It’s probably less meaningful to say “once again we’re faced with an Oscar year that features all white, male directors” than it is to say it in a more positive light — that there are many female directors in the discussion of this year’s race. And there, by god. There are.
This year, several female directors are already making their mark, and there are still others yet to come. Madonna and Angelina Jolie will both be bringing films to audiences. Can you imagine someone taking that sentence seriously ten years ago? The times, they are a-changing, even if they change a-slowly.
Let’s take a look at some of the heavy hitters so far this year. Yes, this comes after a quick look at the total lack of black actresses for double nominations, and for wins, so there is the danger that we’re simply looking at the Affirmative Action Oscars and not the Oscars themselves. Rest assured, the status quo will once again find itself fully erect by the time Oscar season rolls around because you know we’ll be looking at Steven Spielberg, Alexander Payne, George Clooney, David Cronenberg, Davis Fincher, Cameron Crowe, Woody Allen, Stephen Daldry, Terrence Malick, Jason Reitman, etc. The Gurus early chart has just one potential female director listed, and that’s for the Iron Lady.
But, hell, it’s still early. Humor me. Here are the names who nonetheless are announcing their presence with female authority in this, the 84th year of Oscar history. For Oscar, here are the names most likely to be joining the ranks — foreign film could see a few names pop up as well but for the major categories these women could bring some heat.
1. The Iron Lady, Phyllida Lloyd – since her last effort, the charming but dismissed Mamma Mia, most have her in the “could be, but probably not” category. This, because how do you compete with the stampede of white powerful directors. You really can’t, not realistically with Mamma Mia as your only weapon of choice. But Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher — What ho! The British ruling class! If there is one thing Oscar falls for again and again it’s the British doing anything, but especially towering over we pitiful Americans. This film could be Oscar catnip. Let’s face it, Streep could have ushered Julie & Julia into a Best Picture nomination were it not for the unfortunate Julie parts. Last year, there were two films directed by women in the Best Picture race, practically unheard of. But now that they’ve tossed out the ten nominees rule — we have yet more white guys to look forward to in the Best Director race. The truth is, we know nothing of this film. We only know of its star and its subject matter. If a white guy like, say, Tom Hooper or Stephen Daldry were the director, the Iron Lady would be uppermost on everyone’s list. Food for the thought. Insert discussion about the potential conflicts where the politics of Thatcher are concerned.
2. Lynn Ramsay, We Need to Talk About Kevin – although the film has yet to open here, from the viewing at Cannes, it is unflinching, harrowing and artful. The story of a kid who unleashes violence at his school and the mother who must absorb the guilt of this — was it something she did or was he born that way? While it might not be touchy/feelgoody enough for the AMPAS, it is a very well made, well written, moving and unforgettable piece of work. Ramsay has what few directors have, which is a distinctive visual style like Kathryn Bigelow, Sofia Coppola, Jane Campion, and Lena Wertmuller. That makes Ramsay one to watch this year, though we know that, generally speaking, women directors don’t get the same kind of ticker-tape parade when they’ve made a great film that wows the critics.
3. Madonna, W.E. Yes, she’s Madonna. No, no one respects her as anything other than a hard-working pop star with a questionable taste. No one thinks she can pull this off. No film project she’s ever tried to launch has succeeded, except Truth or Dare, the concert documentary that didn’t have a lot to do except point the camera at Madonna and watch her go. But she is now attempting to handle a whole film, a story. If she can keep her trap shut and let Harvey Weinstein cut the film for her, she might have an Oscar contender on her hands. Oh, just kidding, we kid, we kid. Of course, we’re all waiting to see what happens with W.E. So far it looks lovely. And lest we forget, What Ho! The British ruling class again! How can the Academy resist?
4. Vera Farmiga, Higher Ground – Farmiga was supposed to direct Madonna’s W.E. but then she got pregnant and had to change her plans. No matter because she made a film that was built from the ground up, filmed on a wing and prayer, and a subject she cares deeply about. It may be one of the few films made by an American female director that is about ideas, not about which guy she should end up with. Some directors seek to tell stories that are about thinking individuals — Farmiga has done that here. The movie isn’t perfect by any means, but it shows a fearless director, one who’s willing to plunge right in and start the conversation. I loved the frank way the character addresses, for instance, sexual issues. It’s right up in your face without being offensive, or titillating. Hopefully she will continue to make films about women who are also people too.
5. Jodie Foster, The Beaver – sure, the film was hurt by Mel Gibson. Sure, the Academy ain’t never gonna touch Gibson again with a ten foot pole. The Jew thing. The abuse thing. The sugar tits thing. But you know, if you really want to test whether Oscars are given because they’re deserved or not, take a look at Mel Gibson in this film, and Jennifer Lawrence in a supporting role. Hopefully Ms. Foster will continue to take on stories that aren’t the easiest to tell.
And now we get to the names that probably don’t have much of a chance at Oscar but are worth mentioning all the same.
6. Meek’s Cutoff – Kelly Reichardt – this film needed more of a push behind it but it’s still worth mentioning, as it’s bound to show up on many of the year’s end lists.
7. Polisse – Maïwenn – this French cop drama made quite an impression in Cannes. It’s strong and confidently directed.
8. Larysa Kondracki, The Whistleblower – the film itself is getting mixed reviews but you can’t help but marvel at a project that was written by, directed by, produced by and stars women.
9. In the Land of Blood and Honey, Angelina Jolie (but is the movie ever going to come out?)
10. Take This Waltz, Sarah Polley — Polley is quietly making a name for herself as a solid director who works well with actors. This year, she has yet another Michelle Williams performance (Meek’s Cutoff, My Week with Marilyn, Take This Waltz) in the running.
Any other women directors with films being released this year?