Women in Hollywood

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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.

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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.

Rose McGowan arrives at the 2014 amfAR Inspiration Gala at Milk Studios on Wednesday, Oct. 29, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

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:

She then tweeted this:

And finally this:

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.

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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.

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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:

From boxoffice.com

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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.

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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

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Excel file that shows breakdown of ticket buyers

Excel file that shows breakdown of protagonist gender

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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.”

And:

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2009
Picture – 2 | Best Director 1 (winner)

2010
Picture – 2 | Best Director 0

2011
Picture – 2 | Best Director 0

2012
Picture – 1 | Best Director 0

2013
Picture – 0 | Best Director 0

2014
Picture – 1 | Best Director 0

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

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

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

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

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

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Made by Women and Hollywood.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

10) Big
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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.”

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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.

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

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

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Source: Box Office Mojo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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As the 2014/2015 Oscar race begins to take shape, pundits are circling the possibilities.  They are predicting films that haven’t been seen over films that have because they have a 50/50 chance of delivering the goods. Oh, and hope springs eternal.

They are also cautiously omitting films they think will be either “too rough” for the Academy, or not “serious” enough. Don’t forget there is such a thing as “The Oscar Movie.”

When we ask ourselves “where are all the women?” — both behind and in front of the camera — where the Oscar race is concerned, there are a variety of answers people will give you. Some will shrug and say “those movies aren’t good enough.” There is always something wrong with them and/or there are always ten better movies standing in front of them. Better is a matter of opinion but when we talk about the awards race it’s a matter of a consensus.

That consensus is dominated by men. The precious few women that do get to play ball with the big boys can’t really be caught dead siding with women over the agreed-upon standard or else they will be written off as unprofessional feminists, poisoning the well by putting their gender politics ahead of objectivity. Insert comical eye rolling here.

What I’ve observed in the 16 years I’ve been watching films get released, critics and bloggers chew through those films, and the awards race that follows, tells me that movies by or about women have to resonate with men and women to get attention. Ye olde “universal story.” Stories about women aren’t usually considered “universal,” or at least not anymore. Where a Terms of Endearment or a Broadcast News might have been considered universal enough once upon a time, those movies can’t even get made anymore, let alone get anywhere near the Oscar race.

Making matters worse, the cycle repeats. The generations who have come of age under this major shift in film have been conditioned to respond to the male narrative.  It was assumed a while back that movies could only really be sold to the male demographic or more to the point, the preteen male demographic. But we know this is changing fast. The box office tells us so, even if the critics do not. The people out there in the dark, the ones for whom films are made, are turning up, shelling out their hard earned to see — gasp — films that star women as the central protagonist, not the supporting character! Frozen has broken all records and become one of the highest grossing films of all time with a lead character who — GASP — doesn’t even have a love interest.  And Lucy? The critics simply did not know what to do with Lucy but audiences did. They bought tickets, a bucket of popcorn, and sat down and enjoyed the fuck out of it.

This is mostly an American problem. If you go to the Cannes film festival you will be astonished to find that filmmakers in other countries (while almost exclusively male) think women are people. They actually make movies about them, tell their stories — even stories of elderly Korean poets! They tell stories of unfuckable women, older women, sometimes very young women. But even when Cannes turns out dozens of great movies about women, the only one that’s going to get major acclaim here in the states…? Well, you know how that one goes. Do I even need to tell you?

Back in the 1930s and 1940s the Best Picture race was divided almost 50/50 between stories about women and stories about men. Women were very active movie goers (Purple Rose of Cairo) and probably during World War II they also turned up. Back then, and up to about the year 2000 or so, box office drove the Best Picture race so if women were buying tickets to movies that then became successful they were considered Best Picture material and were nominated.

This was helped along by the Academy having more than five Best Picture nominees, up until 1944. Once they went down to five there were still years where films about women dominated but for the most part it became mostly a man’s game. Bitching about things does seem to generate shifts here and there — but gone are the days when you had All About Eve, Born Yesterday and Sunset Boulevard all nominated for Best Picture. Look at the room they had for varying portrayals of the female experience, which mattered as much as men’s.

Not the case anymore. Fanboy culture, gaming culture and the internet have done strange things to American culture where women are concerned. Women have lost a good deal of power and are, it’s fair to say, treated like shit online. Young men are growing up watching films that center on the male protagonist. Women are always portrayed in a supporting role, helping the male character along to achieve his rightful place as hero of the day.  This dynamic has proved very successful at the box office and pretty soon it became such an accepted form of storytelling men coming of age today might not even think women’s stories are worth telling at all.

