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Why This Could Be the Year That Best-Director Oscar Nominations Finally Tip Toward Women

As Hollywood reels from sexual harassment allegations, we gauge how far Academy voters will move toward women this year.

Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot on the set of “Wonder Woman”

Kevin Spacey’s Oscar chances, obliterated. Dustin Hoffman’s, gone. While we don’t yet have the hashtag, March 4, 2018 will be remembered as the year that the issue of sexual harassment took center stage at the Dolby Theatre.

If one of the historical perks of Hollywood stardom was the ability to misbehave without consequences, those days are over. Sony pulled Ridley Scott’s AFI FEST closer “All the Money in the World,” which was primed for an awards campaign around Spacey, now accused of multiple instances of sexual harassment and abuse.

Meryl Streep, best supporting actress, and Dustin Hoffman, best actor in a leadiung role, pose with the Oscars they won for their performances in the motion picture "Kramer vs. Kramer," at the 52nd annual Academy Awards show in Los Angeles, Calif., onSTREEP AND HOFFMAN WIN OSCAR, LOS ANGELES, USA

Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep at the 1980 Oscars


While Hoffman presented a Hollywood Film Award Sunday night, it’s unlikely that his crusty New York patriarch will be in the running for “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” after multiple harassment claims — in addition to Meryl Streep’s own account of how he introduced himself by grabbing her breast. (Streep will move into Oscar mode as Washington Post owner Katharine Graham in Steven Spielberg’s “The Post” — a character that existed in name only in “All the President’s Men,” which starred Hoffman as womanizer Carl Bernstein.)

And if Oscar-nominee Jeremy Renner (“The Hurt Locker,” “The Town”) once harbored awards hopes for his terrific performance in Taylor Sheridan’s “Wind River,” that film will be remembered as scandal-plagued Weinstein Co.’s last major hit, not an Oscar movie. (The $10-million film’s financiers, Acacia Entertainment and the Tunica-Biloxi tribe, are backing an Academy campaign separate from TWC.)

If there’s any silver lining to this onslaught of horror stories, it’s in the heightened awareness of women’s voices — and where they once might have been acceptable outliers, they also seem conspicuous in their absence. In the Oscars, nowhere is this more true than in the race for best director.

HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALESMandatory Credit: Photo by CANNES FILM FESTIVAL/HANDOUT/REX/Shutterstock (8825676a)Jeremy Renner and Gil BirminghamWind River - 70th Cannes Film Festival, France - 19 May 2017An undated handout film still provided by the Cannes Film Festival organization on 20 May 2017 shows US actors Jeremy Renner (L) and Gil Birmingham (R) in a scene of 'Wind River'. The movie by Taylor Sheridan is presented in the Un Certain Regard Competition at the 70th annual Cannes Film Festival running from 17 to 28 May 2017.

Jeremy Renner and Gil Birmingham in ‘Wind River”


This year’s list of women director contenders is more impressive than any in Oscar history. However, the directors’ branch has nominated women just four (!) times in 90 years — Italian director Lena Wertmuller for “Seven Beauties,” Australian Jane Campion for “The Piano,” Hollywood scion Sofia Coppola for “Lost in Translation,” and solo winner Kathryn Bigelow for “The Hurt Locker.”

As always, there’s plenty of vital men in the Best Director race. They’ll lean into the stellar achievements of Christopher Nolan (“Dunkirk”), Guillermo del Toro (“The Shape of Water”), Joe Wright (“Darkest Hour”) and, in all likelihood, Steven Spielberg and Paul Thomas Anderson’s yet-unseen movies “The Post” and “Phantom Thread,” respectively. Other strong candidates include Denis Villeneuve (“Blade Runner 2049”), Luca Guadagnino (“Call Me By Your Name”), Martin McDonagh (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”), and Jordan Peele (“Get Out”).

"The Shape of Water"

“The Shape of Water”

As Oscar campaigning reaches full throttle, the bottom line comes down to two factors: the films voters choose to see (influenced by media and word of mouth), and how they play — and that is where the here and now plays a role. Some movies may have a different resonance in this post-harassment environment. Will all-white-men movies now feel less essential than female-empowerment narratives like “Wonder Woman,” which could never have hit the zeitgeist without Patty Jenkins at the helm?

World War II dramas “Dunkirk” and “Darkest Hour” are all about white men, while “The Shape of Water,” “The Post,” “Three Billboards,” and “Phantom Thread” boast strong women leads. The Hitchcockian “Get Out” offers a darkly satiric perspective on racism, and “Call Me By Your Name” is a poignant, elegiac coming-of-age gay romance.

Women have a marginally better record in best-picture nominations, including Randa Haines’ “Children of a Lesser God” (1986), Penny Marshall’s “Awakenings” (1990), Barbra Streisand’s “The Prince of Tides” (1991), Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton’s “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006), Lone Scherfig’s “An Education” (2009), and the two strong 2010 entries, Lisa Cholodenko’s “The Kids Are All Right” and Debra Granik’s “Winter’s Bone” — none of which received directing nominations.

Here are the possibilities ranked in order of likelihood to score a Best Director Oscar nomination.

Saoirse Ronan and Greta Gerwig on “Lady Bird” set.


Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”)

Metascore: 91

This labor of love has been in the works for years; one 2013 draft was 350 pages. Gerwig waited six months for Irish actress Saoirse Ronan (“Brooklyn”) to emerge from producer Scott Rudin’s production of “The Crucible,” knowing she was the right person to play this fictional teenager who falls in love with her first boyfriend (Lucas Hedges), lusts after another (Timothee Chalamet), adores her sad-sack father (Tracy Letts), and defies her nurse mother (Laurie Metcalf) by applying to an East-Coast school that her scrimping family cannot afford.

Gerwig brings the assets of a Hollywood movie star to the Oscar campaign trail: smarts, charisma and humor combined with a rigorous work ethic and intense self-criticism. “Lady Bird” is the fall season’s breakout and will continue to resonate in the culture as not only the best mother-daughter love story since “Terms of Endearment,” but like Best Picture contender “Boyhood,” it boasts universal appeal. People can’t stop talking about it.

With A24 and Rudin behind it, the Academy’s actors, writers, and directors recognizing the level of skill involved in making this movie work so well, the movie should go far indeed.


Mary J. Blige and director Dee Rees shooting “Mudbound”

Steve Dietl / Netflix

Dee Rees (“Mudbound”)

Metascore: 81

When “Mudbound,” Dee Rees’s follow-up to “Pariah,” broke big at Sundance, this tale of two Mississippi families, one white and one black, showed serious scope and ambition. Adapted by Rees and Virgil Williams from Hillary Jordan’s 2009 novel, this movie didn’t think small. Rees and cinematographer Rachel Morrison executed sweeping, gorgeous cinema with disciplined precision.

The sprawling movie follows two sons (Garrett Hedlund and “Straight Outta Compton” star Jason Mitchell) who go to war and return home again, bonding with each other as their elders admonish them to go their separate ways. The superb ensemble is led by Jason Clarke, Carey Mulligan, Rob Morgan, and an unrecognizable Mary J. Blige, a powerful supporting actress contender. And in the end, when it looked like “Mudbound” had no theatrical buyers, the drama was the festival’s biggest sale, as Netflix paid $12.5 million for all rights.

Deep-pocketed Netflix committed to executing an Oscar campaign to seal the deal; the streaming service is set to deliver on this promise. So far so good, as the movie has played eight festivals — it opens AFI FEST this week — to compensate for its limited November 17 theatrical release. Of all the potential Oscar movies thus far, “Mudbound” will need the most astute handling to land the nominations it deserves — including Rees as the first African-American woman director.

