Monday, February 23, 2009

Female Directors: The Ghosts of Cinema?

Finding well-known female directors is a very difficult task. I consider myself to be somewhat of a film-buff, yet I was unable to think of more than two or three female directors off the top of my head. The two that did stick out to me, I’m ashamed to say, did not stick out just because of their work, but people tied to their work.  The first would be Sophia Coppola, the daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, has made only a few films, yet all of them have been unique and stylish. The other director is Nora Ephron. The only reason I know of her is because my girlfriend is a big fan of Sleepless in Seattle (1993). While these directors may not be the most well known names (or at least their first names aren’t) their work has certainly given cinema something you might call a “woman’s touch.”

            Sophia Coppola is either known as three different things: Francis Ford Coppola’s daughter, the reason Godfather III (1990) was less than what was expected, or the director of such ground-breaking visual films as Lost in Translation (2003) and Marie Antoinette (2006). The fact that her last name is Coppola really is a shame as Sophia may never be able to get out of the enormous shadow that her father casts. Yet it is not for lack of trying. With Lost in Translation she became one of three women ever to be nominated for the Best Directing Oscar. Her style is of her own, each film having a dreamlike quality with its images and cinematography. The existentialism within Lost in Translation is unique and charming. Coppola explores themes as deep as the meaning of life, yet doesn’t dumb down the audience by trying to answer these questions. She let’s us ponder our own answers while we watch Scarlett johannsen drive around a beautiful downtown Tokyo at night, listening to the song “Sometimes” by My Bloody Valentine. There is no doubt that Coppola is talented.The question is would she where she is today if it weren’t for her father. We can only guess, but I’d assume the answer would be “no.” Then again there are several female directors in the world, it’s just that not all of them have their Dads as one of cinema’s most well-known, well-respected directors. Coppola’s father no doubt helped get her where she is today, but it is Coppola’s vision, and her vision alone that is on the screen, and we are lucky to have it.

            Perhaps one of the best writers as well as directors of romantic-comedy films would be Nora Ephron. Ephron’s trademark however sets her romantic-comediesaside from others. They are often critiques on the differences between men and women. The prime example being Sleepless in Seattle. In the film the difference between men and women and each of their separate ideas on what love “should” be is examined and, of course, hilarity often ensues. Yet, not without Ephron’s biting satire. When being consoled about venturing into the world of dating again, Tom Hanks’ character “Sam” states that he could never let a woman pay for half of a date. His friend Jay, played by Rob Reiner replies “They’ll throw a parade in your honor.” Ephron’s depiction of the decay of the “perfect man” is done not in an insulting way, but one that makes us, or at least me, think twice about how we are seen to women. Why did we ever stop caring? Or, perhaps the question should be when did we ever stop caring. Perhaps this is the reason that few men will list Sleepless in Seattle as one of their favorite movies. The women of Ephron’s films demand respect not only in the work-place, but in the world of romance as well. Her criticism of the differencs between men and women continue in You’ve Got Mail (1998). In this film romance has gone digital, yet the themes are the same. Men are a bit different from women, but does that mean that they deserve any less respect? Of course not. What is original about this film is the way the man of the movie, again played by Hanks, is the owner of the big  money-hungry book corporation “Fox Books” while Meg Ryan owns the sweet, honest, childrens’ book store names “The Store Around the Corner.” As most independent store owners are, Ryan's character genuinely cares about the people she is selling her products to, while Hanks works with only dollar signs in his eyes. But alas, men (or at least Tom Hanks) are not that shallow and Ephron knows it. Ephron’s satirical writing is always sharp, witty, yet warm and comforting. They say good artists listen, and Nora Ephron has had a close ear to us all.

            Female directors are few and far between in Hollywood. However, as long as there are directors like Sophia Coppola and Nora Ephron, a path will be paved for things to change. Hopefully permanently.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

My Favorite Movies of 2008

Note that these are not in any order. Each of these films have their own merits that need to be dealt with separately. Overall a good year for movies. However, the runaway four for me this year were Slumdog Millionaire, Milk, WALL-E and Revolutionary Road.

Burn After Reading

A hilarious follow-up to No Country for Old Men from the Coens. Both Brad Pitt and John Malkovich turn in hilarious performances making this one of the best comedies of 2008.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

A bit of a different type of Woody Allen film, yet his presence is still (quite obviously at times) there. Penelope Cruz also is gives her best performance to date. A study on the complexities of love in two different settings--Spain and The US--Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a very sophisticated and entertaining piece of filmmaking.

The Visitor

The movie from nowhere. What a beautiful film that covers so many issues. Immigration, loneliness, the power of music. Richard Jenkins gives a beautifully subdued performance finally earning him the recognition he deserves. Hopefully now he will get more leading roles like he should!

The Dark Knight

The best comic book adaptation ever made. Period. The film ends up being more of a psychological crime-drama in the vein of Heat than anything else. Heath Ledger was nothing short of breath-taking. We will all miss him dearly.

The Wrestler

Darren Aronofsky gets personal...and it's a success. Perhaps one of the most human and realistic stories of the year. The film is only improved upon with Mickey Rourke's portrayal of a broken-down man, who goes down a road of loss that only celluloid has the ability to capture.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

A beautiful study of aging and all that goes along with it, including death, love, and loss. This movie will be remembered for years to come, not only for it's innovative use of technology, but for it's deeply potent story as well.


Perhaps one of the most socially important family-oriented films ever made. The film's strong point lies in it's writing, in which it's critique on contemporary society is beautifully woven into one of the sweetest love stories of the decade.

Revolutionary Road

A sharply written, painful, yet altogether beautiful commentary on the complexities of marriage. The simplicity of the story is what makes this film so powerful. Sam Mendes lets the camera quietly capture both Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet's best performances to date. A film that sticks with you for days after you leave the theatre.


Released in the wake of the passage of Proposition 8, Milk is one of the boldest, and most important films to be made in years. Sean Penn plays Harvey Milk with such ease that he disappears into the character. Strong acting across the board makes this the best acted film of the year. A extremely devastating drama about the power one person can have to change the world around him.

Slumdog Millionaire

The stand-up-and-cheer movie of the year. My favorite film of the year. See my last post to read what I really think about this one.

Have yet to see: Frost/Nixon or Waltz with Bashir...both of which seem pretty promising