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The Big O: And the Oscars' Winning (and Losing) Female Nominees Are...

Awards
by Susan Wloszcyna
January 16, 2014 12:18 PM
3 Comments
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Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams in "American Hustle"

And so it begins. The 86th Academy Award nominations did the hustle big time for American Hustle, with 10 nominations. From our female perspective, it's terrific that both Amy Adams, with her first lead nod following four supporting tries, and supporting candidate Jennifer Lawrence are in the running in the acting categories.

That their breasts practically deserved equal billing in the movie might temper the celebration for some. But I say, if you got it, flaunt it -- if it serves a purpose onscreen. Just as longas  Oscar host Ellen DeGeneres doesn't reprise last year's "We Saw Your Boobs" song in their honor.

As for those who say they are "tired" of Lawrence, the reigning Best Actress champ for Silver Linings Playbook and the 2013 box-office queen for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire? Tough beans. Not only is she the youngest three-time acting nominee ever. She could become only the third actress, following Luise Rainer and Katharine Hepburn, to win back-to-back Oscars.

At age 23, Lawrence ain't going anywhere but up.

Of course, probably the most landmark movie in terms of advancing the cause of women on the big screen also received 10 nominations: Gravity. As last year's seventh-highest grosser with $256 million, this sci-fi adventure that relied mainly on its star, best-actress nominee Sandra Bullock, to hold the audience's attention for most of its running time provides more than enough evidence (along with Catching Fire) that women definitely are draws at the box office. For all ages and sexes.

What more proof does Hollywood need?

And how great to see Philomena and Judi Dench, who is a seven-time acting nominee now at age 79, also celebrated. The fact that Philomena, a much more positive portrait of a true-life woman's struggles than the overlooked Saving Mr. Banks, made the best-picture cut is noteworthy indeed, especially considering how male-dominated the rest of the category is (e.g., Captain Phillips and The Wolf of Wall Street.)

One downer is that Emma Thompson, who was truly the saving grace of Saving Mr. Banks with her prickly but heartbreaking performance as Mary Poppins author P.J. Travers, will have to find another equally terrific part in order to score another chance at an acting Oscar. Not always easy to do, especially at the age of 54. Good thing she is also an Oscar-winning screenwriter for Sense and Sensibility and could conjure up such a role herself if she wishes. [Editor's note: Thompson has also penned the upcoming films Effie Gray and Annie, the remake starring Quvenzhane Wallis and Jamie Foxx.]

Don't weep for Disney, though. Saving Mr. Banks got no Oscar love save for its Thomas Newman score, but animated Frozen is not only the studio's first cartoon feature to boast a female director in Jennifer Lee, who shared the helming honors with Chris Buck, but the fairy-tale tribute to sisterhood could also become Disney's first winner in the animated feature category since it was established  in 2001.

And, yes, thanks to her showy matriarchal role in August: Osage County, Meryl Streep got to continue her record as the most Oscar-nominated performer ever, increasing her number of nods to 18. The lesson for all those pundits who thought she lost her Academy mojo this time for devouring the scenery? Never under-estimate the power of La Streep.

Other female-oriented reasons to be happy? Producer Megan Ellison, the founder of Annapurna Pictures, is the first woman and only the fourth person to have two best-picture nominations in the same year. The 27-year-old daughter of Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, who is nominated for both Her and American Hustle after being behind best-picture candidate Zero Dark Thirty last year, continues to rise as a filmmaking force in the industry by being a passionate patron of the cinematic arts.

And let us applaud the fabulous Catherine Martin. For her work on The Great Gatsby, the 48-year-old Aussie is only the second person and the first woman to be nominated for both production design and costume design for the same film more than once. In 2001, she won in both those categories for Moulin Rouge!

As much as there was good news on the women front, there were more than a few downers among the results:

*No woman in the best director category. Unfortunately, this is no shock. We will have to wait a little longer for a fifth female director to get a Best Directing nomination.

*Not enough women in the best documentary feature category. On the plus side, two of the five nominees have female directors: The Square's Jehane Noujaim and The Act of Killing's co-helmer Christine Cynn. And no film sang the praises of under-recognized female talent like 20 Feet From Stardom. But, by all rights, this category should have been dominated by women's work, considering that Sarah Polley (Stories We Tell) and Gabriela Copperthwaite (Blackfish) were behind two of the most lauded and influential docs of 2013.

*No Oprah love. Say what you will about Lee Daniel's The Butler, which was an Oscar shut-out. But the fierceness of Oprah Winfrey's sassy, bittersweet portrait of a woman who's bone-tired of competing with decades of First Families for the attention of her husband was hard to deny. Take solace that a deserving Sally Hawkins from Blue Jasmine took Winfrey's spot among supporting actress nominees.

Let's end on a bright note. Any group of voters that is 70% male that nominates a pistol like June Squibb at age 84 for her invaluable work in Nebraska can't be that bad.


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3 Comments

  • Star | January 16, 2014 9:52 PMReply

    "What more proof does Hollywood need?"

    Well, a sample size larger than two films might help.

  • Phil | January 17, 2014 6:23 AM

    Yeah, the fact that The Hunger Games is based on a huge series of books is more of a factor in its success than the gender of the protagonist ("Harry Potter is a huge hit - what more proof do people need that bespectacled children are a box-office draw?"). The same goes for Gravity - I suspect considerably more people were attracted by its status as a groundbreaking 3D event picture than by the gender of the lead role.

    Something like The Heat would be a better fit for her argument.

  • Jamie | January 16, 2014 12:46 PMReply

    You forgot Lupita Nyong'o and Dede Gardner who is one of the producers of 12 Years a Slave. Two very talented and powerful women.

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