Hollywood is an interesting place when it comes to diversity. The predominant roles in films have often gone to Caucasians. The predominant directors have often been men (and white men at that). For over 80 years, these actors, actresses, and directors have been rewarded with a multitude of Oscars, reinforcing the stereotypes. It hasn’t been until recently when the awards have been going to people who don’t “fit the norm.” As such, Hollywood is on the cusp of many interesting films. Actors have paved the way, but now we are seeing much more diversity in our directors. It seems that almost every award season sees a new “first” for these prestigious awards. Katheryn Bigelow is merely one of these “firsts” and has managed to keep the momentum from her Oscar breakthrough. This week’s two films examine her best work.
The Hurt Locker
Length: 131 minutes / 2.18 hours
The Academy Awards held for films released in 2009 were interesting for many reasons. First, the nominees for Best Picture were expanded from five to 10, an amount that hadn’t been seen since 1944. Secondly, most films that win Best Picture also win Best Director, which did not have an expanded list of nominees. As such, two of the nominees for Best Director were James Cameron (for Avatar (2009)), and Kathryn Bigelow (for The Hurt Locker (2008)). These two directors used to be married to each other; so much of the media attention surrounding the event was devoted to who would win, especially since Cameron had already won the award for Titanic (1997) over 10 years prior. Even so, Bigelow managed to take the win for Best Picture and Best Director, thus becoming the first woman to ever win the Best Director Oscar.
Some of what made The Hurt Locker so successful had to do with its realism. Filmed in Jordan, the locations had a very similar feel to the Baghdad setting of the Iraq war in 2004. Furthermore, the sounds recorded while filming were used in the final cut of the movie and were not dubbed in later. What I found most refreshing about The Hurt Locker is its ability to be about a recent war, but devoid of any politics surrounding it. Soldiers diffusing bombs are under extreme amounts of danger so the realities of war could be revealed through this film without any partisan skewing one way or the other. There is a human element to the film as well, not only with the soldiers amongst themselves but with the local population and their families back in the United States. With this humanity, audiences could definitely relate to the personal struggles of the soldiers.
Zero Dark Thirty
Length: 157 minutes / 2.61 hours
Riding high after her big win with The Hurt Locker, Bigelow must have realized she had found her niche: war films. A mere four years later, she took up the task of bringing to film the story of the assassination of Osama bin Laden by Seal Team Six. What is impressive to note is that, before her nomination and win with The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow had only directed seven films, the first of which, The Loveless, was made back in 1982. 30 years later, with a Best Picture under her belt, Zero Dark Thirty (2012) was also nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. By this point, the nominations had shrunk down from 10 to nine, merely due to a change in the nomination process that bounded the number of nominees between five and 10. Even if Zero Dark Thirty’s only Oscar (of five nominations) was for Sound Editing, it still remains an impressive film.
Around the same time of The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty starts in Langley, Virginia at the Central Intelligence Agency. Maya (Jessica Chastain) is a new analyst who is tasked to get as much information as she can on Osama bin Laden. Since Osama is the leader of al-Qaeda, the terrorists responsible for the September 11th attacks, finding him is her top priority. In the first few years of her job, she works with Dan (Jason Clarke) to obtain key pieces of information through various forms of torture. After surviving a bombing in Islamabad in 2008, her tactics are forced to change as politics back home have shifted. There are more CIA casualties as Maya gets closer to finding an important person linked to bin Laden. As information unfolds, a secret operation is organized to go in and take out Osama. In the gripping final minutes of the film, the operation is executed. Will they succeed?
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Bigelow blockbusters
Bacon #: 3 (Born in Flames / Eric Bogosian -> Deconstructing Harry / Demi Moore -> A Few Good Men / Kevin Bacon)