I’m still bitter about the Golden Globes. Of all the things that I could potentially be bitter about, I admit, this is probably the most absurd. I don’t watch the Golden Globes. I don’t care about the Golden Globes. Who cares about the Golden Globes, really? I just use them the way everyone else uses them, to figure out the odds for the Oscars. And I also stopped watching and caring about the Oscars, several years ago, so… yeah. However, this year I actually do care about the Oscars; as silly and vapid as that might be, I have a developed a deep emotional investment. This deep emotional investment’s name is Kathryn Bigelow. Before the Golden Globes, I was pretty sure that she was going to be the first woman ever to win an Academy Award for Best Director. And now, I’m starting to feel that she won’t be. This has done things to me it will take an epic amount of yelling at you to even begin to explain.
For example: the Cameron-versus-Bigelow thing, which was previously just a nice little grace note, has now become something about which I am kind of absurdly intense. Avatar will almost certainly get nominated for the Academy Award, and so will The Hurt Locker, so we are almost certainly going to see this again. And it needs to not play out this way next time. My understanding is that the two of them get along great, and no hard feelings, and I bet they have barbecues together every weekend and sing campfire songs and whatever: I don’t care. It’s not a Brangelina thing, because they are strangers to me, and their emotional and personal lives are their own. I just so happen to want Kathryn Bigelow to mop the floor with James Cameron and wring him out into a dirty bucket after the fact. In a professional sense.
Let us start with the most obvious reason for this, which is: the movies themselves. And let us start with the most obvious statement about either of these two movies, which is: Avatar looked really, really great. I mean, it was so pretty! And largely less fake-looking than anything else along those lines I had ever seen! And it was in the 3-D, which I guess is exciting! And I even got mildly invested in the action at times. Yes, James Cameron got me to feel a certain amount of tension and involvement with an action sequence featuring cutting-edge technology, 3-D effects, dinosaurs, dragons, floating mountains, helicopters, hugesplosions (like explosions! But HUGER), and topless blue aliens. It was quite the achievement.
Here’s the thing, though: Kathryn Bigelow got me to feel a much greater amount of tension and involvement with scenes of a guy moving some wires around in a box. And I saw it in two dimensions. On a crappy screen. I mean, I can’t even imagine what would have happened if I saw The Hurt Locker in IMAX – or, God forbid, in IMAX 3-D, if they had ever made it in that format. I probably would have passed out. I would have to process it in therapy. It is intense, that movie. And it is intense because of the acting, the pacing, the screenplay, the sound: you know, movie stuff. Or, I guess, what “movie stuff” used to be, before we figured out how to make perfect three-dimensional computer-generated photo-realistic representations of Zoe Saldana’s boobs, and they became the Future of Cinema.
Avatar is a specific kind of entertainment: the kind of lavishly financed, technologically advanced, hyper-blockbusting spectacle that is practically obligated to make a billion dollars at the box office because it cost so much to make, the kind of movie that just wants to show you what it can do with all its machinery. I mean, I almost feel bad pointing out that Avatar is a dumb movie. Avatar has to be a dumb movie. Because, if it were smarter, fewer people would see it, and some of them might not get it. And Avatar is a movie that’s designed to be seen, and understood, by everyone. Everybody understands that dinosaurs are awesome and corporate goons are bad and when they fight and go splodey, you root for the dinosaurs, especially if they are really cool-looking. And that’s the level Avatar operates on, and that’s fine. You shouldn’t go to Avatar looking for a great story or great characters or anything other than some really exciting scenes featuring awesome CGI dragons. But you also shouldn’t reward that as if it’s the best thing a movie can possibly be.
The Hurt Locker, meanwhile, is just a way more exciting and involving movie. The Hurt Locker has better characters and scarier action scenes and it can definitively establish a man’s character and make a statement about the alienation of modern life and basically explain what the entire movie is about with a shot of a dude looking at some cereal in a grocery store. It is a movie that gets you very excited even though there are no dinosaur fights in it! There is no reason it should not win! EXCEPT.
