Friday, July 24, 2009

First Woman to Win Best Director?

I'm a bit late to the party as this film has been out since late June, but if you have not yet seen The Hurt Locker, then you are doing your eyes and intellect a small injustice. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow (Point Break), it is said to be the first film on the Iraq war that treats the whole bungled mess of senseless violence fairly, intentionally withholding partisanship in both dialogue and camerawork, even as it follows the stories of three American bomb detonators. It is also a masterpiece, photographically speaking.

Ralph Fiennes makes a cameo (no spoiler).

Jeremy Renner's squinty-eyed gruffness makes for an excellent megalomaniacal hero/antihero.
And Anthony Mackie as the moralizing black Sergeant provides calculated leadership, sympathetic dialogue, and racial balance in a refreshingly non-irritating way.

But the real star is Bigelow herself, known for cinematically sophisticated direction in unfortunately simplistic movies. This time she gets it right, righter than Paul Haggis' In the Valley of Elah and Robert Redford's Lions for Lambs, both Iraq war movies and both box office flops. In contrast, Bigelow's decidedly un-Hollywood, unbiased, grainy and artistically shot film opened to "healthy box office returns" as reported by Reuters, and what is more significant, to ebullient praise from the critics. Might she be the first woman to win an Oscar for Best Director? Perhaps it is not surprising, but certainly disappointing, that the only American woman ever (!) to have been nominated is Sophia Coppola, for Lost in Translation (2003). Only two other women on the PLANET have been nominated: the extraordinary Swiss-born Italian director, Lina Wertmüller, for the beautiful, hilarious, and sexually violent Swept Away (1974); and Jane Campion from New Zealand, for The Piano (1993), which I have not seen. For an excellent bio of Ms. Bigelow, please see this piece in the Times from a few weeks ago. Prepare to be impressed.

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