Thursday, December 23, 2010

More Critics: Oklahoma, Austin, Women Film Critics...

If you'd like to discuss the latest round of critics awards, have at it.

Three more groups have announced and so the usual suspects play the game of musical chairs. The most interesting note right off the bat is that the Women Film Critics Circle have bestowed an award on Black Swan that isn't a flattering one. They've given it "Worst Female Images in a Movie".

I understand the impulse behind this sort of "tsk-tsk"ing  having been burned over the years with the often problematic depiction of gay characters but I think it's wrong-headed to a degree.

Black Swan is about a very specific drumtight world and a very specific tightly strung character completely encased in that world. In other words, this is not a portrait of Woman in the broader sense. What's more one can even argue that just about every person in the film is presented in an unreliable way, the whole picture being influenced by Nina's own psyche.  Furthermore, the film screws around with genres (horror and psychological thrillers) which could easily be undone by positive portrayals. Nina is no positive role model (for ballerinas, for artists, for bisexual or gay women, for anyone); she has a lot of issues. But this "award" seems to miss the point of what the movie is.

Identity politics isn't always the best way to judge art. I've made the same mistake myself but if you're too focused on it the dark side is that you're in danger of promoting vanilla-flavored art or pedantic work that's better suited to generic uplift or sermonizing than deeper artistic merit.  Even so I'm always interested in what they have to say and some different films get prizes here. Yes!

Mother Bening (and random Child)

Women Film Critics Circle
Best Movie About Women Mother & Child
Best Movie By A Woman Debra Granik's Winter's Bone
Best Woman Storyteller [Screenplay] Lisa Cholodenko, The Kids Are All Right
Best Actor  Colin Firth, The King's Speech
Best Actress Annette Bening in The Kids Are All Right
Best Young Actress Jennifer Lawrence in Winter's Bone
Best Comedic Actress  Annette Bening in The Kids Are All Right
Best Foreign Film by or About Women (tie) Mother (South Korea) and Women Without Men (Iran)
Best Female Images in a Movie  Conviction
Worst Female Images in a Movie Black Swan
Best Male Images in a Movie  (tie) Another Year and The King's Speech
Worst Male Images in a Movie Jackass 3D
Best Theatrically Undistributed Movie Temple Grandin
Best Equality of the Sexes  (tie) Another Year and Fair Game
Best Animated Females Despicable Me
Best Family Film Toy Story 3
Lifetime Achievement  Helen Mirren
Acting & Activism Award Lena Horne
Adrienne Shelley Award (Films Opposing Violence Against Women) Winter's Bone
Josephine Baker Award (Women of Color Experience Award) For Colored Girls
Karen Morley Award (Women's History) Fair Game
Courage in Acting  Helen Mirren in The Tempest
Invisible Woman Award (Ignored Performance) Q'Orianka Kilcher in The Princess Kaluhani
Best Documentary by a Woman A Film Unfinished
Best Ensemble Mother & Child
Best Screen Couple Tom & Gerri (Jim Broadbent & Ruth Sheen)

  • It's nice to see Another Year (to which that does not apply) get some kudos... and though I have a couple of very minor concerns about the movie I do love the central portrait of Tom & Gerri quite a whole lot. They're a wonderful happily married screen couple and you sure don't see many portraits of that on screen.
  • A lot of love for Winter's Bone here. It seems safe for a Best Picture nod given how well it's done in the precursors... but we've still got the problem of 11 or 12 films doing well and only 10 slots.
  • Can someone explain to me how Helen Mirren is being courageous by starring in The Tempest? Is this because Julie Taymor is so dangerous to actors. (Sorry, couldn't help it.)
Oklahoma Film Critics
Best Picture The Social Network
Top Ten The Social Network, Inception, Black Swan, The Fighter, Winter's Bone, True Grit, The King's Speech, Toy Story 3, The Kids Are All Right and 127 Hours
Best Director David Fincher, The Social Network
First Feature Chris Morris, Four Lions

Obviously Worst Movie Sex & the City 2
Not-So-Obviously Worst Movie Alice in Wonderland
Best Actress
Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Best Actor  Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Best Supporting Actress Mila Kunis, Black Swan
Best Supporting Actor Christian Bale, The Fighter
Best Adapted Screenplay Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network
Best Original Screenplay  Chris Nolan, Inception
Best Documentary Exit Through The Gift Shop
Best Animated Film Toy Story 3
Best Foreign Film A Prophet
  • I have nothing to say.
Austin Film Critics Association
Best Picture Black Swan
Top Ten Black Swan, The Social Network, Inception, Toy Story 3, The King's Speech, True Grit, The Fighter, A Prophet, Winter's Bone and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Best Director Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
First Film Gareth Edwards, Monsters

