Love Type D’s Sasha Collington is hoping to raise enough money to finish her film, Love Type D. The trailer certainly looks promising. Here’s hoping she gets enough money to finish and that we soon get to see this funny movie. As of yet, they are at around $8K. They need around $24K. To become a backer, head on over to Kickstarter.
In the last 17 years that we’ve been covering the Oscars the world has changed. The country has changed. Television has changed. The film industry has changed. Here is what I’ve learned: The Oscars don’t always address change. Much of the time, they prefer to dwell in the rear view mirror, a time when voters imagine things were better, not worse or even if they really were worse we have all agreed to remember them as better.
Some of the strongest films circling this year’s Oscar race for Best Picture touch on the very things that are terrifying people in known and unknown ways. We are living through a millennium shift, and have been since this site began in 1999. We’re still so deep in it that we can’t really see what kind of impact the turn of the millennium has caused on our culture. We can see it through Oscar’s eyes. We can remember that in 2000, Gladiator won Best picture. Russell Crowe was a champion. Fifteen years later, Ridley Scott is back in the Oscar race but this time his hero is a lost man in search of solid ground.
When this site first began watching Oscar 17 years ago, we were heading into two terms of the Bush presidency. That reign impacted cinema and the Oscars in significant ways. Sometimes very directly, with Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker in 2009 and James Vanderbilt’s Truth in 2015.
Through two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, then two terms of the Obama presidency, the internet, blogging and social networking have replaced the traditional ways we broke news, and how we get our news. Almost everyone would agree that there are good things and bad things about it. Hollywood is on the fence, as last year’s Birdman win confirmed. Love Twitter? Hate Twitter. Twitter is here to stay. We all have to improvise, adapt and overcome or we will be left behind.
The internet’s rise, along with groundbreaking visual effects, video games and virtual reality simulators has given humans a way to interact as an avatar — a self that is not really themselves. They hunch over their keyboards and leave nasty comments. We blog ferociously from our own living rooms bypassing traditional publishers and taking it straight to readers. We take selfies everywhere. We are full blown narcissists who celebrate who we are every day. We are the sum total of the effects of capitalist-driven advertising. It’s no wonder the film industry continues to pick films about lost or desperate men, like Birdman, 12 Years a Slave, Argo, The Artist, The King’s Speech, The Hurt Locker, Slumdog Millionaire, No Country for Old Men, The Departed, Crash, and Million Dollar Baby. This is millennium panic with no end in sight.
The way the country has been permanently changed by the wars brought on by 9/11, the increasing anxiety of impending doom as the natural world collapses around us — because of us — the helplessness of watching it all go down with no immediate plan to fix it. All this is manifest and reflected in the kinds of stories voters align themselves with. Not critics. Not the Hollywood Foreign Press or the Broadcast Film Critics but the thousands of voters who vote in the large guilds and the Academy.
Last year’s winner Birdman identifies that angst directly. It did not exist anywhere except the film industry where large amounts of voters identified with what it was saying about Hollywood, art, and the business of art. It simultaneously and reluctantly acknowledged that it’s all about Twitter and viral videos while also showing disgust at how everything has changed. Boyhood could have never been that movie for Hollywood because, let’s face it, they could care less about some punk coming of age. How does that resonate at all when the vast majority of Oscar voters are older than 60?
When you have that many people deciding things, it’s easier to spot check intent and identification. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out how this story is being written. The question then remains — will this year be different?
If it won’t be different, then to find Best Picture we have to go out in search of the lost men. It may be harder to figure that out right now, with so little hard data to work from. What we have so far are films way outside that paradigm. They address relevant issues that occupy the minds of people outside the Hollywood loop. They are tackling big issues, some of them, and they are stories that are bigger than the ailing heart of a failed dreamer.
2015 has already been and will continue to be an unusually strong year for female-driven films. It is probably beyond the limits of believability to think a woman-led film could win Best Picture. It hasn’t happened since 2002. Still, are there any films with a female in the lead that won’t be deflated by critics before they get to the guild stage? Are there any Black Swans, Philomenas, An Educations, Winter’s Bones? Maybe. Are there any Chicagos? Doubtful.
Still, it’s hard not to be lulled in to the story of a women-driven film triumphing at last, on the eve of maybe the first female President of the United States. Carey Mulligan stars in two films about women. The first is Far from the Madding Crowd wherein she must choose between three suitors. She also stars in Suffragette, a full blown woman joint — written, produced, directed by and starring almost all women. It is about women putting it on the line and fighting for the right to vote. Good intentions alone will not push this thing through the gauntlet, which is comprised almost entirely of men — from the critics to the bloggers to the industry voters. Suffragette might barely squeak through but it is far from certain as a winning film.
Carol, Todd Haynes’ magnificent, beautiful love story is really about gay rights. More to the point, it’s about gay couples being free to live openly without having to hide who they are. This will eventually lead to the federal law that allows gay marriage, something we’ve all just lived through, and something the Republicans continue to fight against each day. That war has already been won but the battle rages on. Can Todd Haynes finally get the recognition from the Academy he deserves? Maybe. But you still have to imagine a good amount of voters putting Carol on their top five. If you can do that, it’s in.
Brooklyn is a film about a young Irish woman who must choose between two different men and two different countries. The film is anchored by the performance of Saoirse Ronan. Since so many already love the movie, men and women alike, this seems like a sure bet to become one of the favorites by year’s end, at least so far. But can it win?
Ex Machina is one of the best films of the year and is about women in so much as it speaks — shouts — metaphorically to the way women are trapped and molded to fit a certain list of desirable traits. It is absolutely a take on what Hollywood has become. How exciting is it, then, when the robot escapes. That power is out now. Still, can Ex Machina win? Not likely.
The three films staring women that have the best shot to win would be George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, Lenny Abramson’s Room and most likely, sight unseen, David O. Russell’s Joy.
Each of these films has a winning path laid out. Mad Max because it is just all kinds of cool and would help the Academy evolve, not that they would take that opportunity. Room because it is a satisfying story well told, one that can appeal to lots of people across the board. And finally, David O. Russell’s Joy because first, he’s kind of overdue for a big win at this point, and second, if any woman is at the top of the game for women and men right now it’s Jennifer Lawrence. The two together could prove that they’ve not only got the race sewn up but will also help break the streak of films about lost men winning Best Picture.
The narrative doesn’t seem to be working in favor of a female-driven film, at least not yet, unless you count Joy. The narrative taking hold right now is that it’s Spotlight’s to lose until a Rocky-like film appears to topple it. That film will either be a big film that is too accomplished to ignore — like The Revenant, perhaps. Or it will be a more generally and broadly likable film that voters feel compelled to choose because it is too likable to ignore.
Spotlight is, right now, heads and shoulders above the competition both in terms of perception and because it is really that good. It is as carefully made and exacting as the story at the heart of the film. Hurting it is that it has been praised to front-runner status which puts a bulls eye on its back and makes it vulnerable for a Rocky-like phenom to overtake it. We won’t know how it’s going to go until the Producers Guild announces its winner at year’s end. That gives a lot of time — too much time — to sift through the potential winners we’ve seen and those still coming up.
However voters decide to define themselves for 2015-2016, one thing is clear: it is going to be a while before we find solid ground. Perhaps this is why Hollywood and the Oscars are so stubbornly married to the notion of one white straight male protagonist as the default for getting broad ideas across and expressing the human condition. Perhaps it is the loss of solid ground that makes this industry so intent upon preserving it in the realm of fantasy. If we aren’t gazing back at how great we once were, heroes who overcame obstacles to light our way, we are comforting the failures, whose own glory days have long since fled.
If you’re asking me point blank if I think the films about women will get in I would have to answer no. No because by the time the voting rolls around the critics will have finished off most of the films starring women — either by giving them middling reviews (“It was underwhelming”) or by simply hyping films that don’t star women. I am thinking that probably when all is said and done there will be at the most two or three films with women in them and the rest will be filled with the usual. I say this because it makes common sense. The voters are overwhelmingly male. They almost always choose — except for once in a while — films that resonate with them, about their stories. Since women are perfectly happy watching movies about men they help drive that narrative.
We have so many films left to see — how they land will determine how this Oscar year is defined. We are in an area of I don’t knows. One has to be comfortable with that and accept that it’s a wide open race where anything can happen.
Either way you slice it, whether they end up in the game of Oscar or not, it is heartening to see this many films at all with women in the lead. Maybe it means things are starting to shift. Maybe it means the storytellers are coming from everywhere now, that those stories are only getting bigger. They call out to us from the future, and they’re only getting louder.
The Emmys made the historic, unprecedented move of awarding the well deserving Viola Davis the first black actress to win in lead in their history. The audience didn’t seem to notice. Only Louis CK stood up as Davis left the stage. Viola Davis once again gave a memorable speech which said the opportunities aren’t there for black women to get into the awards conversation in the first place. That has never more true than it will be for Oscars 2016. Not one of the frontrunners for Best Actress right now are black, let alone any other non-white ethnic group.
There is a reason Halle Berry is still the only black woman to win Best Actress in what will be 88 years of Oscar history. It’s hard enough to get someone like Sandra Bullock in a gender swap for Our Brand is Crisis. Swapping ethnicities is equally difficult. Bullock in that role meant she drags with her “female baggage” that men may or may not take to. An actress of color put into a white actresses role without explanation brings in that same baggage. We celebrate these suddenly powerful roles for actresses this year, of which there are many, but we must also acknowledge the start contrast between the Emmys and what will be the Oscars. There will be no black women nominees, at least not in the lead category.
We know that the market drives the inequality. Those who make the deals put their faith in men. The only films that are within even a hair’s breath of the Best Picture race to feature a black star or a black cast would include: Beasts of No Nation, Straight Outta Compton, Creed and Concussion. They’re all black male characters almost entirely.
It comes down to a lack of opportunities and perhaps a lack of interest with the Wall of White that dominates the Oscar race. That includes the mostly white, mostly male critics and bloggers. The mostly male and mostly white industry voters. The mostly male and mostly white Academy voters. You know who isn’t mostly male and mostly white though? The ticket buyers. Only there do you see a broad spectrum of every ethnic group.
