity of happiness

Naomi Kawese’s film An, which translates to Sweet Red Bean Paste, is one of the surprises, at least for me, at the festival so far. The film examines the relationship of three unlikely people coming together over the cooking and eating and appreciating of Dorayaki. The quest for the perfect red bean paste eventually brings the chef and his elderly teacher to form a close bond, as both of them discover how they’ve been trapped for too long in places that confine them.

An begins with a man (Masatoshi Nagase) in a small cafe cooking red bean paste inside pancakes, otherwise known as Dorayaki. One day an elderly woman asks him for a job. He reluctantly accepts, thinking she is too old and too tired to do the work. She teaches him the fundamental art of cooking red bean paste and eventually his dorayaki become so legendary his cafe is making a tidy profit. That is until it is found out that the old woman Tokue (Kirin Kiki) once had leprosy.

The teacher and student relationship becomes somewhat of a maternal one, while a third person, a high schooler becomes curious about Tokue. The young girl, the old woman and the grown man discover together Tokue’s backstory, being confined and exiled at a young age, never given a chance at a real life, while her only truly happy moment was helping to cook the dorayaki. It is really that simple, that beautiful. If swaying cherry blossoms are something you could look at for many silent minutes in awed appreciation, you might be enlightened enough to take on this film.

Kiki is delightful as Tokue, someone who has every reason to be a bitter and angry person yet chooses instead to tread lightly, smile often, and give of herself whenever possible. That is how she draws two introverts to her, by seeing them as they are and teaching them who they might become.

Because the film is about being trapped inside, much of Kawese’s imagery involves the beauty of outside, even the quiet mostly unacknowledged beauty of something so simple as the wind spinning a plastic bottle or water trickling down a stream. Kiki’s light works well with Nagase’s dark. Though he has no stigma of disease separating him from society he has nonetheless shut himself off, doing nothing but cooking all day and passing out at night after drinking too much.

With Mad Max this morning and An in the evening, I was treated to two films here in Cannes that depict older women in important roles. Not just older as in 40 something, but older as in 70 something. Do they ever appear in American film except to play grandmothers? What a missed opportunity to pretend they don’t exist. Kawase’s film finds the story in this invisible woman. It is a story that matters, one that is rarely told if at all.

How great to see old age treated as what it really should be — experience and knowledge is passed down through stories. Here in America we think of old age as care facilities, Depends, Alzheimer’s and dementia. We don’t think of the value of someone who has lived so long and learned so much passing on to us what we know.

Kawase’s film depicts a world where we are surrounded by so much beauty even if we choose the cage over freedom. It’s there if you know where to look, if you know how to listen, if you’re willing to see it.

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It is always disappointing to see great films hit Cannes only to lose momentum by the time they hit the nasty game known as the awards race. It’s always disappointing anyway to see how such an array of great films can get winnowed down to the lowest common denominator and what those “best” films ultimately mean at year’s end. What do they mean? They mean they’re “Oscar movies.” Your average person on an airplane, for instance, could click a whole category of Oscar movies and get essentially the same movie: male protagonist overcomes obstacles to achieve greatness.  That’s true if the greatness is ignored for decades (Argo) or if the greatness is ironic (Birdman). It isn’t so much the recognition of success as it is the overcoming of obstacles that tends to earn votes for upvote minded viewers.  The shortness of the season, the hopelessness of civilization overall – who knows.  Last year’s winner, Birdman, was the rare exception to the recent trend however and perhaps there’s something to cheer about there (even if Boyhood should have won).

Like 12 Years a Slave the year before, Birdman is a hard film to criticize. It was so good. It was so dark. It was so funny. Most reasons to resent its win are not necessarily to do with the quality of the film so much as the reasons it won – that annoying habit of industry rewarding films about itself, the endless self hug.  Beyond that, Birdman is a great film that deserved recognition.  So we enter this year’s Oscar race wondering what fresh hell will present itself when the Producers Guild announce. What wonderfully memorable, successful film will be rejected as Gone Girl was, what hideous ways the white male demographic will marginalize the efforts of women and minority groups.  We wait, we wonder, we scratch our heads.

Meanwhile here comes Cannes.  While we don’t yet know if there is a film like The Artist or No Country for Old Men in the woodpile we do know that one great expectation is Todd Haynes’ Carol, with what will surely be a breathtaking performance by Cate Blanchett (because why wouldn’t it be).  That is probably the film — other than those vying for Foreign Language — that will have Oscarwatchers paying close attention.

I’m not holding my breath but I secretly hope that genre films like Ex Machina and Fury Road might creep into the Oscar race, both for their sake and for mine. Aren’t you tired of the traditional Oscar movie by now? I know I am. I know every time I see those movies on an airplane I want to run in a different direction.  Can they try to stop voting for films the way they vote for politicians? Who makes us feel good about ourselves most?  Perhaps.

The things I’m looking most forward to is inhabiting a world that is far removed from the Oscar race, a world that would probably laugh at anyone who said “Oscar potential.” It’s never easy predicting what the Cannes juries will do or which films will stand out, but their prominence is almost bigger than the Oscar race by now – just think of how big Xavier Dolan and Mommy got, though snubbed by the Oscar voters.

It took a village of Jennifer Aniston hating critics to fight for Marion Cotillard in Two Days and One Night in spite of that film being mostly ignored in Cannes last year. Though well reviewed it wasn’t talked about and Cotillard did not win Best Actress.  Still, once the paltry slate of Best Actress contenders eventually materialized critics decided to rally behind Cotillard.  Thus, if you’re coming to Cannes with star power you might be recognized come Oscar time for doing great work, even if it isn’t the most buzzed at the fest.

Sight unseen, the contenders that look most promising ARE Best Actress contenders out of the gate. Besides Blanchett there’s Cotillard again for Macbeth, Charlize Theron for Fury Road, Salma Hayek in The Tale of Tales, perhaps Rachel Weisz for The Lobster.   On the Best Actor side of things there’s Joaquin Phoenix in An Irrational Man, Tim Roth in Chronic, and Matthew McConaughey in The Sea of Trees.

We start out each Oscar year with much hope. That it ends up in a massive consensus vote with thousands of people from all walks of life deciding what’s best always limits the choices.  My small hope is that this year will be a little bit better than last year. Just a little bit. It doesn’t properly start until Venice/Telluride but Cannes is still far enough out that the films themselves can be appreciated whether they have “Oscar potential” or not.

I hope you’ll take this ride with me. I fly out tomorrow.

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This Vanity Fair cover is encouraging because it looks like they’re deliberately putting Daisy Ridley front and center, as in, she’s THE STAR. Some say she’s the new Luke, therefore the actual lead and driving force and some say she’s one of three leads. Adam Driver is one, Oscar Isaac is another. John Boyega, Harrison Ford and Chewy join her. I will be heartbroken if this turns out not to be the case. Star Wars is the one franchise that could sell no matter who or what was in the lead so it would be mighty brave of them to have a female at the center. I guess we shall see. If it turns out to be thus, color me impressed.

Here are a few photos taken by Annie Leibowitz for Vanity Fair.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Cannes Classic sidebar lineup was revealed earlier today. The sidebar showcasing classic films and documentaries about cinema will include Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bette and Musical Opium by Arielle Dombasle. Actress Kim Novak will present two Alfred Hitchcock films, Vertigo and The Birds.

1988’s Best Picture winner, Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor will screen in 3D, while Costa Gavras and Ingrid Bergman are among those to be honored.

The full line up can be found on the Cannes Website and is:

• Documentaries about cinema:

• Hitchcock / Truffaut by Kent Jones (2015, 1h28)
Co-written by Kent Jones and Serge Toubiana. Produced by Artline Films, Cohen Media Group and Arte France.

• Depardieu grandeur nature by Richard Melloul (2014, 1h)
Produced by Richard Melloul Productions and Productions Tony Comiti.

• Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans by Gabriel Clarke and John McKenna (2015, 1h52)
Produced by John McKenna.

• By Sidney Lumet by Nancy Buirski (2015, 1h43)
Produced by Augusta Films, co-produced by American Masters. Presented by RatPac Documentary Films.

• Harold and Lilian : a Hollywood Love Story de Daniel Raim (2015, 1h41)
Produced by Adama Films.


The tribute to Ingrid Bergman

• Jag Är Ingrid (Ingrid Bergman, in Her Own Words) by Stig Björkman (2015, 1h54)
Produced by Stina Gardell/Mantaray Film.

Celebrating the anniversary of the sixty years of the creation of the Palme d’or:

• The Golden Palm’s Legend (La Légende de la Palme d’or) by Alexis Veller (2015, 1h10)
Produced by AV Productions.

• Centennial Orson Welles

Citizen Kane by Orson Welles (1941, 1h59)
A Warner Bros. presentation. The 4k restoration of Citizen Kane was completed at Warner Brothers Motion Picture Imagery by colorist Janet Wilson, with supervision by Ned Price. The image was reconstructed from three nitrate fine grain master positives as the original camera negative no longer survives. Optical soundtrack “RCA squeeze duplex format.”

The Third Man (Le Troisième homme) by Carol Reed (1949, 1h44)
A Studiocanal presentation. Intermediate film print, 2nd generation of nitrate film (non-existent original negative), scanned in 4K and restored frame by frame in 4K by Deluxe in England. Restoration supervised by STUDIOCANAL.

The Lady from Shanghai (La Dame de Shanghai) by Orson Welles (1948, 1h27)
Presented by Park Circus. Restoration in 4K at Colorworks at Sony Pictures. The nitrate original negative was scanned in 4K at Deluxe in Hollywood before digital restoration, part of the work completed at MTI Film in Los Angeles. Sound restoration sonore at Chase Audio at Deluxe, color grading and DCP prepared by Colorworks.

Two documentaries about Orson Welles:

Orson Welles, Autopsie d’une légende by Elisabeth Kapnist (2015, 56mn)
Produced by Phares et balises and Arte France.

This Is Orson Welles by Clara and Julia Kuperberg (2015, 53mn)
Produced by TCM Cinéma and Wichita Films.

