“Respect the Cock” – Magnolia
Like many, I had hoped Ms. Bigelow’s Oscar for “The Hurt Locker” would be transformative, and that soon female directors would be accepted as equal to men, and, crucially, hired as equals. But that hasn’t happened. In 2009, when “The Hurt Locker” was released, women made up 7 percent of the directors on the top 250 domestic grossing films, according to an annual report by the researcher Martha M. Lauzen. As of early December, by my count, only 19 women — 7.6 percent — were directors on the top 250 grossing features released this year. “Selma” may increase that percentage, as might another big-studio release, Angelina Jolie’s “Unbroken,” about the Olympic runner and war prisoner Louis Zamperini.
It will take more than these two filmmakers to disrupt the industry’s sexism, which has long shut women out from directing movies and, increasingly, shuts them out on screen, too. Notably, Ms. DuVernay and Ms. Jolie, having made movies about women, have now made the leap to bigger stakes with stories centered on men. I hope their movies burn up the box office, but I also hope they return to movies about women. We need those stories, and these days, female directors are often the only ones interested in them. Gender equality is an undeniable imperative. But it’s also essential to the future of the movies: This American art became great with stories about men and women, not just a superhero and some token chick.
I try to avoid using the word misogynist because it, like racist, is too blunt, too much of a trigger word to have any real impact. Dargis uses sexism here because it is an acknowledged thing by now, an undeniable truth. The American Film Institute’s list effectively removed the only two Best Picture contenders that would offer Best Actress in addition to Best Actor. One, Theory of Everything, was ineligible for being a British production, and the other was, you guessed it, Gone Girl. There is still Emily Blunt for Into the Woods but she’s not currently a frontrunner. Maybe that will change if they like the movie enough.
How have I seen that low frequency misogyny play itself out this year? Let me count the ways.
1. If women like it, there must be something un-cool about it
The dismissal of Selma because it had Oprah involved, or the dismissal of Gillian Flynn’s “airport” novel is what drives that kind of thinking: if women are interested in it, something must be wrong with it. Women, then, compound the problem by the need for all women in film to be portrayed as “good” characters. The center of the film, many women believe, is a woman’s happiness. How many movies about men can you think of where their happiness is a serious enough of a subject for a whole film?
Gillian Flynn flipped that notion on its head completely — toying with the concept of being “safe” and “happy” — she is out to win at all costs. Why is one of the most interesting characters of the year in film being completely dismissed by the critics?
2. Experienced actresses looking for challenging work worthy of their accomplishments are not sexy enough
The creeping desire to award anyone BUT Julianne Moore, Reese Witherspoon or Hilary Swank plays itself out on twitter with each critics announcement. Did Marion Cotillard beat back Julianne Moore? She did? Yay! Even Mark Harris — who admittedly is on a one-man crusade to debunk the way the consensus is formed every year — decided to take on the scant Best Actress category, of all things, lamenting the lack of fresh faces, shall we say, to take their place. He names Jenny Slate the wonderful new star of Obvious Child.
Suddenly there’s rallying around Obvious Child, even though it didn’t manage a single score of 100 on Metacritic and earned mostly polite, semi-appreciative reviews, is of interest because it offers SOME alternative to the veteran actresses placed in the top spots. The level of difficulty for actresses nearing and over 40 to find films about them, let alone decent parts, is shrinking. No disrespect to Ms. Slate, who no doubt will receive and should receive a Golden Globe nomination, but she’s not quite ready to knock out one of the vets. Of course, we must RESPECT THE COCK so perhaps the younger, the better?
I really love that Obvious Child is out there. I love that it was made and that young women can watch this and find in Jenny Slate a funny, vibrant, vulgar heroine. The most depressing thing about Obvious Child is how the critics dismissed it while embracing Juno, which was about a young woman having the baby and giving it up for adoption as opposed to having the abortion. Obvious Child should have brought up debate about this issue but — of course — it never got liftoff. If it rises in this race with an original screenplay nod or Best Actress? More power to them. But how cool would it be if we were also talking about a Best Picture nod? But we aren’t, BLANCHE. We aren’t. Because it’s 2014 and we must, say it with me now, RESPECT THE COCK.
It’s so great that there are so many different ways cock is served up in this year’s race, isn’t it? Why, just look at all of the variation on AFI’s list! No pesky Gone Girl to mush things up so that we have a delicious giant bowl full of you know what.
