Women 101—In Like a Lion, Out Like a… Lion

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The warrior goddess Sekhmet was usually depicted as a lioness by the Ancient Egyptians.

So, March happened. And so did work. Lots and lots of work. And, while I had hopes it might let up at some point and let me get through at least a few of my planned posts on female warriors, it did not, my dear readers.

On the upside, I can pay my rent and tax bills, so there’s that.

Since one of my blogging resolutions for the year is to move ever forward, like a shark, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until next year to see if poor Zenobia ever gets her due.

In the meantime, if you fancy learning a bit more about the subject yourself, I did collect an incredible number of fantastic books on women warriors and wanted to share their titles here. Because, yes, for once, I had planned actual research, instead of relying on only a few podcasts and what I could find googling. Perhaps that is where it all went wrong. In any case, I managed to get through enough pages in each of these to recommend them heartily.

Antonia Fraser, The Warrior Queens (1988). This is really the grandmother of all references on the subject of female warriors. While a bit harder to use as a reference tool and less academic than many of the titles here, not to mention being superseded by later research, it provides the best overview of the subject from a narrative point-of-view.

Tim Newark, Women Warlords: An Illustrated Military History of Female Warriors (1989). I checked out a number of very lightly researched, illustrated books on “bad-ass” women (see Princesses Behaving Badly below), so I didn’t expect very much from this title. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find a thorough study of Amazons real and imagined as well as warriors of both the ancient Middle East and medieval Europe.

David E. Jones, Women Warriors: A History (1997). This book boasts the best combination of chronological and geographical breadth and depth, covering women as far back in time as the legendary Amazons and as close as the soldiers of Desert Storm, and ranging from Africa to the Americas, as well as Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

Pat Southern, Empress Zenobia: Palmyra’s Rebel Queen (2008). This work focuses on Zenobia, obviously, but especially on her (and Palmyra’s) place within the history of Imperial Rome. It would be of particular interest to fans of the military history of the Ancient World.

Linda Rodríguez McRobbie, Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History—without the Fairy-Tale (2013). As one might guess from its title, this is perhaps the most fun read of the bunch. The author strains credulity by playing fast and loose with actual history and contorting the definition of princess as it suits her narrative, but it’s a real pleasure to read once you get past the hyperbolic introduction. More importantly, it is a great primer in terms of learning the names of women you might be interested in exploring further.

Kara Cooney, When Women Ruled the World: Six Queens of Egypt (2018). This hot-off-the-presses book by a UCLA Egyptologist looks at the lives of six female pharaohs. However, in many ways, the most interesting part of her book is her introduction, where she speaks of how, after the 2016 election, she no longer has to convince her students of how poorly female leaders are treated or remembered.

Pamela D. Toler, Women Warriors: An Unexpected History (2019). Another work that is hot of the presses. It is so nice that people are finally trying to fill some of these historical gaps in a serious way. While not as wide-ranging as Jones, Toler covers a number of women I had on my list but for whom I had only found minimal coverage elsewhere, including Amina of Hausa, Tomyris, and warriors in the Americas.

When you want to read between the lions, the library has your back!

For previous posts in this Women 101 series, click below:
From Abigail Adams to Zenobia
Birds of the Air
Wasps and Witches
Soldiers and Spies in the Civil War
Soldiers and Spies in World War II
Adventurers and Explorers
From A to Z for Realz
Strange Bedfellows
A Mind at (House)Work
Looking Good; Feeling Good
Fashion Forward
Once Were Warriors

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Women 101—Once Were Warriors

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What? Three posts within twenty-four hours? What is this madness?

It’s March madness, folks! And you know what that means…

Women’s History Month and the return of my Women 101 series!

Given recent stirrings in the man-child community about women fighting their own goddamn battles on screens across the country of late, and because I still haven’t given Zenobia her due, I thought that this year I would spend all month on the subject of women warriors. Because, gentle (and not so gentle) readers, the warriors we are seeing on screens are not simply the result of filmmakers pandering to political correctness, but rather based on actual historical facts.

In short, they’re real, and they’re spectacular.

