Archives for posts with tag: kathryn bigelow

In which Lindsay and James talk Oscars and end with an earnest plea: “Let’s never speak of this night again.”

Lindsay: Zzzzzzzz.

James: Lindsay! Wake up! The Oscars are over! I think you dozed off sometime after the third Melissa Leo “fuck” joke!

Lindsay: ACK, sorry James, I’m just now rousing myself from a daze induced by this year’s painfully dull telecast. Or by those brownies that James Franco dropped off at my house before the show. Either way! Well, I hardly have to ask, but how are you feeling about the show now that we’ve had a full day to reflect?

James: I feel a feeling that I haven’t felt since the anxiety nightmares I suffered during my middle school production of You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, except if my sweet and shy friend who didn’t even make the chorus was Gwenyth Paltrow, and everything gay was edited out.

It’s also similar because of all the agonizing over getting young people to come out and appreciate the performance when really we should have just focused on getting our moms to enjoy it.

Lindsay: Apt. Which I think speaks to what I saw as the night’s main theme: the harder the Oscars tried to cater to any “niche”-demographic-that’s-not-really-a-niche-demographic (young people! or women! or, to quote Anne Hathaway, “LESBIANSSSSS”!) the more they ended up looking painfully out of touch with said demographic. We can parse all of this from a feminist perspective in a moment, but first: did you also find yourself wishing midway through the show that Anne Hathaway and James Franco would magically morph into Sandra Bullock and Robert Downey Jr.? Could one of those Inception effects specialists have pulled off that kind of wizardry? Or perhaps Charlie Sheen? I hear he’s a warlock!

James: Do you have a subscription to MY MIND!?

All I was thinking while Sandy did her little Actor in a Leading Role banter was, “This would be the perfect opportunity for her to redeem herself for winning an Oscar she didn’t deserve for playing a condescending comparatively uncomplicated overprivileged white woman.” And RDJ2 with the navy suit and white on white tie/shirt combo, I was into it.

Lindsay: In a Better World, as they say.

James: I will say this of the hosting though, I fear more about the generalizations that will now be surmised about our generation from the hosts’ performances than I fear for the effect on the hosts’ careers themselves, you follow me?

Lindsay: I do. As if the Kirk Douglas set needed more fodder for their assumptions about Facebook turning our brains into oatmeal, I’m afraid that we young folk will be answering for Hathaway and Franco’s universally acknowledged faceplant for some time to come. Which leads me to bring up — as there’s no avoiding it – Franco. Is it just me, or do you find nothing at all challenging or subversive about his “performance art,” if we must call it that? And do you think the fallout from this show (and his bizarrely benign crossdressing moment) is going to finally make people stop trying to talk about him on such a conceptual level?

James: The thing is I don’t know that people really do talk about him on such a conceptual level, however, he’s more associated with that conceptual level. I mean, I was a very big fan, but recently, and I won’t pretend Sunday didn’t have a large part to do with it, I’ve become a bit tired of his high-brow attention-whore antics. Journalists like to draw attention to how, “He does it all!” But the bottom line is he does it all with a resounding mediocrity at best. He’s just hot and good at branding himself as playfully intellectual without having to do anything of substance to back up the laurels he rests on. (Though let it be known that he is really fucking hot.)

Lindsay: No one’s denying. But the reason I brought up the whole Boy Who Cried Performance Art thing is that I can imagine James Franco taking out a couple of Glamour Shots-esque “Consider” ads in Variety and everyone seeing it as some brilliant commentary on modern celebrity. But then Melissa Leo does these (admittedly totally, gloriously wacky) ads and the world is thrown for a loop. Am I wrong to smell a little gender bias here?

James: It could be that, though I’m not sure as to how much of the hoopla surrounding those ads was actually from the Academy’s reaction and how much was the media creating that reaction to heighten drama and build a narrative in a year where all of the major categories were so anticlimactic. This year, in particular, I’ve felt like I’d like the Oscars so much more if I didn’t read anything about them before. And that may seem obvious, but this illusion of a horse race driven by the media is exhausting and cheapening of the whole process.

But what I will say is between her fur-clad “Consider” ads and her Maleficent costume sprayed in gold paint and covered in doilies, Melissa Leo is America’s newest fashion it-girl!

Lindsay: Or its greatest performance artist. Melissa Leo is Banksy?

James: That would be something!

Lindsay: Well, before further grievances, let’s count the night’s small blessings. For only the third time in history, Best Foreign Language Film went to a female-directed movie: Susanne Bier’s In a Better World. (Though: in due recognition of literally the one and only subversive Oscar nomination this year, Team Dogtooth!) Also one of the producers of Inside Job was a woman. And Lora Hirschberg won for Sound Mixing, an historically male-dominated category. And, um. A woman who won an Oscar for playing a transperson shared the stage with a woman who won an Oscar for directing last year. The Oscars are really progressive, yeah?