I watch every year movies by or about women get knocked out of the race. This year it’s happening already: Eleanor Rigby, maybe The Homesman, maybe Wild — if they’re about women they’re the first to be cut on the march to Best Picture. The two strong female directors heading into this year’s race, Angelina Jolie and Ava DuVernay are only being considered because they’re making films about famous men.  If either of them was making a film about a famous woman I’m going to roll the dice and say they aren’t considered frontrunners for Best Picture and Best Director.

But on the bright side, things are looking mighty fine this year, at least so far. There’s still plenty of time to kill dead any of the progress women are making. But let’s look at the good that’s  happening right now.

The Writer

Question: How many Best Picture winners throughout Oscar history can you name that were co-written by women and men?
Answer: Two.  Return of the King and Mrs. Miniver. 71 years apart.
Question: How many since Return of the King won, ten years ago?
Answer: Zero
Question: How many Best Picture nominees have been written solely by a woman without a male co-writer?
Answer: 12
Question: How many Best Picture WINNERS were written solely by a woman?
Answer: Zero

Question: How many films currently in the Oscar race being predicted for Best Picture were written or co-written by women?
Answer: 1

That is how rare Gillian Flynn’s presence in Oscars 2015 really is.

If you don’t believe me, read it and weep:

*Boyhood – Richard Linklater
*Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn
*The Imitation Game – Graham Moore
*Birdman – Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo
*The Theory of Everything – female book author, Jane Hawking. Adapted by Anthony McCarten
*Unbroken – Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese, William Nicholson
*Interstellar – Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan
*Foxcatcher – E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman
*Selma –  Paul Webb
*American Sniper – Jason Dean Hall
*Wild – Nick Hornby
*Into the Woods – James Lapine
*A Most Violent Year – JC Chandor
*Whiplash – Damien Chazelle
The Homesman  – Tommy Lee Jones
The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson
Fury – David Ayer
Rosewater – Jon Stewart
Inherent Vice – Paul Thomas Anderson
Mr. Turner – Mike Leigh
Big Eyes – Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski
Still Alice – Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland
St. Vincent – Theodore Melfi
*The films pundits believe have the best shot at getting nominated.

Are you getting that? One female screenwriter in all of the Oscar contenders for Best Picture and that’s being very generous about what might get through.

Of all of the films that were based on books written by women, these were adapted by men:

Wild – Cheryl Strayed —>Nick Hornby
Still Alice  —> Lisa Genova –> Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland
Unbroken — Laura Hillenbrand — > Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese, William Nicholson
Theory of Everything — Jane Hawking –> Anthony McCarten

Of all of the films that were based on books written by women, only  one was adapted by a woman:
Gone Girl — Gillian Flynn —> Gillian Flynn

Granted, they need names, to be sure. And granted, these writers of the source material aren’t screenwriters. But does it always have to fall in the hands of male writers? Always? All but once:  credit must be given to director David Fincher because he is one of the few in town with the power and the prestige to say: no, I want Flynn to write the screenplay. And he did. The studio wanted the book to be rewritten, or run through the man-o-meter with a “name” but it was Fincher who held fast.  Flynn worked hard on the screenplay, rewriting pages, reworking the material — in essence, shredding her own original concept of novel to make it work on film.

Even given that, there are still holdouts who preferred the book (there always are) but make no mistake, what Fincher and Flynn have done here is remarkable.

Moreover, Gone Girl represents one of the few contenders (yes, FRONTRUNNERS) that is full of women. Smart women, old women, young women, evil women, nice women, funny women — he brought back Sela Ward, for chrissakes:

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While Gillian Flynn remains the only female who was invited to adapt her own book, there are some films headed for the Oscar race this year that not only STAR women but their plot actually REVOLVES around women.

About Women

As usual with the Oscar race, the films that aren’t about a white male central figure fall away, leaving the status quo of late very much intact.

The films about women that still have a chance of getting in for Best Picture this year include:

Gone Girl (a hive of women with one monster at the center)
Wild (the whole movie is about a woman)
Into the Woods
The Homesman (the title is about a man but the story is about women)

Outside the realm of pundit predictions:

Big Eyes (probably out)
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (probably out)
Still Alice (still maybe)

And that makes up the sum total of Oscars 2015. Gravity was the rare exception last year, which was a cool move by Alfonso Cuaron to cast Sandra Bullock when he was pressured to cast a male lead. He stuck it out and the film did extraordinarily well.

And now we have David Fincher’s Gone Girl — two weeks in a row at number one. Written by a woman. Starring a woman. The early buzz about the internet was a snide put down of Flynn’s novel, called “trash” by Slant’s Ed Gonzalez, among others. The critics seemed split between respecting Flynn’s success and wanting the film to be more like the book and those who thought the book was “trash” and Fincher improved it, to “the book is trash” and the “movie is hollow fluff.”