In the Best Actress race we don’t even have any alternatives at this point. Those opportunities are flat-out not there. They are on television. Even with versatile talent like Gugu Mbatha Raw, Kiki Palmer, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, and yes, Halle Berry — to name a few — it’s almost impossible to get them starring roles in films that plan on the Oscar market. This is not one of those years.
Still, there is no point in condemning the films, the filmakers or the actors for being “too white.” Writers tend to write what interests them, or what they know. Since men get one deal after another, the films that get made tend to be about what interests them. It doesn’t necessarily follow that an Oscar win can guarantee real change either. Selma was a successful, profitable culture quake last year, even with the Team White Guy grumblings about it. That should be enough to get more deals made about black history — lord knows there are enough stories about it. I think I heard someone was making an LBJ movie instead.
The thing is, the times they are a-changing. Social networking has completely upended the game. Movies, and the Oscar race, are all part of an ongoing, general conversation. Young people aren’t going to be as willing to give over their attention to an industry and its awards that focus on a singule group =- a shrinking majority, in fact — that seeks to recall the history of white Americans only. Even the transgender subject matter present in the early stage of this race — with The Danish Girl and Ray are already having problems with LGBTQ groups who say they are more about straight people than trans people. But at least those doors are cracking open even a little.
Teenagers and those coming up fast behind them are going to be hungry for more than what’s being served up which means the people making decisions in Hollywood are going to have to think outside the box, like Mad Max: Fury Road already did, and the upcoming Star Wars movies does. Improvise, adapt, overcome. But you can’t do that if you’re stuck on the same channel.
So far, it’s a good year for women (albeit white women only)
The Best Picture race is so far down to these movies – Spotlight, Steve Jobs, Brooklyn, Carol and Room. Mad Max: Fury Road could be another strong contender, if the pundits like Anne Thompson turn out to be right. Ridley Scott’s The Martian is another big, popular movie that might be one of the strongest early contenders. But already, if these movies are in, that’s four films ABOUT women with strong female leads. Nearly half.
The balloting process will hurt films that star women the most, which is why the best opportunities for women behind the camera and in front of it were the two years when voters had ten nomination slots and not five:
The Hurt Locker – directed by a woman, won Best Picture/Director
An Education – written, directed by and starring women
Precious – starring black women
The Blind Side – starring a woman
Winter’s Bone – written, directed by and starring women
Black Swan – starring a woman
The Kids are All Right – written, directed by and starring women
The following year, the Academy shrunk the nominating ballots down to five. And the results were interesting.
The Help – starring black women
Beasts of the Southern Wild – starring a young black girl
Philomena – starring a woman Gravity – starring a woman
No films starring women at all except The Theory of Everything, but it was really about Stephen Hawking, let’s face it.
*When I say “starring” I don’t mean co-starring. I mean the central story revolves around a woman and a woman only, not a couple.
With five nomination slots, voters may elect, even this year with an unprecedented number of films driven by women, not to include them in their top five, which may instead reflect their own preferences — generally speaking, stories about men specifically, white men usually.
The films that might withstand the 5 choice litmus test starring women could include: Brooklyn, Mad Max: Fury Road. I would be nervous about Carol, Room, Suffragette, etc.
The rest of the films hover in circles outside the main circle but are being considered, films like 45 Years, The Danish Girl, Suffragette, Truth, Trumbo, Black Mass, and Beasts of No Nation. All of these and the aforementioned movies are threatened by what’s coming next — the Big Oscar Movies that are set to be screened next week at the New York Film Festival and then launch into the Oscar race later in the year.
Those movies in anticipation are:
Bridge of Spies
By the Sea
The Hateful Eight
The Whitest Oscars Again?
If there is any possibility for Beasts of No Nation, Creed, Straight Outta Compton or Concussion to get in, no one will be able to accuse the Oscars of being the “whitest ever.” The only category that will be all white most likely will be Best Actress. The Oscars can only reward what is there in the first place, as Viola Davis said. Without imagination and a fair amount of courage those opportunities will never be there.
One thing is clear from last night, however — the film industry and the Oscars that feed off of it are the ones lagging way, way behind. The generations coming up behind this one aren’t as color blind as the previous generations. They aren’t as unwilling to see black women as vital, interesting people who make great subjects for films.
The country is almost ready for the first woman president in its history. Maybe it happens, maybe it doesn’t but it’s hard not to feel the seeds of change humming from the foundation. Everyone wants to see Hollywood and the Oscars evolve. Last night’s Emmys showed us that an audience watched the first black woman in history win Best Actress. They voted for her because she deserved it. They barely noticed that they were a part of history. Only a few of them even stood up at all. But the rest of us at home were shouting from the rooftops. Social media was lit up in a frenzy. The audience would later find out what they’d just been a part of. And so it goes with progress. You barely notice it’s happening until it’s blown past you.
Once you get thrown over for one of your best performances for a younger actress in one of her not-so-best performances you get to a stage where you have nothing to lose. I love it when women reach this stage — I’m there now — because you don’t have to make bargains to shut up anymore. Hollywood Reporter points us to this interview with Emma Thompson where she minces no words to explain how bad things STILL are, despite it being such a successful summer for women.
“I don’t think there’s any appreciable improvement, and I think that, for women, the question of how they are supposed to look is worse than it was even when I was young. So no, I am not impressed, at all. I think it’s still completely shit, actually.
“When I was younger, I really did think we were on our way to a better world. And when I look at it now, it is in a worse state than I have known it, particularly for women, and I find that very disturbing and sad.
“So I get behind as many young female performers as I can, and actually a lot of the conversations with them are about exactly the fact that we are facing and writing about the same things and nothing has changed, and that some forms of sexism and unpleasantness to women have become more entrenched and indeed more prevalent.”
Here is the problem as I see it. The market is driven by (or perceived to be driven by) young boys and middle-aged men / middle-aged childmen who have been conditioned for decades, and really from birth, to believe films are supposed to be about only male characters. Marketing drives and enforces this lie. It is especially bad in the Oscar race because it doesn’t appear that films are even conceived or envisioned with women in the leads. It’s as though what happens to women in life has zero importance compared to the more important lives of men and boys. Men and boys are the center of the universe in animation and superhero movies — schlubby losers always win the day — and they are the center of the universe in Big Oscar Movies (broken man saves the day or valiantly tries and fails).
To make matters worse, when the Academy has the opportunity to reward a woman their feet get tangled in that mass of “I don’t want to reward her JUST BECAUSE she’s a woman.” Emma Thompson in Saving Mr. Banks gets tossed for Amy Adams in American Hustle. Did Thompson really deserve to take a dive for that just because of the real story controversy? Gillian Flynn is dumped for Damien Chazelle. Ava DuVernay is passed over for yet another white guy. Opportunities to help level the playing field are being wasted while the white male paradigm continues to be reinforced and celebrated with each new movie deal that gets announced.
Things are changing, though. How much or how far is unclear. I have faith in the millennials because they really do not stand for the same old shit. They have money to burn and they will be the future ticket buyers. Hollywood only has to listen carefully to that distant thunder. To be frittering away opportunities for an actress and writer of Emma Thompson’s caliber is immoral. Invest in actresses who are getting better as they get older. They should not be shelved but instead challenged. People will come, Ray. Oh yes, people will come.
Remember back in 2014 when the makers of Jenny’s Wedding were trying to raise enough money to finish the film and release it (AwardsDaily is proud to have donated to their cause)? They raised almost $100k. It seemed for a time as though the film would never make it off the shelf but lo! Here it is at last, coming on the heels of the historic Supreme Court decision, starring Katherine Heigl and Alexis Bledel in Jenny’s wedding. Mazel-tov to them for finally getting it out there.
Women are treated like sex objects in dumbo comedies aimed at infantile men. This is nothing new. Aside from the Judd Apatow, Todd Phillips here or Paul Feig there, for the most part these are films made from the point of men who think about women no other way. They’re either nurturing (or blasting) mother types or they’re fuckable or not fuckable. Intelligence in writing and creating female characters was abandoned once Hollywood realized what a cash cow adolescent boys had become. The age rage for adolescent mentality kept stretching until boys who were once teens became boys in their 30s and then boys in their 40s. Now, most R-rated comedy films are one big soup of fart, poopie and dick jokes. If American men don’t want to grow up who are we to complain. That just makes it easier for we bull-busting “too old” females to take over the world. Rose McGowan broke the golden rule of never speaking out – not about sexual power plays, not about pay inequality, and certainly not about something like the following.
McGowan, who has become a filmmaker and whose short film “Dawn” can be seen for free on YouTube, posted this tweet about a casting call for an Adam Sandler comedy:
casting note that came w/script I got today. For real. name of male star rhymes with Madam Panhandler hahahaha I die pic.twitter.com/lCWGTV537t
— rose mcgowan (@rosemcgowan) June 18, 2015
She then tweeted this:
— rose mcgowan (@rosemcgowan) June 25, 2015
And finally this:
The awesome thing about being an artist? You can't be fired from your own mind. #FREEDOM
— rose mcgowan (@rosemcgowan) June 25, 2015
I personally think she’s far better off to be rid of an agent who would fire her over such a thing. We get it that actresses need to work and are thus encouraged to keep all of this eye-rolling mishegoss under wraps. But you know, stupid people kinda deserve to be called out for their stupidity. Any actress getting that note would no doubt roll her eyes. She knows what they’re saying: you’re a piece of meat, show us the goods. We want to see your tits and your ass and your thighs.
Either way, AwardsDaily offers a crisp salute to Ms. McGowan for being strong enough to stand up to and withstand the powers that be. Her agent and others should also be on notice. The times, they are a-changing.
Check it out — taking action via social media, Ava DuVernay’s AFFRM will host a 12-hour long Twitter takeover “with over 40 black feature filmmakers to raise awareness for AFFRM’s mission called Array Releasing. AFFRM + ARRAY’s amplifies varied voice and visions in film and is currently in the middle of a member drive at www.arrayaction.com.”
