MCN Columnists
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

Thoughts on Oscar Night: Bigelow, Precious and a Screenplay Snub


History was made Sunday night when Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win an Oscar for Best Director. Surprisingly, there’s not been much posturing about whether Bigelow won the award because her work actually merited it above the work of the other nominees, or whether she won because it was “time” for a woman to win a Best Director Oscar and she happened to be the nominee with a vagina, even on some of the male-dominated sites where one might expect to see it.

People seem genuinely pleased for Bigelow that she won, and not unhappy with the recognition for The Hurt Locker as Best Picture as well. Best Director was the one category I really cared about at this year’s Oscars, and I’m thrilled for Bigelow that she won.

The question is whether her win, like a pebble tossed in a lake, will create a ripple effect that will benefit other female directors. I’m not convinced that it will — this was a crack in the Hollywood glass ceiling, not a shattering — but time will tell. Bigelow made an extraordinary film, she deserved the win, and I’m glad she got her Oscar gold. But I can’t help but wonder how much of the momentum she gained on her way to that win was because she was a chick making a “guy” film. Will her win give a boost to female directors making films like The Piano(for which Jane Campion was nominated but did not win) or Lost in Translation (for whichSofia Coppola was nominated and did not win)? Or will we see a spate of feisty chick directors get out there and try to make films like the boys do, in hopes of ending up on that stage making a moving, once-in-a-lifetime speech on Oscar night?

Bigelow rocks, no doubt about it, and I don’t think it hurts her any in appearance-obsessed Hollywood that she’s an attractive female director who made a tough film. Some of the talk about Bigelow as a woman reminds me a lot of guys who think it’s “hot” when a female musician rocks a guitar, or bass, or drums rather than just prancing about as lead singer. It’s somehow more “serious” — and also more sexy — for a woman to tread the line of guy territory while also retaining her femininity. Remember back when The Hurt Locker first debuted at Venice and then Toronto, how much chatter there was about it being remarkable that a woman made this film? A woman made a film with action! And explosions! And soldiers! Oh my! The thing is, those points were all valid at the time, and still are; it’s certainly true that it’s not every year that you see a film like that directed by a woman. It’s the exception, not the rule, and that’s why it makes me wonder how much impact it will have on women directors generally.


It was great to see Sandra Bullock win her oscar for The Blind Side, a film that surprised me and and lot of other folks. Bullock is, by all accounts, consistently well-liked in a town that tends to be fickle about who it likes and who it doesn’t, and that warmth toward Bullock was palpable last night. Her acceptance speech felt just like you would expect a speech from Bullock to feel: genuine and honest, heartfelt, funny, and just a touch self-deprecating without overdoing it. She was just great, and she looked absolutely radiant in that dress. Good for her for winning.

There was certainly plenty of love in the Kodak Theater for Precious last night, and I can’t say I’m surprised. I thought when I saw that film at Sundance (back when it was still called Push,Oprah) that it had Oscar written all over it, in spite of it being a film that was a hell of a tough sell to figure out. Would middle class white people be interested in a film about an overweight, abused, urban black girl? Would the black audiences who flock to laugh at Tyler Perry films want to see such a depressing portrayal of a black girl’s life? I wasn’t entirely sure, walking out of the theater in Park City, that the film would find an audience, but I was pretty sure that there were, at the very least, some acting nominations in store for Mo’Nique and Gabourey Sidibe, and I surely wasn’t the only one who thought so.

But no doubt about it, Precious benefited greatly from the interest Oprah and Tyler Perrytook in it, and I was glad to see that acknowledged last night. Lee Daniels made a hell of a heart-wrenching film, but Oprah and Perry put the weight of their collective fame and money behind it and pushed and pushed (no pun intended) to make sure people knew it was a film worth seeing. And I think it’s also true that the film benefited greatly from getting Gabby Sidibe out there in front of people. She is just so bubbly, so overwhelmingly positive, so happy, that when you see her as her real self you cannot help but appreciate the work as an actor she did in that film.

Her attitude just wins people over; has there ever in the history of Oscars been an an actress as genuinely humble and thrilled to be there, wearing a fancy dress and as an Oscar nominee? It would have been nice to hear her acceptance speech, but didn’t you feel she felt she “won” when she sat there listening to Oprah laud her with tears — real tears, not some Hollywood crocodile tears — roll down her cheeks?

