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Monday 25 March 2019

And here are the all-male Oscar nominees... again

Last year, Hollywood women made several classy moves to demand an end to the male domination of the picture business. Nevertheless, here we are a year on and no female director has been nominated for an Oscar this Sunday, writes Chris Wasser

Natalie Portman and Ron Howard (Paul Drinkwater/NBC via AP)
Natalie Portman and Ron Howard (Paul Drinkwater/NBC via AP)

Chris Wasser

Let’s rewind a year, shall we? On January 7, 2018, the 75th Golden Globe Awards were in full swing at the Beverly Hilton in California, when Natalie Portman decided to remind those in attendance — and, indeed, viewers at home — that something was amiss in the Best Director category. Presenting the award alongside Ron Howard, Portman announced: “And here are the all-male nominees.” Cue a Twitter meltdown.

It was a brilliant moment, and one that cut right to the heart of a problem that has plagued Hollywood for decades.

Fast-forward a month or so, and at the 90th Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, Frances McDormand devotes her winner’s speech for Best Actress to her female nominees. Not just the actresses, mind — but every woman in the room who had received an Oscar nomination in 2018.

McDormand asked each of her fellow, female film-makers to stand with her in solidarity and support, at a time when Hollywood was undergoing the mother of all revolutions.

If felt like a seminal moment, but 12 months later, did the powers-that-be get the message?

A quick glance at the film-makers nominated for Best Director at the 91st Academy Awards this weekend would suggest the answer is an emphatic no.

There’s Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman), Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War), Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite), Alfonso Cuarón (Roma) and Adam McKay (Vice).

Yep, I’ve noticed it, too: they’re all dudes. Now, it’s at this point that some people might tell me that this is just the way it is. The best film-makers get all the awards. Gender, race, profile and status have nothing to do with it. But I’m afraid you’d be 100pc wrong, especially in a year where some of the best films released in cinemas were directed by women.

What’s barmier still, is the fact that, since 1929 — the year of the first Oscars ceremony — just five women have been nominated for Best Director: Lina Wertmüller, in 1977, for Seven Beauties; Jane Campion, in 1994, for The Piano; Sofia Coppola, in 2004, for Lost in Translation; Kathryn Bigelow, in 2010, for The Hurt Locker, and Greta Gerwig, in 2018, for Lady Bird.

Bigelow remains the only woman to have won a Best Director Oscar.

So if female directors were responsible for some of the best films released in cinemas in the last 12 months, why isn’t this reflected in this year’s nominations?

For the record, here are five I believe were worthy of making this year’s list of nominees for best director.

Nadine Labaki — Capernaum

This week, the triumphant Capernaum finally lands in Irish cinemas. A beautiful, heartbreaking drama of rare quality and depth, it tells the story of a 12-year-old Lebanese boy who, after being arrested and imprisoned for assault, decides to sue his parents for bringing him into the world.

Capernaum review: 'Frantic, fast, full of colour and feeling and bursts of raw humour' 

It’s a complicated set-up, but one that is handled with great skill and compassion by Lebanese actress and film-maker, Nadine Labaki, who wrote and directed the film.

Capernaum — which received a 15-minute standing ovation at Cannes, where it took home the Jury Prize last summer — is currently in the running for Best Foreign Language Film at Sunday’s Oscars. If it wins, Labaki takes home the trophy — and that would be incredible. But wouldn’t it have made sense to nominate Labaki in the Best Director category, too? I certainly think so.


Debra Granik — Leave No Trace

Last June, writer/director, Debra Granik (the Oscar-nominated film-maker behind 2010’s Winter’s Bone), delivered one of the finest pictures of 2018: the outstanding, Leave No Trace. The always reliable, Ben Foster, starred alongside newcomer, Thomasin McKenzie (a star in the making), as Will (an Iraq War veteran, suffering from severe PTSD) and 13-year-old Tom, a father and daughter living off the grid, in a vast nature park, near Portland, Oregon. Alas, after a lengthy spell in the wilderness, the family’s idyllic life together comes crashing down, when the authorities intervene. Social services question Will’s suitability as a father, and the two are placed in social housing. Things take a turn for the worse when Will makes a plan to escape.

Movie reviews: Leave No Trace, Adrift, and Patrick 

A beguiling and universally-acclaimed adaptation of the Peter Rock novel, My Abandonment, Leave No Trace is a bit of a slow-burner; a subtle, yet powerful story, expertly-crafted and wonderfully acted. It was one of the best reviewed films of 2018 (it holds a rare approval rating of 100pc on Rotten Tomatoes), and Granik presents herself as a storyteller like no other. In short, it is a gorgeous, unforgettable piece of cinema. That it wasn’t nominated for a single Oscar is simply baffling.


Desiree Akhavan — The Miseducation of Cameron Post

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is the first of two films released in the last six months concerning an American teenager, whose parents enrol them in gay conversion therapy (the other, Joel Edgerton’s Boy Erased, is currently playing in Irish cinemas).

Directed and co-written by Desiree  Akhavan, The Miseducation… (an adaptation of Emily M Danforth’s 2012 novel) stars the excellent Chloe Grace Moretz as the titular Cameron, a young American teen whose guardians sign her up for a gay conversion program, after she is caught in a romantic entanglement with another girl.

Yes, it can be a difficult watch, but Akhavan mines both warmth and humour from the trickiest of premises (think John Hughes territory, with a heavy dose of social-realism), making the most of a low budget, and delivering a sharp, sympathetic and moving, coming-of-age story. Again, reviews were ecstatic — that it hasn’t received nominations for writing, directing or even acting, is a complete mystery.


Marielle Heller — Can You Ever Forgive Me?

The glorious Can You Ever Forgive Me? is currently nominated for three Oscars: Best Actress for Melissa McCarthy, Best Supporting Actor for Richard E Grant, and Best Adapted Screenplay for Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty. That’s a tremendous haul, for sure — but the bloody film didn’t direct itself, you know.

Heller does a wonderful job with the true story of New York biographer, Lee Israel — who, after falling on hard times, began forging letters by deceased writers and playwrights, and selling them on to enthusiastic buyers who believed that they were the real deal.

Read the Review - 'Can You Ever Forgive Me?': all round it works on many levels 

Israel (portrayed by McCarthy — who is a revelation) did it all with the help of her drinking buddy, a charismatic drug dealer by the name of Jack Hock (Grant — at the peak of his powers), and Heller’s rich and textured offering is as much a playful, two-handed crime caper, as it is a gritty and tender drama.

Heller plays a blinder behind the camera, with a rich and provocative recreation of early-Nineties New York. The tone is perfect, and it’s her strong yet steady direction that helped McCarthy and Grant to deliver the performances of their careers. She should have received a nomination for Best Director — there is no question about it.


Lynne Ramsay — You Were Never Really Here

There’s no doubt in my mind that Scotland’s Lynne Ramsay (Ratcatcher, We Need to Talk About Kevin) should be in the running this weekend for her mesmerising psychological thriller, You Were Never Really Here. Starring a hammer-wielding Joaquin Phoenix, as a dishevelled war veteran with severe PTSD, who carves out a cold and violent living, rescuing trafficked children from their captors, Ramsay’s film (based on the Jonathan Ames novel, with a lean and effective screenplay by Ramsay).

Read the review: Cinema: You Were Never Really Here - Joaquin Phoenix is reliably mesmeric 

You Were Never Really Here is, essentially, Joaquin Phoenix’s Taxi Driver, and — brutal and unforgiving, though it may be — was one of the best releases of 2018. Lynne Ramsay should have been nominated for Best Director. Simple as.


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