Yeah, whatever. Thankfully money shuts people up.

The Directors

Kathryn Bigelow’s win was written about for years afterwards as being a one-off. It won’t change things for women, it was said. But little by little more women are dipping their toes in the water and more actresses are doing what their male counterparts have been doing for decades now: using their star cred, their good looks and their charisma, to launch themselves into the world of directing. Some are being taken seriously and some aren’t, but one who seems to be is Angelina Jolie who has already directed one movie, In the Land of Blood and Honey and is now entering this year’s Oscar race with Unbroken, the true story of Louis Zamperini.  Where Jolie succeeds as a filmmaker is that that she isn’t trying to play anyone’s game of what she should be doing. Like Bigelow, she is making films about the subject matter she cares about. In Jolie’s case, she’s really putting her money where her mouth is — again and again, with her charity work and now with her films which shed light on the kinds of causes she’s devoted herself through in her life — like refugees, like prisoners of war — and next up, the horrendous poaching of African elephants for their tusks.

Another filmmaking pioneer this year is Ava DuVernay who, like Jolie, is not making a “woman’s movie” but a movie about what she cares about: Civil Rights.  DuVernay is an activist as well as a one-woman movement to help bridge the gap between African American audiences and the art house, a surprising thing to confront in 2014 but there it is. The early footage shown of Selma indicates that it could be a strong contender for Best Actor at the very least. Beyond that, like Unbroken, it has to be seen before anyone can conclude anything about its Oscar prospects.

At the New York Film Festival, Laura Poitras’ CitizenFour made waves, resulting in a lengthy ten minute standing ovation for the film. Poitras zooms to the head of the pack of the doc race — although it’s always a long road to Oscar, that one. Still, it looks promising — check out what Anne Thompson has to say about it over at Indiewire.

Actress Rose McGowan has a short film that will get an Oscar qualifying run, per Indiewire:

Intriguingly, distributor Black Dog Films has announced that “Dawn” will have an Oscar-qualifying run in Los Angeles at the Downtown Independent Theater, starting September 19th. Could McGowan possibly win her first Academy Award? Time will tell, but she’s certainly gunning for it. The qualifying run will be accompanied by the first annual “Dawn Festival,” for which McGowan has hand-selected seven films featuring complex female performances to screen throughout the week.

The Conclusion

2015 might be a breakthrough year for women behind the camera, and possibly in front of it if the few films left starring women aren’t selected out. It’s theoretically possible there could be a woman director in each of the major categories — from Best Director to Best Documentary to Best Live Action Short. That would be a significant step to change the landscape of Hollywood, which is really the very best thing the Oscars still have power to do.

There are too few David Finchers. There are too few Richard Brodys at the New Yorker — too few Linda Holmes’ at NPR — too few Melissa Silversteins at Indiewire. I love and admire what Devin Faraci is doing at Badass Digest to completely transform the way his mostly male readers think about women in gaming and in film. We need more Devin Faracis. There are too few of the broad-minded thinkers and too many of the uniform thinkers who cohere around a standard being taught generation by generation that says only stories about men matter.  Women are the toughest critics when it comes to other women. We need more women writing about women who care about the future of women more than they do fitting in with the boys on the playground.

It will be left those who think outside the box to be big enough pains in the ass to make things change. I can’t tell you how many former readers of mine went on to become writers of their own sites and you can bet that by the time they left Awards Daily they were well schooled in feminist and racist agendas in Hollywood, whether that makes any difference or not I can’t say.

You can’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse. A bad movie is a bad movie. Some are more bad that others. But to those who show promise, to people with balls big enough to try to change things even a little bit — they ought to be rewarded and congratulated not criticized and bullied out of the industry because their film isn’t exactly right or to the taste of the masses.

I’m not saying bad movies should be in the Oscar race because they were directed by women or tell women’s stories but I am saying more careful consideration should be taken to lessen the anal gazing that goes on every time a movie comes out. Look up, there’s a big picture right in front of you, a whole world to be seen. And changed. This is as good a time as any.

