This post is the Groundhog Day of blog posts. This post is a post that I didn’t expect to have to write while watching Seth MacFarlane and Emma Stone announce this year’s crop of directors to receive Oscar nominations. This post is a post that I was nearly CERTAIN I wouldn’t have to write for a third year in a row. But, alas, the nominations for the 85th Academy Awards were announced and not a lady to be found in the director’s category.
This is not due to a dearth of films released in 2012 with female directors, there were plenty of those, though obviously still not as many as male-directed films, but an uptick from 2011. It’s also not due to a lack of quality of the films directed by women, as several female directors received multiple accolades by venerable bodies. What is it due to, then?
Sasha Stone, of Awards Daily, in her “Female Trouble: Why Powerful Women Threaten Hollywood” piece from last month says:
Let’s face it, powerful women just freak everybody the fuck out. Everywhere in general, but especially in Hollywood… Sure, no one ever wants to kick up a fuss about anything. Everyone would prefer
we stay in our corners and continue to talk about Anne Hathaway’s cooch and Kate and Will’s baby… the last thing we want to talk about is a systemic breakdown in our glitzy annual pageant, as pathways for
female filmmakers are blocked at every turn.
To which I have little more to add other than, “HERE HERE!” And with that, here are five female-directed films released in 2012 that deserved Oscar nominations:
Zero Dark Thirty, Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Perhaps the most egregious of omissions, or at least the one that’s garnering the strongest reactions, Bigelow’s absence from the big list, in spite of having been nominated for a Golden Globe, a DGA Award, a BAFTA award, among others, not to mention being the only woman to ever win an Oscar for Best Director, was a shocker. The question of whether the politics of her film were her demise remains, or maybe the Academy opted out of her as a choice because of this year’s presence of the reassuring and uplifting over the darkly complex. But with a nomination in Best Picture, Best Editing, Best Screenplay and a Best Actress nod to boot, you have to wonder why.
Middle of Nowhere, Directed by Ava DuVernay
The complicated characters in DuVernay’s film reflect the confusion and compromise that comes from teetering between two planes, two worlds. These characters are real and DuVernay’s writing gives these gifted actors room to breathe within their roles without the constrictions of stereotype and instead with the liberty of nuance. DuVernay was the first black woman to take home the Best Director honor at Sundance with this film and many thought that the film had legs to make it to the greater award circuit. Though with the positions DuVernay has articulated in the past, she understands and takes pride in this film being a truly independent project and the structural limitations in narratives about people of color being received in those circles.
The Queen of Versailles, Directed by Lauren Greenfield
A documentary that centers around billionaire couple David and Jaqueline Siegel and their family as the crashing of the financial markets leaves them broke and living in an excessively opulent mansion inspired by Versailles sounds sympathetic and relatable right? Well Greenfield’s documentary takes a reprehensible family and actualizes them as real people while still being able to represent them as symbols of the thoughtless decadence of American life. By the film’s end, you don’t like these people, you hate them, in fact, but you recognize them, worry for them, and worry for us.
Take This Waltz, Directed by Sarah Polley
A love triangle with an apprehensive and restless heroine who destroys herself by defining herself through her relationships with men, Polley’s premise may seem hackneyed but it plays out poetically and ends up elating you in blissful confusion. Similarly to Middle of Nowhere, it deals with issues of liminality through a relatable yet distinctive tale. It also really pays homage to the legacy of Leonard Cohen and gives a picturesque view of Montreal. Polley has an Oscar nom already for her writing of Away From Her and her innovative documentary, Stories We Tell, recently shown at Venice, has been getting a lot of great buzz as well.
Your Sister’s Sister, Directed by Lynn Shelton
Shelton is one of the pioneers of the Mumblecore genre, a label many of the directors associated with it, including Judd Apatow, Mark & Jay Duplass, don’t necessarily embrace or, more accurately, don’t necessarily pay attention to. The style is very naturalistic and low-budget. Shelton takes this aesthetic and tells outlandish tales through it in a way that is both hilarious and credible. In this film, Jack, who has fallen into a depression following the death of his brother, takes his friend Iris’s offer to stay in her family’s cabin in the country. Upon his arrival, Iris’s sister Hannah, a lesbian, is also unexpectedly present and nursing a depression herself. A drunken hookup between Jack and Hannah sparks a catharsis of sorts for the three of them, forcing them to confront latent and suppressed emotions. Shelton’s funny and original script in conjunction with her unique style of working with actors makes for a film grounded in verisimilitude but not lacking in entertainment value.