Oscars 2019: the all-female best director shortlist that should have been

This year's best picture and best director nominations lists don't include a single woman

From left to right: Debra Granik, Marielle Heller, Karyn Kusama, Nadine Labaki and Christina Choe. Getty Images
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To date, only one woman has won an Academy Award for best director. It was the brilliant Kathryn Bigelow for 2009's Hurt Locker.

Winner for Best Director and Best Picture Kathryn Bigelow for "The Hurt Locker" gives her acceptance speech at the 82nd Academy Awards at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, California on March 7, 2010. AFP PHOTO Gabriel BOUYS (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)
Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win an Oscar for best director for the 'Hurt Locker' in 2010. The film also won best picture. AFP

Last year, Greta Gerwig was nominated in the category for Lady Bird (which also got the nod for best picture). That was a great moment for womankind, but it was only the fifth time a female director has ever received the accolade. In the entire 90-year history of the Academy Awards.

Other women to get the nod are: Lina Wertmuller for 1975's Seven Beauties, Jane Campion for 1994's The Piano and Sofia Coppola for 2003's Lost in Translation (at least the number of years between nominations has lessened, are we right?).

At the time of Gerwig's nomination, people loudly bemoaned the fact that only one female-directed film made it into the best picture category. And yet, in 2019, no women made it in. After a year that saw the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements gain traction, and only four days after the Women's March 2019, seeing women again so marginalised in the film industry certainly seems more like a step backwards for gender equality.

So, with that in mind, we've put together our very own female-only best director nominations list. A few notes beforehand: it only includes films that were released in 2018 and we're well aware there are many, many other women that are worthy of a place on this list – we've simply chosen a handful of champions that deserve a shout-out.

Without further ado...

Nadine Labaki

Nadine Labaki on the set of . Photo by Fares Sokhon, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Nadine Labaki on the set of 'Capernaum'. Fares Sokhon / Sony Pictures Classics

Naturally, we'll always shout about female Arab filmmakers and yesterday Lebanese director Nadine Labaki made history when she became the first one to be nominated for an Oscar in the best feature documentary category for her moving refugee drama.

It tells the story of children in the slums of Beirut, using a cast of non-actors, and follows a boy, 12, who decides to sue his abusive parents, who he's already fled from, for the "crime" of giving him life. It's also been nominated in the foreign language categories for the Golden Globes and BAFTAs, as well as for 21 other awards. And it's won 21.

If Mexican male director Alfonso Cuaron can become the 10th director to have a film not in the English language (Roma) nominated in the best picture category, Labaki should certainly have a shot at grabbing the best director gong.

Debra Granik

Debra Granik attends the 44th Annual Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards at the InterContinental Century City Hotel on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
Debra Granik attends the 44th Annual Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards 2019. AP

Forget the Oscars, for most of us average Janes our movie barometer is mostly set by Rotten Tomatoes. And Debra Granik's Leave No Trace has a whopping 100 per cent on the review-aggregation website (82 per cent audience score). The film, which was released in summer 2018, follows a homeless father and daughter who live in a stunning nature reserve near Portland, Oregan. They rarely make contact with the rest of the world, but when a small mistake brings them to the attention of authorities, they're forced to settle back into society. The director and film were nominated at the Independent Spirit Awards, and the movie got a National Board of Review nod, and racked up $6 million at the box office. But, alas, the Oscar was just out of grasp, it seems.

Granik also made the Oscar-nominated Winter's Bone (she was nominated, along with producer / writer Anne Rosellini, for best writing, adapted screenplay in 2011). Let's hope she gets her Academy recognition for another fantastic film in future.

Marielle Heller

This image released by Fox Searchlight Pictures shows director Marielle Heller, left, and Melissa McCarthy in a scene from "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" Heller failed to receive an Oscar nomination for best director while co-stars McCarthy and Richard E. Grant received nominations for best actress and supporting actor.  (Fox Searchlight Pictures via AP)
Director Marielle Heller, left, and Melissa McCarthy in a scene from 'Can You Ever Forgive Me?'. AP

Heller's masterpiece Can You Ever Forgive Me? may have picked up three nominations at this year's Oscars (for actress in a leading role, actor in a supporting role, adapted screenplay), but its director seems to have been overlooked. Although writer Nicole Holofcener is a nominee – and should have been for her brilliant directorial work on 2018's The Land of Steady Habits, too. (Just saying.)

The much-lauded biography-crime-comedy stars Melissa McCarthy as struggling writer who forges letters from literary legends. Richard E Grant plays her best friend. It came out in November but has already received an enormous 75 nominations and bagged 36 wins. If that's not enough proof that a director is dazzling, then we don't know what is.

Karyn Kusama

Director Karyn Kusama arrives for the premiere of Destroyer at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in Toronto, Canada, September 10, 2018. REUTERS/Mark Blinch
Director Karyn Kusama arrives for the premiere of 'Destroyer' at the Toronto International Film Festival. REUTERS

Nicole Kidman's incredible transformation and "extreme makeunder" for her role as a police detective in Destroyer may be the most talked-about thing about the 2018 gritty drama-thriller, but its female director Karyn Kusama should be, too. Kidman's performance has been applauded (she didn't get an Oscars nom, but did get a Golden Globes nod) and Kusama's work widely recognised – she was nominated for the platform prize at the Toronto International Film Festival, best film at the London Film Festival and best woman director at Alliance of Women Film Journalists. But that's not enough to impress the Academy, it seems.

Kusama has been celebrated in the past for her work on action-adventure Aeon Flux, which stars Charlize Theron, and 2000 Spanish film Girlfight. Perhaps it's time we pay attention?

Christina Choe

US director Christina Choe poses during a photocall to present the film "Nancy" during the 44th Deauville US Film Festival on September 2, 2018 in the French northwestern sea resort of Deauville. (Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP)
US director Christina Choe presents the film 'Nancy' during the 44th Deauville US Film Festival. AFP

American filmmaker Christina Choe has been referred to as one of 2018's rising star female directors to watch out for. Mainly for her critically acclaimed drama-thriller Nancy that scored 86 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes (because that's important), in which Choe made her directorial feature film debut. It's a film about Nancy (funnily enough), who becomes convinced that she was kidnapped as a child, particularly when she meets a couple whose daughter went missing 30 years ago. Choe won an award at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival for it.

Choe also made her TV debut this summer, directing an episode of the notable American drama series Queen Sugar (and that's got 97 per cent on Tomatoes).

It'd be nice if the Academy recognised a few more rising female stars instead of all the male up-and-comers and big-hitters from time to time, wouldn't it?


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