• An evening with Barbet Schroeder

More by Barbet Schroeder (1969, 1h57)
Restoration made by Digimage Classics in 2K. The laboratory worked with the original film and sound negatives. Color grading under the supervision of Barbet Schroeder.
The film will be screened after Amnesia (2015, 1h36) selected in Séance spéciale.


• Tribute to Manoel de Oliveira

Thanks to Manoel de Oliveira’s daughter, Adelaide Trepa, and his grandson Manuel Casimiro, whom allowed with the help of Director José Manuel Costa and Subdirector Jui Machado, of the Cinemateca Portuguesa, the Festival de Cannes will screen his posthumous film Visita ou Memórias e Confissões (1982, 1h08). Previously unseen, it would have been only screened at the Cinemateca Portuguesa in Lisboa and Porto, Manoel de Oliveira’s city of birth.

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After Georges Méliès in the Grande Salle, to celebrate the 120 years of the birth of the Cinématographe Lumière, screening of a selection of Lumière films in the Grand Théâtre… Lumière.
A presentation of the Institut Lumière, of the Centre National du Cinéma and the Cinémathèque française. Screening in 4K DCP. 4K restoration carried out by Eclair Group, in collaboration with l’Immagine Ritrovata.

Restored Prints

• Rocco e i suoi fratelli (Rocco and His Brothers/Rocco et ses frères) by Luchino Visconti (1960, 2h57)
A presentation of The Film Foundation. 4K restoration carried out by Cineteca di Bologna at L’Immagine Ritrovata Laboratory, in association with Titanus, TF1 Droits Audiovisuels and The Film Foundation. Restoration with funding provided by Gucci and The Film Foundation.

• Les Yeux brûlés by Laurent Roth (1986, 58mn)
A presentation by the CNC and the ECPAD with Laurent Roth in attendance. Digital restoration made from 2K scanning of the 35mm négatives and the scanning of original elements if they were still existent from archive images. Restoration made by the laboratory of the CNC at Bois d’Arcy.

• Ascenseur pour l’échafaud by Louis Malle (1958, 1h33)
2K restoration presented by Gaumont. Work on the image done by Eclair, sound restored by Diapason in parternship with Eclair.

• La Noire de… (Black Girl) by Ousmane Sembène (1966, 1h05)
Restored by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project in collaboration with the Sembène Estate, Institut National de l’Audiovisuel, INA, Eclair Laboratories and the Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée, CNC.
Restoration carried out at Cineteca di Bologna/L’Immagine Ritrovata Laboratory.

Preceded by the documentary:

SEMBENE! by Samba Gadjigo and Jason Silverman (2015, 1h22)
Produced by Galle Ceddo Projects, Impact Partners, New Mexico Media Partners, SNE Partners.

• Insiang by Lino Brocka (1976, 1h35)
Insiang was the first Filipino feature film to be presented at Cannes.
Restored by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project.
Restored by Cineteca di Bologna/L’Immagine Ritrovata. Restoration funding provided by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project and the Film Development Council of the Philippines.

• Sur (The South / Le Sud) by Fernando Solanas (1988, 2h03)
Presented by Cinesur and Blaq Out in partnership with UniversCiné and the INCAA. HD restoration made by Cinecolor laboratory-Industrias Audiovisuales S.A, headed by Roberto Zambrino and supervised by Fernando Solanas upon the occasion of the restoration of all his films which will be released as a DVD boxset (Blaq Out editions).

• Zangiku Monogatari (The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum / Le Conte du chrysanthème tardif) by Kenji Mizoguchi (1939, 2h23)
A presentation of Shochiku studio. The digital restoration is from a 4K film transfer (2K projection) by Shochiku Co., Ltd.

• Jingi Naki Tatakai (Battles without Honor and Humanity aka Yakusa Paper / Combat sans code d’honneur) by Kinji Fukasaku (1973, 1h39)
A presentation of TOEI COMPANY, LTD. The film has been restored from 4K 35mm print original negative into 2K digital by TOEI LABO TECH. The film will be distributed in France by Wild Side Films.

• Szegénylegények (The Round-Up / Les Sans espoir) by Miklós Jancsó (1965, 1h28)
A presentation of the Hungarian National Film Fund and of the Hungarian National Digital Film Archive and Film Institute (MaNDA). In competition at the Festival de Cannes in 1966. 2K film and sound restoration by the Hungarian Filmlab from the 35mm negative.

• Les Ordres (Orderers) by Michel Brault (1974, 1h48)
A présentation of « Éléphant, mémoire du cinéma québécois. » HD scanning from three sources: original negative 35 mm A and B colors, 35 mm intermediate film print and internegative. Restored sound from a 35 mm three-track magnetic mix. Restorations lead by Marie-José Raymond, and the color grading lead by Claude Fournier with director Michel Brault at Technicolor Montréal.

• Panique by Julien Duvivier (1946, 1h31)
Presented by TF1 DA. As the original negative has disappeared, a 2K restoration from the nitrate intermediate film print done at Digimage.

• Xia Nu (俠女 / A Touch of Zen) by King Hu (1973, 3h)
A presentation of the Taiwan Film Institute. The first Taiwanese film and the first film in Mandarin presented at the Festival de Cannes. 40th anniversary of the Grand Prix de la Commission Supérieure Technique in 1975. Digital restoration made in 4K by the Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna from the negative. The director of photography supervised the color grading.

• Dobro Pozhalovat, Ili Postoronnim Vkhod Vospreshchen (Welcome or No Trespassing) by Elem Klimov (1964, 1h14)
A presentation of the Open World Foundation and Mosfilm. A 2K scanning, sound and film restoration by Mosfilm and Krupny Plan.

• La Historia Oficial (The Official Story / L’Histoire officielle) by Luis Puenzo (1984, 1h50)
A presentation of Historias Cinematográficas. Award for Best Actress Ex-aequo at the Festival de Cannes 1985 for Norma Aleandro and Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1986. A 4K Restoration from the original négative. New color grading done by the director and the director of photography. Digitization of the sound from a restoration of the magnetic tapes the remixed in 5.1 with new effects and additional orchestrations. Funding provided by the Argentinian National Film Institute (INCAA) and work done at Cinecolor Lab under the supervision of director/producer Luis Puenzo.

• Marius by Alexander Korda (1931, 2h), script and dialogues by Marcel Pagnol
Restoration by the Compagnie méditerranéenne de film – MPC and La Cinémathèque française, with the support of the CNC, the Fonds Culturel Franco-Américain DGA-MPA-SACEM- WGAW, the help of ARTE France Unité Cinéma and the Archives Audiovisuelles de Monaco, with SOGEDA Monaco. 4K restoration supervised by Nicolas Pagnol and Hervé Pichard (La Cinémathèque française). Works done by DIGIMAGE laboratory. Color grading carried out by Guillaume Schiffman.

Cannes Classics at the Cinéma de la Plage!

• Ran by Akira Kurosawa (1985, 2h42)
Original negative scanned in 4K and restored frame by frame in 4k by Éclair. Image and sound restoration under STUDIOCANAL supervision with Kadokawa (Japanese co-producer). Color grading approved by Mr. Ueda (cinematographer), Akira Kurosawa’s close associate on the film.

• Hibernatus by Edouard Molinaro (1969, 1h40)
2K restoration presented by Gaumont. Image works done by Eclair, sound restored by Diapason with Eclair.

• Le Grand blond avec une chaussure noire by Yves Robert (1972, 1h30)
2K restoration presented by Gaumont. Image works done by Eclair, sound restored by Diapason with Eclair.

• Jurassic Park 3D by Steven Spielberg (1993, 2h01)

• Ivan the Terrible 1 and 2 by Sergueï Eisenstein (1944, 1h40 et 1945, 1h26)
Digital restoration of image and sound by MOSFILM Cinema Concern. Producer of restoration Karen Shakhnazarov.

• The Terminator by James Cameron (1984, 1h48)
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios’ presents the feature ahead of Park Circus’ worldwide reissue of the film in over 20 territories this June.

• The Usual Suspects by Brian Singer (1995, 1h46)
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios will be presenting the film on DCP (in digital format) for the first time, 20 years after it made its premiere at the Festival de Cannes.

• Hôtel du Nord by Marcel Carné (1938, 1h35)
Restoration presented by MK2 with the support of the CNC. 2K image restoration (from a 4K scan of the image nitrate negative) done by Digimage Classics.

• Joe Hill de Bo Widerberg (1971, 1h50)
2K restoration presented by Malavida Films and the Swedish Film Institute which carried out the works from the original negative.

Besides, the Cinéma de la Plage will screen as a world premiere Rabid Dogs by Eric Hannezo (2015, 1h40) starring Lambert Wilson, Guillaume Gouix et Virginie Ledoyen.
Produced by Black Dynamite and JD Prod.

Cannes 2015 runs from May 13 to May 24.

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The Weinstein Co. debuted three stills from the eagerly anticipated film version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. It contains what I believe is the best quote ever put down on paper (later appropriated by Faulkner – also used, alas, in Birdman last year):

She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

I really hope Justin Kurzel does not screw up what looks to be one of the best films we will see next year.

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Introducing Dante, Photo Credit: Rick Segal

The Riviera Maya Film Festival is a young festival with young ideas and an innovative way of presenting films to the broader international film community. One of the big gets was Joe Dante who brought Anton Yelchin to present Burying the Ex to the crowd. Dante cautioned that it was really the kind of film that needed to be seen with an audience as opposed to watching on a little screen or, god forbid, in front of a house of poker faced critics with their notepads out jotting down observations and analysis. This isn’t that kind of movie and isn’t intended to be. It was made in the Roger Corman tradition (Corman gave Dante his start way back when) and was filmed in an astonishing 20 days.

Dante and Yelchin attended a press conference at one of the locations for the film festival. We were all aided greatly by the professionalism and generosity of Luis Carrillo, who drove us to each location, packing us into a tiny air-conditioned Mercedes which zoomed along the highways of Playa Del Carmen to wherever we needed to be. One such location held members of the press to find out what Dante had to say about his new movie.