Best Actress
Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Best Actor  Colin Firth, The King's Speech
Best Supporting Actress Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
Best Supporting Actor Christian Bale, The Fighter
Best Adapted Screenplay Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network
Best Original Screenplay  Black Swan
Best Original Score Daft Punk, Tron: Legacy
Best Cinematography Matthew Libatique, Black Swan
Breakthrough Chloe Moretz, Kick-Ass/Let Me In
Austin Film Award  Ben Steinbauer's Winnebago Man
Best Documentary Exit Through The Gift Shop
Best Animated Film Toy Story 3
Best Foreign Film A Prophet
Special Honorary Award Friday Night Lights (for producing excellent, locally made television and contributing to the film community in Austin for the past five years)
  • You'd think Oklahoma and Austin were Twin Cities proximate given how closely their opinions align. In fact, looking over top ten lists from numerous critics groups and looking at pundit predictions for Oscar's Best Picture's it seems like we're heading for an exact consensus match (or close enough). It's like nobody loves anything other than about 12 movies. Either that or the decimation of critical jobs has resulted in critics organizations full of people who maybe don't have as diverse or adventurous of taste as they used to...? Or are critical taste shifting ever more toward Oscar's middlebrow tastes... Or are Oscar's middlebrow tastes shifting towards critical consensus? ...Or are both moving inexorably towards the center where we'll share one brain. I'm asking this in a silly way but it is a little disturbing. I guess this is why Armond White seems more famous than he used to be. Being a contrarian is no longer a common critical position ;)
  • I can't resist pushing this button since we'd just had a theme week "Older Actresses get no respect" and I was called "Reverse Ageist". But Austin likes 'em even younger than Chicago. They've never awarded Best Actress to anyone over 29 in their entire existence. And this year's average age (3 girls awarded) is 18 years of age! Hee. Why do I like to push buttons? I do not know.
  • Super happy to see Friday Night Lights honored. Aren't you?


Mirko said...

"Invisible Woman Award (Ignored Performance) Q'Orianka Kilcher in The Princess Kaluhani"

I love this category and I love that Kilcher is going on with her career, several years after the experience with Malick

I'm also surprised by the strange remarks against BLACK SWAN


Mirko -- I thought Kilcher was quite good in The New World but knew that Hollywood would have a tough time giving her work -- they're not so imaginative with non-blondes ;) -- so I am pleased she found more roles too.

cal roth said...

This anti-award do Black Swan reminded me of some opinions on Notes on A Scandal. That movie was not about gay people. It was about a certain woman. The movie was underrated, I think. The score is awful, but the movie was very good.

dinasztie said...

I don't know. I want Natalie to win, she's brilliant, but I still have a feeling that Annette might win despite the number of critics' awards Natalie (deservedly won). And that No Strings Attached movie makes me worry so much.

adam k. said...

I think the Women's Critics Circle has had a tendency in general to vote like politically correct prudes.

Another big part of why I think their Black Swan award was wrongheaded is that the film was largely about (in my opinion) what our society, and particularly the field of performing arts, does to women and their attitudes about each other. I think it was fairly obvious that the film was acting subversively in terms of the female images presented. They were bitchy and catty, but it was all a product of the relentless sexism and perfectionism of the ballet world, with Tomas pulling the strings. And ultimately, all the woman were portrayed in a pretty sympathetic light, especially the one from whose perspective we experience the whole story. Yes it was trashy, but come on. In the words of Lily: "Live a little!"

Robert said...

I dunno, I don't begrudge anyone their desire to point out how film can screw up gender portrayals, but to take it out on Black Swan, which was an intentionally artificial genre film when there were plenty of romantic comedies about successful career women who, gosh darnit, still weren't validated without a man, positioned to actually represent real working women that could have easily been deemed "worst portrayal of women."


robert -- that's what i'm trying to get at. I don't begrudge it either having done it myself with The Gay. I just think it's not a good choice here.

adam -- well stated in terms of the Tomas pulling the strings and these created worlds.

Robert said...

Still, I also commend them for doing nontraditional categories. I wish more critic circles would (quite frankly like Film Bitch). At least it would give people an opportunity to stand out.

I know this is the internet age and everyone wants their opinions heard, but if I were part of the Whatever Film Critics Circle and we picked Social Network, Fincher, Firth and Portman at some point you gotta ask yourself what's the point when your opinion has already been heard in the form of everyone else's opinion.

aclp said...

