By John H. Foote
Why all the screaming that no female directors were among the nominees for Best Director at the Golden Globes this year? Frankly, their films were good, but not good enough.
When Penny Marshall was overlooked for a Best Director nomination in 1990 for her powerful medical film Awakenings, no one said a word. A formidable film, with superb performances from Robert De Niro and Robin Williams, the film was a Best Picture nominee, and Marshall clearly deserved to be there among the five nominees for Best Director. Two years later she should have been there again for the beautiful, warmly nostalgic A League of Their Own (1992) but despite excellent reviews, solid box office, even Tom Hanks, the brilliant film was snubbed entirely.
Barbra Streisand, many believe, deserved a nomination in 1991for her splendid adaptation of Pat Conroy’s great book The Prince of Tides (1991). The DGA nominated her, but the Academy, despite seven nominations including Best Film, shut her out, leading to cries that the Directors’ Branch was a boy’s club. Maybe so, but the more likely reason was ego. Streisand had bumped off more than one director on her way to the director’s chair, taking over the film, humiliating the filmmakers. Among them, Frank Pierson who she walked over on A Star is Born (1976) and sadly Martin Ritt, a fine filmmaker, on Nuts (1987) which she saw as an Oscar vehicle for herself and no one else. Add to that the attacks on casting herself as the romantic lead in The Prince of Tides, the lover, the saviour, and they simply passed her over. Fair? No of course not, a Best Picture nominee should have a Best Director nomination attached.
Sarah Polley, the gifted Canadian actress, director and screenwriter, deserved a directing nomination for her haunting love story Away from Her (2007), as Alzheimer’s becomes a terrible foe. It did not happen though the tiny actress was nominated for her screenplay adaptation. Five years later her brave, daring documentary about finding her birth father, Stories We Tell (2012), swept through awards season winning Best Documentary awards left and right. Oscar morning? Nothing. Did anyone roar with rage? I did, but I am a long way from Hollywood.
The only woman to win an Academy Award for Best Director remains Kathryn Bigelow who took home an Oscar for her simmering war drama The Hurt Locker (2009). Incredibly, three years later she surpasses that achievement with Zero Dark Thirty (2012), the electrifying film about how a CIA operative found Bin Laden putting in motion his assassination. Directed with stunning precision, she was again a DGA nominee, she won Best Director from the New York Film Critics Circle, and though the film was critically worshipped and a Best Picture nominee, she was snubbed for what was the finest direction of the year.
Just five women have earned Best Director nominations through the history of the Academy Awards. Lina Wertmuller for Seven Beauties (1976), Jane Campion for The Piano (1993), Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation (2003), Bigelow and Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird (2017).
This year there were high hopes for Kasi Lemmons for Harriet, Gerwig again for Little Women, Marielle Heller for A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, Lorene Scafaria for Hustlers and Melina Matsoukas for Queen and Slim. None were nominated for Golden Globes and, at the risk of being publicly crucified, I dare say none of them deserved to be. Remember, left out of the Best Director category was also Noah Baumbach who guided Marriage Story to its greatness and leading six nominations! Should a woman be included ahead of Baumbach, no. Should a woman be among the nominees. No, not this year, sorry. I doubt very much any woman worth her salt, or the #MeToo movement, would want a woman included just to be a token nominee. Are you listening Natalie Portman?
Remember a lot of men were excluded too.
Of the women I have mentioned I suspect Greta Gerwig came closest to a nomination for her handsome, very good film Little Women. Beautifully told, acted, directed and shot, it is the work of a true artist, but it does not break new ground, it is not a greater achievement than the five nominees. I’m sorry, the truth stings sometimes.
The Golden Globe nominees for Best Director include the likely winner Martin Scorsese (The Irishman), no arguing that right? Sam Mendes (1917), Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), Jong-ho (Parasite) and Todd Phillips (Joker). Now in a perfect world Baumbach would be there instead of Joon-ho, but it is what it is.
Look me in the eye and tell me, convince me, that any of the aforementioned ladies, talents all, should be there in place of the men! They should not, and again, a token nomination would piss them off even more. The day will come when men will struggle to be part of this category, but not yet, and certainly not this year. Women filmmakers are in the rise, their numbers are growing and their work is exceptional.
Straight up, plain and simple, the films were simply not strong enough. No nominee wants to be thought of as the token nominee. Who would? Credibility people, honesty … let’s at least have that.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.