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February 23, 2010

10 Women Who Should Have Won The Oscar for Best Director -- Sort Of

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When you look at the title of this post, you might think, "Hmm, which of the many women nominated for Best Director should have won the Academy Award?" Well, the problem with that is you'd have to stop and remind yourself that in the history of the Oscars, only four women have been nominated for Best Director.

Only four.

Sophia Coppola, Lina Wertmuller, Jane Campion, and this year's nominee for the film Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow.

What up, Hollywood? And while we're at it, where are the women of color?

Just a couple of weeks ago, Bigelow became the first woman to win the Director's Guild of America award for Hurt Locker.

And last weekend, she won Best Director at the BAFTAS, the British version of the Oscars, another first. Hurt Locker won as Best Picture.

So if history holds up, those wins will propel Bigelow toward taking home an unprecedented Oscar. But as we all know, in Hollywood, anything can happen.

Interestingly enough, women didn't always have it so tough in Hollywood. During the silent era, according to the excellent book, Women Directors and Their Films, by Mary G. Hurd, "opportunities for women were plentiful, ranging from positions as typists, assistants, writers, editors, actresses, with some women gaining chances to direct, and a few creating their own companies."

When movies became big business and unions and talkies came into play, slots for women became more scarce and the current old boy network took root. Still, women directors like Dorothy Arzner and actress Ida Lupino made a variety of films while working within the constraints of the old boy system.

However, it's only been in the last 30 years that women directors have begun to break through in Hollywood. Several should have been nominated for their work and rewarded with a win. I set out to find 10. I only partially succeeded.

You see, I didn't realize until I started my search that I haven't seen a lot of what I thought were really good movies directed by women.

I've heard of Eve's Bayou, directed by Kasi Lemmons; Seven Beauties, directed by Lina Wertmuller; and Clueless, directed by Amy Heckerling -- but I haven't seen them. I've obviously got some catching up to do.

In the meantime here are my, er ... six:

1. Gillian Armstrong, My Brilliant Career: This is the movie that put Gillian Armstrong on the map. It's a coming-of-age story of a young woman who dreams of being a writer but is torn by the traditional roles of womanhood being thrust upon her by her family and society. It starred Judy Davis and Sam Neill.

2. Penny Marshall, A League of Their Own: Forget those Laverne and Shirley days. Penny did a great job with this film about the women's softball leagues during WWII. The movie had heart, taught us a little history, and kept us wondering who would win and who would lose. It starred Geena Davis and Tom Hanks.

3. Barbra Streisand, The Prince of Tides:

The Prince of Tides

I know many people felt Babs should have won the Oscar for directing Yentl, but I was more moved by The Prince of Tides. Unfortunately, rumors of major diva-tude by Babs during the production of both films I think unfairly tanked her chances to take home the golden statue. I mean, come on -- don't you think James Cameron has major diva-tude on his movie sets, too? Being a director means having somewhat of a 'tude to get the job done, and I think Babs was robbed for this one. It starred Barbra Streisand and Nick Nolte.

4. Jane Campion, The Piano:


Photo Courtesy:  CiBy 2000

I wasn't in love with The Piano when I first saw it, but I did appreciate the visual narrative Campion used to tell her story of a mute woman and her daughter making a new life in 1850s New Zealand. It starred Holly Hunter, Sam Neill, Harvey Keitel and Anna Paquin. Hunter and Paquin (currently of True Blood) both won Oscars for the film.

5. Nora Ephron, You've Got Mail:

You've Got Mail

Photo Courtesy: Warner Brothers

Film purists will probably say I've lost my mind with this one, but if Hollywood deigned to give Oscars to love stories and comedies, this one should have been included. It's a lovely little romantic comedy, with two likeable stars -- and, like many romantic comedies, because it feels fluffy and looks like it was effortless to produce, the Academy ignored it. It starred Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

6. Randa Haines, Children of a Lesser God:


Photo Courtesy Paramount Pictures

Based on the Broadway play, this love story between a young deaf woman and her teacher was a star making vehicle for Marlee Matlin. It also starred William Hurt.

So those are my six. But I promised you 10. To the rescue comes Melissa Silverstein of Women and Hollywood. Recently, she got reactions from some of Kathryn Bigelow's contemporaries on Bigelow's Oscar nomination, and since Melissa's seen quite a few more movies directed by women than I have, she was nice enough to share her top 10 list:

Sarah Polley, Away from Her

Gillian Armstrong, My Brilliant Career

Jane Campion, The Piano

Amy Heckerling, Clueless

Allison Anders, Gas Food Lodging

Randa Haines, Children of a Lesser God

Donna Deitch, Desert Hearts

Nancy Meyers, Something's Gotta Give

Sally Potter, Orlando

Barbra Streisand, Yentl

Thanks for helping me out Melissa.

Who would be on your list?

Related Links:

Six Women Directors and Their Groundbreaking Movies

The Brilliant Career of Gillian Armstrong

Invisible Woman--Black Cinema at Large

Women Directors Took Charge in Toronto

Oscar Is Still Such a Dude: Where Are the Films About Women's Lives?


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