Current predictions in Major Categories

Best Picture

Boyhood
Gone Girl
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything
Birdman
Whiplash

Dark Horse contenders:
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wild
The Homesman
The Good Lie

Not yet seen:
Selma
Unbroken
American Sniper
Interstellar
The Gambler
Into the Woods
A Most Violent Year

Best Director:
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
David Fincher, Gone Girl
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
Alejandro Inarritu, Birdman
James Marsh, Theory of Everything

Dark horse contenders:
Morten Tyldum, Imitation Game
Jean-Marc Valle, Wild

Not yet seen:
Angelina Jolie, Unbroken
Christopher Nolan, Interstellar
Ava DuVernay, Selma
Clint Eastwood, American Sniper
JC Chandor, A Most Violent Year
Rob Marshall, Into the Woods

Best Actor:
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Ben Affleck, Gone Girl

Dark horse contenders:
Chadwick Boseman, Get on Up
Miles Teller, Whiplash
Russell Crowe, Noah
Ellar Coltrane, Boyhood
Bill Murray, St Vincent
Richard Gere, Time Out of Mind

Not yet seen:
David Oyelowo, Selma
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
Jack O’Connell, Unbroken
Oscar Isaac, A Most Violent Year
Matthew McConaughey, Interstellar

Best Actress:
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild
Hilary Swank, The Homesman
Felicity Jones, Theory of Everything

Dark Horse Contenders:
Jessica Chastain, Eleanor Rigby
Shailene Woodley, The Fault in Our Stars
Julianne Moore, Maps to the Stars
Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Belle

Still to come:
Emily Blunt, Into the Woods
Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year
Amy Adams, Big Eyes

Supporting Actor:
JK Simmons, Whiplash
Edward Norton, Birdman
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
Tyler Perry, Gone Girl

Still to be seen:
Albert Brooks, A Most Violent Year

Best Supporting Actress
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Keira Knightley, Imitation Game
Emma Stone, Birdman
Kristen Stewart, Clouds of Sils Maria (or Still Alice)
Laura Dern, Wild

Dark Horse Contenders:
Carrie Coon, Gone Girl
Kim Dickens, Gone Girl

Still to be seen:
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods
Anna Kendrick, Into the Woods

Screenplay, Original
Boyhood
Birdman
Foxcatcher
Maps to the Stars
Interstellar

Adapted
Gone Girl
Unbroken
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything
Selma
Alt. Whiplash

75-9

(SPOILERS)

“Kubrick is after a cool, sunlit vision of hell, born in the bosom of the nuclear family, but his imagery–with its compulsive symmetry and brightness–is too banal to sustain interest, while the incredibly slack narrative line forestalls suspense.” – from David Kehr’s review of The Shining

“The crazier Nicholson gets, the more idiotic he looks. Shelley Duvall transforms the warm sympathetic wife of the book into a simpering, semi-retarded hysteric.” – Variety’s review of The Shining

“The “Gold Room,” a clever amplification of the hotel ballroom in Mr. King’s novel, becomes the place where Jack’s rage about his fiscal and familial responsibilities is revealed. It’s also the place where the movie begins to go wrong, lapsing into bright, splashy effects reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange (though the Gold Room sequences produce the film’s closing shot, a startling photograph of Mr. Nicholson). The Shining begins, by this point, to show traces of sensationalism, and the effects don’t necessarily pay off. The film’s climactic chase virtually fizzles out before it reaches a resolution.” Janet Maslin on The Shining

“The newest film by Brian de Palma, who is often wrong but not dull, “Carrie” is billed as a horror movie. But it is sometimes funny in a puzzling kind of way, it is generally overwrought in an irritating kind of way, and once in a while it is inappropriately touching. It isn’t frightening at all until the very end, and then it is briefly and extremely frightening.” The New York Times on Carrie

As expected, David Fincher’s Gone Girl has sparked debate, some of it good, some of it intolerable. Two points often brought up seem to be wrapped up in this notion of the good girl vs. the bad girl. The novel itself toys with this notion, boy does it ever, but in bringing the story to the big screen it was inevitable that cries of misogyny would bubble up. The other accusation that the movie somehow erased perceived ambiguity about the character of Amy Dunne.

Gone Girl is full of brilliantly written, acted and directed FEMALES. A female detective, Nick’s twin sister, Amy’s mother, a “cool girl” girlfriend — dumb women, smart women, funny women, scary women — more women than any major motion picture you will see this season except for Into the Woods and what do we get? We get nitpicking, yet again, thus ensuring that this female demographic will not budge. We’d rather have no women on screen than a complicated array of them.