The press conference turned out to be more than just information about Burying the Ex. Dante is quite voluble on the subject of Hollywood, how it’s changing and where it’s going. He has had many projects in the works but they never seem to see the light of day as Hollywood finds itself in the grips of fear — fear of the future, fear or risk taking, fear of the changing audiences. They don’t know where films are headed and, thus, are gun-shy about taking risks. In other words, they no longer have the balls to lead so they must insist on playing it safe.

So you think, okay fine, that’s the same old story. And it might be. But Dante thinks the whole thing is headed for collapse. The studios will have to reinvent themselves (once again) and if they can do that, Hollywood might thrive once again.

Later that night, Burying the Ex would screen for audiences and press back at the film festival’s homebase, the Yucatan Princess, which set up a theater in its opulent complex.

Burying the Ex is funny, with Anton Yelchin playing a young man eager to dump his pretty but a tad needy girlfriend (Ashley Green). When she’s killed unexpectedly she morphs into a zombie and from then, funny/scary chaos. Sure, it’s not Citizen Kane and it’s not meant to be. It reminded me of the movies I used to see in the valley in the 1970s, rocking a pair of orange Dittos, a satin and terry cloth halter top, with my shag cut. Escaping the summer heat with a big bag of popcorn to watch something that silly was the stuff of a young cinema lover’s dream.

Dante’s thumbprint exuberance is alive and well, so are the gross-outs here and there. Burying the Ex is sure to develop a cult following and become a favorite midnight movie.

The screening was followed by a party on a rooftop in the very lively downtown Playa Del Carmen. They were serving some kind of cucumber tequila mixed drinks as movies screened on the side of a building. There were small pools on the rooftop in a place that is defined by blue water.

Impossibly beautiful young men and women flitted about, danced at will while munching on barbecued shrimp. Elvis Mitchell, Ben Lyons, Claudia Puig and Ryan Lattanzio all gathered around Yelchin and Dante for conversation while the hard working team behind the festival had their annual celebration.

I wasn’t much in a partying mood, having gotten a tad baked the night before at a dinner for Dante and Yelchin with the governor of Quintana Roo. I remember the dining table shaped in a square. I remember Elvis Mitchell finishing his cigar with the photographer I’d brought along on this trip, Rick Segal on another rooftop with a cool breeze and a hell of a view. I remember drinking a lot of tequila, champagne and wine. Yes, wine. I remember a toast to the guests and then some of us stumbling out and heading back to the hotel where I’m pretty sure we proceeded to hunker down in their only open kitchen eating hot, salty fries and drinking yet more champagne.

I remember laughing with Lattanzio until I could not breathe and I remember Rick Segal’s camera snapping away, catching all manner of crazy things. We somehow made it back to our hotel rooms though that’s not the part I remember that well.

I was waking up in Vegas in Mexico and my head was pounding. That meant there was no way I could have endured, at my age, another one of those parties. So Segal and I headed out of the Joe Dante party and headed down the streets towards the beach, to get a look at the lapping night waves and their eternal dance with the gusty humid winds. To get there we had to walk through disco row. You’ve never heard music that loud. You can’t out-sexy these women. You have to either submit or withdraw to the bumping and grinding of the discoplosions happening every five feet.

We finally made it to the beach. Boats had been tied to the shoreline with ropes that you had to strategically step over without tripping. We passed a few more hard-charging discos until at last we came upon the gringo wedding. You could tell by Neil Diamond droning on through on their speakers. The wedding guests bobbed back and forth in marital bliss to the tune of “Sweet Caroline.” It felt like we weren’t in Kansas anymore, reversed. We were back in Kansas, baby.

Eventually we got home that night, too. Partly because the publicists were so helpful. Partly because we had to get home or else we were going to have to submit to one of those discos. I did not want to see where that might end up.

One thing about being invited to a film festival on the Mayan Riviera is that in your down time you can visit the natural beauty of the place. We had the choice of attending the Mayan ruins or taking our own side trip, which we did, to Rio Secreto. I’d already seen the ruins, though they are also highly recommended.

The underwater caves are filled with pure, clean water that takes a whole week to be turned from rainwater into underwater cave water. Naturally it will eventually dry up because of global warming (like everything else). Right now it is still the region’s major water supply. You might not know from the jungle that sat on top of it what is thriving underneath.

We all had way more fun than we were legally supposed to have. What a privilege to be there, to having nothing but natural beauty, the nicest people on the planet and movies playing non-stop. You could be an annoying American and complain if you wanted to, probably. You could find that angle if you were looking for it.

To me, it would be unseemly to complain about such a hospitable group of folks trying to make your stay as comfortable as possible. The stakes in Mexico are a lot higher than here, for instance, where customer service and entitlement rule the day. Their economy still hovers between recovering and collapsing. They offer us up their very best, which is, quite frankly, a lot better than any of us deserves.

It would be easy, for instance, to complain about it being too corporate or too touristic because your idea of a Mexican vacation is to relive Rachel Ward’s Cozumel camp in Against All Odds. You want a hut, a papaya and a bottle of tequila. Hey, you can find that here, too. But at the end of the day they are trying to build their economy and make their resort business a success. Fruity drinks all day, luxurious pools to lounge around in, chirping jungle birds fluttering about — world class bathroom facilities? As experiences go, this one was mighty fine.

You probably might be inclined to think, oh sure, they fly you down to Mexico what else are you going to say but nice things? You might have a point there. If you then use that information to write off the Riviera Maya Film Festival? Then you’d be shortsighted at best. It’s a festival that will continue to grow and evolve, along with its lineup and its coastline.

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For the first second time in history, Cannes will open with a film directed a woman. Variety reports that Cannes this year will open with Emmanuelle Bercot’s La Tete Haute. I was happy to see enthusiasm for this choice from Variety’s Guy Lodge on Twitter but I suspect it will cause some stirrings in the other direction elsewhere.

“The film, which is being sold by Elle Driver and distributed in France by Wild Bunch, follows the experience of a juvenile delinquent named Malony from ages 6 to 18, with Deneuve playing a judge trying to intervene. It’s Deneuve’s second collaboration with Bercot after “On My Way,” which premiered in competition at the 2013 Berlin Film Festival.”

Variety also notes that La Tete Haute may or may not premiere out of competition. The full lineup is announced Wednesday the 16th. Breakout has a history with acting but also earned a spot at Cannes’ Un Certain Regard with Clement in 2001.

Ah Cannes, where women are actually people.

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The Academy has chosen its Oscar dates for the next three years, bouncing them to March 4 in 2018. Sadly, they’ve elected to keep just 8 days of time for voters with ballots to make their nominations. This hurts the contenders because voters do not get it together to see everything. They do know they have time to prepare but they simply refuse to watch the films. What can you do.

LOS ANGELES, CA — The Academy and the ABC Television Network today announced the dates for the 88th, 89th and 90th Oscar® presentations. The Academy Awards® will air live on ABC on Oscar Sunday, February 28, 2016, February 26, 2017, and March 4, 2018, respectively.

Academy key dates for the 2015 Awards season are:

Saturday, November 14, 2015 The Governors Awards
Wednesday, December 30, 2015 Nominations voting opens 8 a.m. PT
Friday, January 8, 2016 Nominations voting closes 5 p.m. PT
Thursday, January 14, 2016 Oscar Nominations Announcement
Monday, February 8, 2016 Oscar Nominees Luncheon
Friday, February 12, 2016 Final voting opens 8 a.m. PT
Saturday, February 13, 2016 Scientific and Technical Awards
Tuesday, February 23, 2016 Final voting closes 5 p.m. PT
Oscar Sunday, February 28, 2016 88th Academy Awards begins 7 p.m. ET/ 4 p.m. PT

The 88th Academy Awards will be held at the Dolby Theatre® at Hollywood & Highland Center® in Hollywood, and will be televised live by the ABC Television Network. The Oscar presentation also will be televised live in more than 225 countries and territories worldwide.

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The headlines lately have ranged from shock to surprise to hope to despair about the films directed by women, films about women, and films aimed at women topping the box office. As we speak, Divergent, Cinderella and Fifty Shades of Grey will clock in as the year’s biggest hits, to say nothing of Home, which should take the box office this weekend despite the reviews.  I will come clean and say none of these movies are for me (well, maybe Home). I’m probably not representative of your average female and most of the films that top the box office have zero interest for me, even and especially superhero movies. Not even if you put women in them. They make me sad. But they’re not FOR me.

So this discussion isn’t about whether these movies SHOULD top the box office. It’s more about how no one should be that surprised that these movies do so well considering women are not only 51% of the population but they also represent (according to the MPAA’s box office report) the primary ticket buyers. Women will see movies aimed at men but men won’t see movies aimed at women (same goes for buyers and readers of books). It isn’t that women don’t buy tickets — it’s more that no one really wants to talk about the movies made for women that don’t also appeal to men in some fashion.

Here’s the thing, though. Women are the ones who have the purchasing power. Either Hollywood doesn’t acknowledge that or else has willfully ignored it. Either way, women are primarily the ones who drive family box office, for instance, the explosion of animated movies hitting theaters that parents (but probably moms more than dads but dads too I guess) will take their kids to see, good or bad.  They are unbelievably popular, especially their sequels.

Women’s power can be counted in many more areas than just “movies aimed at women.” They can be counted as spenders with family movies and with many films that have crossover appeal between men and women. Somehow, since they star men and are about men, they get discounted in the column that credits women driving their box office success.

I looked at the top twenty at the box office going back twenty years and what I found was that women are probably the more reliable spenders, and it’s really a huge and ugly lie that films have to be about men to be successful. It is simply that Hollywood will not take the risk probably because the majority of people who drive the buzz and conversation around film prefer films about men.

If women decided tomorrow to stop paying for movies that only starred men you would see a considerable drop in profit. Women have always loved going to the movies. They like action movies, science fiction, genre movies, horror, thrillers, romantic comedies and animated films. Their tastes are far more broad than Hollywood gives them credit for and are certainly more broad than their male counterparts.

As far as films being about women, those do well too, a lot better than anyone has given them credit for. Julia Roberts, Jennifer Lawrence, Kristen Stewart, Sandra Bullock, Meryl Streep are some of the names that have reliably driven franchises and hits over the past twenty years. It isn’t that audiences for leading ladies won’t turn out, it’s that the factory stopped really building them up the way they used to, finding projects for them that will be big hits. Sure, they do that for Lawrence but they could be doing it for many more.