Filmmakers from far and wide are standing with AFFRM + ARRAY from hot festival favorites like Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station) and Rick Famiyuwa (Dope) to studio stalwarts like Tyler Perry (For Colored Girls), Gina Prince-Bythewood (Beyond The Lights) and Malcolm Lee (The Best Man) to filmmaking legends like Euzhan Palcy (A Dry White Season), Haile Gerima (Sankofa) and Julie Dash (Daughters of Dust). This 12-hour Twitter takeover will be hosted by AFFRM founder and SELMA director Ava DuVernay. Each filmmaker will take questions from fans on Twitter to shed light on their talent of filmmakers of color and the need for diversity in cinema.
If you’d like to participate, use hashtag #ARRAY.
Indeed, The Avengers: Age of Ultron took the top spot at the box office. Two full generations of children being branded from birth to identify with that which is familiar has resulted in exactly this. Fewer choices, expectations met, massive profits. So it followed the pattern and made the requisite amount of money even if it might not be one of the biggest blockbusters of all time. Human beings – hella predictable.
But behind the giant hard-on are a few minor successes worth mentioning and that’s The Age of Adeline, Ex Machina, Hot Pursuit, Woman in Gold, Home, Cinderella and Unfriended, all in the top ten. Sure, it could just be that these are the only movies in release right now but it’s kind of interesting. I would wager that 100% of the top ten this weekend was majority female on the ticket buying end. We have Mad Max coming next, which is also a female-driven film. I know we haven’t gotten to the Oscar movies yet where it will be (as it was last year) all men all of the time, but for now, it’s interesting to see such a dramatic shift in box office returns appealing to women of all ages:
I love that Amy Schumer is embarrassing the power elite in Hollywood who think they doing the public’s bidding in only hiring that which will raise the mighty peen. She is addressing it with the amount of absurdity it deserves.
More of this please. NPR’s Linda Holmes gave it its best write-up:
The detail in the critique embedded in Schumer’s satire grows. The men talk about how they can appreciate women who are accessible, who would clearly be grateful for their attention — you know, regular women like Rosario Dawson or Jennifer Aniston. They complain that comedy has been taken over by ugly women like Schumer and Lena Dunham and wonder where the Megan Fox and Kate Upton talk shows are. They speculate with disgust that Schumer probably can’t get a man and that she probably sleeps around. A man who professes attraction to the “wrong” kind of woman is himself shamed for it.
It’s kind of amazing that more than ten years after directing Monster, Patty Jenkins has not directed a feature film. But they’ve given Wonder Woman to her to direct after Michelle McLaren left the project. Happy to report it did not turn into the usual man replaces woman story and it’s nice to see SOMEONE noticed Jenkins. I was reading today about Damien Chazelle making his second feature a year after Whiplash. So yeah.
I have no idea how this thing is going to turn out. I hope it’s more like Monster and less like every other superhero movie that gets released except those by Christopher Nolan.
Hollywood Reporter gets the scoop, and hat tip to Hollywood-Elsewhere
Whenever they say “creative differences” it always sounds like “irreconcilable differences” from divorce papers. The one thing you know is that it’s not the whole truth. What bubbles underneath is something else that we won’t know until someone talks later on. Was it money? Was it “vision”? Hard to say. The unfortunate thing about it is that it seems like women are either leaving due to creative differences or being dropped from high profile projects. There’s Twilight’s first director Catherine Hardwicke, Jane Got a Gun’s Lynne Ramsay, Fifty Shades of Grey’s Sam Taylor-Wood, and now this. For Twilight, male directors were brought in to “clean up the mess.” Jane Got a Gun ended up with Gavin O’Connor. Why do I think a dick and balls will be brought in for Wonder Woman too, despite the uniqueness of having a woman develop that woman-centric superhero?
These high profile incidences seem to underscore the false notion that women aren’t up to the task of playing the kind of god one needs to be on a film set. In film, like almost every other high profile leadership position, it is necessary to fall in line with how men do things – write like men, direct like men, boss people around like men. Women, if given the chance, do bring their own set of skills to those positions if only those skills were better appreciated. Alas, they are not. And so it goes. Another one bites the dust.
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.
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.
Ashley Judd has been standing up for women for a while now but recently Judd took on the harassers (otherwise known as puny tyrants cloaked in anonymity because they have no other option, really – too cowardly to come after women in real life but full of so much hate they can’t contain it) in a powerful essay, “Forget Your Team: Your Online Violence Toward Girls and Women Is What Can Kiss My Ass.”
I routinely cope with tweets that sexualize, objectify, insult, degrade and even physically threaten me. I have already — recently, in fact — looked into what is legally actionable in light of such abuse, and have supplied Twitter with scores of reports about the horrifying content on its platform. But this particular tsunami of gender-based violence and misogyny flooding my Twitter feed was overwhelming.
Tweets rolled in, calling me a cunt, a whore or a bitch, or telling me to suck a two-inch dick. Some even threatened rape, or “anal anal anal.”
Instead, I must, as a woman who was once a girl, as someone who uses the Internet, as a citizen of the world, address personally, spiritually, publicly and even legally, the ripe dangers that invariably accompany being a woman and having an opinion about sports or, frankly, anything else.
What happened to me is the devastating social norm experienced by millions of girls and women on the Internet. Online harassers use the slightest excuse (or no excuse at all) to dismember our personhood. My tweet was simply the convenient delivery system for a rage toward women that lurks perpetually. I know this experience is universal, though I’ll describe specifically what happened to me.
I read in vivid language the various ways, humiliating and violent, in which my genitals, vaginal and anal, should be violated, shamed, exploited and dominated. Either the writer was going to do these things to me, or they were what I deserved. My intellect was insulted: I was called stupid, an idiot. My age, appearance and body were attacked. Even my family was thrown into the mix: Someone wrote that my “grandmother is creepy.”
Women and Hollywood also draws our attention to Shannon Sun Higginson’s new doc, “GTFO: Get The F#$% Out,” which premiered at SXSW about the war going on right now between little boys and women who criticize the gaming industry.
Women need to stand together on this and not mince around words like feminism, what it means and what it stands for. I have no patience for women who don’t get the bigger picture. Unfortunately there are too many of them and their dissent is part of what diminishes the collective power of women who are victimized everywhere in the world every hour of every day. AwardsDaily stands firmly behind Judd and is ready to take on the trolls any time, anywhere.
There are women who have become icons in literature, even if contenders for the “Great American Novel” are reserved for men. Surely Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is a good candidate for the title, even if it is routinely beaten on predictable lists by The Great Gatsby and Moby Dick. But Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, Maya Angelou, Joan Didion, Anais Nin, Virginia Woolf, Toni Morrison, Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers, Jane Austen — the list goes on and on — these are among the countless women writers who are respected, worshiped and iconized alongside men (though perhaps not quite to the same degree). Same goes for the visual arts of painting and photography. Men tend to be the more worshiped in the chef arena but who can top Julia Child?
One of the last bastions where women aren’t iconized is the pantheon of film directors, or film writers. Sure, a woman can break through if the film is good enough but how does the person become a worshiped god the way, say, Paul Thomas Anderson, Martin Scorsese and Alfred Hitchcock have become, so that even in their sloppiest, least focused moments there are hundreds of apologists who continue to defend them and help preserve their image. I know because I have been one of those. Most of my directing heroes are men. There are very few women who have had a chance to show us the right stuff to raise them to the worship zone.
Let’s take two examples: Sofia Coppola and Diablo Cody. Both of these women are distinctive enough, fiery enough, creative enough to have earned icon status, at the very least in the movie fandom universe. But Coppola has been mostly dismissed since Lost in Translation. No one really got Marie Antoinette — not even in that way male directors can be forgiven for films that are big risks that don’t quite come off. The Bling Ring was dismissed then ignored. If anyone should have achieved icon status it’s Coppola, she of the fashion, music and photography realms. Yet, other than her iconic influence in fashion, she has yet to become a director worthy of worship.
It’s been even worse for Diablo Cody, who cultivated an image not unlike Quentin Tarantino’s. Cody brought with her a whole universe, even creating a world with its own vocabulary. She was a stripper made good. She had tattoos. She was funny. She was cool. And yet, after Juno won her an Oscar it was then decided she was no longer cool. From then on, no one really forgave anything she did. The way people have already started to talk about Ricky and the Flash, it’s as if they’re talking about the last gasp of a fading rock-star playing a mid-size stadium in Fresno.
Of course, the one way women ARE worshiped as icons in film? For their looks. The most beautiful women hold the most power over film fans and thus, it is left in the hands of great male directors to bring their beauty into the realm of the goddess — as Hitchcock did for Grace Kelly. Among onscreen goddesses there are Sofia Loren, Jane Fonda, Marilyn Monroe, Scarlett Johansson, to name just a few.
Some directors in the past recognized this. Hollywood wasn’t always only about hiring hot young pieces of ass. Remember how unusual it was when Kubrick cast Shelly Duvall in The Shining. Do you think anyone would cast that actress today in that part? Not a chance. Robert Altman was famous for casting odd-looking women in leading roles, for toying with our expectations of beauty as fantasy. Fellini satirized the whole thing in La Dolce Vita, even if that message was lost on many. And of course, Ingmar Bergman did both – dropping to his knees for a pretty face while also exploring a colorful array of women’s stories beyond their beauty.
I’m wondering what it’s going to take for women to become icons behind the camera and whether or not other women — those who watch films and write about them — might play a role in subsequently tearing them down. Why does it seem so many women are not allowed to succeed because as soon as they grasp the brass ring they’re then resented by the so-called sisterhood? I’m thinking of Gwyneth Paltrow who decided to take her own career into her own hands and not rely on the male gaze to define her success. She created Goop, which has now earned her endless amounts of criticism. I’m also thinking of Oprah who is punished for her singular success in life, overcoming unbelievable obstacles to become a force to be reckoned with — someone with endless curiosity for art, film, literature and politics — yet because she’s Oprah she’s never really allowed to get the credit she deserves. There is always resentment against her as we saw at play this past year with Selma.
Men are often encouraged, noticed and iconized right out of the gate, as we’ve just seen happen to Damien Chazelle this past Oscar season. Tim Burton and Kenneth Branagh are now officially former male iconic directors in need of a career intervention. A chimpanzee could have directed Cinderella and sold tickets, and yet they couldn’t even give that no-brainer job to a woman?
