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The Oscar nominations come out in one week, so I think it’s time to start my Oscar blogging. I’ve been slowly trying to see all the movies that critics speculate will be nominated for major awards (Best Picture, Best Actor/Actress, Best Screenplay, Best Director), and I think I’ve done a fairly good job. Here’s my confession: I really did not like Avatar.  Yes, it was visually stunning. Yes, it represented great strides in film technology. But was it a good film? No.  The script was pathetic. Every character felt that they needed to tell the audience exactly what they were thinking and doing, even when it was obvious.  The (extremely thin) plot was cliché and tried to incorporate so much symbolism and represent so many different political causes, that it ended up seeming confused and meaningless.  I understand why people would enjoy this film for it’s entertainment value – just as people enjoyed films like Iron Man or Transformers (did anyone actually enjoy Transformers?), but to throw awards at Avatar just because it looks cool seems completely misguided.  Give it all the technical awards that you want, but I don’t think that this film even deserves to be in the Best Picture category alongside movies like Crazy Heart, The Hurt Locker, and Precious. (I’m going to hold off on commenting on Precious, but definitely check out these critiques, both positive and negative). And if we’re going to start recognizing more action/fantasy films, why isn’t District 9 getting more buzz, which in my opinion is way more interesting and original than Avatar.

I saw The Hurt Locker over the weekend. I was blown away by this film. This was the first film about Iraq, where I really felt like I was getting an inside look at what it is like to actually be there. The script was not ridden with cheesy plot devices and unnecessary love stories (a  la Stop-Loss or The Lucky Ones).  This movie was both terrifying and poignant, and by the end of the film I felt like I really knew the characters. The suspense and fear was palpable in every scene where the soldiers had to de-activate a bomb.  And, of course, I cannot discuss this film without mentioning that it was directed by a woman, Kathryn Bigelow, who happens to be James Cameron’s ex-wife. As Manohla Dargis (NY Times film critic) stated in an interview, this film is so amazing because it shows that women can direct good action films and receive both critical and popular acclaim.  If Bigelow wins the award for Best Director (and I am definitely rooting for her), she would be the FIRST woman to win this award, and I think it would teach Hollywood a lesson about hiring women to direct films other than romantic comedies. But honestly, I think she deserves this award regardless of the fact that she is a woman. This film was brilliantly directed and truly brought the audience into the nitty-gritty aspects of the war. I think she Bigelow deserves all the accolades out there.

I think this has been a pretty disappointing film season. There really haven’t been many films that I have walked out of the theater feeling truly impressed.  Crazy Heart, however, truly impressed me. This is a beautiful film that tells a very simple story but with incredible taste and emotion. Jeff Bridges, as an aging country music star, gives an amazingly nuanced performance, and Maggie Gyllenhaal as the woman he falls in love with, is also outstanding.  This film has everything – the love story is completely unexpected, the performances are memorable, and the original music is fantastic.  I loved this movie because it did not have to resort to any of the usual tricks. It works because it is so simple, and it is not trying to be some incredibly intellectual film. I don’t see why this type of filmmaking should not be recognized, especially when it is combined with an original script and an original score – this is not just another by-the-book musical biopic.  Unfortunately Crazy Heart will not win Best Picture (it’s just not crowd pleasing enough, and (gasp!) there are no special effects!), and it may not even be nominated. I do hope that Jeff Bridges wins Best Actor though, so that this film gets a fraction of the recognition it deserves.

I know that the Academy Awards are, in the end, a popularity contest and rife with Hollywood politics, but I do think that these awards mean something not only to the public, who may see a movie because it won an award, but also to producers and studio execs who are choosing which types of movies to make and who should make them. I hope the Academy gets it right this year – I’ll be watching.

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I have been so bad about blogging lately, which is in part due to the fact that I have a big paper due soon, and I’ve been desperately trying not to procrastinate. The procrastination has won over, however, especially after I saw this article.  Written by Manohla Dargis, one of the NY Times film critics (and, I admit, my least favorite NY Times critic), this article discusses the lack of opportunities for female directors in Hollywood.  She cites to some pretty depressing statistics, not the least of which is that in the 81 years of the Academy Awards, only 3 women have been nominated for best director. (!!) None of them won. Organizations like The Women’s Media Center and the blog Women and Hollywood are vigilant about tracking these statistics.

It’s hard to know why women have fared so badly in Hollywood in the last few decades, though any business that refers to its creations as product cannot, by definition, have much imagination. The vogue for comics and superheroes has generally forced women to sigh and squeal on the sidelines. Even the so-called independent sector, with its ostensibly different players and values, hasn’t been much better, as we know from all the female directors who have made a splash at the Sundance Film Festival only to disappear. New digital technologies and the Internet have leveled the field — though usually it seems as if it’s sheer grit that pushes filmmakers like Kelly Reichardt (“Wendy and Lucy”) along the hard road from idea to distribution.