James: Progressively irritating. It felt so clear that Hilary Swank’s grandiose introduction of Kathryn Bigelow was an extension of the pat-on-the-back the Academy is giving itself for honoring a woman with the Best Director Oscar, an extension of that unwarranted self-satisfaction and a distraction from their return to the status quo. Which, I feel it appropriate to say, is also what they were doing in having Halle Berry do the extension of the In Memoriam to Lena Horne, congratulate themselves by honoring a woman of color in film while distracting us from pointing out they honored ZERO PEOPLE OF COLOR THIS YEAR.

But, as you said, small blessings. Though it was truly devastating to watch the mesmerizing Annette Bening lose for a fourth time, I am very hopeful for the good things Portman’s new focus on production will bring to women. Between her speech at the Spirit Awards Saturday night and what she’s said in recent media profiles, I’m excited for what opportunities she will bring as a highly respected and intelligent woman in show business aware of the industry’s sexist infrastructure and interested in and proactive about working through that.

Lindsay: And I was pleased to see the Times remind us of the oft-forgotten fact that Natalie Portman can not only blind us with Rodarte, but also with SCIENCE. And I agree with you and Melissa Silverstein in noting that these overt acknowledgements of both Horne-by-way-of-Berry and Bigelow came off, in typical Oscar fashion, as weirdly self-congratulatory and only heightened the absence of black people and women in the winner’s circle. The Bigelow moment was particularly ironic, coming as it did right before the acknowledgement of this year’s five (white, male) Best Director nominees, and winner Tom Hooper’s acknowledgement of the “triangle of manlove” shared between him, Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. But at least when Hooper thanked Helena Bonham Carter for staying out of the way of said triangle, she gave us fodder for the best gif of the night.

James: May God save that Queen! I think what The King’s Speech and the overall feel of the show taught us was that maybe the Oscars were a great year for lesbians, but they’re almost always better for kings.

Before we wrap up, we have yet to discuss the musical theatre major Adderall-head who fluttered about wearing a lot of expensive gowns. And no, I don’t mean Christian Bale.

Lindsay: Oh, Anne. While admit that I don’t understand why Hathaway seemed to be channeling Tracy Flick from Election and that at times she was downright painful to watch up there, the male/female pairing and the contrast of the hosts’ rather traditionally gendered personas make the critiques of their respective failings potentially really sexist. Already Franco’s just the brunt of a bunch of played out stoner jokes, but Hathaway’s “irritating” or “obnoxious.” Or, worse: the Times said Hathaway emphasized “the frequent industry argument that she lacks chemistry with her male co-stars.” Ouch. I’m not exactly out to defend her hosting chops, but I’d like to see a level playing field in the critique of what I thought was an equally bad job by both.

James: Well said, Lindsay. I think that overall the Academy should have learned that if you take something that is essentially old and stuffy, it’s best to just let it be that way. Trying to make yourself seem “hip and edgy,” by having younger hosts and repeating the words, “hip and edgy” will just make your viewership bored and uncomfortable, especially if you’re doing it while simultaneously awarding something like The King’s Speech, which is the furthest from edgy of all the nominees. Don’t futilely strive to look younger Oscars, Billy Crystal’s suspiciously lineless face has got that schtick covered.

Lindsay: But as a closing thought, I’ll say that given the pretty tepid crop of nominees this year, I was pleased with The King’s Speech‘s victories (though, as I’ve stated before, its problematic representation of women actually didn’t keep me from loving The Social Network too). While it was all too easy to view The King’s Speech as the preferred film of the stodgy old establishment, I found both Colin Firth’s performance and David Seidler’s script to contain some of the most quietly complex statements about masculinity in any film I saw this year. Firth’s “lefthanded/righthanded” speech can easily be read to have a subtext speaking about the dangers of perceiving identity – and gender — as a collection of binaries. And as much as I hated the phrase, I still preferred that triangle of manlove over any other bromance I saw in a theater this year.

James: Indeed. Now I can’t wait to look forward to weekend trips to the movies where I’ll watch Nic Cage kick ass in Drive Angry and then wind down by sneaking into Rango.

Lindsay: Yes, James as always it’s been a pleasure talking Oscars with you, but especially after this anticlimactic year I’m relieved to see the season come to a close. For the next couple of months at least, I think it’s time for us to make like Jean-Luc Godard and not give a shit about the Oscars at all.

The 83rd Annual Oscar nominations were announced yesterday, and in spite of Kathryn Bigelow’s momentous win last year, no women were recognized in the Best Director category. Today, Lindsay wonders whether or not we should even get worked up about this.

When the Oscars pulled the ham-handed, weirdly-self-congratulatory-about-its-own-reluctant-progressivism move of bringing Barbara Streisand out to present last year’s award for Best Director, I knew it was all over. Streisand (the first and only woman to win a Best Director Golden Globe, but whom the Academy failed to nominate) was there to rip open the envelope that would propel Kathryn Bigelow into history and make her the first woman to win a Best Director Academy Award. And somehow, in that moment, I felt indifferent. As Bigelow ascended the stairs to the Oscar House Orchestra’s rendition of (yes, really) “I Am Woman,” the small pang of joy I felt was just the sudden realization that I’d won my Oscar pool.