Kathryn Bigelow once seemed to be acceptable on all points — pretty, thin, talented — making movies the boys liked. It seemed for a time like she might become the first major female director to reach icon status, but then remember how they ushered in Ben Affleck in 2012 while harshly shunting Bigelow to the side. Everyone felt so sorry for Affleck for not getting a nomination for Argo but with Bigelow it was kind of like how it was this year with Ava DuVernay — a verdict deemed almost acceptable given the supposed “crimes” of their films.
So what’s it going to take? It’s going to take a village of people who are outside your average film critic, fanboy blogger or 12-year-old boy. It’s going to take getting to know directors beyond just looking at their films, because I can tell you that when people sit down to watch an Eastwood movie, a Spielberg movie, a Woody Allen movie, or a Tarantino movie they’re sitting down with a director they know and love. Most of them don’t know any of the women directors in the same way.
That sense of “knowing” a great director for his filmography may be the very thing that’s so far been withheld from women. Until this past decade, precious few women have ever been given the chance to establish a foothold with that kind of audience familiarity. The value of being handed first-class opportunities is a priceless factor in attaining first-class status.
For example, imagine if Jane Campion had been given the opportunity to direct Silence of the Lambs? What if Kathryn Bigelow had been tapped to direct Munich? If Nora Ephron been offered Broadcast News? Or if Sophia Coppola had directed Million Dollar Baby? Naturally, the results would have been different movies, but there’s no reason to think they could not have been just as good, or even better, than the films now regarded as modern classics.
Clearly we lionize male directors because of the films they have made — but even men will ordinarily need to direct 4 or 5 great films before cinemaphiles elevate them to gods. Until very recently, it’s been impossible for any women to reach Director Goddess status because women simply never got the chance to show the world what they can do.
It’s easy enough to think of dozens of major movies directed by top-tier men the past 10 years and re-imagine what the results could have be if those films had been given to the best female directors to handle. But if we try to do the same thing with movies made much earlier than the mid-1990s, it’s virtually impossible to think of any female directors who were remotely close to having the training or experience to handle a major studio film.
For instance, what female director could have possibly done The Godfather? There just wasn’t any woman in that era who had ever been been given a chance to establish herself — and more importantly, no chance to polish her talent. Honestly, what prominent female directors even existed before 1970? Leni Riefenstahl, Ida Lupino, Lina Wertmuller? That’s about it.
Thankfully things are changing now, and with each success by a female director we hope to see the change accelerating. In the past 10 or 20 years we have seen more great female directors emerge than were ever given the chance in the entire prior history of movies. If there were only 5 female directors in the 80 years between 1920-2000, we can now welcome 50 more women directors in the 21st Century.
I’ll give credit to many film critics who do seem to know and appreciate obscure female directors that the mainstream critics don’t. I remember how a few of them really stood up for Claire Denis at Cannes this past year. Think about the cinematic style of Lena Wertmuller – totally recognizable as its own universe. Do we have any modern females who have that same kind of portable universe that is enriched with each film? How many auteurs do we have? What kinds of unfair restrictions do we put on them?
Women like Nora Ephron and Nancy Meyers did bring their personalities, sensibilities and universes with them — but they were mostly women-centric universes. Ephron in particular really did create her own language with the films she made, even if she was completely underrated ultimately. Would that the industry coddled and encouraged artists like Elaine May, Carrie Fisher, Nora Ephron, Diane Keaton, Tina Fey — giving them a kind of boost to help bring their universes to audiences to help shape the common definition of what it means to be an icon.
I’m still hoping Bigelow has her icon status firmed up and reserved, that nothing can really knock her out of it now that she’s the first and only woman to win the Best Director Oscar. I’m also hoping Ms. DuVernay retains her badass status, a woman unafraid to cower to the powers that be this past year when she was put on trial for supposedly defaming LBJ. DuVernay is quickly establishing her own stylistic universe, her own film language, like Bigelow, and it’s exciting to contemplate her fascinating evolution.
That kind of evolution can become a revolution in the industry if the women who buy tickets to movies and the women who write about movies can begin to hold female directors in the same esteem they give to men. It will stay that way when we reward women filmmakers with the same kind of fan worship we so easily grant to male directors. It will stay that way once we all start encouraging the fresh voices of film language that filmmakers like Sofia Coppola and Jane Campion bring to cinema. It is going to take a shift in how we see women, the chance to break free of the chains of beauty where women are too often defined and judged by their tits, their asses, and their pretty faces.
[Sidebar: You have no idea all that goes into making a woman look pretty or presentable. It isn’t just the hours spent applying makeup and doing hair. It’s all of the other maintenance like dieting, getting our nails done, plucking unwanted hair. It takes time and money and energy to look good. How can anyone get anything meaningful done when all of their time is spent on looking pretty? Unless you’re someone like Georgia O’Keefe and you roll out of bed looking like a million bucks, it’s hard out there for a woman who prefers to focus on the work.]
We like to think that we as a society are above the whole looks thing but we really aren’t. For women it’s a hundred times worse than it will ever be for men. For women of color a hundred times multiplied by another hundred. It’s a great thing to be admired. Sexual power is a thrilling thing to possess. But when will women ever be regarded in any other way but the way they look when it comes to film?
Is it about looks or is it about something more sinister — perhaps a general hatred or resentment by men of all the things women care about, talk about and think about? I don’t have the answers, only the questions. The Directors Branch in the Academy represent among the very worst where change is concerned. Here are the films that were nominated for Best Picture — even when there were only five nominees — and not nominated for Best Director:
Children of a Lesser God
The Prince of Tides
Little Miss Sunshine (by half)
The Kids Are All Right
Zero Dark Thirty
The Academy itself helped solved this problem when they had a flat ten nominees.
Count how many films nominated for Best Picture directed by women — but it didn’t solve the Directors Branch continual shut-out of women.
Picture – 2 | Best Director 1 (winner)
Picture – 2 | Best Director 0
Picture – 2 | Best Director 0
Picture – 1 | Best Director 0
Picture – 0 | Best Director 0
Picture – 1 | Best Director 0
Because the opportunities have been given more freely to men, it’s the men who are allowed to build up their canon, indulged with their vision of the world, able to repeat certain themes. With women, they barely get one crack at it, let alone many.
One film made by Penny Marshall that does well doesn’t necessarily mean the next film by Penny Marshall — even if it’s a success — will necessarily build up the legacy of Penny Marshall. Women are looked upon not as auteurs but rather hired guns who may or may not be able to make a movie as good as a man can.
Unless female directors can build a body of work that includes films that step outside their comfort zone of “relationship movies” they are going to be regarded as niche directors. I can make, incidentally, this same argument for black (or specifically African American) directors. Spike Lee is one of the few who built a body of work with its own language and universe — a total standout, vision wise, and someone who was not accepted readily as, say, a Quentin Tarantino is.
My own theory is that men dominate the conversation and make the deals. They idealize directors because they can live vicariously through them. It’s harder for your average straight man to envy or idealize a female in the same way. To them, a female represents something to possess, to obtain as a mark of success or someone to impress, rather than someone they necessarily want to BE. There are exceptions to every rule and there are exceptions to this rule, but for the most part that’s what I see.
Now that there are more ways to become famous beyond relying on journalists or critics I expect this to change. We can all do better getting to know and making icons of women — just look at how warmly the world of Lena Dunham has been embraced (though just barely). She took to Twitter to help build her own image. DuVernay and Lexi Alexander are also using Twitter to build their own personae outside of the mainstream media’s restrictions. This is a good thing, even if it’s a hard thing. You take a lot of shit for being outspoken on Twitter, especially if you’re female.
The best advocate for women and women of color in the Oscar race is Women and Hollywood’s Melissa Silverstein. It isn’t easy standing up for women because trust me, the dirty little secret out there is that the vast majority of men don’t like women who stand up for women because they think it means blaming them. It’s the same problem with standing up against racism or any kind of oppression. Those in the ruling class feel victimized by the protests. They are in charge. They hold up a stop sign. We have to stop. Sometimes.
I’ve been called many names – but none more hatefully than when I am “accused” of being a feminist. A word that has been completely and unforgivably distorted into meaning ball-busting, man-hating, rights-removing, ugly, unfuckable, worthless female. So many poor young women have fallen into this trap because they don’t want to be labeled that way. They don’t want to be thought of militant — as though anyone who stands up for women is a militant. That’s really how oppression works. For minorities they label you “angry.” The “angry black man” or “angry black woman.” For women, it’s feminazi. How sad it has all become. “And it’s all your fault,” those hissing, anonymous hordes who hide in the comment sections of blogs will chant year after year, hour after hour. “You want to take away what we have coming to us.”
I like to joke that at the crux of some of it, at least, is the fear of a life without dick. That fear of being called a feminist is really fear of losing access to the dick. But I know that’s not polite conversation for respectable people. Women, though, have to get smart about how they themselves talk about other women. The tabloids? That’s on women, mostly. You can probably add gay men to that mix without it being too stereotypical. A lot of gossip is driven by (some) gay men and (some) women who work to tear women down on a continual basis – look at how one photo of Iggy Azalea’s gorgeous backside caused so much trouble for her that she’s now quit Twitter. Girlfriends, that shit’s on you. Asking women about their fashion and their relationships on the red carpet? Girlfriends, that shit’s on you. When women stop defining other women by those kinds of measurements we will be able to better unite to take control of the world as we’re meant to do. It’s fun to say stuff like that out loud. It’s the internet, after all.
I have a 16-year-old who attends a magnet in a school in an era that is probably 80% Hispanic. The magnet that she attends there is much diversity across all ethnic and cultural lines. The women are so smart and so outspoken and so ambitious. Just try to stop them when they come of age. They’re ready for the fight and they represent, I hope, a whole new way of looking at things. I see the change already at the box office, in book publishing, in animation, in documentaries and in foreign films. The ruling class still dominates the Oscars by design. The Oscars represent the power base in Hollywood – what is popular to them, not necessarily what’s popular anywhere else. The critics, the public, the independent film communities all have a much more fluid vision for the present and the future. It is really only the industry’s core where change must happen. It will happen but not for a while, probably not while I’m still blogging. I hope one day my daughter will come to me with some stories about things have changed, the way I wanted to tell my now deceased grandmother that we had our first black president. She would never have believed it if she hadn’t seen it with her own eyes.