Patty Jenkins (“Wonder Woman”)

Metascore: 76

When a movie hits the culture with the force of the “Wonder Woman” at $817 million worldwide, Oscar speculation is inevitable. But comic-book superhero epics rarely yield major Oscar nominations, no matter how much audiences and critics rave about Jenkins’ achievement.

There’s no question Academy voters will see the movie: Members were turned away at last summer’s packed Academy screening at the Goldwyn Theatre, but Warners didn’t supply anyone for a Q&A. Before it opened, the studio didn’t think it was an Oscar contender. Now Warners is sending Jenkins and Gal Gadot on the meet-and-greet circuit, from a screening and reception at the Linwood G. Dunn to Variety’s Power of Women luncheon the week after the Harvey Weinstein scandal hit, where Jenkins doggedly stuck to her prepared remarks.

Most often, superhero movies are in the running for VFX and technical nods — they even win some, especially with the original iteration, before it’s a full-fledged franchise (See: the original Dick Donner “Superman,” Tim Burton’s first “Batman,” “Dick Tracy,” “Men in Black,” and “Spider-Man 2”). Christopher Nolan has yet to land an Oscar nomination as director; “The Lego Movie” failed to land an animation nod. (Heath Ledger won a rare posthumous acting Oscar for “The Dark Knight.”) Even JK Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series landed 12 technical nominations over eight movies — but never won.

Although George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” received 10 nominations including Picture and Director, and six eventual wins, there were no acting nominations for the magnificent Charlize Theron or Tom Hardy. But their roles were virtually without dialogue. “Wonder Woman,” like James Mangold’s end-of-the-road Wolverine finale, “Logan,” gives Israeli-trained ex-soldier Gal Gadot and “Star Trek” star Chris Pine plenty to do.

That said, Best Actress is ruthlessly competitive and Gadot remains untested outside Wonder-Woman mode. Jenkins competes with Nolan and Villeneuve in the blockbuster arena. Thus, Best Picture and Adapted Screenplay nods look more likely than craft mentions. Jenkins needs support from critics and guilds and critics at year’s end in order to score any Best Director nods.

Kathryn Bigelow, Director/ProducerAnnapurna Pictures presents the World Premiere of 'Detroit', Detroit, USA - 25 Jul 2017

Kathryn Bigelow at the world premiere of “Detroit”


Kathryn Bigelow (“Detroit”)

Metascore: 78

From director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal, the Oscar-winning team behind “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” this intense recreation of the 1967 race riot in Detroit is a tough sit and demanded special handling from neophyte distributor Annapurna, which harbored high hopes for their first release. While reviews are positive, Bigelow miscalculated the level of discomfort that audiences were willing to experience. Many moviegoers felt trapped in a horror movie that wasn’t intended for chills and thrills.

John Boyega in “Detroit”


The movie opened well in 20 theaters in late July — timed to the riots’ exact date 50 years ago — but collapsed when it boldly went wide to 2,800 screens the following weekend. (It topped out at $16.8 million domestic.) “Detroit” could have used a boost from the fall film festivals if Annapurna wanted to make this work for the long awards haul. The distributor backed by billionaire Megan Ellison is rereleasing the drama (at great expense) for Oscar contention, but it’s hard to recover from such a loss. While Annapurna is willing to spend to gain traction for awards, the movie needs support from year-end critics’ groups.

British “Star Wars” breakout John Boyega pops out of the ensemble, and carries the period movie effortlessly and believably. If “Detroit” wasn’t tainted by failure, he’d have a shot in an open year for Best Actor. Whatever happens, Hollywood now knows that this guy is a movie star.

Not likely to land Best Director nominations are Angelina Jolie, whose lauded Cambodian Netflix drama “First They Killed My Father” is a frontrunner in the foreign language race; Cannes Best Director-winner Sofia Coppola, who is more likely to land an Adapted Screenplay nomination for “The Beguiled”; and Nora Twomey, whose “The Breadwinner,” executive produced by Jolie, is a strong contender for Best Animated Feature.

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