Sunday, January 11, 2009

It begins...this year's statuette season

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

Tonight, I don't want to do my work. And when that happens, I go to the New York Times' homepage. Where I discovered that amidst my work and many (very important) duties, I completely missed the beginning of everyone's favorite time of the year: award season! The most expensive movies are idolized and movie stars get trotted out in designer clothes that would feed a small country for a week, and everyone enjoys the glitz and Hollywood glamour, and squirms through the five hours of commercials between "best costume design" and "best sound editing". Clearly, I am very sad that I briefly forgot about this phenomenon.

Snarkiness aside, I've never liked awards season, simply because it hides its sexism so goddamn well. It's obvious just from looking at the list of Golden Globe winners from earlier this evening - apart from the well-deserved statuette for Tina Fey's stellar performance in 30 Rock - the films that won the two big awards, Vicky Cristina Barcelona (comedy/musical) and Slumdog Millionaire (drama) were both enjoyable, well-made films, but were also demeaning or dismissive of women. Vicky Cristina Barcelona was a little more blatant; I'm not sure what I expect from Woody Allen anymore, but I still remember the argument that I had with my father after leaving the film. I had objected to the portrayal of the three main female characters as, variously, mercurial, indecisive, insecure, and even a little bit crazy. Their juxtaposition with Javier Bardem's character, who was calm and brilliant and had gotten all three to sleep with him within the first hour of the movie, was quite offensive and certainly one-dimensional, but my father made the surprising (and kind of horrifying) claim that this was "kind of how these relationships worked". My dad is a feminist, but he didn't really see the absurdity and offensiveness of the movie's relationships between men and women - which worries me, especially when the film starts to win awards (and before you say it: yes, misogynistic films can be well-made, but Vicky Cristina Barcelona was, in that regard, nothing special).

Slumdog Millionaire was a little less explicit, but its entire storyline contains one woman, who is passed from man to man. She lacks any kind of agency, and really doesn't have a character; she is more a function of the plot than a complexly drawn person. I still think that this movie should have won because it's one of the most beautiful films I've ever seen, but it bothers me that the classical plot is always about the striving of some unfortunate man to gain the love of a beautiful woman, who is usually not very interesting.

The fact that the awards are divided into "male" and "female" has always bothered me, because it allows the film industry to hide the fact that the better roles usually go to men, and this year was really no exception. Kate Winslet won the "best actress" award for Revolutionary Road, a film which I saw recently and can't really recommend. Winslet's performance was good, but she played a suburban housewife driven to madness by her banal life, a part that we've seen played a thousand times before. Kate Winslet is a wonderful actress, but this is not her best performance, particularly placed against those of Kristin Scott Thomas and Meryl Streep in I've Loved You So Long and Doubt. Winslet won because this was an "edgy", well-funded movie - but she was merely playing the character of the trapped, powerless woman that we've seen so many times before. She should win awards, but not for this. Meanwhile, Mickey Rourke won for The Wrestler, where he plays a professional wrestler from the 1980s, far past his prime and about to fight a 20th-anniversary rematch with an old foe. He dates a stripper and has a complex relationship with his daughter (read: he abandoned her, and now wants to end his estrangement). I haven't seen the film, and I'm sure it's well-made, but the contrast between these two is very interesting - Kate Winslet as the demented, trapped, angry housewife and Mickey Rourke as the ultimate virile man, still wrestling (and mistreating women) after twenty years.

So I'm sure none of you reading this want to come to my Oscars party this year. But despite all of my grinchiness, awards are fun, and don't let the fact that many movies are sexist stop you from enjoying this glamorous season. But think about which movies and actors are winning, and why. And let's all pause and thank the good lord for Tina Fey!


At January 14, 2009 at 11:15 PM , Blogger Mike said...

I love to read about which actors and actresses win during awards season and then watch their performances (if I haven't already). That being said, I was interested and impressed by this post. Your comments about the division of awards by gender and the character roles that each seem to favor are something that I've never considered.

Randomly, I was reminded of the recent movie, "The Women." I have not seen it, but wonder if a discussion of it might make for an interesting post or comment thread. To anyone who has seen the film, how did it portray women? Did it advance any feminist causes or merely fall prey to Hollywood's conventions and do them a disservice?


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