Change will come and is coming. You can roll with it or get left behind.
Barbra Streisand twice nominated by the Golden Globes, once by the DGA, Oscar nominations for directing? Zero.
Randa Haines was not nominated for directing Children of a Lesser God which received a Best Picture nomination.
Penny Marshall was not nominated for directing Awakenings which received a Best Picture nomination.
Jane Campion nominated once for The Piano, never again.
Sofia Coppola nominated once for Lost in Translation, never again.
Kathryn Bigelow is the only woman in 87 years of of Oscar history to win Best Director for The Hurt Locker. She then directed the best reviewed film of 2012, Zero Dark Thirty, which made $80 million at the box office, shut out the Best Directing category.
Ava DuVernay directed one of the best reviewed film of 2014, Selma, which is about to make $50 million at the box office, shut out of Best Directing category.
Carrie Fisher adapted Postcards from the edge from her own novel, shut out of the screenplay category
Tina Fey adapted Queen Bees and Wanna Bes into Mean Girls, one of the most quoted films in the modern era and a beloved classic, shut out of the screenplay category.
Elaine May – two nominations for writing, zero wins.
Nora Ephron adapted Heartburn from her own roman à clef novel, inexplicably did not even get nominated. Also not nominated for the staggeringly brilliant Julie & Julia. Zero wins. ZERO.
Jane Campion wrote Bright Star (adapted) and Holy Smoke (original), Sweetie — nominated once and won once for The Piano.
Sofia Coppola wrote The Bling Ring, Somewhere, Marie Antoinette, and The Virgin Suicides. Nominated only once and won only once.
Gillian Flynn adapts own novel and turns it into a $168 million hit, one of the biggest for a rated R film, makes history as the first adapted screenplay by a man or a woman to earn a Globe, a WGA, a Critics Choice, a Scripter and a BAFTA nomination and be shut out of the Oscar race.
Those are but a scratching at the surface at the many ways women have been locked out of the opportunities given to men, as you see again this year with all ten writing categories and all five directing categories given over to men. They let women peek through the door, maybe they gift them with a single statue, then they slap them on the ass as they’re shoving them out the door.
That Elaine May and Nora Ephron never won Oscars, were never given more opportunities to soar, is a shame the Academy should never be able to live down.
Women must now flock to television where they can do more than just work. They can thrive, as directors and writers – in every capacity, of every color. Why? Because the same barriers don’t apply. They don’t have to dress up in the sexy maid’s outfit to get into the room in the first place. It is their work and their audience. Full stop.
I don’t know what people in Hollywood are so afraid of. I don’t know when investing in women became such a huge risk. I come from a long line of strong women, single mothers who made their way in the world. My grandmother was a Russian immigrant, the oldest of 11 children who kicked the dust off the sleepy town of Yonkers, New York and went to the big city to eventually become a high power player in the AFL-CIO. My mother was a high school drop-out who educated herself and eventually became a wildly successful realtor and oil tycoon. And I am a graduate film school drop out who makes a living from a business I built myself. We might not play by society’s rules, but by God we’re made of strong stuff. Invest in women and earn a ticket to the future. It’s only going to move in one direction.
In its 87 years of existence, only four women have ever been nominated for a Best Director Oscar. All of those nominees have made my list of the greatest movies directed by women. While researching this project, the original draft was more than 100 titles; narrowing it down to 10 was not easy, which is why I encourage you to chime in with your own choices in the comment section. In honor of Ava Duvernay, the latest and probably not last snub, for her brilliant “Selma”, here are 10 movies that make a good case for more original female voices at the movies.
1) Seven Beauties
Lina Wertmuller’s Seven Beauties is an ugly movie. Wertmuller is a female Italian director whose films weren’t supposed to be nice to look at. She consistently tried to break societal taboos over her long illustrious career. “Seven Beauties” was the best film of her career and justifiably made her become the first female director to ever get nominated for Best Director. Tackling the holocaust, WW2 and Italy’s ugly role in the war was a risk. The taboos tackled by Wertmuller were indelibly cringed in an air of shame in her native country. She wanted to push buttons with her film and make the audience as uncomfortable as possible. Wertmuller shot her scenes with no restraint, purposely going over the top with original characters that stay etched in your memory for a good, long time. “Seven Beauties” is a landmark of cinema and clearly inspired Tarantino to re-write WW2 history himself 34 years later with “Inglourious Basterds”.
2) The Hurt Locker
Here is Kathryn Bigelow’s taut, tense and incredibly terrific movie that justifiably won the Oscar for Best Picture. I could have chosen other Bigelow gems like “Point Break”, “Strange Days” and “Near Dark”, but “The Hurt Locker” was the best and most important achievement. An episodic movie that dealt with male testosterone and adrenaline by studying a man who thrived on it, and kept putting himself in the most dangerous situation imaginable. The attention to detail is staggering. “War is a Drug” the title card reads at the beginning of Bigelow’s film. This movie is a drug. Jeremy Renner’s incredible performance and Bigelow’s incredibly controlled direction changed the way we saw action films and reinvented the possibilities for the new century. Not surprising that Bigelow was the first ever woman awarded the Best Director Oscar, and this quickly became a landmark in 21st century cinema.
3) Lost in Translation
Sofia Coppola’s best movie as a director was such sensitive, delicate stuff – and I do mean that as a compliment. Every frame is beautifully photographed by Lance Acord; the film is a portal to a brightly colored, anything-can-happen Japan. And the performances by the two leads – Bill Murray and Scarlett Johanssen – just sublime. In showing unrequited, unforgivable, love between these two strangers lost in a place far away, Coppola infuses every frame of her magically romantic film with a sense of purpose and free will. It’s as if every convention known to Hollywood is thrown out the window and replaced by a
freshness you usually see in Japanese films made by Wong Kar Wai or Ozu. Most surprising of all, it’s American and as purely poetic as any movie can be.
4) The Piano
Jane Campion’s “The Piano” is the most personal movie of her astonishing filmography. This almost plotless story about a group of people who aren’t, on the whole, particularly easy to sympathize with, is a stunning mood piece and a haunting adult fairy tale about a woman’s quest to control her identity and destiny. A practically silent Holly Hunter gives an Oscar Winning performance that is as mesmerizing as it is haunting, and Anna Paquin, then 11 years old, won an Oscar playing Hunter’s smart and witty young daughter. Campion, never one to shy away from Gender politics, gave us a portrait of love, fear and passion amidst a world where a woman is not supposed to have the necessary freedom to fulfill her every desires. Rarely do we witness beauty as real as what is captured in this film. Campion’s cinematic landmark is such a visually stunning film, it’s almost intoxicating how its atmosphere sweeps across the screen and ravishes the eyes.
5) The Triumph of the Will
Was there ever any doubt that this – quite possibly the most influential film of all time – would not make the list? “Triumph of the Will” is a Nazi propaganda film that, despite its disturbing subject matter, revolutionized the way movies were made. Filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl singlehandedly rewrote the language of cinema with her use of cinematography and music. This is a work of staggering brilliance with shots that are still hard to achieve to this very day. It is then no surprise that filmmakers such as Peter Jackson, George Lucas and Ridley Scott have all admitted to having studied and copied Rifenstahl’s masterpiece. Watching the film with attention to all the details on screen is an incredible experience; add in the fact that this was meant as a propaganda tool by the Nazis and you have one of the most harrowing cinematic experiences imaginable.
6) Cléo de 5 à 7
The French New Wave was a boys club – that is until a young Agnes Varda showed up to shake the party. We all know “Breathless”, “The 400 Blows”, “Contempt” and “Hiroshima Mon Amour”, but no French New Wave top five could be complete without “Cléo de 5 à 7” a rich absorbing look at a woman embracing death and looking into the unknown. The film is a staple of feminist filmmaking and introduced to us a character that we could eerily relate to. Awaiting the results of a medical exam that could potentially lead to a stomach cancer diagnosis, Cleo wanders around the streets of Paris as themes of existentialism and mortality get played out. It’s a groundbreaking movie that gave way to one of the most iconic and important female voices in cinematic history. The boys club was forever shaken.
7) Zero Dark Thirty
Forget about the Bin Laden raid, which ends the movie, what counts in Kathryn Bigelow’s film is how they actually got there in the first place. The procedural work rivals that of “All The Presidents Men” and “Zodiac”, as does the harrowing relevance that burns at its core. A great performance by Jessica Chastain infuses every frame, and Bigelow, a great action director, proves her worth as a director of considerable intellectual skill. The controversy Bigelow’s film got upon release was obviously unwarranted and cost it Best Picture to –huh? – Argo? Haters will hate, but this movie has stood the test of time and will continue to do so.
8) Winter’s Bone
Debra Granik’s second feature film, “Winter’s Bone”, is the kind of movie that gets progressively better as you delve deeper and deeper into it. It is filled with humane, authentic characterizations of a society that is rooted in evil and people who have lost all hope in life and succumbed to morally wrong choices. There are memorable scenes that linger (the gutting of a squirrel, the taking of a girl, a final ambiguous mumbling sentence) a sense of dread that might turn the most primitive of moviegoers off. It is through and through a product of American Independent cinema and we should never forget its important existence. Then newcomer Jennifer Lawrence, delved deeply into her role and created something memorable and real. It was an absolutely spellbinding lead performance that brought subtlety to her role as a teenage girl desperately looking for her – quite possibly dead – father in the wild Ozarks of Missouri.
9) Boys Don’t Cry
I still hold out hope that director Kimberly Peirce will one day make as great a movie as her 1999 debut “Boys Don’t Cry”. Featuring an Oscar Winning performance from Hilary Swank, this was ballsy, original filmmaking at its finest. The true story of Brandon Teena, a trans-man raped, beaten and murdered by acquaintances after they discover that he is anatomically female, “Boys Don’t Cry” was a statement by Peirce to stop the madness and advance as a society. She doesn’t hold any punches and knocks us out with every stinging detail in this tragic, and sadly still relevant, story
Director Penny Marshall became the first female director ever to direct a movie that grossed more than 100 million dollars at the box office. No small feat. She was sadly one of the few true feminine voices in Hollywood to sit in the director’s chair during the 1980’s. Who can forget the iconic piano dancing scene that is the centerpiece of this constantly copied, but never bettered, 1988 movie starring Tom Hanks as a boy trapped in a grown man’s body. Marshall’s short but impressive streak would continue with “A League of Their Own” and the vastly underappreciated “Awakenings”, starring Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams.