What can you expect to see here over the next month? Well, I will be looking at warrior women across time and space, focusing on one continent, or sub-continent, per post, from the Amazons of Dahomey in West Africa to Zenobia, queen of Palmyra in Syria. Other women who will make an appearance along the way include Queen Tomyris of the Massagetae (Iran), British folk hero Boudica, Nzinga Mbande of Ndongo and Matamba (Angola), the Lombard princess Sikelgaita, Lakshmibai of northern India, and the Trưng sisters of Vietnam. I haven’t yet settled on who might represent the Americas, so if you have any ideas, I am open to suggestions there.

Tune in next week for the first post in this series, Warriors of Africa.

For previous posts in this Women 101 series, click below:
From Abigail Adams to Zenobia
Birds of the Air
Wasps and Witches
Soldiers and Spies in the Civil War
Soldiers and Spies in World War II
Adventurers and Explorers
From A to Z for Realz
Strange Bedfellows
A Mind at (House)Work
Looking Good; Feeling Good
Fashion Forward

The Oscars: 1992 to 2017

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As I wrote about here, and here, I was less than thrilled by this year’s Oscar nominees. Not to mention the fact that the producers of the telecast seemed to be doing their darndest to ruin the whole thing. So, instead of focusing on this year’s ceremony, I decided to celebrate my twenty-five years of hosting Oscar dinners and pools with a “Best of the Best” side ceremony, looking at the films nominated in each major category from 1992 to 2017.

But that’s twenty-six years isn’t it? Yes, it is. Shout-out to the year 2007 when I inadvertently planned a trip to Paris in late February 2008. However, I didn’t want to deprive Roger Deakins of one of his best chances at victory. [Side note: In the end, I only provided Deakins nominations as options for cinematography so no one had any choice in the matter, really. Hashtag, no regrets.]

You might think that Bérénice Marlohe is plotting her next move but really she is wondering if anyone will make her look as good as Roger Deakins does in Skyfall.

Twitter polling provided the nomination lists in the categories of acting, directing, cinematography, editing, producing, and writing. In the case of Best Picture, all 166 films nominated from 1992 to 2017 were eligible. Then, previous attendees of my annual dinner and pool voted for their favorite in each category and ranked up to ten films for Best Picture.

And here are the results. Thanks to everyone who participated!

Best Actor Nominees:
Russell Crowe for The Insider
Daniel Day-Lewis for There Will Be Blood
Philip Seymour Hoffman for Capote
Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler
Denzel Washington for Malcolm X

And the winner is… a tie!
Daniel Day-Lewis for There Will Be Blood and Denzel Washington for Malcolm X

Best Actress Nominees:
Holly Hunter for The Piano
Frances McDormand for Fargo
Hillary Swank for Boys Don’t Cry
Charlize Theron for Monster
Emily Watson for Breaking the Waves

And the winner is… (by far)
Frances McDormand for Fargo!

Best Supporting Actor Nominees:
Javier Bardem for No Country for Old Men
Tom Cruise for Magnolia
Ralph Fiennes for Schindler’s List
Samuel L. Jackson for Pulp Fiction
Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight

And the winner is…
Tom Cruise for Magnolia!
(This one was neck and neck with everyone except Fiennes right behind Cruise.)

Best Supporting Actress Nominees:
Juliette Binoche for The English Patient
Naomie Harris for Moonlight
Melissa McCarthy for Bridesmaids
Laurie Metcalf for Lady Bird
Lupita Nyong’o for 12 Years a Slave

And the winner is…
Laurie Metcalf for Lady Bird!
(Metcalf just edged out McCarthy on this one. You gotta love a lady who makes you laugh.)

Best Cinematography Nominees:
Roger Deakins for…
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Blade Runner 2049
No Country for Old Men
O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Skyfall

And the winner is…
Roger Deakins for Skyfall! (A tough choice but the best man won.)

Best Editing Nominees:
Sandra Adair for Boyhood
Margaret Sixel for Mad Max: Fury Road
Zach Staenberg for The Matrix
Dody Dorn for Memento
Sally Menke for Pulp Fiction

And the winner is…
Margaret Sixel for Mad Max: Fury Road!

