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The Big O: In Directing, a Sin of Omission – But At Least ‘Selma’ Makes the Final 8

The Big O: In Directing, a Sin of Omission - But At Least 'Selma' Makes the Final 8

We had a dream last fall: that two female directors, Ava DuVernay for Selma and Angelina Jolie for Unbroken, would compete in the Best Director category at the 87th Academy Awards.

Considering that only four other women have ever competed in that category, and that only one — Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker — has won, it would have been a triumph for gender diversity, both in the film industry and in life.

With less-than-stellar reviews, Jolie can at least pride herself for having the top-grossing 2014 film directed by a woman, to the tune of  $103 million so far in less than three weeks

But even more meaningful history would have been made if DuVernay, whose film chronicles Martin Luther King Jr.’s fight to uphold black voting rights in the 1960s, had became the first black female director to be so recognized.

But this morning, on the day that just happens to be King’s birthday, those hopes were dashed. Not that it was exactly a shock. Earlier this week, the Directors Guild of America chose to skip over DuVernay among the expected contenders and picked Clint Eastwood for American Sniper instead.

This time, Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher took the fifth spot. Adding to the disappointment: Actor David Oweyolo was also snubbed for his much-praised portrait of King.

Still, we applaud the Academy for at least honoring Selma in the Best Picture race, making it the first film by a black female director to ever break into the Oscars’ top category. And, with only eight out of a potential ten titles up for the prize this year, her achievement is even a bigger reason to celebrate.

Selma is also the 12th time that a movie directed or co-directed by a woman has been a Best Picture nominee, the first being Randa Haines’ Children of a Lesser God (1986) and the most recent entry being Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty (2012).

As for the plots of the eight nominees, it’s pretty much a man’s world, with each and every one focusing primarily on male characters. Even Gone Girl was shut out, although its star, Britain’s Rosamund Pike, was rewarded with her first-ever Best Actress nod.

DuVernay was not alone in being passed over. Other expected female nominees who were left out of the race include Gillian Flynn (adapted screenplay, Gone Girl), Jennifer Aniston (lead actress for Cake), Jessica Chastain (supporting actress for A Most Violent Year), Lana Del Rey’s title song from Big Eyes, and singer Lorde’s “Yellow Flicker Beat” from The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1.

As always, there are also some surprises to cheer about — along with other justly deserved recognition for women:

–Marion Cotillard, the French actress who broke out after winning an Oscar for her portrayal of Edith Piaf in 2007’s La Vie en Rose, was recognized for another foreign-language film, the Belgium drama Two Days, One Night. Only four other performers have received multiple acting nominations in a non-English movie: Marcello Mastroianni did it three times, while Sophia Loren, Liv Ullmann, and Isabelle Adjani each collected two.

–Colleen Atwood, costume designer for Into the Woods, now has collected the most nominations in the category by a living person with 11. The late Edith Head’s record still stands with 35.

–Laura Dern fans can be happy over the fact that she made the cut in the supporting-actress list. Her terrific performance as Reese Witherspoon’s mom in Wild, which supplied much of the heart and soul of the true-life redemption tale, was mostly ignored by other awards groups. Her only previous nomination was for her long-ago lead role in 1991’s Rambling Rose.

–As expected, women directors showed up in the documentary-feature category. Laura Poitras’ Citizenfour, the much buzzed-about portrait of CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden, made the cut, as did Rory Kennedy’s The Last Days of Vietnam. Also noteworthy is the inclusion of Finding Vivian Maier, about a nanny’s secret life as a gifted street photographer.

–The appearance of Poland’s Ida among the foreign-language film nominees, which boasts two of the strongest performances by actresses in a 2014 release, offers some consolation for the lack of women’s stories in the best pic roster. Also a plus is that a woman, Rebecca Lenkiewicz, co-wrote the script with director Pawel Pawlikowski.

The Lego Movie, No. 4 among 2014’s top-grossers with $258 million domestic, was omitted from the animated-feature category. Taking its place was the unexpected addition of Song of the Sea, a multi-national fantasy from the makers of 2009 nominee The Secret of Kells, that includes a young girl character who can transform into a seal. Even more strongly girl-centric is The Tale of the Princess Kaguya from Japan. Considering that The Lego Movie only had one main female character, Elizabeth Banks’ Wyldstyle, justice has somewhat been served. (The filmmakers have promised to add more non-male characters in the sequel, however.) 

–Then there is the sprinkling of female names sharing producing credit behind five of the Best Picture candidates. They include Cathleen Sutherland for Boyhood, Nora Grossman for The Imitation Game, Oprah Winfrey and Dede Gardner for Selma, Lisa Bruce for The Theory of Everything, and Helen Estabrook for Whiplash.

–Of course, no Oscar race is truly complete without a nomination for Meryl Streep, who extends her record as the actor with the most Oscar nominations ever with No. 19 for her role as the Witch in Into the Woods.

This year’s ceremony takes place Feb. 22. Until then, go Selma!

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