Foxcatcher – obsessive, isolated, lonely failure millionaire and his desire to control his male wrestlers. He’s a murderer, a child, an awful human being. Completely unlikable. No need to be likable. No need to be attractive. No need to be “cute.” Because it’s about men and men of sorts are fascinating. Bennett Miller’s film is indeed one of the best of the year but let’s not kid ourselves, shall we? Mr. Miller only makes movies about men. So far.
Nightcrawler – creepy Jake Gyllenhaal inserting himself into news while manipulating Renee Russo into being impressed with him. Awful, gross, murderous sociopath. No need to be attractive or cute. Even his sidekick is a dude. The Russo part earns him major clout, though, because that’s a side dish male voters can feel somewhat dignified in having on their list of best because she’s older, she’s harsh, she’s Faye Dunaway in Network. The one lament: no nude scene and how cool would that have been? Nightcrawler, like Foxcatcher, a great surprise, with a wonderful central male performance. It’s too bad that Dan Gilroy didn’t put a woman in that part though.
Oh, what’s that? Oh right, I forgot. Only men are allowed to be psychopaths this year. No women need apply. We need women to help set our men straight! How can we tell our stories if women try to actually have their own narrative arc. Birdman — aging actor trying to make good in unflattering role. Women flutter around him but his story matters more than anyone else’s. No need to be attractive or likable. Daughter tells him whatup while hitting on his co-star. Birdman is top to bottom a fascinating film, one of the year’s best by far but ask yourself why the Birdman couldn’t be a woman? Oh right, they don’t make superheroes with women. Duh!
The Imitation Game — gay genius invents computers and eventually helps win the war. Much has been made about how his sexuality was covered up. But that didn’t matter because films about men are always allowed much leeway when it comes to complications like that. For the record, I don’t think it should matter. Again, this film earns major points for having a female math genius in it too. In the end, she does what all we women get to do in the 2015 Best Picture race: prop up our hero so he can DO HIS JOB.
Selma — fantastic film about Martin Luther King, Jr. A story worth telling about a hero worth remembering. Civil rights are about all of our rights. It is made by a woman, proving that women do care about things other than what goes inside and comes out of their vagina. You’ll get no sarcasm from me about this story and in fact, because she’s such an intelligent, thoughtful filmmaker, DuVernay has filled Selma with memorable female characters and never lets the film devolve into a story about one man.
Into the Woods — this is really the only film that features women on a level playing field with men. But it still mainly centers around the Baker. Still, Into the Woods is, at least, kind of sort of representative of the even amount of men and women available for storytelling.
Unbroken — by the same token, Angelina Jolie has made a film about a subject that interests her. It’s about another war hero who suffers and survives at the hands of Japanese soldiers then goes on to serve God and live to a ripe old age. Not a great movie but okay fine. Why complain about this film being on the list when so few women get these chances. We’re still talking about a dude, though. Here’s hoping Angie finds the time and interest to tell stories of heroic females too — there are lots of those.
American Sniper — about an American sniper who had to kill hundreds to protect Marines during the Iraq war and came back afflicted with PTSD. It paints Chris Kyle as a war hero who fought for his country, sans irony. Like Unbroken and a couple of other titles on this list, this is getting a pass before the critics and audiences get a crack at it but from the looks of things this is one of your Best Picture frontrunners. Eastwood is such an old timer who has paid his dues and then some, even making Changeling with Angelina Jolie, quietly one of the best films about a woman the Oscar race has seen lately (naturally, it was just as quietly dismissed). No one can say Eastwood only makes films about men. He doesn’t.
Whiplash — a young man coming of age at the mercy of an older man who teaches him how to become a great artist. As good as this movie is, it firms up the notion, especially by an up and coming filmmaker, that men’s stories are the only stories that matter.
Interstellar — man flies to space to save humanity. Two women help him do that.
Boyhood — a young man comes of age while being raised by his resourceful mother alongside his sister. We’ve discussed it before but “girlhood” would have made a great film. After all, who even explores that territory anymore? And you know, if it was called Girlhood do you think, in a million years, it would be winning this many critics awards? Maybe. Maybe not. But either way, despite the fantastic performance of Patricia Arquette, who is really the heart and soul of this film, at the end of the day, it’s his story. Maybe it’s the story of the 900 film critics who will name it Best Picture this year. And maybe it’s also the story of Academy voters.