This year’s race for Best Picture has some wonderful films in the lineup suddenly. There doesn’t seem to be room for movies that aren’t quite as good as the ones that are making it in. But the Producers Guild’s preferential ballot gives voters ten spots. One has to think that if a movie can’t make it on a ten picture ballot, how can it make it on a five picture ballot?
Selma did not send enough screeners out in time for the PGA vote. That doesn’t mean the movie is out of the race. With only three days left to vote for the Oscars, it’s hard to know if Selma makes it in. My guess is that it does.
206 films were directed by women this year. Three that I can think of were directed by black women. Only one shimmers on Rotten Tomatoes with 100% positive reviews and that’s Ava DuVernay’s Selma, the story of the march from Selma to Montgomery and the lead up to the Voting Rights Act. Things were going pretty well for the film until today’s announcement that it did not make the cut for the Producers Guild. And, as was pointed out by Kris Tapley, it hasn’t hit any of the major guilds, from the Editors to the Art Directors. It’s becoming increasingly worrisome to me that this door might remain shut.
If the reason is because this magnificent film isn’t what the steak eaters like? So be it. But if the reason is that it supposedly “got LBJ wrong?” Shame on them.
When Argo was up for Best Picture a scandal erupted in Toronto that great liberties were taken with history, specifically who took credit for the freeing of the hostages and whose credit was quietly removed. That’s history. This year, several films take liberties with the facts for the sake of drama. It isn’t that what LBJ did for the civil rights movement isn’t important. Of course it is important to maintain his revived legacy, to allow for that legacy to nestle peacefully in time.
LBJ is not the primary subject of the film. It shows his resistance as a point of conflict. LBJ’s image was tarnished by the extreme right and has since been rehabilitated. It’s a thing to be proud of that, of all the leaders at the time, LBJ stepped up and did the right thing. And did so because he thought it was right. He was facing opposition at every turn, which the movie shows.
But … guess what? This isn’t a movie about LBJ. This isn’t a movie about his presidency. This is a story about a man who has never had a film made about him. As director Ava DuVernay talks about the film’s history:
“The original script was passed around in 2007, but no major studio was willing to fund it. Brad Pitt’s small production company Plan B Entertainment and French investors financed it in 2008 with a modest budget. For years, it struggled with financing and changes in its director. It wasn’t until Oprah Winfrey stepped in this year that the project turned into a major motion picture event. With her financial backing, Paramount jumped in to distribute the film.
“It’s been 50 years since the events that we chronicle occurred,” said “Selma” director Ava DuVernay at the recent panel discussion. “The fact that there hasn’t been any theatrical portrayal of who he was and what he did is — I think — criminal.”
The Oscars are a game of dirty pool. You have to watch your back if you’re in the race because there are so many forces gunning for your spot. You’re lucky if you are working for a company that is connected to high places, like network television or reputable newspapers. All the better to make sure the distracting message is heard. NBC News devoted significant airtime to it tonight, with Oscar ballots still outstanding. (NBC of NBC/Universal, a studio with its own dog in the hunt.)
Though I appreciate LBJ’s contribution to the civil rights movement, I didn’t walk out of Selma thinking about him. This was an opportunity to watch a richly made film about Martin Luther King, Jr. That message has now been diminished. In one month’s time, when the ballots are counted, no one is going to give a damn. They put their collective footprint down to preserve a US president’s legacy — for whom? tfor people who agree with them? Probably. Or did they think, in their own way, that they were “teaching” DuVernay a lesson?
What did I think of when I watched Selma? I thought of the once-in-a-lifetime appearance on the scene of Martin Luther King, Jr. at a time when oppressed non-voting citizens of the United States needed him most. I thought of the people who laid their lives on the line to make sure that year people in America and in our government knew what was happening in Selma and all over the South. I thought of the story of Selma, and how few stories about America’s civil rights movements have ever made it to the big screen. I thought of Fruitvale Station and The Butler and how they were similarly shut out of the awards race because they confront the ongoing racial tension that weaves through our society now, even with (especially with) a black president. I thought of Ava DuVernay’s Middle of Nowhere winning Best Director at Sundance but then having nothing come of it in the awards race — except for the few of us that were paying attention.
I thought of King’s words, his famous speeches, what he changed, how he changed it, and what lingers in our culture 50 years later – and how important it is to celebrate this American hero. I thought of how carefully made Selma was and what a good filmmaker DuVernay is and how she took on the challenge of a much bigger production and combed through it painstakingly, so much so that it wasn’t even ready to produce screeners in time for voting. But I appreciate that kind of meticulousness.
I thought suddenly about Oscar history, and how it might be made this year, how those doors might be flung open for women of color to make some kind of progress. I thought about those doors that will remain shut.
But if it doesn’t, is that going to take away from the film’s impact? I don’t think so. You see, the Oscars are a mirrored reflection of their own tastes. With or without an Oscar nomination, I hope people seek out Selma for its richness of character, its persistence of vision, its unimaginable place in film history — this opportunity will not present itself quite the same way again.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. One of the primary forces for social change was killed by some loser with access to weaponry. That it happened so long ago makes it seem like it wasn’t one of the greatest tragedies we’ve ever faced as a nation. To make your topic of conversation coming out of Selma that it didn’t emphasize LBJ’s enthusiasm for civil rights is to ignore the legacy of the man who is all too often forgotten.
He is a man who left us with words that would influence generations. DuVernay’s film has the opportunity to extend that legacy, not just to young black ticket-buyers throughout the country, not just to the many living in poverty who fight, daily, for their own civil rights, but to the black artists, to the women especially, who face nothing but roadblocks, day in and day out both behind and in front of the camera.
As King himself once said in his Nobel speech:
“Doors of opportunity are gradually being opened to those at the bottom of society. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are developing a new sense of “some-bodiness” and carving a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of despair. “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.”21 Here and there an individual or group dares to love, and rises to the majestic heights of moral maturity. So in a real sense this is a great time to be alive. Therefore, I am not yet discouraged about the future. Granted that the easygoing optimism of yesterday is impossible. Granted that those who pioneer in the struggle for peace and freedom will still face uncomfortable jail terms, painful threats of death; they will still be battered by the storms of persecution, leading them to the nagging feeling that they can no longer bear such a heavy burden, and the temptation of wanting to retreat to a more quiet and serene life. Granted that we face a world crisis which leaves us standing so often amid the surging murmur of life’s restless sea. But every crisis has both its dangers and its opportunities. It can spell either salvation or doom. In a dark confused world the kingdom of God may yet reign in the hearts of men.
That man, that beautifully thoughtful, heroic diamond of a man, deserves to shine.
This year was a wakeup call, or should have been, for anyone paying attention to the Oscar race. On the one hand, you had a good many films about men where the women were fashioned as shoehorns, helping to guide the foot into its rightful place. These rendered some of the best supporting performances of the year. There were also way too many women who did nothing more than stare at their men and wait for them to do something, to say something – as though nothing in their own heads mattered. Nothing in their own lives mattered. They didn’t matter except as a soft place to put it.
But from out of the fire, more than a few phoenixes emerged. They exist despite the many arms of the industry that wish they didn’t. They exist partly because women themselves produced the films that women starred in. They dipped a toe in the indie world because the mainstream studio system has forsaken them. Too much money on the line. Too many jittery executives.
MAJOR SPOILER WARNING – MAJOR
1. The Performance of the Year
Rosamund Pike’s Amy Dunne is a golem from the dark underside of the female psyche, one that most cinematic heroines can’t get anywhere near in 2014, but the one Hollywood deserves. She is the revenge for this year’s slate of embarrassingly thin female characters shamefully put on screen in 2014, as though women really weren’t people but just parsley put on the plate to look pretty and help the meat go down more smoothly. With Amy Dunne, delivered ferociously by Rosamund Pike, we have something touching the R. Crumb world of unearthing the true vulgarity beneath the facade. And oh, how sweet it is.
Many men were frustrated by Gone Girl because they thought it depicted male stereotyping and that no man would allow himself to be tricked by a woman that way. A WOMAN after all. Many women were angry at the film for a character daring to use rape or sexual assault as a manipulation tactic, an accusation lobbed at women constantly, and one they have to beat back in real discussions about rape. Women thought it misogynist (some did) because the villain – this monster, this golem, was meant as a stand-in for all women. Then there’s this tricky little thing called the truth – it exists whether we want it to or not. Idealized versions of men and women have their place, but so do the versions of people that fill out the rest of the human experience.
In Gone Girl, Amy wasn’t punished, not the way Glenn Close was — also eroticized, famously, in an elevator, in a sink. Close got “properly” punished for wrecking the stability of marital bliss but boy wasn’t it hot to watch her fuck Michael Douglas for the first hour? We can’t have monsters roaming the quiet countryside so the audience testing determined that Close had to be shot dead by Anne Archer. Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct found her empowerment by uncrossing her legs to reveal blonde pussy hairs. That Stone played an unrealistic serial killer came second to what Basic Instinct was really about: watching her fuck Michael Douglas for the first hour. She isn’t punished and that was meant to be progress but when a woman’s only source of power is her sexuality you are still very much inside the box.
The biggest difference between what Pike does with Amy, and what Fincher does with Pike, is that he never eroticizes her. Pike’s nakedness, her sexuality, is locked up tightly to be used only when necessary – that is your first clue that she’s not your ordinary movie female. Had Fincher reduced her to an erotic plaything — like Kathleen Turner in Body Heat who ultimately uses that eroticism to her benefit, probably men wouldn’t complain about the film as much as they do. They get what they came for. That Amy never gives that over confirms Gone Girl’s primary POV. Fincher only briefly indulges the male desire with Andie’s nakedness, something that continues to haunt Amy throughout the film. That body. That girl. How easy it is to lure men.
In one of the film’s best moments, Amy recounts seeing Nick kiss Andie for the first time. The sequence is tied together through mouths. Nick reaches in to touch her lip, we cut back to smoke coming out of the mouth of her “new friend,” then back to Nick kissing Andie, then back to Amy – seamlessly, as though the director’s lens was biologically connected to Amy’s thought processes.