I studied ballet for almost all my life, with companies such as NYCB and the National Ballet of Cuba. Some things about that universe are well portrayed: The restless search for perfection, actually, the idea of physical and artistic perfection that can be achieved through pain; the constant presence of pain itself, the endless rehearsals, the competition, the physical exhaustion, the broken pointe shoes, the bloody toes and wounded muscles and the music and the discipline.

But I didn't like the movie. It was repetitive, it moved in circles, the characters were flat and one dimensional, Nina's spiral is not engaging and deep enough, everything is a bit simplistic and uninteresting, and by the end the movie is just histerical, over the top, silly and borderline ridiculous.

There were moments when I was just laughing at the whole thing. It had potential, and interesting themes to be developed, but I never really went anywhere.

shawnp said...

and yet they give an award to a film which portrays lesbians in arguably stereotypical ways:
one is flighty and jumps into bed with a man
the other is the masculine head of the household with an affected voice.


OtherRobert said...

If they understood that Black Swan was not a scathing commentary on bisexual/lesbian women in ballet, Natalie Portman or Barbara Hershey would have been stronger choices for Courage in Performance. It's a brave decision to play such damaged characters, especially Hershey's character being the almost-bipolar villain in the eyes of a psychologically damaged character.

But what do I know? I don't see how Dead Girl or Antichrist are vile depictions of sexual violence against women as they claimed last year. Here I was thinking they were experimental thrillers hinging on violence as a metaphor for personal and sexual identity in a male-dominated world. They also claimed Precious would have been jeered if it was about a poor white family and supporting that film meant you were a horrible racist perpetuating stereotypes against blacks, the overweight, the undereducated, and the unmarried ("among many more").

Did they forget about The Social Network being the OMG most misogynistic picture ever! when they were voting?

Cluster Funk said...
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Jonathon said...

Women are fucking CRAZY. Fact!

Also, Mila Kunis is winning critics awards now? Jesus. That means the six ladies circling the Best Supporting Actress category (HBC, Amy, Melissa, Mila, Jacki, Hailee, amirite? Leaving anyone out?) mean fucking business. It's so hard to predict this year's nominations! FML.

Cluster Funk said...

Isn't it funny how many guys have chimed in on the Women Film Critics Circle's choice for Worst Female Images in a Movie, with nary a peep from the ladies? Nevertheless, here's mine:

Did the WFCC not see Sex and the City 2? With the exception of maybe two scenes (Charlotte's pantry breakdown and Miranda's office showdown), I'm hard pressed to think of a more reductive, unsavory cinematic depiction of women all year. Amping up the quartet's pampered, rah-rah sisterhood only diminishes what MPK, SJP & Co. still seem to be selling as a "fabulous," "supportive" fantasy life for women to aspire.

At least Black Swan presented a thought-provoking POV which, like it or not, challenged the viewer's notion of who stokes the dirty underbelly of female competition and camaraderie.

/3rtfu11 said...

Everyone responds with a knee-jerk when they perceive their group to be misrepresented or presented in a stereotype. Since I’m not a transgender person I’ll likely never understand the fuss over the Buffalo Bill character. I understood from the moment Hannibal says “He’s not a transvestite” there should have been no controversy. But marginalized groups seek out the big opportunities for the greatest exposure. All the negative press directed at Basic Instinct – at the end of the day it’s primarily offensive to women and everyone with good taste.

TB said...
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TB said...

It's weird, because I've been hearing that rumble about Black Swan being demeaning to women and the sex scene being exploitative, but as a relatively active feminist, I just don't understand. Nowhere in the film are judgments made about the characters, good or bad. How boring would that be? Why do people get themselves to worked up over the morals of the characters in films?

Get yourself worked up over the degree of respect shown to those characters, male and female, black and white. I didn't have any problem with the underhanded, brittle characters in Black Swan, but that's probably because Aronofsky treated all of them, good and bad, with the same degree of understanding and respect. I get far more offended over things like the god awful Twilight series, in which a girl gives up her entire future to DIE for her perfect, controlling man. Where's the award for that?

Evan said...

These WFCC winners border on ridiculous. So it reduces women to portray them as b*tches (ok... I get that I guess, though I disagree with their ire towards Black Swan), but it's fine to make movies where their sole purpose is as caretaker to the family? "Conviction" and "Mother and Child" are not exactly the most forward-thinking depictions of women out there. Isn't that the whole point of feminism--to see women beyond their domestic role?

Even if their female choices were revolutionary, they then honor "The King's Speech" where women are essentially left out of any scene involving work-- note that Logue's sons can go to his workplace, but his wife never shows up. Even HBC's character is always reduced to the background when the most "important" decisions are made.

Their "Image" awards basically seem like "most respectable" and "least respectable" awards.

And one final unrelated note: how exactly is Annette Bening a comedic actress? TKAAR is a good and funny film, but the Bening was the least funny part!