Best Adapted Screenplay Nominees:
L.A. Confidential (Brian Helgeland & Curtis Hanson)
Sense and Sensibility (Emma Thompson)
Schindler’s List (Steven Zaillian)
The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont)
The Social Network (Aaron Sorkin)

And the winner is… another tie!
L.A. Confidential and The Shawshank Redemption

Best Original Screenplay Nominees:
The Crying Game (Neil Jordan)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Pierre Bismuth, Michel Gondry & Charlie Kaufman)
Memento (Christopher & Jonathan Nolan)
Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino & Roger Avary)
The Usual Suspects (Christopher McQuarrie)

And the winner is (by far)…
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind!

“I’m just exactly where I want to be.”

Best Directing Nominees:
Joel Coen for Fargo
David Lynch for Mulholland Drive
Jane Campion for The Piano
Mike Leigh for Secrets & Lies
Paul Thomas Anderson for There Will Be Blood

And the winner is…
Joel Coen for Fargo!

This was the clearest winner of the bunch, with 60% of the vote. So, it’s perhaps not surprising…

Best Picture Nominees:
Boyhood
Fargo
Little Miss Sunshine
Mad Max: Fury Road
Moonlight
No Country for Old Men
Pulp Fiction
Schindler’s List
Unforgiven
Winter’s Bone

And the winner is…
Fargo!

In true Oscar preferential-voting fashion, Fargo received no first place votes, but more than half of respondents placed it in their top ten, with most placing it second. Votes were otherwise fairly scattered among seventy-five or so films, but the top five films (Boyhood, Fargo, Pulp Fiction, Schindler’s List, Unforgiven) were very clear. More than half the films on the list of 166 received no votes.

It was terrific fun looking back on all the great (and not so great) films that have come out and been nominated since the early 1990s, as well as seeing what everyone else selected as their top choices. It was also nice to be reminded that the Academy very often doesn’t get it right.

In fact, between this reassessment and the breaking down of the numbers by decade that I did in my Year in Film roundup of older films, I am more convinced than ever to undertake the Century of Cinema project I’ve been mulling over—spending each month of 2020 reviewing one particular decade in the history of film, starting with the early silents in January, then moving on to the 1920s in February, and each succeeding decade as the year goes on. Of course, my weakness in certain decades means I basically have to start on my “unseen” backlog now. So you will likely see a high concentration of silent films in my first half-year round-up, and then the films of the 1930s–1950s in the second half of the year.

I can’t wait!

The Oscars That Almost Weren’t

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You may be wondering where I disappeared to after my post on the Oscar nominations. After all, don’t I usually inundate you with Oscar Blitz posts this time of year? Truth be told, I was so underwhelmed by the nominated films I hadn’t yet seen, I was ready to throw in the towel on the whole Academy, especially once their horrific plans for the ceremony started leaking out. Luckily, those plans didn’t come to pass once social media got wind of them, but I still felt completely uninspired by the process this year.

I did catch up on a few 2018 films I had been looking forward to (including the multi-nominated Can You Ever Forgive Me? and If Beale Street Could Talk), but debated whether to even have people over. In the end, I planned a low-key affair, with no themed menu, no pool, and no bingo. As a surprise twist, the best thing to come out of this fiasco was completely unrelated to this year’s ceremony—a survey I did of previous Oscar dinner attendees to determine the “best of the best” nominees from 1992 to 2017, the results of which I tweeted throughout the night. For the results of the survey, click here.

I just realized this picture of Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me? looks a little too much like mini-me for my own comfort!

The actual ceremony turned out to be less of a trainwreck than anticipated—thank goodness—but the welcome surprises were few and far between. Of course, with this list of nominees, I didn’t expect very many.

Here is what I would have liked to have seen:

Actor in a Leading Role: Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born

Actor in a Supporting Role: Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Actress in a Leading Role: Yalitza Aparicio, Roma or Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Actress in a Supporting Role: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk. This is mostly because I can’t get behind the category fraud that has Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz of The Favourite as supporting players, though I guess it worked for them to get Olivia Coleman an award—not that I didn’t like her or the lovely surprise that was her win. I liked If Beale Street Could Talk okay, but it seemed more like a tone poem than a complete film if that makes sense. Medicine for Melancholy remains my favorite Jenkins film to date.