Gillian Anderson, for instance, kicking ass in all kinds of ways in The Fall shows what a kind of powerhouse Anderson is when used properly – or at all. Films should be built around her — and why aren’t they? Take a guess and the answer to that guess probably doesn’t have a lot of pubic hair but is well versed on all manner of video games and Legos.

It will take a visionary to show Hollywood the way because right now they’re going to green light projects starring women as long as those appeal to the “Twilight crowd,” the tweener girls and younger. I’m telling you, they’re greatly missing out on a huge section of the population that would pay good money to see female driven dramas, thrillers and horror films.

Here are how women’s movies, so-called, have done over the past twenty years. Data collected from boxofficemojo.com.

You can see my research here in the form of Excel files – some of the choices are debatable. I broke them down by films where women accounted for their box office, where men mostly did, where both did, and which could be called “family films.”

I then tabulated them into pie charts.  What’s surprising to me is how dramatic their preference for making films with male protagonists is, considering how many women are out there. Women can take partial credit for family, for both and for “mostly women.” We know that men hardly ever see movies aimed only at women thus, those films have a disadvantage in where the dollars come from.

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Here is the breakdown of male to female to both. I counted films where the plot turned on a male or female protagonist. Both reference movies that were either ensembles or partner stories.

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Excel file that shows breakdown of ticket buyers

Excel file that shows breakdown of protagonist gender

Anne Hathaway, Tom Sherak

The Academy will likely soon announce that they’ve decided to go back to five nominees. According to Hollywood-Elsewhere, the Board of Governors is meeting tonight to discuss their future plans.  My bet is that they will do what they’ve wanted to do all along: move back to five nominees.  There are plenty of people who think this is a good idea but we here at Awards Daily stand with those who don’t.

So, herewith, the top the reasons the Academy should have ten nomination slots and ten Best Picture contenders.

1. They should follow the Producers Guild model. The Producers Guild has decided the Best Picture winner for the past eight years, since 2007. The PGA picks ten nomination slots and ten Best Picture contenders – their system is far better than the Academy’s current system — anywhere from 5 to 10, which was supposed to include films that got close to being nominated but didn’t. But that proved a failure this past year because all it really does is expand “The Oscar movie” without really expanding the kinds of films that get picked.

2. Academy needs to diversify their choices and break free from “The Oscar Movie.” How do you define that in 2015? Good men doing good white things and the women helping them. They keep it a (mostly white) boys club by preferring films with characters they most identify with. The culture and the industry is growing like healthy weeds around them.   In 2009 and 2010 that was not the case because they had ten nomination slots and could broaden their peculiarities.

In the two years the Academy had ten slots for nominating Best Picture their most diverse selections were on display – films directed by women, films about women, films about people of color (a few), animated films, genre films. With ten, they aren’t forced to only go with their hearts but with other organs as well. Maybe they don’t care – their attitude is (going by the few I’ve been in contact with) WE know what defines a great picture and no one else does. Well, that would be fine if they moved with and were connected to the times. But they don’t, not really, except when forced. Look at 2010’s offerings with Black Swan, Inception and The Social Network for starters. Then compare the films that got shut out this year – Nightcrawler, Foxcatcher and Gone Girl – easily the three best films of the year. Why did they get nocked off? Because they didn’t appeal to the hearts of Academy members. Is that how we’re defining best? Because if so, why not just call them something appropriate like the “Good Will Among All Men” awards. Sure, Wolf of Wall Street and Django Unchained both got in under the current system but those are very rare.

3. The business is only moving in one direction. While the independent film scene still makes films Oscar voters like, for the most part, the big business of Hollywood is moving in a different direction. Is Best Picture supposed to only honor films that appeal to a shrinking demographic? In other words, 5 to 9 doesn’t solve the Dark Knight problem but a solid 10 does.

4. Ten nominees makes for great box office.

As you can see from the following graphs, things were doing okay when the Oscars were held later and the public was more involved in the kinds of films they chose. That was then. Once they pushed their date back and the choices became more insulated from the general public, and largely decided by “the people in this room” before the films hit theaters. Most of the time, most Americans watch the Oscars without having seen any of the movies. This year’s exception was American Sniper. As you can plainly see, 2009 and 2010 represented a much more profitable Oscars overall and more engaged film community, money-wise.

Yes, ten films means more dollar amounts overall but think about – you could have movies like Up, Avatar and District 9 nominated alongside A Serious Man and The Hurt Locker.

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5. Like it or not, the awards race is bigger than the Oscars now. They are the final word on the season. On the one hand, they will blame the drop in ratings or lack of interest in the Oscars on awards season fatigue – it is exactly the opposite of that. The public is watching the Academy and waiting for a dramatic finish. Perhaps that is wrong, morally, ethically and in every other way imaginable. It isn’t a reality show, after all. But to deny what the culture has become is yet another way the Academy dominates both its presence and its prestige. Ten nominees opens up more options for the Academy, which means many different pockets of interest helps keep the film industry thriving.

Saturday morning at the Hypermarket: Semi-final of the Miss Lovely Legs

Saturday morning at the Hypermarket: Semi-final of the Miss Lovely Legs
After the brutal let down of this year’s Oscar race, which mostly amounted to yet another year of dashed hopes and diminished expectations, it’s time to remember Rule #1 of How to Win Best Picture: never let your film become the frontrunner until after the Golden Globes. It’s a harsh and painful rule. Publicists measure their success by whether or not the films they’re handling are on the list. They want to be on the list and some will badger bloggers to make sure their films are on the list. Bloggers in turn put films on the list because they are being pushed by certain publicists and they know those publicists will push those films hard until the bitter end.

Sometimes it’s unavoidable. This past year’s Boyhood was the perfect example of why you don’t want to become the frontrunner, but you could pick almost any film any year with the exception of a few titles. There are some films that get put there and stay there. I would argue that those films are under-regarded even during Telluride because people think, they’re good and all but something better will come along. The Artist was one of the lucky ones in that regard: it started strong at Cannes and nothing more Academy-friendly ever came along to knock it off its perch. It started as the frontrunner and it ended as the frontrunner. Ditto Slumdog Millionaire. Too many of us (unfortunately) miscalculated Boyhood as a film like The Artist rather than a film like The Social Network. Even those who were skeptical were not putting their sites on the divisive Birdman but rather on The Imitation Game. But the Imitation Game was handicapped by looking too much like The King’s Speech, thus perception was nowhere near sexy enough for voters.

What all of us forgot — almost everyone I know from the people who really try to be as objective as possible without getting their hearts involved — is that the industry prefers movies about themselves almost more than World War II/Nazi movies. We forgot what the race is really about. That was unfortunate because had many of us put Birdman in the frontrunner’s spot out of Telluride, Boyhood would have looked like the underdog and might have taken the race. That would depend on whether or not the whole “films about Hollywood gazing at its own self” narrative caught hold. If so, voters might not want to be that predictable. As it was, Birdman offered the perfect solution to people who didn’t want to watch Boyhood let alone vote for the film that was “winning everything.”

You could apply this comparison to most Oscar years. The bottom line is that, most of the time, you do not want to be the frontrunner. It’s a punishing place to be. The second you land there the hate begins, not with people who cover awards, not just with people who vote for the awards, but to people almost everywhere. It is the nature of humans to root for the underdog. Alas, the real underdog WAS Boyhood. It just got put in the top spot by people like me — and I regret my part in that.

What’s so bad about Birdman winning, you might ask? Nothing. Not a damned thing. It’s a perfectly fine choice. I was asked to speak at a film class at Woodbury University to young college students. They were asking me about Best Picture and generally the conversation always goes the same way. No one can figure out why certain movies win when everyone else thought another movie was going to win. The first time I had this conversation was when Fellowship of the Ring took on A Beautiful Mind. Surely, the epic saga blockbuster would win. No, it was going to be the year Ron Howard made good on his promise as a child star and Russell Crowe became a legend. I remember the conversation again when it was Avatar and The Hurt Locker (a choice I agreed with). And a month ago I had it about Birdman and Boyhood. This class thought Boyhood was the far superior film, though they didn’t mind Birdman winning. They liked it — it just wasn’t better than Boyhood in their minds. And unfortunately for Birdman, and for films like it that win in a year like this one, you win the battle but you don’t win the war. The second the lil’ movie that could becomes the winner, suddenly people begin to think REALLY? That? It’s hard to explain the Oscar race to people.

That’s the nature of the race. That is why it is competitive and why so much money is spent. If it were a done deal it would be so boring no one would bother. But it is a real race because it is not based on best — it’s based on perception.

Usually whenever a publicist wants their film in the number one spot during the early phase it’s in the hopes that it will generate enough buzz to make more money at the box office, to help drive some awareness, especially when they know they have a potential dog on their hands. Take Unbroken from last year and how well the publicity team played that. They kept the movie not only from being seen but from being reviewed once people saw it, because they knew it would get killed by critics — and for the most part, it did, except for a few who gave it a break. That didn’t stop many a pundit from putting that movie, which looked so good on paper, in their number one spot early on TO WIN the whole game. Many even had it in the number one spot until it was actually seen by them. Out of the gate, as far back as its rousing Sochi Olympics promo, it was on everyone’s list, even for Best Director.

There is a big difference between wanting to be right and wanting the race to be right. Oscar bloggers, some critics and fans of the race fall into those two camps. If you are someone who wants to predict exactly what “they” will do, and not seek out the best of the best, you play the game one way. If you want the best films and filmmakers to get recognized because that means the film industry is really thriving, that art wins, then you will be the very definition of insanity: trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I myself am in that category. Dumbing things down to predict what “they” will do would be akin to watching Dancing with the Stars to me. Or The Bachelor. Instead, I choose insanity.

If you push a movie or a contender that you hope will either get nominated or win then you are helping a publicist make money. Sometimes the disappointment comes when you push and push and push and then they lose — not only are the films and filmmakers let down, but the publicists are let down. It seems crazy to see the race that way but those are the people who really do measure their careers on nominations and wins. I honestly don’t think some of the contenders themselves even care that much anymore. I care because I want the best art and artists to win — even if it is just a matter of opinion. I don’t get a pay boost for wins the way publicists do. My career isn’t measured on how many wins or nominations I get from the people I push.