Evan said...

^I should add that I see "Conviction" as motherly impulses taken to the legal field. Even though Waters is empowered, it's for the tried and true family reasons.

SVG said...

The award for Black Swan seems a bit odd. It actually has female roles! So many films marginalise women it seems stupid to penalise a film that actually has women to the front and centre.

They should have an award for movies that restrict women to girlfriend roles instead. There would be a lot more to choose from.

Robert said...

Never more did award choices require qualification. If I were in charge of the Women's Critics Circle (which I can safely assume I never would be) I'd eschew the typical best this best that awards and do a list of 5 movies that bring positive attention to women's issues or experience. (Off the top of my head: Winter's Bone, I Am Love, The Kids Are Alright, Fair Game and Easy A, there are actually lots to choose from this year) and then 5 movies that poorly exemplify the same (ie: Sex and the City 2, Twilight: Eclipse, Grown Ups, When in Rome, I Spit on Your Grave).

Anonymous said...

Some low score reviews on metacritic explains the whole Black Swan and women's image really well, I think.

I wouldn't call Black Swan the worst but I did find it very shallow on all points. Nothing can be more shallow than virgin/whore really. It's just a very male POV on women's psyche. I could sense the director's fetish for female physical and "psychological" destruction. And yeah, many actresses are in front of the camera but it never felt like their movie. It felt like they were simply puppeteers under one man's control, Aronofsky.

joe burns said...

I think Natalie's chances are going up, but Annete could still, and if Bullock could win last year, anyone could surprise..

aclp said...

The contrast/ rivalry between Lilly and Nina was simplistic and poorly done, even being all in Nina's head and being her projections.

Nina is always dressed in white. Lily is always in black.

Nina is a virgin who barely knows how to kiss a man and clearly never even masturbates- a man-her master/boss- has to tell her to touch herself.Lilly flirts with two guys, the waiter, goes out at night and has one night stands.

Nina is disciplined and well behaved. Lilly smokes, drinks, does drugs and eats chesseburgers. And so on and on....

Lilly is even from San Francisco- San Francisco, sunny, liberal, hippie, gay culture, rock n roll, marijuana, woo-hoo.....

Robert said...

Amanda - I think that's a valid criticism. While I think there were plenty of films that were worse portrayals of women this year, I think this is a discussion worth having.

One thing I felt Portman's performance lacked was that moment of empathetic vulnerability (like Burstyn or Jackman or Rourke in other Aronofsky pictures). She was already two-thirds mad when we meet her.

Without that I think the bigness of the picture flows over into camp. But then so it is camp, and once I accepted that I actually had fun with it and its ability to get my blood going.

No one is going to accuse Aronofsky of subtletly and I agree that Black Swan relied more on underdimensional characters and concepts than other films of his. Whether that makes it automatically bad... I don't know.

AnthonyDC said...

Maybe "worst female images in a film" is literal? That hangnail scene in the bathroom was the worst female image I saw in a theater this year.

Alex said...

I absolutely love that Oklahoma awarded "Alice in Wonderland" their Not-So-Obviously Worst Movie prize. What a brilliant category.

aclp said...

Robert, I agree. The character was one dimensional, simplistic and she was already way too weak when we first met her. So weak and imature I wondered how did she last that long in such a demanding and though world like that of professional classical dancing.She was way too imature, whiny, silly and emotionaly underdeveloped from the start. And that's all there was to her.

Anonymous said...

Not to turn this into a Black Swan bashfest but I kinda see what Robert and Amanda are saying. I loved the film for what it was but it did seem like Aronofsky watched Repulsion, misinterpreted its most basic elements and threw those elements into a blender with The Red Shoes.

Case in point: Catherine Deneuve's Carole vs. Natalie Portman's Nina. Sure, Carole is mentally fragile and standoffish for most of the movie, but we also catch glimpses of a fully-formed person beneath the surface. Nina, on the other hand, is an archetype and not much else.

One of my favorite scenes in the film is one in which Nina sneaks into Beth's dressing room and cracks a smile as she looks at herself in the prima ballerina's mirror. Here Portman speaks volumes without so much as saying a word. Here I ceased to see a "white swan" and instead saw a girl who wanted nothing more than to impress those around her. It was heart-breaking and I didn't think there was nearly enough of that kind of acting from Portman (though I think she did a fantastic job with what she was given).

Andy Buckle said...

Looks like there is a clear-cut general consensus for the years best films. Rarely have I seen the same ten films appear on so many end-of-year lists. To think, I have only seen five of the films listed on the Oklahoma Film Critics list, due to the delayed Aussie releases. So many films to look forward to.