Oscar Blues 2012

(Note: This is a special guest column by our resident film critic, Jan Lisa Huttner, who also blogs as The Hot Pink Pen. )

Well, the 2012 Oscar nominations have been announced, and once again, women have been overlooked.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences started with a list of more than 600 films released in the US in 2011, including many excellent films written and/or directed by women, but in the end, all 9 films nominated in the Best Picture Category were screenplays written and directed by men.

Most of those films are also about men with predominantly male casts. In most cases, the women on screen (if any) are relegated to supporting roles (most of which are minor roles, peripheral to the film’s main action). Although two of the nine films were based on novels written by women (Kathryn Stockett’s The Help and Kaui Hart Hemmings’ The Descendants), their stories were shaped for film audiences by male screenwriters and directors.

Once again, there are no female candidates in the Best Director category. In the Best Adapted Screenplay category, we have a woman, Bridget O’Connor, nominated as co-writer of a screenplay (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) in which there are no lead actresses.

And in the Best Original Screenplay category, we have Bridesmaids, a film written by two women (Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig). It has plot holes you could drive a truck through, but the male critics loved it. Why?  Well, this isn’t the time to rant on about this, but according to a New York Times article, several scenes that the male critics liked best were, in fact, added by the film’s male producer (Judd Apatow) and male director (Paul Feig).

So why is Oscar “blue” once again? I have created my Blue Oscar Graphic to show how films must pass through a series of male filters to get an Oscar nomination (i.e. male critics and male-dominated critics’ circles). Since male critics often dismiss or trivialize films that feature complex women characters or themes that are more interesting to women, most films written and directed by women don’t get the strong reviews they need to launch an Oscar bid.

I know most people don’t think about the films that are not being nominated, but believe me, there are lots of terrific films by women that are being overlooked. You can see reviews of 50 of them in my new book, Penny’s Picks: 50 Movies by Women Filmmakers 2002-2011.

To me the most egregious omission is We Need to Talk about Kevin, which I think is the Best Film of 2011. So I was astonished (& heart broken) when Tilda Swinton wasn’t even nominated in the Best Actress category. But am I really surprised? Sadly no. When The New Yorker relegates responsibility for their Kevin review to their second stringer & he writes this: “The real story is the unexplained absence of family therapy,” then I’m already prepared for the worst.

I’ve discussed Kevin with some of my Chicago Film Critic Association colleagues, and sure enough, even the best of them fail to see that Kevin is an epistemological drama, not a psychological drama. You can read more of my thoughts about Kevin on my Hot Pink Pen Blog, and a full review for WomenArts is coming soon.

Meanwhile, let the Oscar handicapping begin . . .

© Jan Lisa Huttner (1/24/12)— Reprinted with Permission

Additional Resources:

Thumbs Down: The Representation of Women Film Critics in The Top 100 U.S. Daily Newspapers

Professor Martha Lauzen’s 2008 study of film critics for the San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Film and Television confirmed that men write the overwhelming majority of film reviews in the nation’s top newspapers. She summarized her report as follows:

“Men dominate the reviewing process of films primarily made by men featuring mostly males intended for a largely male audience. The under-employment of women film reviewers, actors, and filmmakers perpetuates the nearly seamless dialogue among men in U.S. cinema.”

Oscar Impact Chart

Jan Lisa Huttner has compiled an Oscar Impact Chart which shows how films written and/or directed by women over the past 12 years impact nominations in the top eight Oscar categories. You can see a pdf version of her chart here: 2012 OscarChart.

To see the effect in one specific and high-profile case, see the chart showing Meryl Streep’s first sixteen Oscar nominations. Streep was the only one nominated in any category on five of the six films she has done that were written or directed by women. Based on this pattern, Jan predicted that Meryl Streep would be the only one nominated from Phyllida Lloyd’s The Iron Lady, and, as we now know, that’s precisely what happened.