After the Golden Globe nominations, I reached out to several women who write and think about films to get their sense of the stories that came out of the nominations.
The issues that I wanted to hear other people's thoughts on what I saw coming out of the nominations:
Meryl vs Meryl
The return of Sandra Bullock
Nora (Ephron) vs. Nancy (Meyers)
Women over 40 rule acting nods
Bright Star missing
An Education, no best picture
The woman who participated included: Sasha Stone, Awards Daily; Thelma Adams, Us Weekly; Anne Thompson, Thompson on Hollywood; Monika Bartyzel, Cinematical; Caryn James, film critic Marie Claire; Carrie Rickey, Philadelphia Inquirer; Ella Taylor, LA Weekly; Katey Rich, Cinemablend; Jan Lisa Huttner, The Hot Pink Pen; Susan Wloszczyna, USA Today; Jenni Miller, Cinematical.
Thanks so much to all the participants.
I'm a bit horrified that Jane Campion's Bright Star was ignored. On the other hand, it is an extremely competitive year for women and in that way, be careful what you wish for. The one woman who is playing in the big leagues, Kathryn Bigelow, didn't direct a gender-based film at all; in fact, her film, like most of her films, is all about the men.
But who's to say a woman shouldn't feel free to direct a film about anyone? Men, women, aliens, politicians -- women should have an open playing field.
Nora vs. Nancy is funny -- both women kind of corner the market on funny films about older women looking for identity and love. And there is Meryl Streep smack dab in the middle. Having them both there is call for celebration.
Bright Star is an odd film, not easily sold or packaged. It didn't get enough momentum out of the festival circuit and not the fault of the publicity team who worked day and night to get that film the exposure it needed. Campion's refusal to make Bright Star and out and out weepy, combined with its distant romantic tale, fought off the very audience it would need to survive: romance-hungry women. How awful to have it categorized like that but that is what women want.
Campion, however, is an auteur. Her films will last long after many of the films in play today are merely footnotes. She in uncompromising and that makes her a powerful force in filmmaking in general, not just in "women's filmmaking." This year is an exceptional leap forward. One hopes it doesn't get rolled up and put into a stupid theory that films directed by women don't win awards unless they're about men. That would be a shame.
Finally, it's a mistake to confuse quality of filmmaking with success in the awards race. One is a game, the other is art.
Here's another: Vera versus Anna. Don't you wish Anna would gracefully bow out so that this terrific veteran actress who really soars in Up in the Air has a chance at best supporting actress?
As for Meryl versus Meryl -- this is a speed bump. It won't happen at the Oscars where Meryl will be nominated for Julie & Julia -- and has a very good chance to take the Oscar.
I LOVE Bright Star but it was a tough sell.....Jane Campion is making brilliant movies, but not movies for the masses.
I so LOVE Marion Cotillard's nomination -- she is the brilliant heart of Nine. Imagine the movie if all the casting had been equal to hers.
What I think happened with Bright Star is that it opened too early in the season in September and didn't get any real traction. It was very well reviewed. The thing that struck me about it, why it would have been overlooked it has a very low key effect. Jane Campion has made a very subtle, intimate, very precise, very beautiful drama and tragic romance that appeals to women. It is extremely intimate. There is nothing hugely dramatic about it. It almost errs on the side of restraint in a way that I admire and I found it very moving but it doesn't wow people. A lot of people find it to be a long and quite meditative -- it's like a beautifully wrought Keats poem. It didn't score at the box office, it hasn't been getting prizes from the critics groups and the Golden Globes also completely overlooked it. My other theory is that Campion may not have realized this when she went with an unknown cast and really junior key players on her crew, a lot of young crew people, in a funny kind of way I think the Oscars are going to overlook it too. I pray that she gets recognized for costumes and production design and cinematography but finally it feels like a small movie that a lot of people haven't seen.
From the beginning I thought that Kathryn Bigelow would be the leading contender in that category and because you have 10 best picture slots it's possible that An Education would get in there remote possibility that It's Complicated or Julie & Julia would get in there. But in the director category you only have five and my sense is that there will only one woman getting in there. But she could win. I'm very optimistic that the time has come for everybody to come through for Kathryn Bigelow. People are jumping on the fact that she is competing with her ex-husband, and that's really not the story. The fact is that Cameron himself respects her is a big deal. You have to be pretty great to stand up to Jim Cameron, and he absolutely respects her.
It's Complicated, The Hurt Locker, Julia & Julia, The Proposal and An Education all did very well with the Golden Globe nominations. That's a pretty strong list of women's pictures.