And remember, pushing hard for someone talented who is ignored by the industry is never a waste of time. Any amount of publicity for anyone anywhere is a good thing for that person and a good thing for art. Measuring their success by what a bunch of entitled rich pampered white dudes who are shut off from normal is where the mistake lies. Though clearly the Oscar race needs both those who pretend to be objective (and are wrong anyway but can be right) and those who make no pretense at objectivity (and are sometimes right but mostly wrong).

Now that the new year is beginning, we are just a couple of months away from films starting to get talked about. They will fall into two camps. The should bes and the wills. The should bes out of Cannes last year were, for me, The Homesman and Maps to the Stars. The only one that made it out of Cannes this year to head into the Oscar race was Foxcatcher. As an Oscar blogger you can either take the should bes and write about them anyway or dismiss them out of hand because you know “they” will never go for it. That is how you define the two camps of Oscar watching on a “professional” level.

I would argue, though, that nothing is ever that purely divided. For instance, those who pretend objectivity often get caught up in advocacy if they love a movie enough. They might put a documentary contender in the Best Picture slot, knowing it has less of a chance of getting nominated than a pig sprouting wings and flying out of the barnyard. You might call a performance the best performance of a certain actor’s career. You can pretend to be objective all you want but at the end of the day advocacy often bleeds through the lining.

Here we are at the beginning. We’re about to watch as an elegant, elaborate ship of opportunity and variety is shoved into a tiny hole and stuffed into a bottle. As Richard Rushfield tweeted at the close of this year’s Oscars, “that was fun. Can’t wait to do it again.”

Thus, herewith, the Oscarwatching rules for 2016

1. Thou shalt not forget that there is no such thing as the Academy anymore. The guilds decide Best Picture, but specifically the Producers Guild. The time frame is too short for any sort of change-up in the race, thus when you talk about “they” you must say “the industry voters,” not “the Academy voters.”

2. Voters care less about women than they ever have. Not only was Ava DuVernay shut out this past year but Kathryn Bigelow the year before. The worse offense was snubbing Gillian Flynn for adapted screenplay while nominating that terrible terrible screenplay for American Sniper. That’s no reason not to advocate for them. The movie has to be about a male protagonist. The last time a film won Best Picture that wasn’t about a man? I don’t really remember Crash that well but I’m pretty sure it was an ensemble piece. The last time a film won Best Picture that centered around a female character? Would you count Million Dollar Baby? Or would you count Chicago? Either way, it’s been at least a decade.

3. Never underestimate the power of a film about people who make films but specifically if a film represents those artists in suffering or martyr mode who are then recognized. Do many industry voters feel like losers who are preyed upon by critics and superhero movies? Yup. That isn’t a lot different from a silent film star in a world of talkies or producer who has been shunted aside but then helps frees hostages from Iran.

4. If you are the frontrunner out of Telluride you are probably not going to win Best Picture. Whatever movie that played at Telluride that people liked but would never think of as the winner? That’s your real frontrunner.

5. You have to be seen by at least the conclusion of Toronto.

2014-Birdman (Venice/Telluride)
2013-12 Years a Slave (Telluride)
2012-Argo (Telluride)
2011-The Artist (Cannes/Telluride/everywhere)
2010-The King’s Speech (Telluride)
2009-The Hurt Locker (Toronto the year before)
2008-Slumdog Millionaire (Telluride)
2007-No Country for Old Men (Cannes)
2006-The Departed (opened in October)

This is due to the Academy rolling back the date for Oscar Night by one month. In so doing, they have removed the public entirely from he equation. The race is decided now by “the people in this room” without the public even seeing the films much of the time. Before they changed the date, movies had more time to open and be seen and generate buzz before heading into the race and winning. American Sniper might have actually been your winner for this past year if the date change had never been put in place. Good, bad, you decide.

6. Forget it, Jake. There is not much of a difference between the Spirit Awards and the Oscars anymore. This is because the Oscar race is dominated by the creative juice of indies. The big studios put out movies this year that were earmarked for the Oscar race but they didn’t fit the model of what voters are seeking. Some of them bombed outright and some were “too whatever” to get chosen. So essentially you’re looking at one big rolling industry of the same people voting for the same awards.

7. The critics are still viewed as knowing less about what defines a great film than the industry, or so the industry thinks. This is confirmed in years like this past one where the industry rejected the critics’ choice outright. Sometimes there is unification but not often and not lately. Think of it is as the industry’s way of fighting back. How Michael Keaton dresses down that theater critic in Birdman? That reflects reality. Birdman reflected the reality of what many people in Hollywood must be feeling: futile, just wanting to do good work but having no one to appreciate it, a changing world of viral videos, a no man’s land of superhero dreck.

8. The Oscar race is about much more than who wins the trophies. Whole careers can be made just by getting awards buzz. In fact, without awards buzz now it’s harder to get the right people even to watch your movie. This is especially true with documentaries which are almost always the best films offered up in any given year, ditto foreign language films.

9. Nobody knows anything. Not me, not your most trusted “objective” bloggers, not the studios, not the publicists… knowing which way the wind is blowing is easier than knowing which way it WILL blow.

10. The trick is not minding. The best thing to do is shrug it off. Or, as my friends the Mormons would say, “Turn it off. Like a light switch.” At the end of the day this is a Maltese Falcon. It doesn’t mean much of anything unless it means something and it rarely does.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2009
Picture – 2 | Best Director 1 (winner)

2010
Picture – 2 | Best Director 0

2011
Picture – 2 | Best Director 0

2012
Picture – 1 | Best Director 0

2013
Picture – 0 | Best Director 0

2014
Picture – 1 | Best Director 0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And some random titles:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Possible 
Money Monsters
Hateful Eight
A Bigger Splash
Demolition

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

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

Also possible:
Ben Foster, Icon

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

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

My own personal most anticipated include:

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

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

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A terrifying shift has taken place in Hollywood. The way film is discussed online for the past ten years, really springing from the rise of fanboy culture, has all but erased the need for stories about women. When all anyone can talk about is male-driven comic book and/or superhero films, action shoot ’em ups, and nearly every other cinematic cultural icon, you’re usually looking at males up one side and down the other.  This has not always been the case. I know because, as they say in The Shining, I’ve always been here. I know that film fandom springs from Jaws and Star Wars – only in today’s incarnation of said fandom, the badass that was Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leah is all but erased.

It’s more than depressing — it’s disgusting. Women have been sidelined as mothers or side dishes, where they can be defined by whether or not they move the boner meter.  Scarlett Johansson is doing very well in the boner-driven film culture both on the snooty side of things and on the fanboy side of things. She’s in the club. Also in the club is Marion Cotillard, who can rally the film critics with her work in art films while also whipping up fanboy frenzy in The Dark Knight. Can you even exist if you don’t put on some silly stretchy suit and dwell in the fantasy universe? I don’t know.   I cringe every time a respectable actress is announced starring in some new superhero franchise, usually as the side dish. “I’d like some boner fodder with my main entree, please.”

Thankfully, this is simply not the case in the world of book publishing where women readers drive content. You would not know this by visiting the New York Times Sunday Book Review, where it is mostly (and still) focused on male writers of a certain race and class.  All of Hollywood’s problems with women and under-served ethnic groups can be answered in the wildly diverse and thriving publishing industry.

If only they’d listen. Completely ignored by the Academy this year was Gone Girl, as we know because we’ve been writing about it all year long. Not only was Flynn’s success as a writer ignored by that antiquated establishment – but all of the women who drove the box office on one of the year’s biggest hits were not only ignored, but dismissed outright. You heard “mom’s beach book” a lot on dumb humor sites. You heard “trash novel” a lot. If women are interested it must be cheap. The forever loop of Jonathan Franzen’s arrogant dismissal of having been chosen for the Oprah Book Club.

Even still, Gone Girl sits atop every bestseller’s list you can find anywhere. It’s a cultural phenomenon and Oscar? They still have their dick in their favorite hand – wank, wank, wank.  Gone Girl, as it turned out, was “too much” for the mostly male voters who were too icked out by it. Women can take it, of course, because women have their periods every month and are used to icky things. Women also (some of them) give birth and wear high heels. Yeah, I’m not sure where women got stuck with the label of being the weaker sex, especially where delicate sensibilities were concerned. The Exorcist, Jaws and The Godfather are just some so-called “trash” novels that went on to become, as Gone Girl has, a great film.  But the Academy still cling to their blankies, as we can see by their 2014 selections.

The latest hot prospect The Girl on the Train has just been picked up by Dreamworks. They smartly saw that it was being devoured in a Gone Girl like fashion. There are three strong female parts in it, all of the first person unreliable narrators. It’s Hitchcockian, suspenseful, wicked smart through and through.  Will it be made into a major motion picture? I hope so.

Such was not the fate of another similarly popular novel, Big Little Lies, which has been given to David E. Kelly to be shopped to cable outlets. Why not movies? Starring Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon (both very good choices).  The Australian set novel would be a fantastic opportunity to unite Kidman and Naomi Watts, should they be able to pull that off. Hell, throw in Cate Blanchett and you have one of the most powerful box office draws I can think of. If you’ve read the book you’ll be able to see why. For some reason, though, it did not get that kind of movie deal.

I’d like to dream cast Girl on the Train but before that, I’d like to also mention a couple of novels that could be optioned. I am not sure they have been yet. Lisa See has been writing thoughtful, suspenseful and very emotionally powerful books for many years now. Only one has been made into a movie and that was Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Perhaps because it was more than slightly botched by its director that makes her books a tough sell. In the right hands, though? Cultural phenomenons.  One of the problems is finding a popular enough Asian star.  Chinese is the preferred ethnicity and how many popular young Chinese female stars are there roaming around Hollywood? Why does it have to be a name, though? I know women would go see it if it was good, regardless of who is starring in it. Why do we have to be stuck back in that bygone era? Why not take a chance on an unknown?

