We’d Be Fools Not to Reminisce about Oscar Night

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Jennifer Merin(WOMENSENEWS)–We’d be fools not to savor Kathryn Bigelow’s triumph on March 7 when she became the first women in Oscar’s 82-year history to win a golden statuette for Best Director.

I know that might seem like ancient history by now, given the minute-to-minute Hollywood news cycle. (Since then, of course, we’ve all had to absorb the impact of Sandra Bullock deciding to get divorced and TLC cable channel’s acquisition of the eight-part "Sarah Palin’s Alaska.")

But it’s worth backing up to before all that, because a few things about Bigelow’s big night still deserve our retrospect.

Backstage, wielding an Oscar in each hand, Bigelow spoke about breaking through one of Hollywood’s glass ceilings. "I wait for the day when the modifier can be a moot point." She was referring to the "female" modifier of course, and she’s right to say that day has yet to arrive.

From the start, Bigelow’s nomination was surrounded by disparaging gender bias. Women and men in the industry and media suggested she is "one of the guys" because she makes action thrillers rather than romcoms.

Some took shots at Bigelow for not including female soldiers in "The Hurt Locker." Why? This is a movie about a male bomb tech in an all-male bomb squad. Yes, women could function brilliantly on a bomb squad too. But "The Hurt Locker" doesn’t happen to be about a female-male dynamic. It’s about the addictive aspects of war; the danger, do-or-die commitment, adrenalin rush and interpersonal intensity.

Leading up to the awards Bigelow endured not only the media’s smarmy harping on her former marriage to James Cameron ("Avatar"), a competitor for both Best Director and Best Picture, but the condescension of Cameron himself, who predicted Bigelow’s win "because it’s a good year for a woman to win the Oscar." How insufferable.

Cameron has entertained tabloid surfers with his serial spousing. Of five wives Bigelow was the third, following Gail Anne Hurd (who produced Cameron’s "The Terminator" in 1984, "Alien" in 1986 and "The Abyss" in 1989); and preceding Linda Hamilton (star of Cameron’s "Terminator" and 1992 "Terminator 2.") Somehow, little has been said about the roles women have played in Cameron’s eye-catching success.

Blip or Break Point?

Oscar night 2010 leaves us wondering if Bigelow’s Oscar nod is a blip, or a break for women in the movie industry.

Certainly, plenty of moviegoers should be watching for that answer, since so many who pay the price of admission are women.

Women buy a higher percentage of movie tickets–55 percent, or 778 million tickets– than our 51 percent portion of the population, according to the Motion Picture Association of America’s latest report.

San Diego State’s Martha Lauzen, dean of the women-in-Hollywood stats-o-sphere, releases annual updates on Tinseltown employment that show scant gains for women working behind the scenes. In 2008, women were 9 percent of directors, 12 percent of writers and 16 percent of executive producers. Only six of the top 50 grossing films starred women or were focused on female characters.

If such numbers sound tired, that’s because they are. They’ve held steady for about a decade.

Five Directed by Women in April

Kathryn Bigelow wins the Oscar for best director.The lineup of new releases in April offer little in the way of refreshment. Just five films this month are helmed by women, and three of those were made abroad.

"After.Life," a horror thriller directed and co-written by Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo, stars Christina Ricci as a woman who awakens after a disastrous car accident to find her body being prepared by an undertaker (Liam Neeson) for her funeral — despite her conviction that she’s not dead. This beautifully shot film is a treat for viewers who have a taste for shock.

In "Please Give," writer-director Nicole Holofcener delivers a quirky female-centric comedy. Set in N.Y.C., the film stars Catherine Keener as a gal juggling career, marriage and parenting, while coping with a cantankerous old woman who happens to be her tenant and who has two assertively protective granddaughters. Opening in theaters on April 30, "Please Give" provides an enjoyable reflection and gets my recommendation for box office support.

From Germany, "Everyone Else," directed by Maren Ade, opens April 9. The film, which won several prizes at the 2009 Berlin Film Festival, is about a young couple whose relationship is challenged by a collision with old friends while they’re all on a Mediterranean vacation. The film is a tightly-wound and tension-filled drama that will keep you spellbound. It’s a great escape.

"Hey Hey It’s Esther Blueburger," Cathy Randall’s first feature, is an Australian coming-of-age comedy opening April 29. It’s a story most of us can identify with. A girl (Danielle Catanzariti, a newcomer with Anne Hathaway’s appeal) is trying to fit in at a staid private school and meet the expectations of her perfectionist mother. Luckily, she finds support from a new friend (played by Keisha Castle-Hughes) whose unconventional single mom (played by Toni Collette) encourages her to be who she really is by playing at being someone else. This film is a real charmer with a hilariously quirky plot and fine performances.

‘Let It Rain’ Comes Through

From France, Agnes Jaoui co-writes, directs and stars in "Let It Rain," a comedy about a feminist politico who returns to her family roost in the South of France to help her sister untangle their deceased mother’s affairs and assess her chances of a successful campaign. While there, she agrees to be the subject of a documentary to be made by her married sister’s paramour and the son of the family’s Algerian maid. Opening in limited release on April 29. Jaoui is among France’s galaxy of superb female directors. Her films are always thoroughly engaging; "Let it Rain" does not disappoint.

Michel Gondry’s "The Thorn in the Heart" opens April 2. It’s a documentary about the filmmaker’s elderly aunt, a retired school teacher who recounts her life in a rural French town and reveals family secrets in a most disarming way. Gondry’s obvious fondness for his aunt gives the film alluring intimacy.

"Mary, Mother of Christ," co-written by Barbara Nicolosi, is about . . . well, how do we avoid redundancy here? Ah, yes: Joseph’s wife! The film is straight out devout in its approach to Mary. Opens April 2.

"The Backup Plan" opens April 23. It’s the new Jennifer Lopez movie. She plays an unmarried woman who meets the man of her dreams on the very day she’s successfully been artificially inseminated for twins. Aside from Kate Angelo’s slightly risque script premise, the film’s a rather predictable romcom. But, if you’re a big Jlo fan, this one’s for you.

In addition to covering film for Women’s eNews, Jennifer Merin writes about documentaries for About.com (http://documentaries.About.com) and is president of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists (www.AWFJ.org), a nonprofit organization of the leading women film journalists in the U.S. and Canada.

For more information:

Alliance of Women Film Journalists:
http://www.awfj.org

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