Amy’s only mistake throughout the film is trusting the “new friend” — underestimating her. Usually, women in film are betrayed not by other women but by men. Gone Girl is full of women betraying other women in dramatic ways (a suffocating mother who needs the perfect daughter) and in typical ways (a young woman fucking another woman’s husband). This is our world, we women know it well. Sooner or later our world is bound to unearth a psychopath.
The Amy Dunne we see in the first half of Gone Girl is filtered through an unreliable narrator. We are not seeing Nick Dunne. We’re seeing the story told to us through Amy’s slanted and deliberately misleading POV. We see Amy as Amy sees Amy — and as she wants to be seen by others. The film and the performance comes alive at about the hour mark when the real Amy is finally unleashed.
This comes together most thrillingly at the one hour mark. The tempo of the music by Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross’ flips itself over with a track called “Technically Missing”. Amy’s voice-over sneaks in just as Nick is finding the shed of purchases and the detective is finding the diary. Game, set, match.
“I am so much happier now that I’m dead. Technically missing. Soon to be presumed dead. Gone. And my lazy, lying, cheating, oblivious husband will go to prison for my murder. Nick Dunne took my pride and my dignity and my hope and my money. He took and took from me until I no longer existed.”
The real Amy Dunne emerges. Fincher could have chosen to continue the myth of the eroticized female blonde but instead he allows her to unpeel from the perfect Amy to the real Amy. What’s the first thing she does? She eats. A lot. Burgers, fries, cupcakes, chips, Kit Kat bars – all the things we women must deny ourselves on a daily basis to stay thin and pretty for the male gaze. Fincher allows her the freedom and honesty to collapse into the imperfect state where most of us women actually do dwell. Why do we relate to the cool girl monologue so well? Because we all know what it takes – we know the false persona of what women should be because it’s broadcast on nearly every TV show, every rock song and in every movie. We can’t be that. Not really.
The very next shot sequence is the best in the film. It leads into the Cool Girl monologue. The music, the camera, Amy’s face a release. Pike holds back a mischievous smile behind her thick sunglasses as we hear the famous “cool girl” monologue.
“And after all of the outrage and when I’m ready I will go out on the water with a handful of pills and a pocketful of stones and when they find my body they’ll know: Nick Dunne dumped his beloved like a piece of garbage. And she floated down past all the other abused unwanted inconvenient women. Then Nick will die too. Nick and Amy will be gone but they never really existed. Nick loved the girl I was pretending to be. Cool girl.
Men always use that, don’t they, as their defining compliment. She’s a cool girl. Cool girl is hot. Cool girl is game. Cool girl is fun. Cool girl never gets angry at her man. She just smiles in a chagrined, loving manner and presents her mouth for fucking. She likes what he likes. So evidently, he’s a vinyl hipster who likes fetish manga. If he likes Girls Gone Wild she’s a mall babe, who loves football and buffalo wings at Hooters. When I met Nick Dunne I knew he wanted cool girl. And for him, I’ll admit, I was willing to try. I wax stripped my pussy raw. I drank canned beer while watching Adam Sandler movies. I ate cold pizza and remained a size 2. I blew him, semi-regularly. I lived in the moment. I was fucking game.
I cannot say I didn’t enjoy some of it. Nick teased out in me things I didn’t know existed. A lightness. A humor. An ease. But I made him sharper, stronger. I inspired him to rise to my level. I forged the man of the my dreams. We were happy pretending to be other people. We were the happiest couple we knew. And what’s the point of being together if you’re not the happiest? But Nick got lazy. He became someone I did not agree to marry. He actually expected me to love him unconditionally. Then he dragged me, penniless, to the naval of his country and found himself a newer, younger, bouncier cool girl. You think I’d let him destroy me and end up happier than ever? No fucking way. He doesn’t get to win. My cute, charming, salt of the earth Missouri guy. He needed to learn. Grownups work for things. Grownups pay. Grownups suffer consequences.”
Is this how all women are? Of course not. Do all women secretly pretend to be perfect for their men? No. But Amazing Amy, reared to be PERFECT had to. She had no other choice but to live up to the standards imposed upon her by her parents (and society). To satisfy those requirements, she had to shapeshift. Fincher illustrates this beautifully by allowing Pike to be what she never is in movies: anything but the fuckstick.
Pike relishes it. She dives right into this version of Amy, her performance in a glance across the room, a swish of her perfect hair, the way she toys with Nick after they get back together by patting the bed beside her, and of course, the coup de grâce, “I’m the cunt you married. The only time you liked yourself was when you were trying to be someone this cunt might like.”
It’s a bravura performance of the kind we just don’t get the pleasure of seeing anymore. Brilliant, funny, terrifying — a fully realized monster infiltrating the town of Stepford. Pike’s is the performance of the year because she redefined her own capabilities. Her Amy did not come from the collective imaginations of millions of readers of the book – but from a place hidden away inside herself that doesn’t dare show itself unless summoned. She leaves us feeling unresolved about our comfortable definitions of what women are supposed to be on screen. Most were waiting for Nick’s redemptive moment and Amy’s punishment. There is no there female character on screen this year that can touch Pike if we’re just talking about pure performance, which we never are when it comes to the Oscar race.
2. Julianne Moore, Maps to the Stars and Still Alice
Moore’s dual performances this year will give her what she needs to finally win the overdue Oscar she’s deserved for years now. In Maps, she plays a desperate, aging actress who is given the chance (by the great David Cronenberg) to unpeel her own kind of monster. In Still Alice, she is afflicted with Alzheimer’s – it is heartbreaking and one of the best performances of her career.
3. Hilary Swank, The Homesman
The Oscar race may not have room for Swank this year it seems, or the Homesman at all, which is a shame for a film that really did shape itself around its female themes and characters. That it ended with a man is what seemed to bother people. But Swank’s performance has stayed with me all of these months after Cannes. While she might not be on the top of everyone’s list, if we’re really talking about best, hers demands consideration.
4. Reese Witherspoon, Wild, Inherent Vice
Witherspoon is reinventing or at least fortifying how actresses can find their place in Hollywood by producing two films and challenging herself — in Wild she plays a hiker grieving for her mother, the love of her life. She also produced Gone Girl and Wild, while starring in The Good Lie and Inherent Vice.
5. Jessica Chastain, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby
Chastain will be nominated in supporting for A Most Violent Year, though she never was able to find her place in this year’s lead actress race. Is it that she has too many options to choose from that voters can’t really align behind any one performance? Maybe. But once again, if we’re talking about best, Chastain is right up there with this grieving mother and estranged wife trying to find her own identity.
6. Jennifer Aniston, Cake
Aniston blows it out in Cake, so much so that, for the first time, I really saw her as a real actress. Moreover, she reveals the kind of versatility that will be well utilized in character turns later in her career. As yet another grieving mother, Aniston’s Claire has decided life is no longer worth living. The character arc takes her from that place to a place of wanting to live. Subtle, moving – easily one of the year’s best.
7. Marion Cotillard, 2 Days, 1 Night
Cotillard has become the critics’ darling this year, verging on martyrdom, which I find strange since it came out of nowhere. Where was this unanimous support with Rust and Bone? Nonetheless, she’s great in the Dardennes film where she must convince her co-workers not to take a bonus so she can keep her job. Only the French […and perhaps the Belgians] would make a film about this and cast a woman in the lead.
8. Anne Dorval, Mommy
Another vibrant, comical, perverse depiction of a broken mother who tries to do her best, under the circumstances. Dolan’s characters push towards extremes, and never play it safe. Watching Mommy is such a thrilling experience because you have no idea where it’s going to take you. There is an element of danger and sadness in each frame of the film. That it wasn’t good enough for the stuffed shirts in the Academy is their loss.
9. Gugu Mbatha-Raw Beyond the Lights and Belle
If 2014 has done one thing it’s deliver Mbatha-Raw as a promising newcomer. Her remarkable versatility in two high profile films. She clearly has a bright future ahead of her as long as filmmakers give her those chances as these two directors have done this year.
10. Amy Adams, Big Eyes
The understated performance of Amy Adams in Big Eyes is better than the critics would have you believe. Thought the film itself loses its way towards the end, Adams’ work is solid and interesting throughout. Her performance and the film might have been better served if they hadn’t played it so straight, but allowed for more humor to crinkle at the edges. Still, she’s one of the greats.
11. Essie Davis, The Babadook – Davis gave arguably the best performance of the year, or damn near close. She’s not up for the Oscar, unfortunately, but that doesn’t take away from what a fully realized breath of fresh this character in this film is.
Women directors have much to live down before they can be taken seriously. Most of the heads of the five families in the film industry do not trust women to direct, partly because of the money thing. And partly because, deep down, they don’t think women can bring it. Angelina Jolie just proved that she can take a movie with very bad reviews and still open big at the box office. She might even prove a woman can take said film into the Best Picture race just like the men can (Daldry’s The Reader and Daldry’s Extremely Loud both squeezed in with equally bad, or worse, reviews). Not many are heading into the territory of “Unbroken doesn’t tell the whole story about Louis Zamperini,” which included alcoholism and verbal abuse of his wife before the war, then his Christian reform to become a better man through Billy Graham after the war. She can be, and will be, forgiven because she was paying tribute to him, not trying to tear him down.
But the real threat this year is from another film directed by a woman that’s better, and therefore more of a threat. It’s so good, in fact, that it is one of two other films that threaten the current Best Picture frontrunner. It’s so good that it’s being taken seriously enough by the guardians of the status quo, the powers that be, who are trying to shift the conversation from Martin Luther King, Jr. and voting rights to Lyndon B. Johnson. Preserve the white man’s reputation at all costs, is the message here. “Shame on Ava DuVernay for not making LBJ the hero of SELMA.”
The LBJ library director was angry because the portrait of LBJ wasn’t sympathetic enough, “When racial tension is so high, it does no good to suggest that the president of the U.S. himself stood in the way of progress a half-century ago. It flies in the face of history,” he told the AP. The LBJ library is to Lyndon B. Johnson as Unbroken is to Louis Zamperini – it exists mainly to pay tribute. The headlines were misleading in this regard – what they should be saying is that this person, the director of the LBJ library, has a problem with how LBJ is portrayed.
