The reviews Kathryn Bigelow has nabbed for The Hurt Locker (91 on Metacritic) are noteworthy. That doesn't mean that the movie will score at the boxoffice for Summit, but it's off to the second-strongest start for an indie this year. The movie has a shot at one of ten slots in the wide open Oscar best picture race. Even the NYT's tough-minded Manohla Dargis, who has long shared with me a sense of dismay at the thin ranks of gifted women directors, was moved to step out of the reviewer's box to praise Bigelow here.
Aside from critics' raves, The Hurt Locker boasts other advantages in the Oscar race. Bigelow is respected in the industry for making movies that are irrelevant to her gender; this movie is as intellectually rigorous and stylishly crafted as any Michael Mann film. (If anything, it's more engaging and viscerally exciting than, say, Public Enemies.) Also, the film industry, well aware of the failure of every Iraq War film to date, has been waiting for the exception that would break through and reach audiences. With America on the verge of withdrawing from Iraq, the timing may be right for this one. Finally, Bigelow gets points not only for figuring out a way to approach the subject that works, but for a high degree of difficulty.
It's shaping up to be an unusually good year for women directors. New Zealand writer-director Jane Campion, the only woman to ever win the Cannes Palme d'Or, is one of three women to be nominated for the best director Oscar, along with Sofia Coppola and Lena Wertmuller. (She won best screenplay for The Piano.) Bright Star, her tragic period romance about John Keats and Fanny Brawne, played well at Cannes but didn't take home a prize. New indie distributor Bob Berney plans to promote Bright Star on the fall fest circuit before a September opening. The impeccably mounted costume drama is quite Academy friendly.
The third Oscar possibility is Mira Nair, whose hits The Namesake, Monsoon Wedding and Mississippi Masala have earned her an Oscar shot with her latest film, Amelia, a biopic about flier Amelia Earhart starring Oscar-winner Hilary Swank in the title role. It doesn't hurt that Fox Searchlight (Slumdog Millionaire, Juno) is shepherding this period adventure, which will also open in October after hitting the fest circuit.
Here's the Amelia trailer:
Here's my Toronto chat with Bigelow: