Maybe the title above isn’t fair. Melissa McCarthy got an Oscar Best Actress nomination for playing Lee Israel, an irascible crank in her 50s who pulled off an incredible scam, and Can You Ever Forgive Me is completely worth your time. The nomination is completely deserved and also kind of surprising, since the movie and its buzz faded in the last few weeks, and because McCarthy has been a relatively quiet contender in the Best Actress categories at the Globes/Critics/SAGs – although that may change now?
The irony, though, comes because McCarthy plays not just an unlikeable woman, but a woman who’s trying – and failing – to get acknowledgement for her work, and it’s consistently not working. Which is particularly poignant on Oscar Nomination morning, because you can imagine a lot of women in film feel kind of the same way…
Look. Can You Ever Forgive Me was also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay – Nicole Holofcenter*, who wrote and directed Enough Said and Friends With Money, adapted it with Jeff Whitty. Plus, Richard E. Grant got a nomination for Best Supporting Actor, which is completely deserved.
But there’s no nomination for Marielle Heller, the director.
Two Oscar-nominated performances from an Oscar-nominated screenplay, but no Director nod? Okayyyy – I mean, it happens (to Bradley Cooper), and of course, there are four Best Picture nominations that didn’t also garner Best Director nods, but yet again, no women are nominated for Directing.
“Well, maybe women just didn’t direct the best movies this year, OKAY?” Maybe they didn’t. Other female directors who might have been in this conversation, once upon a time, include Josie Rourke for Mary Queen Of Scots and Mimi Leder for On The Basis Of Sex – neither of which have really been in serious-contender Best Picture/Director conversation over the last few months, nor has CYEFM.
Possibly it’s because they just don’t hold up against the other films that were nominated – but we should also consider that maybe they have fewer people campaigning for them. That they’re less known. Maybe Heller and Rourke and Leder have fewer friends in the industry who want to make noise and hold screenings on their behalves, or fewer voting members of the Academy who think to nominate them – as opposed to the heavy hitters they know.
It’s a Möbius strip of a problem. Last year when Greta Gerwig was nominated for Lady Bird, the she-doesn’t-deserve-to-be-there contingent said the movie was too light, too small, to deserve that honour. This year all the potential female directors had big, real-people/historical-esque stories to tell, and… nope. Nothing. I don’t want to be cynical, but it kind of makes you wonder what the problem’s going to be next year?
That said, there are some awesome nominations that can’t be overlooked in my side-eyeing here – Torontonian Domee Shi is nominated for Best Animated Short for the truly delightful Bao, and Betsy West & Julie Cohen’s RBG, the documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsberg, was nominated for Best Documentary Feature. Those aren’t the heavy-hitter awards, but they matter, and even nominations get those women into places and meetings where they can do more with more.
But I wouldn’t fault any woman, ‘snubbed’ or just lost in the shuffle, who identifies with Lee Israel today.
*While I’m up, I should point out that Holofcenter is one of only two women nominated across both screenplay categories – and both of those women (the other is Deborah Davis for The Favourite) co-wrote with men. It’s a better ratio, but… not by a whole lot. Humph.
Attached - Melissa on the set of The Kitchen with Tiffany Haddish earlier this month.