Best Adapted Screenplay: BlacKkKlansman or Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Best Original Screenplay: First Reformed

Best Cinematography: Cold War

Best Film Editing: None. If I were an Oscar voter, I would abstain from this category. None of the nominated films I saw, or Bohemian Rhapsody, should have won for editing. What would have been on my editing slate? For starters, Annihilation, Blindspotting, Eighth Grade, First Reformed, Paddington 2, A Quiet Place, Roma, or You Were Never Really Here should have been considered before any of these.

Best Director: Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman

Best Picture: Roma or A Star Is Born. While my personal favorite of the nominated films remains A Star Is Born, I would have been happy with a Roma win if that meant we could have Spike as Best Director.

What were you most happy to see on Oscar night? What were you least happy to see? If you could redistribute one Oscar to any other nominee, which would you choose?

Oscar Nominations: Favourites and Bêtes Noires

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And so the race for the 91st Academy Awards begins.

The nominees for Best Picture are…

Black Panther (7 nominations)
BlacKkKlansman (6 nominations)
Bohemian Rhapsody (5 nominations)
The Favourite (10 nominations)
Green Book (5 nominations)
Roma (10 nominations)
A Star Is Born (8 nominations)
Vice (8 nominations)

You can see a full ballot list for printing here. My own round-up of 2018 films is here.

My first thoughts on this list? Extremely predictable—I actually said yesterday on Twitter that I thought there would only be 7 or 8 nominees and this is the list that I wrote up last night—and extremely depressing. The optimist in me was actually willing to get up at 5:20 this morning to watch the announcement live, but I should have known better.

I don’t know what planet these Academy voters live on, but apparently it’s one where you don’t watch a lot of movies. Any avid moviegoer who sat through 2018 would not come to the conclusion that Bohemian Rhapsody or Green Book were the best films of the year. I have serious doubts about Vice as well, but at least I know people who liked it. And, well, I’ve already made my thoughts on Black Panther clear—it’s a great entry in the Marvel universe, but Best Picture? No. At least not ahead of the likes of Leave No Trace, First Reformed, or You Were Never Really Here.

In short, overall, I am extremely disappointed in this list. I mean, sure, I was crushed to see that, yet again, no women were nominated for Best Director, but with a Best Picture list like this, who could be surprised? The Oscars certainly have their flaws, and their list seldom matches my own, but somehow I hoped for better this time around. It is hard to get excited for an Oscar blitz when you are pretty sure you have already seen most of the good ones.

Of course, I’m very happy to see three of my own top ten list on there, as well as The Favourite, which I saw earlier this month; however, I really don’t think either BlacKkKlansman or The Favourite should win “Best Picture” on the night. Roma probably wouldn’t be my pick either, but I don’t begrudge it a win; it’s a gorgeous film. Right now I’m rooting for A Star Is Born. Why? Three words: Pure. Movie. Magic.

And with that, let’s get up close and personal with the rest of the nominations, shall we?

The Good
What made me squee when the names were read?

In the acting categories, my biggest joy came from the fact that Yalitza Aparicio and Melissa McCarthy were both on the Best Actress list. That was the only acting category to not have a surprise nomination, but I was worried those two might not make it on, so I’m thrilled they did. I was also ecstatic to see Paul Schrader get recognition for his First Reformed screenplay.

Perhaps the biggest fulfillment of my Oscar hopes was the nomination of Shoplifters for Best Foreign-Language Film. In fact, that is a very solid list all around with Capernaum (Lebanon), Cold War (Poland), Never Look Away (Germany), Roma (Mexico), and Shoplifters (Japan). I haven’t yet seen Capernaum (but I’ve been meaning to since it has a female director) or Never Look Away (which isn’t out yet here but is by the director of the fantastic The Lives of Others), but I’m looking forward to both.

