The State Of Female Directors In This Year’s Oscar Race

Back when Kathryn Bigelow won Best Director at the 82nd Academy Awards for The Hurt Locker, she became the first woman in history to ever win the prestigious award. But even after breaking that glass ceiling, since then, no woman has been nominated for Best Director. Even though women have directed Best Picture nominees: The Kids Are All Right, Winter’s Bone, Zero Dark Thirty, and Selma, still no citations for the women that made them (Lisa Cholodenko, Debra Granik, Kathryn Bigelow, and Ava DuVernay, respectively).

Also, in the Academy’s soon to be 90-year history, only four women have ever been nominated for Best Director: Lina Wertmuller for Seven Beauties, Jane Campion for The Piano, Sofia Coppola for Lost In Translation, and Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker. Very depressing if you ask me. But it’s hard to entirely pin that on the Academy when it’s their job to judge movies while Hollywood studios decide who makes their movies. Earlier this year, it was revealed that only 7% of the top 250 highest grossing domestic releases of 2016 were directed by women. So there are much larger factors at play. There may be male voters within the Directing branch that are biased towards female filmmakers. But surely, they don’t represent the entire voting branch.

Thankfully, there are plenty of chances this year for women to once again get recognized for Best Director. Two of them are women who have previously have been cited in this category and whose films have already been seen. First is Sofia Coppola with The Beguiled. The film may have opened in the summer with lukewarm box office results and also may have been hit with outcries of whitewashing due to the omission of an African-American female character from the 1971 original. But what keeps Coppola’s chances alive is that she won the prestigious Best Director award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. The same prize was awarded to names like Robert Altman for The Player, Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher, David Lynch for Mulholland Drive, and Julian Schnabel for The Diving Bell And The Butterfly who all went on to be nominated for Best Director at the Oscars even if their films were snubbed for Best Picture. So even though the film is unlikely to compete in Best Picture, there is still a precedent for Coppola to make it in.

Next, we have Kathryn Bigelow likely back in the conversation for Detroit. Much like The Beguiled, Detroit came out in the summer and was hit with controversy due to the film being a race-relations drama being told by a predominantly white filmmaking crew. Also, Detroit was majorly hit by its poor box office showing, having made $16 million domestically against a $33 million budget. I know voters should judge a film on its merits and not how it performed financially. But the fact that Detroit left quickly as it came into theaters means it’s already forgotten. However, Bigelow could still make it in if distributor Annapurna Pictures is willing to spend money on an Oscar campaign for the film and if voters recognize her willingness to make a film about a horrific past event that isn’t too far from what’s taking place in our country right now.

In her directorial debut, Greta Gerwig has already wowed critics at the Telluride and Toronto Film Festival with her coming-of-age dramedy Lady Bird starring Saoirse Ronan. Actors-turned-directors have done well in this category (Warren Beatty, Kevin Costner, Robert Redford, etc.) and Greta Gerwig is somebody who has been on the cusp of her first Oscar nomination with Frances Ha and 20th Century Women. Also, at the Telluride Film Festival, director Barry Jenkins introduced Lady Bird when it first screened and sung its praises on Twitter. So, Gerwig already has support from her directing peers.

Battle Of The Sexes, which is being co-directed by Valerie Faris, also screened at the Telluride Film Festival. Both her and Jonathan Dayton co-directed the 2006 Sundance sensation Little Miss Sunshine which went onto become an awards juggernaut and win two Oscars: Best Supporting Actor for Alan Arkin and Best Original Screenplay for Michael Arndt. Yet apparently, voters thought the film directed itself because Dayton and Faris were ultimately left off the Best Director lineup. That could change this time around if it becomes a major commercial play and if voters remember it at the end of the year. Sounds weird given that it’s coming out in September. But we have sights unseen looking to make a major play (All The Money In The World, The Post, Phantom Thread) and established festival darlings screening in November and December (Call Me By Your Name, Darkest Hour, The Shape Of Water, etc.).