I hope we see more of Sidibe, though there may never be a role as perfectly suited to her as the role of Precious. Hollywood isn’t overflowing with scripts requiring black actors generally, much less female black actors without the physique of a Halle Berry. But I hope Sidibe finds her place, continues to act, and someday has another shot at Oscar gold.


Consensus around the biggest upset of the night seems to be Up in the Air getting shut out of the Best Adapted Screenplay award, especially in the wake of its WGA win. Already there’s some chatter around and about the internet about whether Jason Reitman was being somehow “punished,” either for his alleged mistreatment of co-writer nominee Sheldon Turner or for being perceived as a bit of a priveliged wunderkind who’s risen too fast, too soon. There’s talk, even, that Reitman is perceived by some as an arrogant asshole. I’ll say this  much in defense of Reitman: Unless he has changed very greatly in the last year, I have to call bullshit on those charges.

I’ve never known Reitman to be anything but humble, generous and grateful for the success he’s had. He grew up on Hollywood sets, but was smart enough to recognize that because he was the director’s kid, the crew would never really treat him as they would any other flunky. He knew he had to earn his own way and not ride his father’s coat tails. He made a half-dozen shorts (Consent and Gulp, in particular, are excellent not just as “calling cards” but on their own merit) before he made a feature. And I think he is a genuinely nice guy and, moreover, that as a director he puts something of himself into his films.

His own experience becoming a first-time father and having that responsibility played heavily into the way he shaped Jason Bateman‘s character in Juno, and I had to wonder, watchingUp in the Air, how much his emotional choices in that film were informed by having to travel so much himself the last couple years, balancing that with wife and daughter. I found Up in the Air to be an honest, smart film that had a lot to say about, as Socrates put it centuries ago, bewaring “the barrenness of a busy life.”

I don’t know … watching the Up in the Air crowd last night, I couldn’t help but think that they felt going in that it wasn’t meant to be their night, all the way around. Somehow all the momentum Up in the Air seemed to have coming out of Telluride and Toronto just didn’t give it the pop those same fests gave Juno, and then Oprah and Tyler Perry gave Precious a huge boost and the media started spinning the whole Avatar vs. The Hurt Locker, David and Goliath thing, and Up in the Air lost much of its fizz. Which is a shame, really, because it’s a damn fine film, certainly the best of Reitman’s career thus far, and a big “screw you” to everyone who thought Juno was a fluke and not the result of some smart directorial choices on his part.

Let’s not forget that part of that is making smart decisions about casting, and that Reitman made some savvy choices in that arena for Juno — not just the perfect casting of Ellen Pagein the lead role, but all the way around (particularly Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman as the would-be adoptive parents and J.K. Simmons as Juno’s dad), and that he cast Anna Kendrick in the role of Natalie in Up in the Air when no one knew her as anything but Bella’s friend in Twilight. And the girl held her own with the likes of Clooney and Farmiga and got an Oscar nomination. Reitman did something right … a lot of somethings. It just wasn’t his year.

Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga being nominated against each other was a killer, especially going up against the powerhouse performance of Mo’Nique in Precious. George Clooney seemed to know it was Jeff Bridges‘ year to win it; every shot they showed of him during the show he looked bored and like he’d rather be anywhere else (though in all fairness to Clooney, he may have been genuinely bored by the Oscar Show overall). And I don’t think Reitman was expecting to sneak in a Best Director win with that race being so played up as a battle between Bigelow and Cameron. But the snub for screenplay had to sting, and I wish for his sake, and the sake of everyone involved with Up in the Air, that the Academy had at least tossed the film that one little bone.

As for this whole kerfuffle over the screenplay credit, I have to think that was blown way out of proportion by a media that’s always looking for some big controversy to latch onto (see also: the whole business about Bigelow and Cameron being ex-spouses). Is it possible that Reitman’s personality completely changed in the past year and he suddenly became a real ass? Anything’s possible in Hollywod, I guess, and I suppose it’s theoretically possible that there was enough of a media-fed perception of that to sway Oscar voters toward giving the award to Geoffrey Fletcher for Precious instead. It’s also possible that for whatever reason,Precious just really spoke to the voters overall, and they recognized it in screenplay because it was quite a challenge to adapt the language and writing style of the novel by Sapphire into something that worked on-screen, and he did so quite well.

But, unfortunately, there’s probably some truth to the idea that there’s some feeling around Hollywood that Reitman hasn’t really “earned” where he is, in spite of three solid films under his belt. Jealousy is an ugly thing.

– by Kim Voynar

March 8, 2010

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon