The Reel Breakdown

The Academy seems to think women can’t direct traffic, much less ‘Traffic’

The Reel Breakdown

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Angelina Jolie directing 'The Land of Blood and Honey' (Photo by FilmDistrict)

We're mad as hell and, OK, we're going to take it again. It's been two years since Kathryn Bigelow's historic first-woman-ever best director win. Sure, she deserved it. And so did "The Hurt Locker," even if it was a complete dude-fest. Don't shoot the messenger (although the characters in that movie might have). This year, there may be more women directing, writing, and producing movies than ever before, but they're not breathing down the necks of the men at the forefront of the Oscar race.

In a Deadline Hollywood state-of-the-director-race piece this week, Pete Hammond called it "The Year of the Master." The field "is chock-full of major names and past winners who are back with some of their most acclaimed and anticipated films in years," he wrote. He went on to drop some meganames: Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Roman Polanski, Clint Eastwood, as well as Alexander Payne, Terrence Malick, Stephen Daldry, Bennett Miller, David Fincher, Jason Reitman, George Clooney, and Michel Hazanavicius. It's raining men, but no "hallelujah." He did mention a few women, but they were metaphorically placed at the back of the bus.

It was the Hollywood Reporter— estrogen edited by Janice Min and published by Lynne Segall — that ran a clubby taped roundtable among "six auteurs" that could have been held in a men's locker room. It's enough to make you want to worship at the tomb of Leni Riefenstahl! "I am spitting angry right now," said feisty Women and Hollywood founder Melissa Silverstein in an informal chat, "I want to organize a march and teach-in at the Hollywood Reporter because they are so beyond sexist and have a female editor and publisher."

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"So it's all about the usual song and dance for Oscar: men, men, men, men, men," said Awards Daily's Sasha Stone. Stone was particularly peeved at the recent Independent Spirit Awards for disqualifying Lynne Ramsay's "We Need to Talk About Kevin" because it was considered "international," but then embracing "The Artist," which is largely French. "Shutting out Ellen Barkin and Glenn Close bothered me so much I may never take the Spirits seriously again," she said.

So what female directors are viable contenders? Take Ramsay. Sure, "Kevin" isn't everybody's cup of Drano. But this raw, gripping parenting horror film casts Oscar-winner Tilda Swinton as a hip adventurous mother whose life spirals once she has a son with a photographer played by John C. Reilly. Is it just that Kevin (Ezra Miller as a teen) is evil, or is it the mother's inability to bond that twists him? The movie's intense emotions are rooted in mundane domestic strife, with an interesting female character shouldering the narrative. In some ways its gut-wrenching take on modern life can be compared to Steve McQueen's much touted "Shame," but there's no full-frontal nudity, no nude Carey Mulligan in the shower, no Michael Fassbender menage a trois to mitigate the subject's bleakness.

Oscar odds for Ramsay? Very long.

The next most likely name on the women directors list is "The Iron Lady" helmer Phyllida Lloyd. Her critically derided "Mamma Mia!" also starring Meryl Streep is the biggest cash cow of the Oscar-winner's career with $610 million in ticket sales worldwide. The reason for the early dismissal of the Margaret Thatcher biopic in the vein of "The Queen"? While Streep is a major best-actress contender in the title role, the movie doesn't live up to the performance. Poppycock! I've seen it. It's every bit as good as Tom Hooper's "The King's Speech," although it seems that its biggest crime is making the Tory prime minister sympathetic.

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An Oscar nomination for Lloyd? It'll never happen!

A smattering of others remains, like the controversially whimsical Miranda July. I love her off-kilter romance, "The Future," but can still respect Awards Daily's Stone, who wrote: "Even though I'd rather have my head shaved than have to watch that Miranda July movie again, I do think she was unfairly shut out just for being annoying. It is a good effort." Angelina Jolie's "In the Land of Blood and Money" is a tough, muscular first feature about women as the spoils of war. Vera Farmiga's debut "Higher Ground" is also serious filmmaking. And then there's Agnieszka Holland's "In Darkness," and, though not really the stuff of Oscar, Jennifer Yuh Nelson of "Kung Fu Panda 2," which grossed an astounding $663 million worldwide.

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"The thing is," said Movie City News features editor and film critic Kim Voynar, "that this isn't to b**ch about films made by men, because a lot of them are actually worth talking about, right? The issue is that women's films get so ignored, overall."

So, let's take a cue from "The Iron Lady": Thatcher didn't want to stand by and wash teacups for men. It wasn't that the Oxford grad was defending all women or dissing the opposite sex. She was a self-confident, intelligent problem solver. She knew she could do the job better -- "Git-R-Done" -- and off she went in pearls, sensible heels, and iron glove. Let that be an inspiration to us all.

See the trailer to 'The Iron Lady':

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