It’s HIS story. It’s HISTORY.
RESPECT THE COCK.
My aim here is not to diss this exceptional film but to remind you all that women are people too. Women’s stories matter. Girl’s stories, the truth of them, matter.
The critics want you to believe that the only stories worth rewarding or paying attention to have men at their center doing great things, doing terrible things, doing big things, and small things. The industry will also try to tell you that the only films worth rewarding are about men. But audiences have proved them wrong. They proved a woman could write a hard R movie, stir debate that drives the box office. They proved that blockbusters don’t have to only star men but they can star women of all ages and all types — smart, dumb, pretty, tough, scary, sad, funny, tragic — and still make lots of money. In the end, no one is really going to care when the Academy does not nominate Gone Girl. Pundits aren’t going to care because they can say they were right all along. Despite what the gatekeepers thought of it, and despite what Academy members will think of it, they will exercise the power they have to not select the film. But the big story of 2015 will still be how many people turned out to see Gone Girl and how many people returned to see it again. Maybe they don’t give awards for that kindcof filmmaking anymore but from where I sit, maybe that’s a big enough win.
But what about the directors, you will say. Two women in the race! Shouldn’t you be happy about that? Indeed, should such a thing occur it will be nice bit of history in the making. As far as Ava DuVernay, it’s all good and well that critics praised her film — and that Manohla Dargis wrote a wonderful article about DuVernay’s history. She has come too far to simply be given the condescending awards by the NBR and the Los Angeles Film Critics’s New Generation award, which was given to Martin Scorsese for Taxi Driver, his first major film after Mean Streets. And to Spike Lee for his first film, She’s Gotta Have it. DuVernay is on her third feature, operates her own film movement and distribution company, and is 42 years old. New Generation award might have been more appropriate for DuVernay on Middle of Nowhere but they didn’t even seem to notice that film. They could have given it, appropriately, to Chris Rock. To give it to DuVernay? Almost better to not have given it at all. I could be overreacting. It wouldn’t be the first time.
So forgive me if I’m a tad skeptical about how this whole “two women” thing is going to play out. We’ll see. In the meantime, that doesn’t excuse the unanimous rejection of films that are about women — chief among them, Gone Girl. But also The Homesman, Wild, Mommy and yes, Obvious Child.
But we have a silly Oscar competition to get through so let’s choke on a few dicks, shall we?
So Best Picture will likely something like this:
The Theory of Everything
The films that aren’t on that list that should be:
1. Gone Girl
2. Mr. Turner
3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
4. Inherent Vice
5. The Homesman
Only two of these spring from the female narrative. And only one of them caught the zeitgeist and lit it on fire.
When I step away from the Oscar race I hear echoes of change. Sarah Koenig’s wild success with the Serial Podcast, carried fully by her brilliant writing. When I look at the bestsellers in fiction I see so many women — authors and lead characters. I watch my daughter reject 80% of what Hollywood puts out but specifically, the Oscar movies because she and her friends are way too smart to fall into the trap of thinking it’s THAT much of a man’s world. Hilary Clinton and Elisabeth Warren are rising fast in the ranks. Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan sit on the Supreme Court of the United States, and Patti Fucking Smith is still singing and writing music. All of that is erased when it comes to cinematic storytellers and those who shape the tastes of the awards industry. It’s only getting worse, though this is the worst I’ve ever seen it.
Here are but a few examples of films about women that hovered around the awards race but ultimately got, so far anyway, the shaft by critics:
Maps to the Stars
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby
Beyond the Lights
Some are good, some are less time, some are great, some aren’t — hey, just like AFI’s list and soon to be Oscar’s.
The global box office favors male-driven effects-driven movies, just like the critics and the industry voters. If women want to keep up they will have to make those kinds of movies. Or maybe enough women will step up and start talking about the vanishing gone girls in this year’s Oscar race.
The world isn’t going to change any time soon. People will still eat at McDonald’s no matter what it’s doing to the planet. And they’ll still prefer movies that star men even though half the world is filled with women. Does anyone really think either DuVernay or Jolie would be considered contenders if their movies were about women? No way. Respect. The. Cock.