Last night’s Academy Awards ceremony was chock-full of drama as the Oscar winners were announced. Sandra Bullock won Best Actress, beating out acting icon Meryl Streep, who has been nominated a record 16 times. “The Hurt Locker,” a very tiny film that has barely made $21 million worldwide, won Best Picture over the global juggernaut “Avatar,” now the highest-grossing film of all time. And, yes, Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman in 82 years of Academy history to walk off with the Best Director statuette.
“It’s a great validation for women directors,” said composer and former Academy governor Charles Bernstein as he made his way from the awards ceremony in Hollywood’s Kodak Theater to the nearby Governor’s Ball. As he spoke by phone, he walked past a not very jubilant, “though not sad,” James Cameron. “He has nothing to feel bad about,” noted Mr. Bernstein. “It’s a wonderful David-and-Goliath story and after all, he’s got the highest grossing film of all time so both sides win.”
Young female voices around town were unequivocal. “It’s officially groundbreaking,” says box office analyst Karie Bible at Exhibitor Relations. While it’s not clear how much the win will help Ms. Bigelow’s film, which is already out on DVD (“it may get a rerelease,” she suggests), it will definitely help open doors for other women, Ms. Bible adds.
“This gives me hope,” says 18-year-old Chloe Miller, an aspiring director who plans to begin film school next fall. “This win makes me think that Hollywood is not as closed a place as it has been and that maybe doors are opening for more diversity of all kinds.”
The time for change in Hollywood indeed has come, says Howard Suber, UCLA professor emeritus and author (“The Power of Film”), who maintains that Bigelow’s win was more about Hollywood’s desire to recognize a woman director than the inherent quality of the film. “Five or 10 years from now, I seriously doubt anyone will view ‘Hurt Locker’ as a classic or enduring film,” Mr. Suber says. Unlike a film such as “Avatar,” which pushed technical and stylistic boundaries, “The Hurt Locker” is a very conventional war film. While it is gritty and intense, employing what has now become standard techniques such as a cinéma verité style created by shooting with a hand-held camera, it does not break any new ground.
“Mainstream filmmakers have been using this for decades,” Suber says, adding that this is all about history. “If this film had been directed by [a male director such as] Ridley Scott, this film would never have won Best Picture,” he adds. It may have little impact on the film’s box office, but, he says, it will certainly immeasurably improve Kathryn Bigelow’s chances of getting a meeting at major studios for her next project.
Here are the top five winners with links to their acceptance speeches (for a complete list, go to the Oscar site):
“The Hurt Locker”
Actor in a Leading Role
Jeff Bridges in “Crazy Heart”
Actor in a Supporting Role
Christoph Waltz in “Inglourious Basterds”
Actress in a Leading Role
Sandra Bullock in “The Blind Side”
Actress in a Supporting Role
Mo’Nique in “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”