The best reviews of Gone Girl that I’ve read have been, thankfully, written by women. Try Linda Holmes’ two-parter on NPR, which deep dives into the film from a spoiler and a non-spoiler side. The first and the second. Try this interesting rumination on Screencruch on the strong woman, “How ‘Gone Girl’ Defies the Strong Female Character” by Britt Hayes:

We are only asked to empathize with Amy in the sense that this is a woman whose husband has been unfaithful, just as we are asked to empathize with Nick in the sense that his wife is a totally brilliant manipulator exacting an insane revenge plot, cutting into him piece by piece to make him into the shape of her ideal husband — Amazing Amy, indeed.
Those angered by a perceived bait and switch should ask themselves why: why are you so maddened that a woman should be allowed to be the villain of her own piece? Amy Dunne in ‘Gone Girl’ is a victorious moment, not for any vicarious reasoning, but because it allows women to be portrayed in all lights, just as men are, putting us on equal footing. The problem with the Strong Female Character is the same problem with the Cool Girl: she’s been constructed as an impossible, aspirational figure that no woman can or wants to live up to for the rest of her life, fictional or not.
Women, like men, are all things, and Amy Dunne thankfully shows our cinematic bad side.

And then the flip side. Words like “empty” and “hollow” keep coming up or worse, that it’s manipulative and deceptive.  In her Buzzfeed piece “The problem with Gone Girl is that there is no Cool Girl,” Anne Helen Petersen seems to want the movie to do what so many films about women unfortunately do: elevate women to ensure their inherent sainthood.

Peterson is 100% wrong about Gone Girl, Fincher’s interpretation of it, and what the films ultimately says when she writes (spoiler warning):

The Amy of Fincher’s Gone Girl isn’t Cool, or complicated, or sympathetic. She’s the “crazy fucking bitch” that Nick calls her, yet another example for the eternal argument for women’s unhingeability and hysteria.
And the film’s avoidance of an engaged interrogation of Cool Girl ideal is what makes it just as hollow, dismissible, and superficial as the version of Amy that inhabits it. It’s the major failing of the movie — and what downgrades a transgressive meditation on the politics of gender performance into a run-of-the-mill, if entertaining, thriller.

It is telling to me that Peterson sees the cinematic version of Amy, Pike’s version, as hollow, dismissible and superficial. I certainly didn’t. At best, this seems to me a case of someone wanting the movie they are seeing in their heads. At worst, it is a painful reminder that when it comes to women many of us still can’t handle the truth.  The point of Amy Dunne is that she criticizes the cool girl. She isn’t one. She could be at the snap of her fingers. She could be anything she wanted to be up to a point. But the Amy Dunne we know, the one Nick falls for, wouldn’t deign to be the kind of cool girl she’s talking about. She’s disgusted by these women, which is why she isolates herself from them. They appear throughout the film, either as Nick’s young squeeze or as girls we see in passing cars or girls who hit on Nick.  They are contrasted, however, by grounded, smart women like Go and Detective Boney — something Peterson completely overlooks.  That contrast is important here because it isn’t making any sweeping judgments about women. They are saying: here is a monster, one that could only have emerged from the twisted fantasy that is the imagined American fairy-tale life.

Peterson has revealed her own prejudices against the subject matter. She could handle the book when there was more ambiguity and still that pretty puffy little dream that Amazing Amy really WAS amazing. She could maybe dwell in the unreality of Nick and Amy as the perfect couple with their anniversary status updates on Facebook because you know, nothing holds our crumbling empire together better than a happy marriage. What she could not handle, though, is a visual and cinematic representation of the inside and out of a true monster. To see Amy any other way is a gross misread of the author’s intent. She undresses this monster, pulls away each pretty petal until she can be finally seen. Facing that Amy, facing that truth, is probably a lot harder than it seems.

The best female characters, or certainly some of them, have been bad to the bone, or at least bad because they are stand ins for symbolic moments in history — like Scarlett O’Hara representing the rotting evil of the South, or Blanche DuBois representing the aging decay of a dying breed, or Eve Harrington as the embodiment of fame whores, or Carrie White turning on the culture that bullied and rejected her. Or sometimes just pure evil — like Regina George in Mean Girls, like Maddie Walker in Body Heat, like Amy Dunne in Gone Girl.

Fincher was making and reworking the basics of the book and flipping them on their head — Peterson did not appreciate that because she could no longer see the difference between the good and the bad Amy. She couldn’t see it so she assumed it wasn’t there. The “entitled passive viewer” comes at film the way they stand in line for Starbucks. There is less open mindedness and more entitlement now than there ever has been so you often hear critics say things like “I have an issue with…” or “the problem with,” as though each and every complaint major and minor that they have somehow means the product itself, or, in this case, the film itself is “flawed.”