Mudbound screened to positive reviews back at Sundance and looks to make a case for director Dee Rees to become the first African-American woman in history to be nominated for Best Director. But the only handicap it has to overcome is its Netflix label. Netflix tried to mount an Oscar campaign for the 2015 film Beasts Of No Nation which got shut out. We’ll see if they are more successful this time around and we’ll see if they even do a good job at promoting it on their own site. I mean, when I watched the sci-fi film The Discovery on Netflix, I had to type it in the search engine just so I can watch it. So, Mudbound has the reviews to become a contender. Its only potential Achilles Heel is its own distributor.

We not only have another Netflix film in the conversation helmed by a woman but another film helmed by an actress-turned-director. Angelina Jolie enters the mix for the Cambodian war drama First They Killed My Father which is said to be her best work as a director to date. But even if Netflix feels they have their hands full with Mudbound, Jolie’s star power could still at least muscle the film’s way into the Best Foreign Language Film category since the country of Cambodia selected First They Killed My Father as the film to represent it.

Logan may have been the first film to send out Academy screeners. But I think if there is any hope for a superhero film to become a major player, it’s Wonder Woman directed by Patty Jenkins. Warner Bros. is mounting an aggressive Oscar campaign for the film and also, no other superhero film or blockbuster this year in general has dominated the cultural lexicon the way Wonder Woman has. Wonder Woman is viewed as the perfect feminist hero in the age of Trump. Also, even though it just came out on DVD, it is still playing in theaters and is the most successful film ever made by a female director. A nomination for Patty Jenkins, who is instrumental to the film’s success and has signed on to direct the upcoming sequel, would be a tremendous way to capitalize on that success.

“Spoor” director Agnieszka Holland at the 2017 Berlin Film Festival.

But female representation doesn’t begin and end in the Best Director category. In the Best Foreign Language Film category, so far, there are a record 19 submissions from female directors. Some include the Polish submission Spoor from Agnieszka Holland, the Spanish submission Summer 1993 from Carla Simon, the Mexican documentary Tempestad from Tatiana Huezo, and the Iranian submission Breath from Narges Abyar who is the first woman in history to direct a film submitted by Iran.

Lastly, the LGBTQ+ animated short In A Heartbeat, which took the Internet by the storm, is co-directed by a woman, Beth David. In A Heartbeat will be eligible to compete for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short after winning a prize at the 44th Student Academy Awards. Past winners at that particular ceremony, like Spike Lee, John Lasseter, Pete Docter, and Robert Zemeckis, would make future appearances at the Oscar ceremony as nominees and winners. We could say the same for Beth David.

What do you think? Do you think any of those female directors have a shot at competing at the Oscars? Please feel free to write your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks for reading!

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The Film Scoop Podcast-Episode 19: Quick Emmy Talk And TIFF Wrap-Up

For the latest episode of The Film Scoop Podcast, I am joined by Nathaniel Rogers from The Film Experience. We discuss the Toronto International Film Festival which just wrapped and share some quick reactions to the Primetime Emmy Awards. Be sure to give it a listen!

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Fox Searchlight Rebounds In This Year’s Oscar Race

Fox Searchlight Pictures had a very underwhelming awards run last year. The historical race drama Birth Of A Nation crashed and burned at the box office, performing below the $17.5 million price tag the studio paid to acquire the distribution rights, suffered from mixed-to-negative reviews, and was plagued by controversy surrounding writer/director Nate Parker who, along with co-writer Jean Celestin, was put to trial for rape back in 1999.

Fox Searchlight also acquired the biopic Jackie starring Natalie Portman out of the Toronto International Film Festival. But Jackie barely made a blip at the box office and underperformed at the precursors (BFCA, Globes, SAG, etc.), eventually landing just three Oscar nominations including Best Actress for Portman.

But so far, they’ve made quite a turnaround this year as they have not one, not two, but THREE legitimate Oscar contenders.