Lisa See‘s Peony in Love, Shanghai Girls and her latest, China Dolls are all ripe material to be mined and turned into films women will want to see. Make movies for us and we will turn out. Not just the tweens among us but we fully grown women. Just look at the success of Gone Girl. We can’t let this moment pass us by. We can’t pretend it didn’t happen.  Every stupid reason people give for why movies about women don’t make money was shattered this year.

China Dolls has been bought by an all-female production company to be directed by a woman.  That’s the latest update. So watch for that film when it is made.

Another great book is called Brown Girl Dreaming.  A National Book Award winning novel written in verse about growing up in South Carolina in the 1960s and 1970s when segregation still ruled the day. What a fantastic film that would make. So far I haven’t heard any sort of movie deal in the works but here’s hoping.

Now, I’d like to dreamcast Girl on The Train (if you haven’t read it, OMIGOD).

I feel very strongly that Kate Winslet was born to play Rachel, the alcoholic discarded wife. If it were me, I’d case Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Megan, the wife who goes missing. And finally, because you need a perfect blonde for the part, Anna would have to be played by Rosamund Pike.

One thing I really like about British TV is that they don’t make a big deal about their diverse casting choices. They simply cast people of color in parts regardless if they’re meant to be “white” or not.  That is what I would do if it were up to me with Girl on the Train. But if they need it to be an all white cast, I would dream cast Emily Blunt as Megan.

Here’s hoping for a broader view of 50% of the world’s population. Here’s hoping Hollywood won’t continue to erase women from the picture, and here’s hoping the writers and the critics and the bloggers will nail them to the wall every year, like this one, when all of the films in the Oscar race revolved around a male character, as though women don’t matter. It greatly limits storytelling overall, makes them look like they are caught in a time warp, way back in the 1950s. Mostly, they’re missing out on potential money to be made by women who would pay to see their beloved books turned into films.

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“I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone’s heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went dark.”
― Raymond Carver, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

“Boyhood winning a single Oscar is awesome. We stopped it! We can go to bed now.” ― Academy member in the editors branch, sent to a friend this morning.

To understand that last sentiment, we can peel away the paradox that revolves around this line spoken by Meryl Streep in Postcards from the Edge. “You want me to be good, just not better than you.”

The Oscars in the modern era are about an industry feeling defensive against the increasing dominance of film critics as deciders of which film is best. Critics, unlike the insular Hollywood community of film-award voters, do not align themselves so religiously with the familiar major studios. A company like IFC Films or CBS Films can break through with critics awards, no problem. But they will be stopped when and if they try to break into the Oscars. They might slip in with the more populist PGA and DGA. They might charm the Golden Globes and they certainly fooled BAFTA.  But they aren’t going to fool the Academy. Those industry VIPs know where their bread is buttered.

This defensiveness against film critics was the head of the monster that helped make Birdman such an Oscar-race juggernaut. The body of the beast was the industry’s pointless, symbolic rejection of how Hollywood has changed since the 1970s. Birdman did two things: it sought to viciously shame the critics (the original script had Riggan actually shooting the critic, far less self-pitying way to turn the story); and it meant to lay waste, at least in sentiment, to superhero movies, the younger generation’s dependence upon perceived trivialities like viral videos, youtube and Twitter — in short, everything that makes them feel irrelevant.

Spend enough time with entertainment people and you’ll see a group of folks who really are used to being treated like they’re the center of the universe. The Academy was kind enough to extend an invite to me to attend the show for the first time in 16 years of Oscar coverage.  I needed a costume. I had three dresses to choose from. One was “The Norman Bates’ mother look” (and by that, I mean, the corpse in the chair, not Vera Farmiga). The second was Divine in Pink Flamingos, and the third was Joan Collins in Dynasty. I ended up discarding all of them, heading to Macy’s and buying a tight-fitting, curve-hugging dress that made each of my breasts look like bowling balls affixed to a Buddha. I did my makeup, bought some high heels, curled my hair (which the rain promptly uncurled), gathered my tickets and phone charger, stuffing them into my “fancy handbag” and disappeared into the cold and rainy afternoon. The next day, incidentally, the sun would return as if to say, “we just wanted to try to ruin the Oscars. It was worth a shot.”

One thing you can’t criticize the Academy for is not knowing precisely what they’re doing. There were check points and American snipers up and down Hollywood Boulevard. They searched my “Valley-mom SUV” and made me roll my windows down “until you get to the red carpet.” I thought it would be self-park but alas, I had to make some poor valet driver actually get into my messy car and park it. I stepped out onto the boulevard, juggling my fancy bag, my tickets, my ID and my phone. There were tourists lining the boulevard in the rain waiting to see a somebody. They looked at me, a giant boobed nobody and quickly looked away.

If I were a decent person and a good Oscarwatcher I would have lingered longer on the red carpet — which is kind of terrifying. It makes Stardust Memories and 8 1/2 seem like child’s play. This is harsh bright lighting, people screaming on cue in the bleachers, women as thin as matchsticks everywhere you looked, dresses so pretty they seem to be laughing silently at the dress you hastily put on. Okay, the dress I hastily put on. Okay, they weren’t really laughing. I haven’t actually lost my mind. Only pretend insanity.

Once you leave the madness of the red carpet you walk up lots of stairs. At one point I felt myself tip back and I wondered just how dramatic it would be if I’d tumbled all the way back, hitting my head on the marble staircase, calling in the ambulance and shutting down all of the fun. I steadied myself and kept walking, following lots of long dresses, women who smelled like expensive hairspray (not Aquanet). Where was John Waters when you needed him?

Once upstairs, at each checkpoint is a smiling, unformed person directing the flood of people through to the tiered lobbies where a bar was set up, with endlessly flowing champagne and mixed drinks. Caterers glided through each lobby with the same trays of hors d’ourvres. One plump shrimp in cocktail sauce, bacon quiche, the teeny tiniest bagel and lox, beaded caper salad on toothpicks, sliced vegetable sticks in paper cups, with bags of potato chips nearby.

If I’d been a good Oscarwatcher I would have used my press pass to lobby-hop to the main floor and middle lobbies where the beautiful people congregate. I didn’t but I can imagine what it was like, can’t you? Famous people eating and drinking and talking and laughing. I’ve seen so many of them already up close. I propped myself up at the bar upstairs where there were only scattered numbers of people, and caught my breath.

John Savage was the only recognizable person up on our floor. He was escorting a tall drink of water in a showstopper of a dress on an endless search for an electrical outlet to charge her phone.

At some point the television monitors came on to blare the official pre-show. Most stared up at it moon-faced, watching Julianne Moore up close talking about Alzheimer’s.

“Please take your seat. The Oscars will begin in 30 minutes.” I felt a pressing need to get to my seat and sit there for a half an hour. I grabbed my cocktail and headed in. Once inside, I was so high up I felt like I might get height sickness from looking down. The stage was so small and far away that appeared to me like an ornate tiny dollhouse ready to be filled with prettily dressed figurines. And so it was.

I was seated next to a nominee. I didn’t find this out until they called out the Sound Mixing category.  I said “American Sniper” out loud and the guy next to me said “No.” Then Whiplash was announced.  I heard his wife pat his arm. “Aw, we didn’t win. Next time.” They’d been arguing about Facebook the entire time they were sitting there. “Get your log-in and sign out, then sign back in and write down your password.” “I don’t know how to do it,” she said.  “I’m telling you how to do it.” I didn’t expect to be sitting next to a nominee, way up at the back of the house. I’d heard smatterings of applause when they read out the shorts categories so I assumed those nominees were all upstairs too.  I’ve never sat next to someone who didn’t hear their name called. They stayed a little bit longer and then left.  “Next time,” she said again, soothingly.  Turns out he was one of the sound guys on Interstellar.

On my other side was a journalist from Forbes. His favorite film was Whiplash. He also had enough courage to talk to John Savage, who ended up talking his ear off for about half an hour.  It was fun to compare notes with another first-timer. We were figuring out the ins and outs of the whole thing. He was far more professional than I was. He wasn’t taking Boyhood’s loss personally. Even when The Imitation Game beat Whiplash for Adapted Screenplay he was disappointed but not about to rage against the machine.

You saw the same show I saw, but it quickly becomes clear that the ceremony is designed for the TV cameras, not an audience. I’m sure the people in the seats front and center feel the excitement in real time, perhaps the speeches were genuinely moving to them, down there, but I got the feeling it was all a tad put-on. The speeches, the audience interactions, the tears, the gratitude. It was entertainment in and of itself, or meant to be, to keep people believing in the magic of the movies, and that the Oscars really are still a celebration of that magic. PR for that magic.

The best part for me was watching the crew change the sets, or the steady-cam operator glide around behind a contender. Somewhere, the director was dictating which camera feed goes into the live feed. Simple things like knowing where a winner’s spouse is sitting to cut to their face, or how Neil Patrick Harris spent time in the audience while the stage sets were transformed. The show, like the organization, like any efficient business, is slick and extremely well organized. How it reads on TV is really out of their hands.

When they read the nominees, the house lights go down to pitch black. The lights come up just before they announce the winner. Off and on, off an on, all night long it went. The sound was as you’d expect, though it must be said that the singing performances were far better live. You simply can’t get the same experience hearing them filtered through the airwaves.

Once Inarritu and his team won screenplay and director, the truth began to emerge like a flame catching a corner of paper just before it devours the whole thing. The changing landscape of the film industry is a done deal. Birdman was meant to be their rallying cry, uniting them in solidarity against their increasing feelings of futility. By the end of the night, when humanitarian and two-time Oscar winning actor Sean Penn, took the stage to hand the top prize to his friend, Alejandro, he could toss his head back self-righteously and proclaim, “movies aren’t about box office.”

Inarritu made his speech about Mexican immigrants, ironic since both he and Alfonso Cuaron have had to focus singularly on white American stories with white American stars to finally win their Oscars. But still, “two Mexican Best Directors in a row” has got to fill Mexico with some kind of pride, a record breaking twofer, unimaginable even ten years ago.

All in all, the Academy did spread the wealth, as the saying goes, with each Best Picture contender winning at least one Oscar.

