Film critics are currently in agreement about two things: 2013 was an excellent year for American film, but it was a lousy year for everyone who pees sitting down. Behind the camera, in front of the camera, somewhere in the near vicinity of the camera. It didn’t really matter. Unless your name is Megan Ellison or you were responsible for “Let it Go,” then this probably wasn’t your year. Look no further than the nominees for Best Actress: Cate Blanchet is a lock for Blue Jasmine—an execrable film that includes jokes that might have been funny during the Carter administration—and Meryl Streep is nominated for a film that manages to make a dramatic legend sound like a soap actress impersonating Paula Deen. The Best Supporting Actress category is far stronger (Lupita and June!), but it’s troubling that 2013 Hollywood apparently only writes strong roles for women who agree to take up less screen time.
But this doesn’t mean women weren’t working in any films. It just means they weren’t in the types of films or the types of roles that Hollywood deems worthy of red carpets and tiny gold men. So here are the five ways I’d change the current list of nominees to increase the Oscar’s popularity among single, over-educated Jezebel readers (i.e., me):
5. Best Lead Actress: Waad Mohammed, Wadjda
If we could nominate Haley Joel Osment for acting sufficiently scared for two-and-a-half hours, then we can certainly nominate the young Mohammed for her understated yet whimsical performance in Haifaa al-Mansour’s debut film about the daily inequities faced by female Saudis. Clearly, a film about “the daily inequities faced by female Saudis” is a little more my thing than the Academy’s, but I digress.
4. Best Supporting Actress: Scarlet Johansson, Her
When critics discuss the need for the Academy to recognize voice actors, they’re almost always referring to films that feature fantastical creatures and grown men dressed as medieval farmers. Even though Her could be classified as science fiction, Johansson’s Samantha isn’t some green-screen creation; she’s a digital consciousness that makes viewers question what counts as “a person” or “a relationship.” With nothing in her arsenal but her signature husky voice, she is still able to express Samantha’s inquisitiveness, insecurities, hopes, and eventual evolution. While Joaquin Phoenix certainly deserves his nomination, he got to use his arms and legs, not to mention his head. This is quite an advantage.
3. Best Lead Actress: Julie Delpy, Before Midnight
So Hollywood likes boobs. It’s basically the town that mammary glands built, so I can’t understand why even a topless Delpy couldn’t secure a nomination. While her strident performance in the final film in Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy initially underwhelmed me, I’ve come to appreciate how well she expresses the utter exhaustion that must be experienced by any woman forced to live with Ethan Hawke—or any man who says that monogamy is a social convention limiting his innate desires. So is the penal code, Jesse. Point being, Celine deserves better, as does Delpy.
2. Best Documentary: Stories We Tell
Critics are falling all over themselves to praise the innovative documentary The Act of Killing—and for good reason. It’s a brilliant, chilling documentary that plays with the intersection of life and representation like no other previous film, except for Sarah Polley’s documentary, which happened to come out the same year. Now, Polley’s film is about the consequences of adultery, not Indonesian genocide, so the stakes aren’t quite as high. But Stories We Tell is no less daring than the The Act of Killing in its dissection of memory, film itself, and the necessity of constructing meaning through narrative. But it was made by a woman—and a Canadian woman at that—so I guess that rendered it ineligible.
1. Best Picture: Frances Ha, Best Lead Actress: Greta Gerwig
If I were to move the document I’m currently typing, I’d be staring at a black-and-white still of a young blonde snapping her fingers and striking a pose before a Manhattan fountain. Yep, Greta Gerwig’s Frances is my Mac’s wallpaper. So I’m clearly a bit of a fan. While I could write thousands of superlative adjectives describing how perfectly Frances Ha captures the end of youth in millennial Brooklyn, the best compliment I can give it is this: it doesn’t feel like a 2013 film. It feels like a 2013 premium cable show, which apparently is the only place where American women are allowed to have identities as well rounded as their chests. Because Hollywood certainly does like boobs. The women attached to those boobs, not so much.
Bonus: Although Inside Llewyn Davis is not exactly a feminist film, I wish the original song “Please Mr. Kennedy” would have been nominated if only because nothing would have made me happier on Oscar night than seeing Adam Driver making funny noises next to Justin Timberlake. Alas, it will never be…