Directed by Women: 2018’s Unsung Awards Contenders in Writing, Music, and Performance (Part 2 of 3)

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Yesterday, we started looking at the Academy’s history in terms of recognizing films directed by women. If you missed it, be sure to go back and see some dismaying, if not entirely surprising, statistics.

We also examined several key crafts races, paying special attention to films that may not be considered likely nominees, but that are every bit as worthy as many of the front-runners. Nearly all of which were directed by men.

Today, we will continue by looking closely at Original and Adapted Screenplay, Original Score, and Acting.

Screenplay

Randa Haines was the first woman to direct a film to a screenplay nomination. She was also the first woman to direct a Best Picture nominee with the 1986 film, “Children of a Lesser God.”

To date, twenty films have accomplished this feat with scripts for “Big,” “The Piano,” “Frozen River,” and most recently “Lady Bird,” receiving consideration. And yet, it took until 2003 for a nomination to turn into a win. Sofia Coppola broke that ground with “Lost in Translation.”

Three years later, with “Little Miss Sunshine,” Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris co-directed their way to another win for Original Screenplay. And Kathryn Bigelow did the same with “The Hurt Locker” most recently, in 2009. No film has ever won Adapted Screenplay when the script was directed by a woman.

The slate of 2018 films contains many worthy screenplays. The list includes heartfelt dramas like “Private Life” from Tamara Jenkins and “What They Had” from Elizabeth Chomko. Both weave in personal experiences to tell stories with humor, grace, and dignity. They are filled with the kind of detail that makes these stories a perfect blend of relatable and entertaining.

Lynne Ramsay‘s dark, violent “You Were Never Really Here” is a compelling adaptation that dives deep into psychology and trauma without ever trying to answer the unanswerable. Clio Barnard‘s “Dark River” also explores trauma with more focus on drama than violence.

And in a race that is often unpredictable and full of curve balls, comedies are able to make it into the lineup. Readily dismissed as somehow lesser than some of its cinematic brothers, Susanna Fogel‘s “The Spy Who Dumped Me” is a funny and unexpectedly nuanced tale of friendship disguised as a spy caper.

Original Score

Vera Stroyeva had the honor of being the first woman to direct a nominee for Musical Score. “Khovanschina” was a 1959 film from the Soviet Union. Twenty-four years later, Barbra Streisand’s “Yentl” won in a category that recognized both original and adapted scores. Streisand would go on to direct another nominee, “The Prince of Tides,” in 1991. Two of Penny Marshall’s films earned nods in Original Score, and so did Diane Keaton’s “Unsung Heroes.”

After “Yentl,” the next and still most recent winner was Julie Taymor’s “Frida” in 2002. It is a category long overdue for a stat update.

Mary Queen of Scots” may be divisive among viewers, but one of its strongest elements is a mesmerizing score from Max Richter. Richter is one of the more exciting composers to emerge in recent years. Ignoring this music would be particularly egregious. From the grand halls of one castle to a small bedchamber in another, Richter’s composition elevates mood, drama, and the growing sense of unease between the dueling monarchs.

Performances

Thirty-seven films from women have yielded 49 acting nominations. The first female-directed film ever to nab an Oscar nomination was 1930’s “Sarah and Son,” for its Lead Actress, Ruth Chatterton. Yet, in 90 years of Oscar, and with four acting categories, only seven winning performances have ever been directed by women. The most recent came in the form of Meryl Streep’s controversial Lead Actress win for Phyllida Lloyd’s “The Iron Lady” in 2011.

There are always going to be overlooked performances, no matter the director. Some of these fall in very competitive years and others seem like obvious and intentional snubs. But when you consider films like “A League of Their Own,” “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” and “The Beguiled,” it is almost unbelievable that none of their exceptional performances received recognition.

Looking over the list of films from the likes of Lynne Ramsay, Mimi Leder, Tamara Jenkins, and Elizabeth Chomko, it would be a dereliction to ignore the fine work from these talented people.

Felicity Jones channels the notorious Ruth Bader Ginsburg in “On the Basis of Sex,” bringing poise and confidence to someone everyone knows but doesn’t. And while many waxes rhapsodic about certain supportive wives, Mimi Leder gives us the ultimate supportive spouse. Armie Hammer‘s Marty Ginsburg understands the level of partnership required to face a lifetime of challenges and the ongoing fight for equality. Hammer brings levity to the film without trying to take up too much of the screen for himself. She is a very good lead. He gives one of the best performances of the year and of his career.

Another leading lady that deserves accolades is Maggie Gyllenhaal as “The Kindergarten Teacher” who craves a world that no longer exists. She slowly unravels, peeling back layers of quiet desperation, clinging to the edge of a breaking point. She conveys so much with a simple look.

In a cast of Oscar winners and nominees, Robert Forster stands out in “What They Had,” as a husband who struggles and fights to care for his ailing wife. Blythe Danner is also incredible as a woman robbed of herself by Alzheimer’s Disease. Danner is dignified in the face of indignity and is also a worthy contender. But Forster shifts between angry and heartbroken and back again in such a real and honest way. It is truly compelling work from an underappreciated veteran.

One of the most likely films to yield acting nominations is Marielle Heller’s “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant both seem poised to take their rightful places among the chosen ones, but nothing is a guarantee at this stage, and AMPAS needs to watch the incredible depth both of them bring to this fascinating story.

In “Private Life,” Kathryn Hahn, Paul Giamatti, and Kayli Carter are a terrific trio. The chemistry between the three is so natural that it almost doesn’t seem like acting sometimes. The same can be said, though for many different reasons, about Thomasin McKenzie and Ben Foster in Debra Granik’s “Leave No Trace.”

Meanwhile, Joaquin Phoenix dominated conversations earlier in the year for his work in “You Were Never Really Here,” as a military vet with PTSD who saves young women from trafficking. Somewhere along the way, the conversation faded, but his stoicism is no less worthy.

We can also say the same for Desiree Akhavan‘s “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” in which Chloë Grace Moretz gives a career-best performance. Moretz brings strength to Cameron, with so many emotions bubbling just beneath the surface. It is stirring work that demonstrates a maturity far beyond her age.

Come back tomorrow as we wrap up this series with a look at the directing and picture races.

What are some of your favorite screenplays, scores, and performances from films directed by women? Comment below and share!

Be sure to check out our Official Oscar Predictions Page to see the current rankings in all categories.