One is the Cold War fantasy romance The Shape Of Water which won the prestigious Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival. This not only makes it a major Best Picture play but director Guillermo Del Toro stands a good chance at perhaps winning Best Director. Del Toro is one-third of the group of directors known as the Three Amigos which are him, Alfonso Cuaron, and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. The other two have Oscars on their mantle and now seems like the right time for Del Toro to finally get his. Sally Hawkins is also looking strong in a very competitive Best Actress field along with Michael Shannon in Best Supporting Actor and maybe Octavia Spencer in Supporting Actress given how beloved she is by her peers thanks to her Oscar win for The Help. This also looks like something that’ll dominate the techs like Makeup, Sound, Costume Design, Production Design, etc.. Something that well-received genre films up for Best Picture, like Arrival and Mad Max: Fury Road, often do.

Even though it hasn’t won any major film prizes yet, Battle Of The Sexes looks like something that’ll win the hearts of moviegoers. The film which depicts the famed 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs with King ultimately winning fits our current political zeitgeist, mirroring the infamous 2016 election between Clinton and Trump. So much so, that Bobby Riggs, an egotistical male who thrives on media attention, is like Trump if he were a tennis player. Because the tennis match yielded better results with King beating out Riggs, this’ll allow Hillary voters (Of which there are many since she won the popular vote) to see their dream become a happy reality.

Along with Best Picture, the film is a heavy factor in the Best Actress race with Emma Stone who not only just won this award but is receiving the best reviews of her career for her work as Billie Jean King. There’s also Best Original Screenplay for Simon Beaufoy, Best Director for both Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, and perhaps Steve Carell in either Lead or Supporting Actor.

Lastly, we have Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri which won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. The last five films to win this award (Silver Linings Playbook, 12 Years A Slave, The Imitation Game, Room, La La Land) would go on to be nominated for Best Picture so this puts Three Billboards in a good position to follow in the footsteps of the aforementioned films. It helps that the film is a contender in other major categories. Particularly, Best Actress for Frances McDormand, Best Supporting Actor for Sam Rockwell, and Original Screenplay for Martin McDonagh who was previously nominated back in 2008 for writing the Irish black comedy In Bruges.

Even though they have three strong contenders, it may be hard to tell what their #1 will be. As we learned last year with Paramount Studios, who had Arrival, Fences, Florence Foster Jenkins, Allied, and Silence in their slate, it is difficult for studios to give every contender the proper campaign.

The Shape Of Water is the one likely to get the most nominations but it doesn’t come out until December and no December film has won Best Picture since Million Dollar Baby. Battle Of The Sexes has potential to be an inspiring crowd pleaser but because it comes out in September, will it be remembered by the end of the year? Also, Emma Stone could easily miss since she’s up against heavy competition in Best Actress which includes Sally Hawkins from The Shape Of Water and Frances McDormand from Three Billboards. So, who will be their top Best Actress play?

Surely, we’ll have our questions answered as the season rolls along.

What do you guys think? Which do you think is going to be their #1 play? Please feel free to write your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks for reading!

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“It” Scares Away “mother!” And “American Assassin” At The Box Office

Jennifer Lawrence And Javier Bardem in “mother!” Photo Courtesy Of Paramount Pictures.

It easily dominated this weekend’s new releases, making $60 million on its second weekend and around $220 million domestically. According to Box Office Mojo, it is $14.2 million shy of becoming the highest grossing R-rated horror film of all time, topping The Exorcist’s $232.9 domestic haul.

Results Courtesy Of Box Office Mojo:

  1. It ($60,103,110) (cum: $218,813,729)
  2. American Assassin ($14,846, 778) (NEW)
  3. mother! ($7,534,673) (NEW)
  4. Home Again ($5,183,004) (cum: $16,984,088)
  5. The Hitman’s Bodyguard ($3,588,883) (cum: $70,395,923)
  6. Wind River ($2,572,397) (cum: $29,141,212)
  7. Annabelle: Creation ($2,411,319) (cum: $99,711,680)
  8. Leap! ($2,163,778) (cum: $18,705,564)
  9. Spider-Man: Homecoming ($1,858,740) (cum: $330,245,988)
  10. Dunkirk ($1,311,449) (cum: $185,148,101)

As it turns out, the real horror story this weekend is the performance of mother!. The Jennifer Lawrence starrer, which cost $30 million to make, made a measly $7.5 million. In hindsight, it isn’t too surprising given how it has divided film critics, with a 68% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and received a rare F Cinemascore from audiences. But this debut goes to show that these days, star power doesn’t always sell a movie. Despite it starring Jennifer Lawrence, one of today’s biggest stars, it couldn’t overcome the rather conflicted response it received.