To backtrack to another award that night: the fact that The Hangover won the Golden Globe for Best Comedy, in the year that Humpday was released, makes me so, so angry. I mean, I’d be mad about The Hangover anyway, but the fact that it was released so close to Humpday is what makes me sick. Humpday is another movie by a female director – Lynn Shelton – and it is my other favorite movie of the year. And also, no-one saw it. “You can’t really be surprised that Humpday didn’t get nominated for anything,” someone said to me when I brought up this as one of the many many reasons why The Hangover win made me so angry. And it’s true: I can’t be surprised. But the fact that I can’t be surprised is the problem. There were so many obvious things stacked against Humpday from the get-go, like the fact that it cost approximately three dollars to make, and that no famous people are in the movie except Josh from The Blair Witch Project, and most compellingly the fact that it is about two straight dudes who decide to have sex with each other for an indie porn festival to impress the sex-positive queer chicks that one of them wants to have a threesome with, and also to prove that they are still wild dudes who will get up to anything because they are so cool, even though the fact is that neither of them is cool, and they are in fact both assholes, and they are both just now catching on to that fact.
I mean, how do you get people to see that? People apparently thought, for about five seconds, that it would be a big-deal crossover hit, and they were trying to pitch it at the Apatow crowd, but I will bet you cash money that a substantial portion of said Apatow crowd looked at the poster of two naked uncomfortable guys in bed and was like, ick, a gay thing. And the people who were going to like the movie, like me, looked at the Apatow comparisons and were like, gross, another super-edgy sex comedy for stupid dudes. And it’s neither of those things – in fact, it is kind of the opposite of both those things – but what it actually is, is a movie about aging, and intimacy, and masculinity, and gay panic trying to masquerade as something other than itself, and pretentiousness, and… it’s not a thing you are used to seeing, this movie, so therefore no-one saw it. And the big-deal award-winning comedy of the summer, the one that really managed to capture audiences and the votes of the Golden Globe folks, is the one where some guy yells “PAGING DOCTOR FAGGOT” through a window. I mean: Best Comedy. As in, this is the best we can do. Jesus fucking Christ.
And, I mean: I know! I know! Awards aren’t fair! They’re often given to movies that don’t deserve them, and almost always to movies that cost more than a package of ramen to make! I did not just figure this out! But the thing is, of course a movie like Humpday‘s going to be tiny. Because female directors don’t usually get to tell these original, idiosyncratic, un-pin-downable stories, in their own ways, for a wide audience. They don’t get to be the auteurs, or the quirky big-budget indie wunderkinds with the startlingly individual artistic visions: every time you hear about one of those, it’s going to be a dude. Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, Spike Jonze, Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondry, Noah Baumbach, whoever else it is that they’ve picked to be the guy this week – he’s always going to be a dude. Or else he’ll be Diablo Cody, who is not a director but a screenwriter, and people will still hate that more than anything you’ve ever seen. Even the most positive reactions to Humpday were like, “marvelously, a woman has managed to make a movie about dudes! Perhaps she is in fact more like a dude than a lady! What a startling creature this she-director be, what with her not exclusively filming her own vagina as a tribute to Judy Chicago!” What women get to do is mainstream romantic comedies written within a fairly tight formula. And even if they’ve helped to create that formula, become expert at it, polished it and perfected it and branched out into doing some interesting things with it – even if they are, say, Nora Ephron, a woman so well-versed in her genre that her name is synonymous with it – they’re going to lose to Whoops, I Roofied All My Friends When We Were Trying to Get Drunk and Go See Strippers, apparently. Because that’s just how it goes.
So, you know: when a guy looks like he might win an Oscar for HAVING THE MOST EXPENSIVE-LOOKING MOVIE – basically NO OTHER REASON, it is JUST THAT – well, given the fact that men are pretty much ALWAYS the ones to be in charge of the most expensive movies, I start to get twitchy.
Because, every once in a while, you get a lady who manages to work her way up, and doesn’t get trapped in the no-one-will-see-it box or the everyone-will-see-it-but-no-one-takes-it-seriously box. You get Kathryn Bigelow. Whose films are independently financed, but also very accessible. And she makes a really, really good movie. And there is nothing in the way of her victory, of her being officially recognized as the Best Director of the year – in a ceremony that is big and flashy and notably not worth anything because it will straight-up give awards to Crash if it wants to, but that still means something to a lot of people – nothing in her way, I tell you, except for James Cameron’s Check Out This Sweet Shit I Got Airbrushed On My Van: The 3-D Motion Picture Experience. And suddenly, that seems like a major obstacle.