The problem with Peterson’s piece is the problem with all modern film criticism. It start with three words that should be stricken forever from film criticism, “the problem with.” That sounds like someone talking about new shoes or a GrubHub delivery or an Uber driver.  Assuming that your inability to understand an artist’s intent, or even the simple truth that you did not like a film, or that it’s a bad film, translates to a “problem.” No, a problem is global warming. A problem is the abundance of wild dogs on the reservations out west. A problem is Citizens United.  Hanging that overblown notion on a work of art suggests that it does society some harm, these passive film viewers who are victims of what they’re seeing on screen. I read one film critic who called it a “cynical manipulation” as though cinema itself hadn’t been built off that singular notion.

But this snuffs out art and invites what most of us are getting each and every week at the movies: that which we expect, exactly. A director like David Fincher, or even the retired David Lynch, or countless others who are working outside the accepted norms, who are challenging their viewers, opening doors, inviting discussion? There is little room for them in an orchestra of carping consumers who seem to want a one-size-fits-all movie that ticks off all the boxes and sends you home with a contented smile on your face. You know, probably not the best idea to see a movie directed by David Fincher if that’s how you plan to spend the evening.

A good comparison of Gone Girl is how Stephen King’s work has been adapted over the years.  If you read The Shining you will discover an entirely different story in every possible way than what Kubrick put on screen, much to King’s own personal disappointment. But Kubrick made it cinema where it was horror fiction before (I think literature but hey, that’s me).  Kubrick made it funny. It wasn’t funny. It was nowhere near funny. The Shining, as written by Stephen King is terrifying. Wendy is being hunted by her haunted husband and Danny has a power that makes the Overlook want to absorb him for it. Kubrick’s version did not delight critics in the least bit, and it certainly pissed off a lot of King fans. But Kubrick’s film is a cinematic masterpiece because it is about CINEMA. It’s about the color red. It’s about Jack Nicholson’s wildly off-the-wall performance. It’s that giant hotel swallowing up the skinny Wendy and tiny Danny. It’s about tracking shots and it’s about evoking terror. It’s about showing, not telling.

When Brian DePalma made King’s wonderful first book, Carrie, it was a similar kind of transformation. It was kind of funny. It is different from the book in so many ways — for one thing, in the film Carrie is not repulsive. She is pretty, though freaky as Sissy Spacek realized her. This is what we talk about when we talk about the language of cinema — showing an audience a story that is meant to give you an experience over a two hour period sitting in a dark theater — it is not about the isolated wonder of making a book come alive in your imagination.   Even films like the Shawshank Redemption or Stand by Me or Misery or Dolores Claiborne completely alter what was written on the page. They have to. They’re movies, not books. Vive la difference.

It is therefore very telling how different people interpret Amy in Fincher’s film. Here is a director like Kubrick or DePalma who has taken a familiar book with familiar characters and found a new way to tell that story using the language of cinema, not the language of fiction. He found in Gillian Flynn a writer who understands both.  So that this attempt to find the goodness in Amy, or to want to see one’s own definition of a “cool girl” is to want the movie you made in you head rather than the one these artist’s rendered.  People seem so insistent about making Amy somehow good. Perhaps, while reading the book, they were able to remake Amy as a more palatable person. But Amy, fully fleshed out on screen, is the collaboration of an actress, a director and a writer who found this cinematic Amy, quite different from the Amy as written on the page.

One of the things I love about Gone Girl is how blithely Nick Dunne, or Ben Affleck, rolls in and out of the backstage drama. It is such a brilliant comment on white male privilege, particularly in the modern age. Like Nick, many of the male responses to the film have varied from wanting to be the brave protector of Amy (“She’s not bad. She’s just drawn that way.”) to feeling protective of themselves against women. Never, though, is anyone going to start pointing the finger at Nick. He cheats on his wife for an entire year and still most of us come out of the book, and the movie, on Nick’s side. Only a few of the very embittered among us might secretly think, “oh fuck yeah.” In the end it will come down to Amy because she is the one who must carry the burden of being the “positive role model” for women and the fuckable babe for men.

Now, women are our own worst enemies. If we could unite and stop competing we could truly rule the world. We are the ones who drive the gossip industry. We are the ones who pick up tabloids at newspaper stands and carefully observe the flaws in others so that we can feel better about ourselves. We are the babysitters and teachers and nannies and wives and girlfriends who do terrible, murderous, violent things and lie about it. We have a whole universe of bad that goes mostly ignored in film, and sometimes on television because the truth about women as ticket buyers is that they “have to like” the female character. That is the big question, always. Do they like her. When Fatal Attraction was audience tested they didn’t like that Glenn Close committed suicide. They wanted to see her pay. So they had Anne Archer, the one they liked, shoot her. In Fincher’s film, the audience simply isn’t given that reprieve. Things aren’t allowed to go back to ‘normal’. We have to confront and live with this particular truth, lingering unexpectedly like Anthony Perkins’ skeleton smile at the end of Psycho.