The weekend’s other new wide release, American Assassin, ended up shooting blanks, making a measly $14 million. It may have been made with $33 million budget but it’s going to be hard for it to have strong legs with the more hotly anticipated actioner Kingsman: The Golden Circle, which is set to come out this coming weekend, tracking for a $40 million-plus debut. For what it’s worth, star Michael Keaton, who has enjoyed a career resurgence thanks to his Oscar nomination for Birdman, has two films in the top 10: Both this and Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Elsewhere in the top 10, Wind River continues to hold steady and has made almost $30 million domestically. The Reese Witherspoon starrer Home Again also had a pretty decent hold with $5 million, bringing its domestic total to $17 million. With its profitable $12 million budget and no other films aiming for the same rom-com audience set for release in the coming weeks, Home Again has potential to be a sleeper hit. Also, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Dunkirk are still hanging onto the top ten but for dear life since they’re in ninth and tenth place, respectively.

In the specialty market, the Ben Stiller dramedy Brad’s Status opened with the highest per theater average of the weekend of $22,480 in just four theaters. If it expands well, then Annapurna Pictures, who is a co-distributor on the film along with Amazon Studios, will have a much needed win after stumbling out of the gate with Detroit which made a dismal $16 million against a $34 million budget.

What did you guys see this weekend? Please feel free to write your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks for reading!

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The Film Scoop Podcast- Episode 18: Festival Play-By-Play, Directing News, And Quick Emmy…

For the latest episode of The Film Scoop Podcast, Kevin Dillon and I give a play-by-play of the festival circuit while discussing film news regarding directing announcements and share our quick Emmy predictions. Be sure to give it a listen!

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“Logan” Is The First Screener To Be Sent To Academy Voters

Hugh Jackman as Logan in “Logan.” Photo Courtesy Of 20th Century Fox.

So, awards season has not only kicked off with the festival circuit (Telluride, Toronto, Venice, NYFF) but it is now starting to kick off with DVD screeners and according to Deadline, the first screener to be sent to AMPAS voters is the superhero film Logan.

Logan is a film that already has the right stuff. It has hefty audience support, thanks to its $616 million worldwide gross against a $97 million budget, and critical support with a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Even though it came out in March, 20th Century Fox still sent out screeners to keep the film fresh in voters minds while the fall season becomes jam packed with contenders.

However, I am still a little skeptical about it performing well due to four simple words:

It’s a superhero movie.

As we learned with Deadpool last year, which did very well with the guilds (Producers Guild, Writers Guild, Editors, etc.) only to get completely shut out by the Academy, they just don’t do superhero movies. Even The Dark Knight, which won Heath Ledger a posthumous Supporting Actor Oscar and got seven other nominations, still got left out of Best Picture and Best Director for Christopher Nolan.

The only way that I can see Logan have a strong showing is if it has a strong critical push the way Mad Max: Fury Road did. Mad Max was awarded Best Film by the National Board Of Review and was even runner-up for Best Picture at prestigious critics circles like the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and Boston Society Of Film Critics. If Logan can have that kind of support attached to it and it has a strong guild showing, then I could see it having a strong showing. Its chances would be stronger than Deadpool which didn’t have the same passionate critical support as Mad Max did.

Besides potential superhero genre bias, Logan could see its chances hindered by other genre films entering the conversation like Get Out, another early bird which strong critical support (99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes) and strong box office returns ($252 million worldwide against a $4.5 million budget). Plus, new AMPAS invitees have talked about how great Get Out is. So, it already has passion behind it. The fantasy romance The Shape Of Water, which won the prestigious Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival, is looking to make a play as well. So, it’s going to be tough for Logan to break through. Not saying it can’t be done but it’s going to be a bit of an uphill battle.