Though Johnson is credited with being the first US president to push for groundbreaking civil rights legislation, his legacy is not without its blemishes. Here’s Barack Obama speaking on LBJ at that very library:
“During his first 20 years in Congress he opposed every civil rights bill that came up for a vote, once calling the push for federal legislation a farce and a shame.”
That was picked apart by the right (of course) but then
rated as “true” by Politifact, based on these snippets in Caro’s book:
–In 1947, after President Harry S Truman sent Congress proposals against lynching and segregation in interstate transportation, Johnson called the proposed civil rights program a “farce and a sham–an effort to set up a police state in the guise of liberty.”
–In his 1948 speech in Austin kicking off his Senate campaign, Johnson declared he was against Truman’s attempt to end the poll tax because, Johnson said, “it is the province of the state to run its own elections.” Johnson also was against proposals against lynching “because the federal government,” Johnson said, “has no more business enacting a law against one form of murder than against another.”
Next, we asked an expert in the offices of the U.S. Senate to check on Johnson’s votes on civil rights measures as a lawmaker. By email, Betty Koed, an associate historian for the Senate, said that according to information compiled by the Senate Library, in “the rare cases when” such “bills came to a roll call vote, it appears that” Johnson “consistently voted against” them or voted to stop consideration.
LBJ biographer Robert Caro wrote about LBJ:
“For no less than 20 years in Congress, from 1937 to 1957, Johnson’s record was on the side of the South. He not only voted with the South on civil rights, but he was a southern strategist, but in 1957, he changes and pushes through the first civil rights bill since Reconstruction. He always had this true, deep compassion to help poor people and particularly poor people of color, but even stronger than the compassion was his ambition. But when the two aligned, when compassion and ambition finally are pointing in the same direction, then Lyndon Johnson becomes a force for racial justice, unequalled certainly since Lincoln.”
In other words, Johnson had a major turnaround. One of the best things about Selma was, to me, how it humanized Johnson and beautifully illustrated that turnaround. That voting rights came to pass so late in American history, in my own childhood, is a mark against our collective character that no president, however passionately he changed his mind, can erase. That little girls had to be accompanied by law enforcement on their way to church and school in the 1960s, for godsakes, can’t be erased. That southern African American citizens were prevented from registering to vote, that the panicked white authorities still removed drinking fountains in the 1960s because a black person used one – that isn’t going to be erased so easily.
The point here is what AD reader Bob Burns said, “if the discussion becomes about LBJ and not voting rights, the bigots win.”
The moment those headlines started to appear my first thought was, “uh-oh, someone is really worried about Selma’s Oscar potential.” The same thing happened with Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty in 2012. It almost happened with 12 Years a Slave last year but that script did not deviate significantly from Solomon Northup’s account.
Believe me, if Unbroken had actually been good enough to win Best Picture, if its reviews were off the charts great, if Angelina Jolie had lived up to the kind of hype they’re selling for this film? You can bet it would be taken apart for fact-checking the way Selma is. Jolie isn’t getting smacked down because she is confirming what most people secretly think about women directors: they can’t direct. But Selma shows that Ava DuVernay, this unlikely contender who turned her life around in her 40s — who is also an activist for civil rights and an advocate for black filmmakers — DID make a great film. Not just a film that people like, but a film with reviews so good it has become one of Boyhood’s challengers. That is why people are getting nervous. She’s rocking the boat, my friends. She’s definitely rocking the boat.
Here a few basic facts to consider.
1) Selma is not a documentary. As a fictionalized, impressionist take on Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights movement, it is not meant to be. Selma is a beautifully rendered battle cry for a movement that still needs mobilization in 2014.
2) The portrait of LBJ is sympathetic. There was resistance to King. History tells us so. But LBJ is not painted as a menace to change, just part of a cog in a giant machine. If someone wants to make a movie about LBJ they can go ahead and do that. That is not THIS movie.
3) The bigger picture here is that with Selma, DuVernay is doubly threatening. She’s a threat because she’s female and black, and Selma is a threat because it’s actually good. This is no condescending pat on the back with a “good job.” This is a potential game-changer.
Note: Why do I compare Selma and Unbroken? They are both films about American heroes that were given to women to direct. They both opened on Christmas Day. One has a giant studio and a superstar behind it and one has a wing and a prayer. One opened big in 3100 theaters nationwide with terrible reviews, one opened quietly in 19 showcase theaters with rave reviews. It isn’t about pitting them against one another – it’s about noticing how differently they are being treated by the public, the press and the fans.
Both Unbroken and Selma were headed for the box office on Christmas day, along with Into the Woods, Big Eyes and American Sniper. Unbroken just barely edged out Into the Woods (which was in fewer theaters and had a higher per theater average), to become the Christmas day winner.
Source: Box Office Mojo
The box office success of Unbroken will likely put it in the Oscar camp where pundits had preordained its spot long ago. The machine is the machine and no one can really derail it, especially when so many of us don’t really want to derail it. After all, look at all the waving cocks around The Interview story. We see plenty of bad movies do really well every year, so why shouldn’t Angelina’s movie do well too? Unbroken was the movie that was preordained to get in and whether it was good or not hardly matters. It only had to be passable and to be emotionally wrought enough to take that newly minted 9th slot where the emotionally-driven movies that critics don’t like earn the approval of Oscar voters. It’s that awkward moment when the Hollywood Foreign Press will become the only group that didn’t fall for Jolie’s star power. Everyone thought they would and they didn’t. The same cannot be said for the Critics Choice, which gave the movie a low score but nominated it and its director for Best Picture anyway. An Oscar nod for Best Picture seems all but sewn up, per the machine’s request very early on.
It’s never my favorite thing about the Oscars when a not so great movie gets in. That’s because it takes the spot of a better movie, usually, and because I have to write about the fallout in the years to come where people say “how in the hell did that movie ever get in?” Well, this is how. Hype and PR drive the thing, the pundits play along, the Oscar voters comply and a Best Picture nominee is born. The fix is in, as they say.
If I were giving out prizes for great publicity this year I would give it to the team behind Unbroken and behind Interstellar. In both cases, they needed to try, as long as they could, to keep people from talking about it. After Unbroken’s premiere there was a strict embargo in place. They held back people like me and critics from dumping on the movie so that it could open big and make money, which is what you want any Hollywood movie to do. Unbroken took Christmas Day’s box office with $15 million and will likely earn $40 million, only $20 million shy of its costs. Jolie will be successful enough with this, earn a Best Picture nomination and make another movie. Maybe that one will be better. Interstellar had a similar kind of rollout, though the reviews were a smidge better. Its domestic box office did not do what it should have, though internationally, it has more than made up for its domestic take.
I’m all for the Oscar race for Best Picture to honor films that did really well with audiences, even if they don’t fit the sappy Oscar mold. You do have to kind of marvel at that 9th slot film that has gotten in each year since they changed from a solid ten (and even then you had The Blind Side) to the new system of anywhere from 5 to 10 except for last year. You don’t see better Academy taste born out of that system. You see the Ugly Cry exposed.
People ask why aren’t you supportive of a movie directed by a woman? Isn’t this what you’ve fought for for so long? Well, there were other films directed by women that came out this year that will be ignored by voters because they don’t have a movie star directing them and they don’t have a giant PR team behind them. Their reviews are even better than Unbroken’s. Why aren’t they going to get Best Picture nominations? What are we talking about here? Getting in just because you’re a woman or getting in just because you’re Angelina Jolie? I don’t know. Extremely Loud, War Horse and Les Miserables all got in — so why shouldn’t this movie? I don’t have the answer to that.
I have supported the one film directed by a woman that I personally think deserves to be named one of the year’s best, Selma, directed by Ava DuVernay. Unbroken isn’t so terrible that it’s worth the energy expended to hate. It is only mildly offensive in its treatment of “the Japs.” But I didn’t giggle uncomfortably at it or shake my head thinking: this is SO BAD. It’s just that it’s a film that spends the entire time marinating in the scenes of torture – it was like Jolie was fascinated pulling the wings off of flies. If she wants to go that grotesque, by all means, let her unleash her inner David Cronenberg. But why try to make it seem like a conventional Hollywood story of heroism?
It’s a film that has very little story and has erased any possible humor or irony the Coens (or Hildenbrand) may have put in. It is a story without a story, a film that is just kind of goes from A to Z without any conflict in the story other than he is a POW, he gets tortured, the war ends, he devotes his life to God – he’s a great man and clearly Jolie wanted to do him proud. Perhaps she fulfilled that need for herself and for fans of Zamperini. So people will pat Jolie on the back and say “good job.” That faint praise is a house of cards that will one day fall and when it does it will add itself to the rubbish heap of rumor that women can’t make great films – in the tradition of Penny Marshall, Nora Ephron and Nancy Meyers. Maybe their movies made money but no one really took them seriously. But look over here at Selma and you’ll find a great film directed by a woman that does prove that women make GOOD movies, even great movies. If I choose to shine a light there instead of on the “good job” vote (which hardly needs my support at this point) you’ll know the reason why. I’m in it for the long game.
There are a lot of good intentions out there, a lot of love and passion for subject and a lot of dedicated hard work. Why does anyone think that Angelina Jolie should be measured by those things and no one else? If that’s how we’re measuring Best Picture let’s redefine what Best Picture means. I personally did not think Belle was good enough to champion but it’s a far better film, more fully realized, with deeper meaning and a better story than Unbroken. The reviews are better – it is one of only two films released by women of color about women of color. If I were to champion any film I thought deserved it despite my own opinion of it, it would be Belle. But hey, no one really cares what I think, right?
Because there are so few women who get in to the Oscar race, one is put in that awkward position of having to champion THIS film and THIS woman. Most people like me will shut up about it because she’s a woman and I may very well do that – just suck it up and deal when the nominations come out. So the next time a movie like this is sold packaged and ready to pundits who dutifully put it atop their lists because it looks like an Oscar movie and smells like an Oscar movie, the same thing will happen again. It likely won’t change until Oscar goes back to five nominees. And even then…the machine is the machine. It keeps on keeping on. Let’s not kid ourselves that it has anything to do with “best.”