I recently wrote a law review article that discusses the idea of digital technology and its democratizing potential. (Soon to be published…) I think there’s a lot to be said for the fact that more women are starting to use new (cheaper) digital technologies to create their own films without the backing of a studio. These films always tend to be more interesting anyway. But, I think it’s insane that the studios haven’t caught on to the fact that women go see movies. And, many women are interested in more than cheesy romantic comedies. I enjoy rom-coms as much as the next girl, but I personally feel so refreshed when I go see a movie like Whip It! or Bright Star. Not to mention that it would be nice for younger girls to see role models on the screen, rather than just Bella and her dysfunctional relationship with Edward. (Sorry, at this point I feel like a Twilight reference is obligatory).  I could go on and on about the blatant discrimination that happens in Hollywood, but I’ll spare you.

What I would like to say, however, is that this year there has been a whole slew of films that are directed by women and are starring women. And, many of these movies are not your typical rom-coms (see Bright Star, Coco Avant Chanel, An Education, The Hurt Locker, Julie & Julia). Many of these movies and directors are getting Oscar buzz, but predictably, male-driven films like Up in the Air and Avatar threaten to pull ahead and woo the Academy with quirky style or crazy special effects (respectively).  Bright Star, Coco Avant Chanel, and Julie & Julia, I think, are the best three movies that I have seen all year. I am not advocating for the Academy to give the best director award to a woman, just because she’s a woman, but I think they should at least take it into account. And, this year seems to be the perfect year to do it. I also hope that the studios will get their heads out of the ground (to be kind) and look at how many both financially and critically successful films came out this year that were led by women. Next year, I hope to see even more…

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I saw “New Moon” last night, and I was surprised to discover that the movie was even worse than my expectations.  Bella seems to have no convictions and just falls for the guy who pays her the most attention. Meanwhile Edward seems to be using her for his own edification.  Sure, the movie centers around a female protagonist, but she is far from a good role model for teenage girls. Kate Harding at Salon explains why much better than I can, so I’ll leave you with a few quotes:

The marketing campaign for the movie pits “Team Edward” (the vampire) against “Team Jacob” (the werewolf), but as Carmen D. Siering wrote in Ms., “few young readers ask, ‘Why not Team Bella?'” That’s because the whole point of Bella’s existence is earning the suffocating love of supernatural hotties; even if you think her obsessive devotion to Edward might waver in the face of were-love, you know you’re never going to see her throw them both over to stand on her own two feet. (In fact, given that her only noteworthy quirk is clumsiness, she can’t even be trusted to do that literally without male supervision.)

 I can appreciate the desire for an alternative to vicious social power games. But then, that reminds me of another favorite from twenty years ago, “Heathers,” which skewered mean girl culture (and certainly hit on the extremes of adolescent emotion) with brains, black humor, and a heroine who’s not sorry to see her manipulative, homicidal boyfriend blow up at the end. Maybe after worried parents have finished going through Simmons’ suggestions for discussing “Twilight,” they should try arranging a screening of that. The female protagonist swears, drinks, has sex and kills people, sure, but I’d still pick her as a better role model for teenaged girls than Bella Swan any day.

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I recently saw the movie “Precious,” and I am currently reading (almost finished!) “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” by Steig Larsson. You might be asking, how can there possibly be a connection between the two? “Precious” is about a pregant Harlem teenager who experiences severe abuse and who eventually finds a place for herself in a supportive educational environment. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is a Swedish murder mystery involving rape and domestic abuse (I can’t really say more, or I’ll ruin the mystery). The similarity between the two is that both of the works were created by men. (Although the book Push, on which Precious was based, is written by a woman, the director of the film is a man). Both works are also trying to provide some sort of critique/insight into the violence and sexual assault that many women have to deal with on a regular basis.  Although I appreciate the work that both of these works are doing to educate people about domestic violence and sexual assault, I wonder about the ways in which male critiques of this nature differ from female critiques.

In both “Precious” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” the scenes of violence and sexual abuse hit the viewer/reader hard over the head. The descriptions and images are shocking, raw, and exceptionally brutal. Of course, this type of violence is shocking, raw, and exceptionally brutal. But, I wonder if sometimes directors and authors purposely play up the violence and play-down the emotional effects of the abuse in order to get more viewers or readers. I wonder if this focus on the physical, visceral violence is more of a male trait, whereas sometimes I feel that in works created by female authors more time is given to the victim’s emotions and psychological responses. Unfortunately, in both “Precious” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” I feel like I ended up paying more attention to the abuser rather than the abusee. This troubles me, because I don’t think it does much to actually empower the exact women the creators are trying to call attention to. Instead, in some ways I feel like both Precious and the female characters in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” seem even more like victims, and less like the strong, brave women they really are.