Mostly, I was exhausted. I’d spent the better part of 2009 immersed a long term research project about female filmmakers and the problems they continue to face in Hollywood. My interest in this topic had initially been spurred by reading the rather shocking statistic that only 3 women had ever been nominated for the Best Director Oscar, and none had ever won. In my reading, I uncovered plenty of other discouraging statistics and anecdotes. Dr. Martha Lauzen’s annual Celluloid Ceiling report shows that women directed only 9% of the top 250 domestic grossing films in 2008. For me, each new bit of research was simultaneously dismaying and invigorating. I was slowly realizing that pursuing my dreams of filmmaking would involve coming up against one of the strongest glass ceilings left in American culture.

I’ve wanted to be a director since I was 17. At that time I worked on a student-run public access show, and in my spare time I schooled myself on all the budding film geek’s Great American Directors (Scorsese, Kubrick, Coppola) and the next generation of greats (PT Anderson, the Coen Brothers, Wes Anderson). As a teenager, it never once occurred to me that all of these directors were men – they were just, to me, great filmmakers. It wasn’t until I got to college that I started getting more into avant-garde film and found a few female directors to idolize as well. Agnes Varda, Maya Deren, Jane Campion and Chantal Akerman all helped me realize not only my own vision, but they also helped me to see the startling absence of female role models in my ventures as a filmmaker thus far. These were women who did not have a place in mainstream film culture (and especially not American film culture), and I admired their uncompromising drive to make films outside of that hegemonic system.

So by the end of my project, I was left questioning whether that long delayed Oscar win even mattered. If Hollywood and the Academy had excluded women’s visions for so long, why should we tailor the films we make to please them? Aren’t we better off creating smaller but more accepting spaces outside the mainstream?

That’s what was going through my head as Bigelow ascended those stairs last year. I loved The Hurt Locker and was happy about her nomination, but I couldn’t help but feel it was something of a compromise. After all, it wasn’t a film that gave a refreshingly truthful representation of women – in fact, there was only one woman in the entire film, and she was on screen for a grand total of about three minutes. Plus, the media narrative that made Bigelow the plucky underdog going up against her big, bad ex-husband James Cameron was simplistic, annoying and hard to parse from a feminist perspective: we were being fed a line that he was the bad guy, when in reality Bigelow had sought his advice on the Hurt Locker script before agreeing to direct it. By that night in February, I was sick of hearing about it all, and left with the queasy feeling that the win I’d waited so long for felt more like a necessary compromise than an groundbreaking triumph for all women.

And then she got up on that stage. A rush of tears came to my eyes, and I could hardly breathe.

I think what had hit me on such a gut level was the simple impact of seeing something – a break in a pattern that makes you realize for the first time just how prevalent the pattern had been. Up until now, I’d only seen men in tuxedos accepting an award that I – in my wildest and most self-centered flights of fancy – would have loved to win; now here was a strong, articulate, gorgeous woman in a dress. I thought of what this would have meant to me when I was 17. I thought of what this meant to the girls even younger than that, the great filmmakers of a future generation. Up until that moment, the problem of women in film was also the defining problem of feminism in the 21st century: young women are told they can do anything, but the limited images of achievement presented before them silently contradict that. The simple reality of seeing Bigelow up there was huge.

Still, though Bigelow’s win was momentous, I suspect that it will change very little about the realities of female directors in Hollywood. Yesterday’s Academy Award nominations were a harsh reminder of this: for the 79th time in history, they were all men. True, two of the ten Best Picture nominees are women (Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone and Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right), but I agree with Dana Stevens’s assessment:

This is only the second year of the expanded best picture Category, with 10 spaces to fill instead of five, and it’s easy to pick out at a glance which are the “filler” pictures—movies that, worthy as they may be, don’t stand a chance of winning. They’re the ones that didn’t also get best director nominations: 127 Hours, Winter’s Bone, Toy Story 3, Inception, and The Kids Are All Right. The expansion of this category was meant to be a way to open the field to more offbeat or crowd-pleasing choices, but I wonder if the extra spots aren’t destined to become a holding pen for second-class citizens. After Kathryn Bigelow’s supremely satisfying double win for best director and best picture last year, it’s particularly disheartening to see Winter’s Bone and The Kids Are All Right, both made by women, relegated to “great film—who directed it again?” status.

And once again, I keep coming back to the eternal question: why should we care? The Oscars are ultimate pageant of Hollywood hegemony. They’re all bound up in greater issues about distribution, marketing and campaigning that rarely favor female-centric films that challenge the status quo. So really, should any of this bother us?

But during Bigelow’s acceptance speech last year, I think I finally realized that we should care. About all of it. The dream of women achieving equality in the industry means that they should infiltrate every genre of filmmaking – from mainstream blockbusters to experimental films, rom-coms to war epics – and that women will be not only the directors but the cinematographers, editors, writers and producers on these films too. A year later it’s easy to see that Bigelow’s win wasn’t the instant panacea that the media portrayed it as. But perhaps there’s a little glimmer of hope in this year’s Best Director nominees: Bigelow’s pattern-breaking female presence on that stage last year makes it that much easier to feel its absence in this year’s list. If nothing else, I hope it continues to resonate in a heightened awareness of the work that’s still left to be done before women and men in Hollywood are on equal footing.