If you’ve been following the Academy Awards for the past near-ninety years, you’ve probably noticed that, much like the filmmaking industry itself, awards season is tough on female directors. In the ceremony’s 89-year history, only four women have been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Directing, and only one has won (Katherine Bigelow, for The Hurt Locker). That was back in 2008 and now, nearly 10 years later, there hasn’t been another female nominee, much less another winner.
At the end of the day, the Oscars race is a marketing game. Studios send out For Your Consideration screeners courting members of AMPAS, make billboards advertising their most Oscar-worthy films, and schmooze with Hollywood’s elite to ensure their votes. At the end of the day, though, the voting process is rather simple: voters are given a reminder list of eligible films from the year in question, and asked to select some of their favorites from that list. Those favorites — five specifically for Best Directing — go on to become the Oscar nominees.
Egalitarian though this system may seem, allowing nearly 350 features onto its eligibility list, t still often gets bogged down in popularity contests and politics. Voters who haven’t seen every film will choose the ones they’ve heard of, which are usually studio films. Studio films, in turn, are overwhelmingly directed by men — a recent THR report revealed that women directed just 7% of the top 250 domestic grossing films in 2016. Female voices are prioritized nearly three times as much in the independent scene, according to a report from San Diego State University.
Female directors, then, are more likely to become festival darlings than household names, and the Oscars reflect that reality. Sadly, that means the awards show is missing out on some of the most dynamic directorial efforts. 2016’s female-directed films are some of the most original and diverse of the year, and many make the most of the medium, whether by paying homage to 60s Technicolor aesthetics or depicting a modern-day femme fatale.
In light of yesterday’s Oscar nominations, we’d like to acknowledge some women who should have been recognized for their work behind the camera. These women all directed incredible films, and it would have been nice to see at least one of them receive some Academy acclaim alongside their male colleagues. Here are a selection of female filmmakers we think deserved a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Directing.
Mira Nair, for Queen of Katwe
If you were surprised to learn that Queen of Katwe didn’t receive a single Oscar nomination, you’re not alone. The Disney release tells an uplifting story and features brilliant performances from a number of critically beloved actors, but that still wasn’t enough to earn a Best Directing nod for Mira Nair.
Queen of Katwe tells the story of Phiona (Madina Nalwanga), who uses the chess skills learned from her mentor Robert (David Oyelowo) to bring herself and her mother (Lupita Nyong’o) out of poverty. Though the “based-on-a-true-story” sports drama has become somewhat derivative, it’s also one of the most famous for raking in Oscars, making this snub noteworthy. Disney digitally released the film earlier this month, and you can read our review of it here. Queen of Katwe is now available on DVD and in Digital HD.
Jocelyn Moorhouse, for The Dressmaker
Though The Dressmaker wowed audiences in its native Australia, the film didn’t win Academy hearts here in the U.S. Led by director Jocelyn Moorhouse (How to Make an American Quilt, Proof), The Dressmaker swept the AACTA Awards with thirteen nominations and five wins, and is the eleventh highest-grossing movie of all time in Australia.
The film chronicles the misadventures of Myrtle/Tilly, a dressmaker with a mysterious (and possibly deadly) past who returns to her hometown to care for her sick mother. Tilly makes quick work of her new allies and old enemies, using her sewing skills to beautify the former and her cunning to torture the latter. It’s an ambitious film that many critics felt became too convoluted too quickly, but a well-made and well-liked film nonetheless. The Dressmaker is available to download or rent online.
Andrea Arnold, for American Honey
Andrea Arnold’s American Honey took home a Jury Prize at Cannes last year, and hasn’t stopped wowing audiences since. The artful film shows a steady hand by writer-director Arnold, who coaxes breathtaking performances from some of America’s best young actors. Fans of the film and Arnold’s work will be excited to know that, despite her Oscar snub, she has been nominated for an Independent Spirit Award.
American Honey explores youth in the Midwestern U.S. through protagonist Star (Sasha Lane), a teenager who joins up with a band of traveling magazine sellers and falls for the scrappy Jake (Shia LeBeouf). Though Arnold is a Brit through and through, she expertly captures the essence and wildness of youth, painting a stark yet exquisite portrait of growing up. She was similarly praised for her 2009 film Fish Tank, one of the first films to showcase Michael Fassbender’s dramatic talents. American Honey is currently available to stream or rent via A24.
Kelly Reichardt, for Certain Women
It takes a certain kind of viewer to appreciate the genius of Kelly Reichardt, whose characteristically bare approach is on display in 2016 feature Certain Women. The director is a festival favorite whose authorship defines each of her films, and her stark aesthetic served the middle America mood of Certain Women perfectly. Reichardt has directed Michelle Williams in multiple praiseworthy roles, and the two continue their partnership with this film, which adds a number of other talented faces to the mix.
Certain Women, based on short stories by Maile Meloy, explores the solitary and solemn lives of three women in Montana. Laura (Laura Dern), Gina (Michelle Williams), and Jamie (Lily Gladstone) all see their lives subtly intersect as they grapple with uniquely challenging relationships. Critics recognized the film as a high point in Kristen Stewart’s dramatic year, as well as a major breakthrough for new actress Lily Gladstone. The film puts Reichardt in competition with Andrea Arnold for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Director. The two are the only female nominees in the category. Certain Women is currently available through iTunes.
Maren Ade, for Toni Erdmann
Toni Erdmann is one of the front-runners for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and writer-director Maren Ade has already garnered countless accolades for her work on the film. Ade was already honored as the European Film Awards’ and the Toronto Film Critics Association’s Best Director, and the film itself is up for a number of prestigious awards, including a BAFTA.