Amy Dunne is a sociopath. Amy Dunne is a crazy bitch. Amy Dunne is unhinged hysteria unleashed upon humanity. Amy Dunne is a monster. Gillian Flynn wrote one, a female one, as a horror story. Does that mean all women are crazy bitches? No. Peterson objects to the film version, or Pike’s interpretation of Amy because, probably, she liked Amy in the book but didn’t like her in the movie. She did not take to this chilly ice-queen whose presence took the film to a completely different place.

We’re working with a pretender, but also someone unimaginable to polite society. Unlike Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, who really is a “crazy bitch” this director and screenwriter never betray their heroine. They don’t turn on her the way they did in Fatal Attraction. They don’t sweep her up with a broom and dustpan and throw her in the garbage. They stay with her until the very end. That leaves you with a bitter chill, a terrifying questioning. Amy is the monster as imagined by Flynn, but she is also a cinematic icon in the tradition of chilly blondes. The expanse of the big screen gives us no escape, not rationalizing our way out of this mess. That is, in the end, what is so terrifying about Fincher’s ADAPTATION of Gone Girl. That is the magic of cinema. That is the power of art.

If we insist that all women in film — and all black characters or Asian characters or other minorities — only be portrayed as good because the white male patriarchy has shit all over them for so many years, then we will have effectively written ourselves out of the continuing evolution of art in film. We are 50% of the population. We gave birth to the world. Yet only one aspect of our nature is depicted on screen, rendering us as essential as a doorknob, as distinct as a four door sedan. Not all of us are nice. Not all of us are pretty. Not all of us are good. Not all of us are strong. And none of us are invisible.

maps-to-the-stars-julianne-moore-mia-wasikowska

**Slight Spoiler Warning*** Women don’t get to be anti-heroes much, at least where Oscar wins are concerned, whether male or female, voters prefer good or admirable characters to dark ones.  Good girls usually suffer no pushback but bad girls? They don’t get off so easy. It can get a little sketchy nowadays when a female antihero presents herself. The notion that women ought to always be portrayed is a positive light severely limits both the opportunities for actresses but also for women in the full spectrum of the human experience. A similar problem afflicts minority actors when they get sick of being stuffed into stereotypes — like black maids or street thugs, Chinese laundry attendants, etc. Women are stuffed into stereotypes too and sadly many of these roles are often delivered in an effort to portray them in a good light.  Some of the best performances on screen have been actresses taking on dark or sometimes soulless characters. Some of those have won Oscars (Louise Fletcher in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and some of them haven’t (Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction or Dangerous Liaisons or Reversal of Fortune).

By my count, since 1970, good characters or heroines have accounted for 35 of the 44 Best Actress winners. Only 4 could be counted as flat-out bad (Louise Fletcher in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and 5 could be counted as “complicated,” like Helen Mirren in The Queen or Kate Winslet in The Reader — they are mostly good but they are allowed complexities.  Contrast that with Best Actor where I counted 9 “complicated” winners, 6 flat-out bad and 29 good, or heroes. There isn’t a dramatic disparity between the sexes — though men have a slight advantage removing themselves from the “good” category and still winning — but it isn’t really so big it makes much of a difference.

Does_Oscar_Like_Good_Girls

This year, the likely Best Actress contenders range from flat-out bad to complicated, to good.  It’s still too early to tell how things might shake down in that regard — so it’s difficult to say which characteristic will dominate. In our poll, AwardsDaily readers have these five predicted:

Amy Adams, Big Eyes
Julianne Moore, Maps to the Stars
Reese Witherspoon, Wild
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Jessica Chastain, Eleanor Rigby

Close behind are a few others who may have a shot:
Hilary Swank, The Homesman
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods
Michelle Williams – Suite Française
Jessica Chastain – Miss Julie
Nicole Kidman – Queen of the Desert

Amy Adams, as I recall from the footage in Cannes, plays a “difficult” character. But in subsequent readings of early screenings of the film it doesn’t sound that way. So right now I’m just not sure where she fits. course, it’s just too soon to know. These five can be considered this way:

The Good
Reese Witherspoon, Wild
Jessica Chastain, Eleanor Rigby
Amy Adams, Big Eyes

The Bad:
Julianne Moore, Maps to the Stars
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl

Both Julianne Moore in Maps to the Stars, and very likely Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl will represent this year’s anti-heroines. Both roles dwell in the 2014 zone of Kim Kardashian instagram devotion, the cancer of tabloid beatdowns of women on a daily basis, selfies, the incurable disease of self-improvement all pointing to what we women are afflicted with every day of our lives: the pressure to be all things: pretty, young, popular, thin, desired.  While we wait to see what writer Gillian Flynn, director David Fincher and actress Rosamund Pike do with the literary sylph “Amazing Amy” there is much we can glean from the character as written in Flynn’s book.

To my mind Amazing Amy from the book is the Frankenstein’s monster that the male gaze and the culture of overly-competitive women have created — and deserve. I dread the many articles that completely miss the point of the character Flynn wrote, a woman whose point of view must be taken into consideration when examining her character. The reason the book is so successful with women is that WE KNOW. We have grown up stuffing ourselves into the forms people want to see — what men want to see, what women want to see. We’ve been the object of bitchy middle-school girls snickering at our outdated jeans, we’ve been in on gossip clusters of girls talking about sluts. We’ve been watched by men who either lust after or reject our physical appearance. We’ve grown up shaping ourselves this way and Amazing Amy has MASTERED this shape-shifting. She has taken control of these requirements and delivered the “perfect” answer.

It is my hope that people, especially women, will get this and not fly off into the fascist notion that “all female characters have to be portrayed in a positive light.” If you think that’s true then talk to me about the tabloids. Cottage cheese thighs on women at the beach! So and so is cheating on so and so. Bad plastic surgery! Stars without makeup. Do we really think men are driving this disgusting industry? Sorry, ladies. I wish we could blame men for that one.

These fears and insecurities and mean-girl impulses weave cleverly throughout Flynn’s novel, all the while giving us a filter — what each character sees and how they interpret what they see.  It’s a magnificent novel written by a brilliant writer. The most famous passage in Gone Girl is the concept of the “cool girl,” a thing that will live on forever which is a description only we women understand.

“Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.

Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl. For a long time Cool Girl offended me. I used to see men – friends, coworkers, strangers – giddy over these awful pretender women, and I’d want to sit these men down and calmly say: You are not dating a woman, you are dating a woman who has watched too many movies written by socially awkward men who’d like to believe that this kind of woman exists and might kiss them. I’d want to grab the poor guy by his lapels or messenger bag and say: The bitch doesn’t really love chili dogs that much – no one loves chili dogs that much! And the Cool Girls are even more pathetic: They’re not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they’re pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be. Oh, and if you’re not a Cool Girl, I beg you not to believe that your man doesn’t want the Cool Girl. It may be a slightly different version – maybe he’s a vegetarian, so Cool Girl loves seitan and is great with dogs; or maybe he’s a hipster artist, so Cool Girl is a tattooed, bespectacled nerd who loves comics. There are variations to the window dressing, but believe me, he wants Cool Girl, who is basically the girl who likes every fucking thing he likes and doesn’t ever complain. (How do you know you’re not Cool Girl? Because he says things like: “I like strong women.” If he says that to you, he will at some point fuck someone else. Because “I like strong women” is code for “I hate strong women.”)”

When I first read this I was stunned that anyone could dig down that deep and be that observant to finally acknowledge in print what many of us girls have long known about fitting into very contradictory requirements of men.  They want you to eat but they don’t want you to be fat. They want you to be funny but not too smart. We all get it.  Another observer of this phenom is the funny and insightful Heather Harvilesky at The Awl. Check out this post.

Bruce Wagner does not pull punches where Julianne Moore’s character is concerned in Maps to the Stars — again, she is the sum total of our youth-obsessed culture  and the competition for Most Famous or Relevant person. But Wagner spreads the ugliness around to inevitably point the finger back where it belongs: squarely at us, the consumers.

In both cases, there will be some major pushback. Men could very well recoil in horror, while women might be inclined to take the “it’s misogynist” approach.  Either way, I suspect 2014 is going to get ugly.  So that brings us to the Oscar race.  After watching Maps to the Stars in Cannes, Pete Hammond said that it was a shame Julianne Moore was so unlikable in Maps to the Stars — she would win the Oscar otherwise.

Other potentially difficult female characters who dwell on the darker side would include Meryl Streep as the Witch in Into the Woods, Marion Cotillard as Lady MacBeth — if it’s released this year — and Anne Dorval in Mommy.  On the rest of the list, the women are admirable characters.

When I look back on Hollywood history, especially when actresses dominated, there was room for a full spectrum of types. Who can forget Anne Baxter and Bette Davis in All About Eve, for instance.   Would All About Eve get made today? Probably not. With so few films driven by female characters now is not the time to limit women to only those reflected in a good light. Well, at least not until tabloids disappear from supermarket shelves and gossip sites fade away.

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