The Big O: The Oscar Season Kicks Off

The Big O: The Oscar Season Kicks Off

Welcome to the inaugural edition of The Big O,
Women & Hollywood’s new Oscar column
. Not that there is any lack of web
outlets that engage in prognostication and updates on the status of films
considered in the running for honors.

But this is an attempt to view what unfolds
during the awards season from a more thoughtful female perspective.

For anyone who hasn’t noticed, the Oscar race is
definitely on, as studios wave their potential contenders at summer’s-end film
festivals in Venice, Telluride and Toronto like so many checkered flags.

Lists of best-picture possibilities are up and
about on online sites such as Gold Derby, Movie City News and Awards Daily,
ranging from the 3-D outer-space thriller Gravity starring Sandra Bullock
and George Clooney –  which earned a booster-rocket
of raves in Venice last week — to August: Osage County, a dark comedy about a
family funeral with a cast to die for (among the players, Meryl Streep,
Sam Shepard, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Abigail Breslin and Chris Cooper),
which is gracing Toronto with its world premiere.

Aside the fact that the majority of
short-listed titles including The Wolf of Wall Street, 12 Years a Slave (which
also wowed Venice), American Hustle and Captain Phillips are reality-based – no
surprise, considering Lincoln and Argo came on strong in last year’s contest
while six out of the last 10 best actor winners starred in biopics – it
also is worth noting the total lack of female directing talent considered in
serious contention.

Is this a shock? Not in the least. Not when
Kathryn Bigelow, the only woman to ever win a directing Oscar, was snubbed
during the nomination phase a year ago  despite critical acclaim, solid box office, and the
masterful storytelling on display in last year’s gripping Zero Dark
Thirty
.  

But possible sexism is not the only problem.
While there have been well-received female-led documentaries such as Blackfish
this year, 2013 has yet to produce a truly awards-worthy feature by a
woman.  As I prepare for my 14th trek to the Toronto International Film
Festival, which starts its 11-day run on Thursday, the only festival
entry among the nearly 300 features that is helmed by a
non-male that I consider a must-see is Enough Said by the well-regarded
Nicole Holofcener (Friends With Money, Please Give).

However, the main appeal lies in the fact
that her film is one of the last to showcase the late, great
James Gandolfini  — with the added bonus of seeing mobster supreme Tony Soprano switch gears as a cuddly lug in a romantic
comedy.  

One could take solace in that, given what appears
to be a renaissance in films showcasing African-American performers and themes
of late, there could potentially be three black directors up for Academy Award
consideration: Ryan Coogler for Fruitvale Station, Lee Daniels for The
Butler
and Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave. All diversity, after all, is
good diversity.

But where is the beating female heart of the
awards season right now? In the acting categories, where it usually is, save
for perhaps the screenplay and costume nominees. In a summer swamped by
male-dominated blockbusters, at least three actresses gave Oscar caliber
performances in more serious-minded fare: Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine,
Octavia Spencer in Fruitvale Station and Oprah Winfrey in The Butler. And do
not discount indie darling Brie Larson in the just-opened Short Term 12, who
could be the next Jennifer Lawrence if the old one ever shows signs of running
out of steam.

Among the movies yet to come, those who dream of
witnessing some of the most illustrious actresses of our time, all of whom
already have at least one Academy Award at home, engage in a bloody
thesp-palooza, prepare for your wish to come true.

Besides Blanchett, the frontrunners in the lead
category are Bullock in Gravity, Kate Winslet in Labor Day, Judi Dench in
Philomena, Nicole  Kidman in Grace of Monaco and Emma Thompson in Saving
Mr. Banks
.  Another possibility, depending on whether or not Streep is
designated as a supporting player, is a faceoff between her and her Osage
County
co-star Julia Roberts.

Of course, the academy loves their
youthful Rooney Mara-Quvenzhane Wallis upstarts as well, so keep an eye
out for Adele Exarchopoulos from the sexy Cannes sensation Blue is the
Warmest Color
and Sophie Nelisse in the Holocaust drama The Book
Thief

Speaking of Lawrence, last year’s best actress
could be competing in the supporting category thanks to her showy role in
American Hustle. Those who might make the cut include four black actresses.
Besides that other big O – Oprah – as well as Spencer, there is Naomie Harris
in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom and Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a
Slave
.  And if Streep is upgraded to lead, there are other Osage County
residents who could easily take her place, including Margo Martindale and
Juliette Lewis.

Of course, seeing is believing. By the time the
final credits roll in Toronto and the critics have their say, the Oscar picture
should clearer – or, at least, somewhat less muddy.

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