Monday, February 1, 2010

Why Am I Suddenly Excited About the Oscars This Year?

I don't really get that into the Oscars. They tend to be awarded based on which nominee attends the right parties and schmoozes the right way, or which idea/cause is most popular at the time, rather than which one is truly the most deserving. I have to say, it is rare to find a nominee that's undeserving of recognition or praise, but the actual winners do tend to be based around political (and by this I mean Hollywood politics, not politics-politics) decisions instead of technical merits. So I don't tend to pay attention much unless a movie I particularly like is up for something major.

But that isn't to say they don't matter. To the average moviegoer, they don't really, people will see what they want to see regardless of awards. But to the people making films in Hollywood they do matter because not only does it bring them recognition and a certain status amongst viewers, but it opens doors to projects they might not be considered for otherwise. An Oscar win to executives can mean a certain bankability because suddenly people know who this person is and are more likely to be interested in a film from a familiar name. To the winner, it means a certain level of prestige, but more than that, it means being taken seriously. Of course, it adds pressure, because then they have to deliver something on par with something that successful or they risk being labeled a fluke, or even worse a hack with a lucky win. But you still get your name and your movie branded with the Oscar-Winner seal forever, and that's more than most people get.

But given that that's pretty much a constant, why do I actually care this year when I don't most of the time? No, it's not because Up might be be nominated for Best Picture (razzaflabbin' Best Animated Feature category... I learned my lesson after Ratatouille and Persepolis got their conciliatory nominations there in '07 instead of being able to contend for the "more serious" category-- and really, it does get a little boring when Pixar wins it every freaking year; not that they don't deserve to win it, but geez, they may as well just start calling it the Pixar Award), it's because a woman is going to be nominated for Best Director for only the fourth time ever. And she has a serious shot at being the first one to win it.

Out of 82 years and approximately 410 Best Director nominations, Katheryn Bigelow will be the fourth woman nominee, behind Lina Wertmuller in 1976, Jane Campion in 1993, and Sofia Coppola in 2003 (none of whom won, I might add). This weekend, she won the Director's Guild of America award for Outstanding Achievement in Feature Film, and the DGA is an almost flawless match with the Academy Award for Best Director (according to what I've been reading, there have only been six deviations from DGA winners and Oscar winners). She is the first woman to win that award, too, and now she's the front-runner for the Oscar.

Now, to be fair, I haven't seen her film, The Hurt Locker yet. I hear it's very good, and I've been seeing snippets about critics lauding her very highly for her work, and her topping many of their lists for best director of the year. I haven't heard anyone saying that she's only getting attention because she's a woman, or that she didn't deserve to win the DGA just as much as anyone else that was up for it. In fact the only reservations about this I hear are from a few people who wish the film that got the possible first woman winner nominated was a "woman's" film instead of a "guy's" film (The Hurt Locker is about soldiers in the Iraq War-- an action/suspense movie). While I understand that sentiment and agree with it to a certain extent, 2009 was a phenomenal year for women-fueled movies, with Julie & Julia at $94.1 million, It's Complicated at $100 million, The Proposal at $164 million, The Blind Side at $235 million, and New Moon at $293 million, and all of them hitting in the last half of the year. Say what you will about any of them as films, the fact is, they were geared for women, starred women (two of them starring the same woman, who is over forty to boot), and three of them were even directed by women. New Moon's numbers were something like 90% female viewers (note: not fact-checked, am basing this on memory which is often faulty with numbers), making that even more astounding (most Hollywood blockbusters are split around 60% male and 40% female audiences, so even with "guy" films, women make up a significant portion of ticket sales). Normally a movie like that making that kind of money will be chalked up to a fluke by studio execs, who from what I've been given to understand by people in the know, like Nia Vardalos (writer and star of My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding) writing an article stating that during a movie pitch she was asked to switch the female lead to a man because "women don't go to movies", and based on the levels of contempt, vitriol, and venom that arose when NPR's Linda Holmes posted an open letter to Pixar asking why they hadn't yet made a film starring a female lead (which I blogged about early on here). This year, of all years, is the one that is making people notice because women are proving the execs wrong and proving that they do go to movies.

So I don't care if Bigelow directed an action thriller and that's considered a "guy" movie because there is plenty of proof that female-driven, made, and geared films are profitable and desired by women who want to see themselves reflected on the screen as much as the guys do. Bigelow did the job, she directed a really good movie from all accounts, and she deserves the award as much as anyone else up there. So yeah, I want her to win it. I want her to win it bad because it's one less glass ceiling in the world, because it's 2010 and women make up 51% of the population and it's about time, because I want that message to resonate with all those girls out there who might have talked themselves out of a directing career because it's so hard to be successful, because I want it to resonate with the studio execs, because I want it to resonate with everyone who considers the efforts, ambitions, dreams, thoughts, feelings, and lives of women as less important or meaningful than that of men, and I want it for me. I'm headed to film school in a few short years and yeah, I'd like to direct someday, and I'd for damn sure like to be taken seriously enough to be given the chance to succeed or fail at it on my own merits, not on the basis of my gender. An Oscar win won't magically make that happen, but it's a step forward, and that's what I care about.

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