Toni Erdmann explores the complex relationship between a strict businesswoman, Ines (Sandra Hüller), and her eccentric father, Winfried (Peter Simonischek). Their relationship becomes even more complicated when Winfried interjects himself into Ines’s life by pretending to be a life coach named Toni Erdmann. The film was both a critical and financial success in its home country of Germany, and historic French film magazine Cahiers du cinéma called it the best film of 2016. Its German roots did not make it ineligible for the Best Directing Oscar, as that award has gone to non-American directors and their features several times in the past – notably, Michel Hazanavicius in 2009 for French film The Artist. Toni Erdmann is now playing in select theatres.
Kelly Fremon Craig, for The Edge of Seventeen
Though it’s one of the few films on this list to see a wide theatrical release, The Edge of Seventeen has hardly received the praise it deserves. Though the Golden Globes threw Hailee Steinfeld a Best Actress – Motion Picture Comedy or Musical nomination for her lead role, the coming-of-age box office success has gone by underrated. That’s no strike against Kelly Fremon Craig, though, whose work as the film’s writer-director earned her the New York Film Critics Circle’s award for Best First Film.
In The Edge of Seventeen, desperate loner Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) turns to advice from her history teacher (Woody Harrelson) when her personal life falls apart. It’s a funny, real comedy whose respect for the high school story has been likened to that of John Hughes films. Director Craig in particular shows a real talent for comedic directing with this feature, and our own positive review of the film highlights her penchant for timing and visual comedy. As a studio film, The Edge of Seventeen won’t even be able to get its day in the sun at the Spirit Awards, which is a real shame for this hidden gem. The Edge of Seventeen is available on Digital HD on January 31 and will arrive on Blu-ray and DVD on February 14.
Sian Heder, for Tallulah
Netflix’s indie drama Tallulah shocked and delighted audiences when it hit the small screen last July. Writer-director Sian Heder founded the heartfelt film on her personal experiences, and her heart and wry observation both shine through as she directs Ellen Page, Allison Janney, and Tammy Blanchard into praiseworthy roles. Unfortunately, the film has not received any major awards or nominations, possibly because of its home on Netflix. The film was Oscars-eligible, though, and the Academy really missed something special by denying Heder a Best Directing nomination.
In the film, titular vagabond Tallulah (Ellen Page) finds herself caught up in an emotional whirlwind after she steals a baby from its irresponsible mother (Tammy Blanchard) and turns to her ex-boyfriend’s mother (Allison Janney) for parenting guidance. Equal parts funny and devastating, the movie shows each character’s journey following the baby’s disappearance — for better or for worse. Tallulah is currently available on Netflix.
Karyn Kusama, for The Invitation
Of all the festival films that should have gone on to bigger and better things, The Invitation is perhaps the most underrated. With an ensemble cast that Karyn Kusama directs into multiple star-making performances, this mind-bending movie will take you on a terrifying and compelling journey. Here’s hoping this SXSW debut won Kusama some much-deserved industry cred, even if it didn’t win her a Best Directing nomination.
The Invitation follows Will (Logan Marshall-Green) as he attends a dinner party thrown by his ex-wife, Eden (Tammy Blanchard), at their former home. As the night progresses, Will begins to fear that Eden and her new husband have something sinister in store for their guests, and that he may be powerless to stop it. This horror-thriller hybrid is so skillfully executed and captivating, you won’t be able to look away even when you want to. Though it won a few festival awards here and there, the mainstream shows have missed out big time by snubbing this subtle powerhouse. The Invitation is currently streaming on Netflix.
Anna Rose Holmer, for The Fits
Sometimes art imitates life in the most beautiful and unintentional ways. For instance, did you know that there is a renowned film about the Flint water crisis that was written before the Flint water crisis? Enter The Fits, Anna Rose Holmer’s feature directorial debut. Not only did Holmer pull off this stunning coming-of-age drama on a microbudget (under $200k!), she co-penned its screenplay. The Fits is a daring, original film that expertly uses new talent to tell a complex tale.
The film explores the life of Toni (Royalty Hightower), an eleven-year-old who tries to fit in to her school’s dance troupe despite her tomboyishness. Things become even more complex for the young protagonist once the members of her troupe start experiencing unexplained seizures. Holmer is up for a Spirit Award for Best First Feature for this one, and is the only woman in her category. You can buy or rent The Fits through Oscilloscope Laboratories, or watch it on Amazon Prime.
Anna Biller, for The Love Witch
If the Academy loves anything, it’s films that reference film history (just ask La La Land). Still, AMPAS somehow overlooked The Love Witch, in which writer-director Anna Biller expertly mimics 60s Technicolor to evoke campy horror. The filmmaker draws from feminist film theory in her work, and uses this feature to examine film tropes like the femme fatale and succubus.
In The Love Witch, Elaine, a sorceress who uses “sex magic” to win love from her male victims, gets into trouble when one of her spells goes too far. The melodrama pulls from actual witchcraft lore during its pop culture boom, making it a reverent examination of both modern and nostalgic interests. This movie elevates the art of filmmaking, generating a product unlike anything in the past few decades. The Love Witch is definitely one to watch, even if Anna Biller won’t take home a golden statue next month. You can check it out in theatres or pre-order it through Oscilloscope Laboratories.
The 89th Academy Awards air Sunday, Feb. 26 at 8:30 p.m. EST on ABC.
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