Which do you want first? The Oscars are always most revealing as a barometer of Hollywood’s status quo, and as such, there is generally plenty to bemoan as well as cheer when it comes to women’s place in the race. Here follows the best and the worst of what we learned from yesterday’s frequently surprising nominations.
THE BIG HITTERS
THE BAD NEWS: No women nominated for Best Director
Kathryn Bigelow’s snub was the headline-grabbing shock of the day, with the director having seized the early momentum with the New York Film Critics and the National Board of Review. But let’s forget about that, and realise that Bigelow’s participation in the race was obscuring the fact that there were no other viable female contenders for Best Director. As it is, the number of women ever nominated remains at a miserable four. True, Brenda Chapman gets her foot in the door in Best Animated Film – and she could become the first woman to win in that category. But that nomination has an ignominious tale all of its own.
THE GOOD NEWS: Seven women nominated for Best Picture
Among the twenty four producers listed for Best Picture are Kathleen Kennedy for “Lincoln”, Kathryn Bigelow and Megan Ellison for “Zero Dark Thirty”, Debra Heywood for “Les Miserables”, Donna Gigliotti for “Silver Linings Playbook”, and Pilar Savone and Stacey Sher for “Django Unchained”. Comprising 30% of the total nominees, the rate of female representation is even better than in Hair and Make Up.
THE ACTING CATEGORIES
THE BAD NEWS: Best Supporting Actress features two wives, a mother and two whores
OK, I’m being facetious, but with Sally Field and Amy Adams in the classic Best Supporting Wife role, Jacki Weaver receiving her second mother nod in three years, Helen Hunt as a sex surrogate and Anne Hathaway as a prostitute, we see the trifecta of archetypal roles available to Hollywood actresses out in full force. That the women in question transcend the limits of their roles is a testament to their performances. But put it this way – their characters aren’t exactly having as much fun as their counterparts in Supporting Actor.
THE GOOD NEWS: Best Actress is a little more interesting
The gender politics surrounding Quvenzhane Wallis’ role in “Beasts of the Southern Wild” are not necessarily heartening, but the sheer youth of her character makes it a refreshing enough addition to this category. At the other end of the spectrum, “Amour”‘s Emmanuelle Riva affords an unflinching look at a stage of life we prefer to keep well hidden. But it is Jessica Chastain’s CIA agent in “Zero Dark Thirty” who really enlivens the field – a complicated, driven, flawed workplace maverick. And let’s not forget my favourite female character of the year, over in Animated Film – the firecracker Merida in “Brave”.
THE OTHER CATEGORIES
THE BAD NEWS: No female nominees for Cinematography, Original Screenplay, Editing or Original Score.
This was not even a surprise, which is depressing in itself. It bears repeating – there has never been a female nominee for Best Cinematography, let alone a winner. Shut outs in editing, original screenplay and score were equally anticipated – a perennial reminder of how frequently the top jobs on Hollywood’s prestige projects end up going to men.
THE GOOD NEWS: Some bright spots in Adapted Screenplay, Costume Design and Original Song
Lucy Alibar was the woman behind the original play that ultimately inspired “Beasts of the Southern Wild” to a surprise four nominations. Adele, nominated for her title song from “Skyfall”, is guaranteed to bring some class to proceedings on awards night. But no nomination is more pleasing than that for the late Eiko Ishioka in Costume Design (among several other female nominees). A true creative iconoclast, the Academy may fail to ultimately recognise her achievements in the much derided “Mirror Mirror”, but her nomination is heartening nonetheless.
THE BAD NEWS: Seth Macfarlane is going to bring the spirit of “Ted” to the Oscars stage
The awards announcement afforded us a glimpse of our host-to-be in action, and while 5.30am was hardly the time for “Ted”-like levels of offence, a mean-spirited dig at the Adapted Screenplay nominees suggested that the creator of the year’s most lazily misogynist blockbuster plans to live up to his reputation on Oscar night. If Helen Hunt and her vagina avoid a front-row grilling from an animatronic bear, they can consider themselves lucky.
THE GOOD NEWS: There’s always the Golden Globes
Anyone feeling unenthused about the Oscars after digesting the above could do worse than recall that the Golden Globes feature Tina Fey and Amy Poehler as hosts, Nicole Kidman and Lena Dunham as double nominees and Meryl Streep smiling her way through her 27th nomination and 19th gracious loss when Jennifer Lawrence bows down during her victory speech. What’s not to love? You don’t even have to endure a month of protracted build-up — the awards are this Sunday.
Matthew Hammett Knott is a London-based filmmaker and writer. Follow him on Twitter.