If you’ve ever heard that old second-wave saw about how women have to be twice as good and work twice as hard as men to get the same or fewer rewards, and have wanted to verify it for your very own self, I submit to you that you can just re-watch the last half-hour of the Golden Globes.
Yeah, the fact that Kathryn Bigelow is a woman plays a role in the fact that I want her to win Best Director. A huge role. And yeah, I do specifically want her to beat James Cameron more than I want her to beat anyone else who is nominated. That’s not tokenizing or weird: it’s because she should win it anyway, and he is her most serious competition. It’s also a gender thing, because the whole Cameron/Bigelow story takes place within a very specific, very familiar dynamic. It’s about the fact that, for years, I knew Kathryn Bigelow as “James Cameron’s ex-wife, who is also a director,” and not as “a director.” It’s about this comment thread at The A.V. Club, repeating the rumors that Bigelow’s action scenes were ghost-directed by Cameron because she couldn’t have done them herself, and the fact that James Cameron gets mentioned in that article (“it’s easy to imagine [Bigelow] as one of his two-fisted heroines”), the way that Cameron frequently gets mentioned when we talk about Bigelow, yet Bigelow only sometimes gets mentioned when we talk about Cameron. James Cameron had the potential to overshadow or define Kathryn Bigelow’s legacy, for no other reason than the fact that they were once together. It doesn’t matter if he wanted it to happen – I doubt he did, and it was entirely out of his control anyway – but it happened, like it always fucking happens, because that’s part of the whole Sexism deal. Throughout history, when women with talent got involved with men who also had talent, they were viewed as extensions of those men, were given credit for all of their failures and none of their successes, had their own work and talents drafted – sometimes unwillingly – into the service of the great man, heard people give those men credit for work they had done themselves, or were passed over or minimized in every critical estimation. And when women go it alone, they’re often under-regarded and under-rewarded. A win for Bigelow isn’t just an accurate judgment of her work; it’s a break in that pattern, which has silenced so, so, so many women. I want Kathryn Bigelow and James Cameron to be side-by-side, judged against each other fairly, and I want people to admit that this time around, she did better work. That she’s a director, too. That they are, at the very least, equals, but that in this particular case their movies were not equal, and hers was better. This is not incompatible with them liking or respecting each other: it’s just what happens, what should happen, when one person makes a better movie than another person and both movies are considered for the same award. I want her to win, so I want him to lose; if she does lose, to him, there’s no taking sexism (or bad taste) out of that equation. I want her not to lose.
Because I want to avoid the feeling that I had, the moment Kathryn Bigelow lost at the Golden Globes. It wasn’t shock; it wasn’t outrage; it wasn’t even disappointment, really. What flashed across my mind, in that moment, was this exact thought: It wasn’t going to happen anyway. She’s a woman. I think I even said it aloud. Because it’s true: women don’t win these things. No woman has ever won an Academy Award for Best Director. A woman did win a Best Director Golden Globe once, and it was Barbra Streisand, and it was for The Prince of Tides, so I don’t know what’s going on there, but of every single female director you have ever heard or not heard of, she’s the one who got it, and nobody’s gotten it since. Yes, it’s silly to expect an awards show to be a paradigm of fairness, and it’s flat-out wrong to want people to hand out awards as a correction to social injustice, because awards correct nothing, but when a clearly superior work coincides with a chance to break a sexist pattern, I get excited. And yet, when a pattern of unfairness is this consistent, it stops being an outrage and starts becoming an expectation. And it was the moment I realized that – the moment I figured out that, for all the noise I made about Bigelow, I had expected her to lose – that this whole thing really started to hurt.
Also: Sandra Bullock, Best Actress. Who’s Gabourey Sidibe? We don’t know any Gabourey Sidibe! Quick, someone find an award and throw it at the Crash lady! WHAT THE FUCK.