Sandra Bullock is an interesting situation where I suspect the Golden Globes came through for her in a way the Oscars may not. But people are writing about The Blind Side and it has done well at the box office. The best actress category isn't as strong as it might be. We are going to see Gabourey Sidibe, Carey Mulligan, Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep probably for Julie & Julia. There is a fifth slot there. Is it going to go to Emily Blunt? Is it going to Bullock? Is it going to go to Cotilliard? These are the contenders for that spot.
Nora Ephron v Nancy Meyers -- first of all remember that the Globes have a comedy and musical category. Without that category they wouldn't be there. It's Complicated, The Proposal and Julie & Julia are considered on some level romantic comedies (not really Julie & Julia) and they don't do well at the Oscars. There are a lot of people in the musical/comedy category who will not show up on Oscar morning.
I couldn't miss the opportunity to ask Anne if she noticed anything different this year with the success of female centric films at the box office.
I have been covering the question of hollywood and the women's audience and women directors for a very long time. If you're a screenwriter you have a better shot so Nancy Meyers and Nora Ephron have made their way by virtue of being screnwriters as well as directors. Bigelow has made her way outside of the so-called women's genre and she's managed to make her way as an action director and that's one of the reapsns why she's so strong.
I don't have a sense that Hollywood is jumping up and down to create more projects for women. What may be going on is that they have to learn that lesson over and over again with the audience thirsty and starving for good women's fare. In some ways Manohla (Dargis) is right. Even though it looks like they are doing well, the studios are not supportive. They don't count on women to show up on opening weekend unless it's a branded entertainment like Twilight, Sex and the City or Mamma Mia.
While writers like Nikki Finke have called the Golden Globes "completely meaningless," I found myself inspired and hopeful because of Up in the Air. Not only did Clooney get a nod, but also Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick. While someone in the Women Film Critics Circle certainly didn't like Farmiga's character, these were two of my favorite female characterizations this year. Each had a few big flaws to ignore (like Kendricks' ridiculous mid-movie meltdown), but overall, they were women I could really relate to, regardless of age and place in life. With the film getting so much love, I hope it inspires more successful and balanced women on the big screen.
Women Over 40 -- It's great, but the cynic in me wonders if this is only because these women are aging so slowly that no one believes their real ages -- that Hollywood can forget that they are, indeed, over 40.
Meryl -- She's definitely worthy for Julie & Julia, she stunningly brought Julia Child to life, but I would've liked to see someone else take the other spot. I've already noticed complaints of Streep overkill, and she is becoming the safe bet. Since (500) Days was included, maybe Zooey Deschanel to go with Levitt.
I don't want to take anything away from Kathryn Bigelow; The Hurt Locker is an amazingly-directed film. But it is also a stereotypically macho film, while Jane Campion's beaufitul, poetic Bright Star plays into stereotypes of what a woman filmmaker might do. It's true that awards rarely honor subtlety, male or female, and that has hurt Bright Star. But it's also true that the many nominations for Bigelow play into the old idea that women get ahead by behaving like men, in this case making a movie voters might expect a man to have made. I'm glad Bigelow made the film she wanted to make, but real progress will come when we stop looking at poetic films as if they exist in some lesser, female category.
The only thing you're missing is Kathryn Bigelow vs. her ex husband Jim Cameron in best pic and director race. I think the Cameron/Bigelow noms are an excellent illustration of the dif between studio epic and intimate indie and the weirdness of comparing apples to mangoes when it comes to awards. My principal thought at looking at the Streep, Ephron and Meyers nods is that we're seeing an illustration of the creative second wind of women of a certain age -- what anthropologist Margaret Mead called "post-menopausal zest."
My only comment (as a Brit) is that An Education, a perfectly presentable, perfectly unremarkable film that would do nicely as a television drama, didn't remotely deserve best picture. But Rosamund Pike, relatively unsung as the blond ditz, certainly deserves a nomination for best supporting actress.
Meryl vs. Meryl-- This doesn't really seem to be a contest to me. It's Complicated is such a dud that Meryl should easily be able to win for Julie & Julia. Even though all the buzz is about Sandra Bullock having this comeback year and all, the potential spoiler to watch is probably Marion Cotillard, who is by far the best part of Nine. I still think it's a supporting role, though, so that could damage her chances.
Kathryn Bigelow-- You go girl. She swept the critic's awards over the weekend and is very much poised as a Best Director frontrunner. The more people who talk up her chances to be the first-ever female Best Director winner, the more it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that she'll win. And it's not like it's just some token "time for a woman to win" award-- that would never have gotten her so far. She made an amazing film and is getting rightly rewarded for it. It's ridiculous that it's taken this long for it to happen, but I'll take it!
Sandra Bullock-- I haven't seen The Blind Side yet, but I'm pretty iffy on awarding for performances in really mediocre movies, which is what I hear about this one. However, more power to her for having such a comeback in her 40s -- she and Meryl Streep need to start giving lessons. It's hilarious, though, that everyone has completely forgotten the existence of All About Steve. I saw that movie! I will not forget!