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Out of sheer curiosity, I watched “Twilight” this weekend. Although I do have a special place in my heart for young adult fiction, and I am truly obsessed with the Harry Potter series, I have not read any of the “Twilight” novels. I’ve never understood the allure of vampires, and watching the movie just confused me even more. I just don’t see why women and girls are so much more obsessed with Twlight than they are with your typical rom-com or tragic love-story.

It was incredibly hard for me to watch the movie without thinking about all the hidden messages about gender-roles and abstinence. The whole plot revolves around the fact that Edward (the sexy vampire played by Robert Pattinson) has to show self-restraint and not bite Bella (the angsty, beautiful human teenage girl), even though she desperately wants him to bite her so that she can be a vampire and be with him forever. All the dialogue is about self-control and how Edward does not want Bella to lose something so important (her life). To me, it is just so obvious that this is a metaphor for sex, and Edward’s self-restraint is what makes him so admirable. Honestly, I preferred the days of “Interview with the Vampire” where vampires weren’t showing any particular self-restraint (and Brad Pitt is much sexier than Robert Pattinson).

It’s not hard for me to accept the teenage-girl obsession with Twilight – after all, aren’t these obsessions a teenage rite-of-passage? What’s hard for me to understand is Twi-moms – women in their 30s and older who are obssessed with Twilight. This article suggests that Twilight is a form of nostalgia – a way for these women to re-live their innocent youths. All of this just continues to suggest that there is something wrong with sex, something wrong with growing older and losing some of that virginal, teenage innocence.  The article also points out that the Twilight novels are perhaps the first novels that many women have read from cover-to-cover in years. I’m all for reading, but this fact makes me very sad. Why does it take mediocre literature (Twilight, The DaVinci Code) to get people to sit down and read?

Finally, I think the Twilight phenomenon just further illustrates the dearth of intelligent films that are geared toward women. While my friend Lindsay made a good point that it is nice that “Twilight” was written and directed by women, I don’t want to have to turn to vampire films geared toward tweens to satisfy my craving for a romantic movie. I watched “Out of Africa” recently, and that sad (cinematically beautiful) story, about real live adult humans falling in love, and (gasp!) having sex, was much more satisfying than watching a glittering vampire and a teenage girl staring at each other melodramatically for two hours.

I will see “New Moon” (although certainly not on opening weekend), because I’m curious to see how this ridiculous story continues. But I’ll be the person sitting in the back silently wishing that he just bites her already and she becomes some totally bad-ass vampire.

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coco-avant-chanel-smoking-movie-posterSaw the film Coco Avant Chanel tonight about Coco Chanel (who uttered the words above) before she was Coco Chanel. I am loving this movie season – so many great films with independent female protagonists (Bright Star, Whip It, even Inglorious Basterds). Audrey Tautou played a fabulous Coco Chanel, and was definitely a change from her character in Amelie.

I didn’t know too much about Coco Chanel before I saw this movie, but I must say I was impressed. She rebelled against the standards of femininity in the early 20th century, shunning corsets for men’s clothing and loose fitting dresses. She was not ashamed of being a sexual creature and refused to marry, thereby refusing to be constrained by everything marriage meant in those days. Of course she changed women’s fashion as we know it, and so much of what we wear now is a tribute to her.

I know I’ve said it before, but I’m going to say it again – we need more films like this released on a regular basis. It’s so wonderful to see an independent, powerful, intelligent woman portrayed on the screen. Hopefully The Young Victoria, which comes out this winter, will continue this season’s trend of female-centered films.

Also, if anyone is feeling particularly generous, I would love a vintage Chanel suit.

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I saw Whip It over the weekend and was pleasantly surprised to see a female written, female directed, and female driven film that was smart, funny, and has appeal beyond women (my boyfriend loved it!). Whip It is Drew Barrymore’s first foray into directing (she also plays a supporting role) and stars Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden, and Kristen Wiig. The film is the story of a teenager growing up in rural Texas, who is dying to escape her mother’s attempts at making her a beauty pageant queen. She makes it onto an Austin roller derby team, the Hurl Scouts, and the movie takes off from there.

Yes, the movie was predictable. Yes, the mother-daughter relationship was slightly cliche. But, the film was incredibly enjoyable, and it was refreshing to see women in such powerful roles, and not letting their lives revolve around men. Also, I could not be more obsessed with Ellen Page. She always plays the best characters.

I hope that Whip It is successful, so that studios don’t hesitate in producing more movies like it.

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