Speaking of foreign films, I was extremely pleased to see Cold War, which I saw this past Sunday, pick up nominations for both Cinematography and Directing. I love when foreign films break out into the other categories and, if I can’t have a female director with a nomination, at least Paweł Pawlikowski knocked Peter Farrelly off the Directing list. And, the cinematography of Cold War is gorgeous, the best-looking black and white film I’ve seen in years.

In fact, I’m pretty happy with how the Cinematography category shook out as a whole. The four films I’ve seen in this category (Cold War, The Favorite, Roma, and A Star Is Born) all really impressed me with their distinct looks and Never Look Away is lensed by Caleb Deschanel so I trust. I would be happy to see any of the nominees in this category win.

The Bad

Well, obviously, I’m mostly disappointed that some of the best films of the year weren’t even talked about as part of this conversation. And that is really the biggest problem with the Oscars these days. Word and, let’s face it, marketing, seems to coalesce around a few films and the guilds follow suit. While it has always been true that the Best Picture list does not necessarily represent the best pictures of the year, it really seems that the Oscars are floundering in this brave new world of tentpole releases and indie darlings. They don’t seem to want nominate indie darlings, but there are so few solid prestige films in the middle that we get things like Green Book in the mix.

In terms of specific nominations, in light of what was actually expected, I don’t have too many distinct disappointments. My biggest one is perhaps Ethan Hawke not getting an acting nod for First Reformed. I mean, I don’t begrudge Willem Dafoe for At Eternity’s Gate, since I love when nominations come from out of the blue, but Hawke was so good that I felt sure he was going to squeak by John David Washington for BlacKkKlansman (who was also very good). Instead, they both lost out.

In a similar vein, I thought Leave No Trace had a chance to steal a fifth spot from Black Panther for Best Adapted Screenplay, but instead they both lost out to The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, which seemed to come from nowhere. I liked the screenplay for Scruggs just fine, but I had no idea it was adapted so I hadn’t even considered it for that category. In the Original Screenplay category, I was hoping for Eighth Grade to make it in, but since I did get First Reformed, I can’t complain too much.

The biggest surprise of the morning for me was the Best Documentary category. I have actually seen a number of the shortlisted films and was certain that Won’t You Be My Neighbor and Three Identical Strangers would make it on there. I was less sure about Shirkers but wouldn’t have been surprised. Instead two longshots (Hale County This Morning, This Evening and Of Fathers and Sons) snuck in, along with RBG, which I found merely serviceable. I’m afraid of heights and therefore couldn’t bring myself to watch Free Solo, so at the moment I’m rooting for Minding the Gap, which was not what I expected, but I liked very much.

Finally, I would have liked to see the score of First Man nominated. I haven’t seen many of the films on the score shortlist, but I listened to the selections and that was my favorite (besides Annihilation, which I knew didn’t really have a chance). The First Man score was number one with the oddsmakers, so I don’t know exactly what happened there.

The Ugly

Once again, the Directors Branch has shown themselves to be the old boy network writ large. Get out of here with this nonsense. Also, I don’t want to hear any of these lame-ass excuses as to why Debra Granik, Marielle Heller, or Lynne Ramsay wasn’t nominated, when they nominate the director of a small, domestic picture like Roma or seriously consider first-time director Cooper for awards.

Oscar Blitz Plans
So, what will I be running out to see?

Well, at the moment, the only movies I’m excited about seeing are Can You Ever Forgive Me? and If Beale Street Could Talk as well as the two foreign films (Capernaum and Never Look Away) that I mention above. I suppose I will try to see Bohemian Rhapsody, First Man, Mary Poppins, and Vice, but I don’t know about Green Book.

Wow, looking this list over, they really didn’t spread the nominations very wide did they? I actually have a number of categories almost covered. And, as previously noted, I’ve seen quite a few of the documentaries and foreign films already. As always, I will try to catch the animation and live-action short programs, which I highly recommend in general if they are playing near you.

What are your thoughts on this morning’s announcement? Add your thoughts below and stay tuned over the next month for my Oscar Blitz series with more details on all the major categories.