Birdman – Picture, Director, Screenplay, Cinematography
Grand Budapest – Costumes, Production Design, Score, Makeup
Whiplash – Sound, Editing, Supporting Actor
Imitation Game – Adapted Screenplay
Theory of Everything – Best Actor
American Sniper – Sound Editing
Boyhood – Supporting Actress
Selma – Song

A few thoughts about the industry crowded inside my head as I tried to shut out the lingering echoes of applause and laughter. Where the Oscar race used to seem, to me, like the last refuge for those out there still trying to do good work amidst a fast-changing economic reality, they really are the solution. If ticket buyers want fewer choices, branded movies aimed at the masses, earning them all the money they could ever want and then some, that makes Hollywood look like a bunch of greedy, artless capitalists.

But the Oscars? They can give Birdman their highest honor and they believe it will make them look like they still care about art. They care about it enough to sympathize with an actor who has discarded his superhero outfit to try to flail around with a Raymond Carver play. If only the rest of the world would notice how good it is. Not the critic who will never give it a pass because it’s too “Hollywood.” Not the irrelevant worker bees “out there” in the world because they don’t get it – they only get Twitter and viral videos. The industry has one night (or several since the big guilds really decide the Oscars now) to tell the rest of the world who they are.

We’ve all fallen for the act that the heart of Hollywood wants to turn back the clock on the tent poles. That’s all you heard about this year. Superhero movies and tent poles coming along to shit all over everything while the rich get richer and the poor help them do it. The truth of it is, and it became all too clear to me last night, no one really wants things to change. They need to make that kind of money. They like to make that kind of money.

It’s sort of like McDonald’s trying to hipster-up with coffee and healthy-up with salads. They’re still McDonald’s, the scourge of the planet, poisoning people, killing massive amounts of livestock, sucking up the earth’s resources to give people high cholesterol and heart disease. But hey, they sell salad so they must be great, they must care about us, right?

The Academy managed to stop Boyhood, thus invalidating what the critics, the HFPA and the British film industry thought was best. They have that card to play and they play it every year, whether it ultimately makes them look worse in retrospect or not.

As for me, a Cinderella for the night, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. Leaving early meant I got a jump on the valet parking, though I suspect no one stood in line very long anywhere at the Academy. Entitlement wafted through the air vents — most of them don’t really know anything else other than being given special treatment. That isn’t the world I live in. It isn’t the world I see outside. It isn’t the world anywhere except behind the red rope.

If I could say one positive thing about the experience it would be this: it’s a marvel to watch such an adept organization put on a show like that. It probably reads really slow and clumsy to you all at home but from my seat I saw an expert balancing act that left no room for mistakes.

Even my car was delivered to me swiftly and efficiently. I lifted my shiny dress and sunk myself back into my cozy beater SUV, which smelled once again like real life. I pulled out of the parking garage and headed down Hollywood Boulevard to La Brea, to Franklin and onward to the 101 which would take me to the 170 and back to the valley where I belonged. The last bits of rain sprinkled on my windshield. My Cinderella dress already felt too tight. That bra had to come off. I was greeted by a dog who needed to be walked and a daughter with a high fever. I made her a cold cloth for her forehead but she was really warm.

“That guy who made that speech about the Imitation Game made me cry for like twenty minutes,” she said. “Oh yeah? Did you like the show,” I asked? “It was too long,” she said. Too long, an Oscar tradition achieved at last.

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 11.08.12 AM

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 11.08.12 AM

We live in era where every journalist and every news site is click-bait hungry. They’re looking for any controversy to draw readers, drive comments and jack up traffic. At what cost? When the rope tightens around the neck of honorable films because there’s nothing left to attack, it does damage to the most vulnerable.

It was a controversy that never really caught fire, certainly not in the circles that would impact Oscar voters and nowhere near the kind of heat Selma endured this year. A journalist wrote me a casual email and asked if I thought the scene in Boyhood where the gardener is encouraged by Patricia Arquette to go to night school and then appears later in the film to thank her was racist because it did two things: depict a cultural stereotype of a Latino character as a gardener, and it also depicted a white character as the savior.

That’s silly, I responded, and gave a very hurried explanation as to why. This person was miffed at my response and pitched it as a story to Latino Rebels, who published it. Had I known he planned to do that I would have given a more thorough response, of the kind my readers have been hearing for many years now. But that wasn’t HIS plan. He needed an enemy, someone to use as leverage to help prove that Richard Linklater was a racist, and hell, so is Sasha Stone at Awards Daily. That’s a good plan. Attack the one blogger in the film awards race who ever even addresses racism at all.

Meanwhile, Alejandro G. Inarritu gets no heat for not casting a single Latino character in his film. Not one. Not with a speaking part, not as a background character. No one talks about how you have to make movies about white characters to win Oscars, thus both Inarritu and Cuaron have abandoned films about their own cultural heritage in order to spoon feed Academy members the kinds of films they want to see — movies populated only by white people.

Then again, why wouldn’t someone want to invest in films about white characters, specifically white male characters because no one can complain about how they are portrayed. You see how that works? It’s funny, isn’t it. Oppression wears many masks and one of the ways it wears a mask is in the burden placed on minority actors, writers and directors to fix the problems in our culture by honoring political correctness at all costs.

Think about trying to cast a black character or a Latino character in your film and imagine the baggage attached to that. There are so many rules that apply, why even bother? It’s so much easier to just cast white people and be done with it, eh? Not one actress in the cast of Birdman could have been Mexican? Bear in mind, I’m not saying Inarritu is obligated to make films any more about his cultural heritage. He did that early in his career. Now he’s the big time, right? Time to get serious and make films only about the people Oscar voters will respond to.

Let’s say Linklater’s mother did have a conversation like that with a Latino gardener when he was growing up . Let’s say that years later they saw that same guy working as a manager at a restaurant and he walked over to thank her for her encouragement. Let’s say she’s the kind of person who talked to people all of the time and always said “you should go to school.” Here are Linklater’s choices for paying his mom her due in how she helped people throughout his life:

1) Have the scene not happen at all. Result? A film filled with white characters and not a single Latino speaking part. Roland Ruiz as Enrique does not get the speaking part in a film in the Best Picture race for the Oscars. He can’t put it on his resume, which means less power for him as a working actor.

2) Have the scene happen but just not have Patricia Arquette speak words to him. He is, after all, not to be addressed by a white person because that’s racist — even to talk to him. She can’t advise him to go to night school because that’s racist – it presumes his job isn’t good enough. She can’t encourage him to do what she herself did with her life because that presumes he wouldn’t be able to think it through on his own. Also, Ruiz does not get a speaking part. See number 1.

3) Cast the part with a white character, et viola. No Latino Rebel freakout, no pissed-off journalists trapping me in an email exchange to go off on entitled white people. No problem, right? The scene plays out as planned – Patricia Arquette’s character gets to look good. A white actor gets yet another opportunity to put Boyhood down on their resume. Oh and Ruiz does not get the part in Boyhood. See number 1.

Oppression hits minorities from both sides. White filmmakers are called racists for making films about black characters or Latino characters. Films made by black filmmakers or Latino filmmakers can never really break through in the ways that films by white filmmakers do – thus, they don’t get the money, the power, the leverage. Here is Inarritu at the top of his game, making a film that will solely appeal to whites. After this, surely he’d be going back to his roots and making a film about Mexicans right? No, he is making The Revenant with Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy.

How are actors of color and women ever to break in if they are screwed from both sides of the debate? The politically correct crowd pitches a fit when they are cast in a non-idealistic light. The executives won’t hire them because they don’t have major film credits and/or Oscar nominations on their resume. Ruiz can now take his Boyhood credit and parlay that into a better gig, hopefully. It’s hard enough to get work, my god, why would anyone want to make it harder?

White studio executives only want to hire white actors for their films because they believe white actors will make them more money. Oscar voters are mostly white. They pick films about white characters. When a film comes along like The Help, for instance, and a wave of protests erupt everywhere as if punishing that film, and anyone involved in it, is that going to solve any problems whatsoever? It merely punishes the numerous black actors who were hired to act in that film because the chances of any white director — and let’s face it, they’re mostly white who get hired — won’t want to be called racists by agenda-driven bloggers. The status quo marches on.

When the problem is directly addressed – black filmmaker makes movie about black characters — they are mostly ignored — at least if that filmmaker is American. Fruitvale Station, the Butler and this year’s Selma were all roundly dismissed by voters in the race. They embraced 12 Years a Slave made by the British born Steve McQueen. Boy how those voters love their Mexican directors, huh? But only when those directors come from Mexico. The problem with the oppressed under classes of whites vs. Latinos is happening here in America. Progress will take place when a Mexican American director is recognized or even acknowledged. Inarritu winning after Cuaron winning is not going to fix the problem here.

David Poland said it best on Twitter when he said – first fill the pool and then start talking about how minority characters are depicted. But if you’re going to come at me and call Richard Linklater a racist and not attack, say, a movie like American Sniper for same when one made $25 million and the other $300 million, then I’m going to call bullshit. I will also add that I think there is a fair amount of misogyny in that accusation of Arquette’s character because it presumes she’s some plantation wife trying to throw “the help” a bone when in fact she’s the kind of person who notices a smart kid when she sees one. She would have said the same thing to him whether he was black or white. Maybe you have to be a mother to understand that.

Women, people of color, should be given MORE options not less. Their appearance in films should not be conditional on righting the wrongs of society. Rosamund Pike should be free to play a sociopath and Gillian Flynn free to write one. Viola Davis should be given credit for choosing the parts SHE wants to play and tearing up the screen while doing so. Did anyone think for one minute that either Viola Davis or Octavia Spencer in The Help acted like a white-loving shadow figure in the background?

I’m sick to death of watching political correctness choke the life out of art. It is a kind of fascism, the end result of which is films only about white people, preferably men, as thriving because no one can complain about how the characters are depicted.

Do I know it’s a cultural stereotype to depict a Latino gardener? Of course. I grew up in California. I know the racism that exists against Mexican-Americans here. I see a growing population virtually ignored by the whites every day of my life. I see gardeners all of the time who are Latino, and nannies and housekeepers, and cooks and busboys. I also see teachers and cops and government officials who are Latino. I would like to see MORE diverse characters in films, not less.