Nora vs. Nancy-- It's Complicated had a truly, truly awful screenplay, and while Julie & Julia wasn't exactly a masterpiece of writing, I would have much preferred seeing it get the screenplay nomination instead. But hey, District 9 was co-written by a woman, and it got a completely out-of-the-blue nomination, so that's pretty cool.
Women over 40-- I wouldn't say they "rule" the acting nods, exactly -- there's plenty of hot young things in there (Anna Kendrick, Carey Mulligan, Gabby Sidibe, Penelope Cruz, Vera Farmiga even is just 36) that make it pretty status quo. Julia Roberts' nomination, though, thrilled me -- Duplicity was so, so great and was quickly forgotten once it was a flop. She wasn't revelatory in that movie or anything, and I'm sure the Globes went for her for their much-beloved starpower, but I'm glad to see someone else remembers that movie.
Bright Star-- It's a shame that this movie has utterly fallen off the radar, since Abbie Cornish really was remarkable in it, and Jane Campion at least deserves to be part of the conversation. I think it will be back in the Cinematography department come Oscar time, but sadly Bright Star seems to be one of those victims of the December release glut.
An Education-- I can't figure out why this seems to have fallen off the radar except for Carey Mulligan, though a friend of mine has a theory that it only seems to have disappeared in the fast-moving online world. Basically, there was only room for 5 Dramas at the Globes, but only one of the Comedy/Musical nominees (Nine) seems likely to make it at the Oscars, so there's room for An Education to come back. They need to come back with the marketing campaign though. Maybe if they had sent me a screener I'd be talking about it more.
Jan Lisa Huttner
Bright Star missing: As I told you back in July, Melissa, men do NOT get this film & they're actively pissed that it's told from Fanny's POV (that is, that is it NOT told from Keats' POV). Did you see that execrable "review" in recent NY Review of Books?!? Oy!!!
An Education no best picture: Again, guys don't really get this picture & they totally missed all the Mr. Rochester references in Acts 1 & 2, which I why I asked Women Critics Circle members to add new "Invisible Woman" category for Olivia Williams as "Miss Stubbs." Sure enough, when I received my Chgo Film Critics Assoc ballot, Olivia Williams wasn't even offered as a candidate for Best Supporting Actress!!! Oy!!!
I loathed Up in the Air. Also, saw Inglorious Basterds & hated it. Saw Invictus & shook my head in despair -- this is the best we can do for Nelson Mandela: a rugby movie?!? Saw Precious & liked it but didn't love it. Having spent most of my life as a fat girl, I just didn't believe the fantasy sequences.
Well, I sensed Bright Star was frizzling quite soon after Toronto. They went crazy for it at Cannes but it quickly lost momentum. Once it opened, the reviews were mixed and the box office weak. And that was all she said. Too bad -- I root for Jane Campion since she is one of a kind and a true artist. That butterfly scene alone is worth an Oscar. But I think it was the wrong kind of movie at the wrong time, as good as Abbie Cornish was.
It is interesting about An Education being left out because it is such a smart, savvy film with a fine ensemble cast that outshines most crappy female-driven romcoms. But Carey seems to be the only story there now.
Just like people love Robert Downey Jr. and Meryl, they totally love Sandra Bullock. The fact that she gave two great performances in one year in decent enough movies is reason for celebration. Us Sandy fans have been waiting for her to get back on track for ages.
I'm disappointed that An Education didn't get a best picture nomination, but I do think the others were deserving. My feelings about Up in the Air aren't as strong as others writers', though.
I cannot believe that Bright Star didn't get any nominations. Abbie Cornish, Jane Campion's direction, the cinematography, the way she wove his poetry into the music -- Bright Star was dazzling. Emily Blunt was good in The Young Victoria, but I thought the movie itself was fairly mediocre.
Meryl is amazing, of course. I haven't seen It's Complicated (although I would certainly like to!), so I can't comment on that, and I did think she was great in Julie and Julia, but were 2009 comedies really that dry for actresses? What about Rachel Weisz in The Brothers Bloom, one of my favorite movies? What about any of the women in Whip It?
The Proposal is a guilty pleasure romcom, and as for Duplicity, I watched it on a plane. It's a double-edged sword, as Monika wrote, about supporting women writers/directors/actors -- I'm glad that women over 40 whom I enjoy in general are getting nominated, but they're not for roles that blow me away, or even qualify (in my mind) as more than something I'd catch on DVD.
I can't decide if that category is so blah because of what's out there or because of the voters. I feel as though there's something I'm overlooking.
Follow Melissa Silverstein on Twitter: www.twitter.com/melsil