Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Big(elow) Year for Female Filmmakers

In the entire history of the Academy Awards, only three women had been nominated for the Best Director Oscar - Lina Wertmüller (Seven Beauties - 1976), Jane Campion (The Piano - 1993) and Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation - 2003) - and none of them won. For 2009, Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) has been a front-runner in the Best Director race throughout awards season, culminating in her DGA Best Feature Film Director Award win on Jan. 30, her nomination for the Best Director Oscar this morning (Feb. 2) and her likely win at the Oscars on March 7. Not only is she getting all of this attention, I actually feel she deserves it, as opposed to some of the other directors who wind up getting nominated as a pseudo-lifetime achievement award or because they're James Cameron (or some other Hollywood heavyweight). The Hurt Locker is a great film, and I would think that even if I found out it was directed by a man.

2009 was a banner year for female filmmakers - along with Bigelow, Campion has been getting a lot of positive attention for Bright Star, and so has Lone Scherfig for An Education. At one point, there was buzz that all three could have found themselves with Oscar nominations. Agnes Varda, the female filmmaking face of the French New Wave, has also been getting quite a bit of praise for her autobiographical documentary The Beaches of Agnes. French director Claire Denis' 35 Shots of Rum has also been well-received. While writer-director Anne Fontaine hasn't been getting quite as much buzz as the others, her film Coco Before Chanel is getting a few notices. Romantic comedy pros Nora Ephron (Julie & Julia) and Nancy Meyers (It's Complicated) have also been managing to hear their names and films mentioned here and there.

What disheartens me about this is that I have now listed the majority of the films directed by women that were released in 2009. Ephron and Meyers are the only two whose films were studio pictures, therefore getting opening weekend wide releases. (The Hurt Locker is an independent film, and the rest come from outside of the United States.) They were both also romantic comedies, which I feel have become the stereotypical go-to for (Hollywood) studios and producers when they feel pressured to employ more female directors.

I would like to briefly add in Drew Barrymore and her directorial debut, Whip It. It did not perform very well at the box office, but according to Metacritic, it got "Generally favorable reviews." (To me, the latter part of that is more important than the former, but that's another topic for another post.) While she isn't necessarily deserving of the awards buzz that Bigelow and the other ladies have been receiving, I feel Barrymore deserves to be recognized for making a female-driven film that is one of the better (American) coming-of-age stories to come along in a while. I hope she returns to the director's chair.

Actually, that brings me to my concluding point. I think it is fantastic that female directors are gradually getting more positive attention come awards season, and I hope that this means that studios and producers will be more open to putting the women I've mentioned and other female directors behind the camera, especially for films that are not romantic comedies.


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