Written by Grisel Y. Acosta on Latino Rebels:

But the truth is we are not dogs or wallpaper. We are like keratinocytes, which make up the main part of your skin, Mr. Linklater. You don’t think of us much, but we are very important to everyone’s existence. We build, we protect, we are flexible, and those of us in the know are very aware that if we went missing, the world would be exposed to all kinds of dangers. I can tell when we are missing. When will you be able to?

Linklater cast one of Mason’s friends with a Latino actor and one of his schoolmates, for the record.

A friend of mine on Facebook wrote the following status update, which I liked enough to want to post here:

BOYHOOD is NOT racist.
The scene in question–the “you changed my life” moment–is the kind of life-like moment that Linklater glides over ever so gracefully that I just KNEW more “intellectual” movie critics, looking for something to pick at, would latch onto as a false note. And they did! It isn’t. That moment is not about class or race. Or, more accurately, it’s not just about class or race. A couple of scenes earlier Mason, Jr. had told his girlfriend that his mom is just as confused as he is. The scene with the Latino waiter lets us see that isn’t entirely the case. It is designed to show that both kids are starting to view their mom in a role other than that of “mother.”

boyhood[1][9]

When I look at how Oscar race 2014 turned out I see the worst case scenario, almost, all the way down the line. Every bad thing that could happen did happen.

What I see when I look at this year’s race is nothing but limitations. The legendary Patti Smith shut out of Best Song, Gillian Flynn shut out of making history as a female writer, Gone Girl itself — from the score to the directing to the writing  — shut out all because they didn’t like the characters and the distibutor did very little publicity. And Selma, all of the doors that slammed shut as that film stepped up to the plate.

I look at the race and I see a much better race that might have been. I see a more reasonable embrace of films that depict characters both dark and uplifting. I see a directors lineup that might have confirmed a desire to make history. Instead, I see a case to be made for skipping the Oscars altogether.

It isn’t that these eight Best Picture nominees are bad.  It’s that they are not representative of the year in film. I get that Oscar voters don’t pay attention to the noise. They brag about it even. We like what we like and it’s as simple as that.

Their protest vote, their unification, their rallying cry comes in the form of Birdman which says the artist who just wants to tell good stories is dying out to make room for the modern era of tent poles, superhero movies and stupid things like viral videos. Birdman makes them feel alive, both in its storytelling — a vibrant and exciting trick pulled off — the best acting of the year and the most important thing: its movie stars.

Birdman is a confirmation of all that Hollywood wishes it was. And hey, there is nothing wrong with that. From where I sit, though, I mark this year as the year I look to other awards shows that did really pay attention to what was actually happening.

The HFPA completely redeemed itself when it didn’t go for the star-powered Unbroken just to have Angie at their show. No one thought they would pass up that chance.  Moreover, they decided to make history instead with the nomination of Ava DuVernay. I look to the Spirit Awards which has no choice but to be up-to-the minute since the people who vote on it are not elitists in a club that is by invite only, but rather, any film-lover with $99 who wants to join can become a voice with a ballot. It isn’t the People’s Choice awards but an expression of an engaged film community with their finger on the pulse of the changing landscape of Hollywood.

What we have our hand on this year, with the Oscars, is a dead shark. A shark has to continually be moving forward, as Alvy tells Annie, or else it dies. At the same time, it surely isn’t the end of everything. It’s a great year for documentarians and makers of short films. It’s a great year for international filmmakers who keep making movies the voters eat up. It isn’t that it’s so bad as it just feels like something went very wrong with the voting.

You could not really sit down with an average voter and have a conversation about film. You would find it to be a very limiting conversation, put it that way. Here we are on the last day and there isn’t much to talk about, really, is there?  In the adapted race it’s one forgettable script versus another forgettable script. The best one in the category won’t win. And we have Alejandro G. Inarritu’s shining moment up on stage, his Oscar won at last. It’s too bad Keaton won’t be standing alongside him.

At this rate I will personally be overjoyed if Boyhood wins anything beyond Supporting Actress. I won’t care that much if Birdman wins. All in all it just feels like we’re all making a meal out what got left over in the fridge after a celebration weekend.

I know my own year in film will be defined by the films that mostly got ignored, namely David Fincher’s culture-quake Gone Girl, Dan Gilroy’s fantastic Nightcrawler, Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher, Ava DuVernay’s Selma, and a couple of the films voters did pick. When I look back on this year I will see it as another year where Hollywood hugged itself, for better or worse.

Next to final but not final predictions

Best Picture
Boyhood
*you should pick Birdman for your office pool

Director
Richard Linklater
play it safe and pick Inarritu?

Actor
Eddie Redmayne

Actress
Julianne Moore

Supporting Actor
JK Simmons

Supporting Actress
Patricia Arquette

Editing
Whiplash

Original Screenplay
Birdman

Adapted Screenplay
Whiplash

Cinematography
Birdman

Production Design, Makeup, Costumes
The Grand Budapest Hotel

Documentary
CitizenFour

Foreign Language
Wild Tales

Short, Live Action
Parvaneh
*The Phone Call

Animated Short
The Feast

Doc Short
Joanna

Animated Feature
How to Train Your Dragon 2

Visual Effects
Interstellar
Apes

Sound
Birdman

Sound Editing
American Sniper

Song
Selma

(Apologies for the brevity of this piece as I am a tad under the weather.)

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“I talked to my friends in the Academy and none of them are voting for Boyhood,” an Academy member told me. Actually, I don’t think of him as an Academy member but a smart, funny, engaged, curious filmmaker. His information greatly disappointed me. I tried not to be an asshole about it but you know, some things really can’t be kept in. The thing about the awards race that will always confound me is that people don’t vote on it like they’re choosing “the best” or the “highest achievement.” They pick what they like best. It’s as simple as that. Everything else they characterize as “noise.”

“I’m picking Whiplash for number one, Selma for number two and Birdman for number three,” he said.

“Why don’t you just put Birdman at number one and be done with it,” I said, knowing that neither Whiplash nor Selma will ever get near enough votes to put them over the top. With a preferential ballot it’s a two, sometimes three, picture race. Whichever comes in at number 1 or 2 or three tends to stay there. Isn’t it funny how Unpredictable people are?

No one voting for Boyhood? This again? It seems like every year there is the film voters SHOULD pick and the film voters just pick because they don’t want to pick the frontrunner. We’ll never know if everyone thought Birdman would win coming out of Telluride, or if the Globes and the Critics Choice had picked Birdman, thrusting it into the spotlight as “the frontrunner” whether it would still be a done deal.

Somehow, Birdman became the little movie that could that industry voters liked and Boyhood became the MEAN OLD FRONTRUNNER easily taken down as multitudes of men chanted quietly, to each other, “if you take out the 12 years thing it isn’t anything special.” To my mind, if you take out the camera trickery in Birdman you essentially have a very good stage play. Back in the 1980s that wouldn’t have been thought of as cinema but in 2015, it’s the closest thing show people have to seeing the selves they recognize and like. As good as Birdman is, and it is very very good, it simply can’t top Boyhood in terms of ambition or execution.

But it isn’t for me to say. This voter, this friend of mine, believed Birdman to be the better film in terms of cinema. The whole industry seems to agree from producers to actors to sound people and tonight, to cinematography. I don’t even know the results of the ASC but I know how it will go. I’m not sure how much longer the self-congratulation thing is going to go on but I console myself with the BAFTA having open out. Now I know for a certainty that British people, if they aren’t smarter than Americans, are certainly less self-absorbed than the American film industry which can’t seem to break free of its own image in the mirror.

You want to win an Oscar? Make a movie about show people. Make it funny. Make it sexy. Make them look really really good — or if not good, at least noble. They are fighting the good fight, standing up for true art and all of that. At least, that’s what they want the awards to be about: themselves. If they really admired standing up for true art they would reward the true art itself, and not the one about the artists trying to make true art.

“How many did you talk to,” I asked, wondering just how many precious minutes of my short life I was going to have to spend thinking about what these people are going to do with their votes. “About fifteen,” he answered back.

The same week, the Los Angeles Times had posted a cock tease article that said two voters WERE voting for Boyhood. One was voting for Grand Budapest Hotel. Not a Birdman supporter in sight. But faithful to the notion that they can’t really be doing this to Richard Linklater, and that they can’t really walk by one of the most beautifully made American masterpieces of naturalist cinema, here is Entertainment Weekly, putting their faith that Boyhood WILL win and Inarritu will keep up the tradition in the directing category. The Gurus of Gold put on a brave face and do that wonderful thing we pundits do when all hope is lost – grab onto the rope and hang on more tightly.

Boyhood is not winning this thing and Linklater isn’t winning director. They have put their full and unanimous support around Birdman and that, really, is that. I do love the moment when hope is kept alive. Hope is a beautiful thing. Emily D put it best:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

So when I read that Dave Karger and Anne Thompson and Peter Travers are still predicting Boyhood to win it gives me hope – that tricky thing with feathers. Boyhood would be a great thing for the Academy to stop staring at themselves and look upward and outward at life and art and all beautiful things that can be made by someone who took such care to make them.

I won’t predict Birdman but you should. The question is, how many Oscars is it going to win? When Grand Budapest won the Writers Guild it seems to have enough momentum to carry on through to the big night. That would leave Birdman with:

Picture, Director, Cinematography, one of the sound awards maybe.

And then the Oscars might look like:

Birdman: Picture, Director, Cinematography, Sound Editing or Mixing
Theory of Everything: Actor, maybe score, maybe adapted screenplay
Grand Budapest: Original Screenplay, Production Design, Costumes, Makeup, maybe score
Sniper: Maybe editing, maybe sound
Imitation Game: Maybe adapted screenplay
Whiplash: Maybe adapted screenplay, maybe editing, supporting actor
Boyhood: Supporting Actress, maybe editing
Selma: Song

And with that, I’m ready to dub this year among the worst years of Oscar watching I have personally ever had. Never have the Oscar voters and the industry voters seemed to narrow-minded and closed off from everything else happening and evolving around them. Never have they seemed so small.

But hey, there’s always next year. A poll.

What film will win Best Picture?


(polls)

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