What do you guys think? Do you think Logan has a shot in the Oscar race? Please feel free to write your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks for reading!

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“mother!” Is Frustratingly Batsh*t Crazy

Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris in “mother!.” Photo Courtesy Of Paramount Pictures.

I’m so stuck in the middle about my thoughts on mother!. On the one hand, I thought it was interesting how it turns out to be different from what the synopsis suggests and I cannot delve into why that is without spoiling it and I usually don’t like to give spoilers. On the other hand, it claims to be a piece of psychological horror yet I didn’t exactly find myself scared but rather repulsed. As I write my review, I still don’t know whether I love it or hate it. By the time it was over, I felt it would make my “best films of the year” list but as I write my review, I know it’s going to be somewhere in the middle. That’s why mother! is frustratingly batsh*t crazy.

The main synopsis is that mother! is about a couple (Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem) who enjoy life in their isolated home. The man known as Him is a poet suffering from writer’s block while the woman known as Mother helps build his formerly broken home that they refer to as their “paradise.” But their Eden-like paradise becomes disrupted by the arrival of a mysterious couple known as Man and Woman (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer).

The marketing also made it seem like it would be a home invasion movie in the vein of Rosemary’s Baby with a touch of Black Swan also from director Darren Aronofsky. However, other than Lawrence’s character becoming pregnant and being put in a perilous situation, it doesn’t seem to have any influence from Rosemary’s Baby. It does delve into the supernatural but there’s not necessarily any devil worship. Also, while mother! is a very psychological film, it doesn’t have a well-structured plot like Black Swan even though it is shot in a similar style by Black Swan cinematographer Matthew Libatique (the film’s MVP in my opinion) who lenses with a mix of grainy realism and phantasmic elements.

Another similarity to Black Swan is that it is carried by a tremendous actress. Jennifer Lawrence does her best work in quite some time and does in my opinion her most physically demanding role. However, it doesn’t really feel like she’s playing a character. Again, as great as Lawrence is, she’s playing a woman who’s super passive and is reduced to always saying things like “Stop!” and “Don’t go in there.” But she still makes the film watchable because she has such camera-friendly presence.

The other actors are tremendous as well. Javier Bardem offers demonic charm as the ego-driven yet sympathetic Him while Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer add slithery intrigue as a couple that lives like Adam and Eve with their sensual and free-spirited lifestyle.

As you can probably tell with the Adam and Eve and the Eden references, the film turns out to be a Biblical allegory. Him and Mother are like God and Mother Nature, Man and Woman are Adam and Eve and the two dueling sons of Man and Woman (played by Brian and Domnhall Gleeson) are Cain and Abel. Also, Him keeps a crystal, which Man and Woman carelessly break, that is like the Tree Of Knowledge because from that point on, the paradise that the film takes place in starts to crumble and becomes disrupted by the arrival of Him’s massive fans that form a sinister cult.

Despite all the characters not being given names, I do think that the film is better off that way because if Man and Woman were called Adam and Eve and Him and Mother kept calling their house Eden, then it would’ve been WAY too on-the-nose. I like how Aronofsky wanted audience members to piece the puzzle together themselves because that makes it far more engaging. I know there are some people that prefer films that hand feed them the pieces and understandably so. But I personally loved that Aronofsky chose to invite us into the weird maze that he has crafted.

In spite of me picking up on the Bible allegory within the story, there are still a handful of unanswered questions I have about what I saw. What is the purpose of the cult-like fan base? Are those people meant to present a theme of the perils of fame? Why is there always a drop of blood from one of the rooms? What does it mean? These questions might not be answered right away. But upon a second or third viewing, I might be able to decipher the rather chaotic experience a lot better because I still think the film is as mysterious as its marketing.

Even though I’m still pretty conflicted over my initial experience of watching mother!, I still recommend that you check it out and see how you interpret it.

Grade: B+

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