It's really easy to talk about the issues that plague women in Hollywood. Why? Because there are so many steps that need to be taken before women and men have equal footing in the industry (or pretty much, you know, anywhere in life). But there may be instances in which Hollywood's obsession with female beauty benefits them: The Oscars. It's no industry secret that if a woman (especially a beautiful one) drastically changes her image for a dramatic role, she's almost assured to be in the running for Best Actress.
What happens, though, when men held in similar esteem downgrade their looks for a leading role? Crickets, mostly. In fact, men who are often considered beautiful by society (read: women and gay men) have a mighty hard time getting their names on the winner's envelope when the Best Actor announcement comes around. So the question begs: does the Academy have a double standard on its hands? It sure seems that way.
Or perhaps it goes back to the perception of women. "Women are supposed to be admired for what they look like," Linda Mizejewski, a professor of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Ohio State University, says. "But if a man is admired for what he looks like, it's suspicious."
Does this mean, then, that a looks-based value system creates such a double standard? Gasp! Impossible! Only it's completely logical when you break it down: our society places an incredibly high value on female beauty, but peg a veritable smörgåsbord of "weak" traits as distinctly feminine. As Mizejewski says, we can value women for their looks, but a man is "feminized" as soon as we consider his beauty a valuable asset. In the less-than-immortal-but-still-terribly-apt words of "What It Feels Like For A Girl" by Madonna, "Girls can wear jeans and cut their hair short / Wear shirts and boots / 'Cause it's okay to be a boy / But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading / 'Cause you think that being a girl is degrading."
If you look at the past 10 years, the Best Actress category is rife with women who have altered (sometimes quite drastically) their sexy image in the name of nailing the character: Charlize Theron in Monster. Nicole Kidman in The Hours. Kate Winslet in The Reader. Marion Cotillard in La Vie En Rose. Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby AND Boys Don't Cry. Heck even Meryl Streep did it for The Iron Lady. And that doesn't even include the bevy of women that underwent major transformations who were simply nominated (Hello, Albert Nobbs).
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While it is safe to say that the majority of these performances were worthy of their accolades and awards, the fact that these women undermined traditional beauty on the big screen is no doubt a large reason why they get so much acclaim. "For women in movies, their main job is to look good. That's the standard expectation." says Mizejewski. The professor suggests that when these women go against the grain and are willing to drop the glamor, "we pay a lot more attention to that as 'serious acting.'"
But how many men have been given the same treatment in the Best Actor category? Look at those leading men who haven't won a Best Actor Oscar but are widely considered to be incredibly nice to look at in their face and body regions: Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Michael Fassbender, and Ryan Gosling. Similarly to the women mentioned above, every single one of these men have gone to extensive lengths to either downplay or cover-up their pretty boy looks in the name of methodical acting. Yet they've all been left out of the nomination pool when the big dance comes to town.
The men listed are not just attractive — many of them are straight-up locker fodder. They're not just handsome (like recent Oscar winners Colin Firth and Jean Dujardin), they're beautiful. They're pretty boys who have been pinned onto the walls of screaming and hysterical fans (often of the teen girl variety) for at least part of their careers. With that level of fandom fueling your career, it's often difficult to be considered a contender. "People always tend to take you less seriously if you're really, really good looking," says Professor Will Akers, film department chair at Belmont University and author of Your Screenplay Sucks: 100 Ways To Make It Great. Especially in a world as superficial as Hollywood, "because people will assume you got your success just because you're handsome."
The stigma lies between whether or not the audience considers these men "actors’ actors" or "movie stars," a differentiation that seems quite defined by looks itself. "Being a 'movie star' means being handsome and interesting on screen," Akers says. An actors’ actor, on the other hand, is someone who provides less box office bang, and more artful storytelling unconcerned with the masses' bucks.
It's a problem that plagued Pitt following his Oscar-nominated turn in 12 Monkeys. A perma-topper on many a person's Sexiest Man Ever list, Pitt has always been better suited for character work rather than the mushy leading man territory he frequently falls into. Many laud Pitt's performance in 12 Monkeys as one of his best, and felt he was snubbed in his loss to Kevin Spacey that year. But it seems as though the stigma attached to Pitt's pretty boy good looks is almost subconsciously ingrained. "As soon as you say Brad Pitt, you think 'well he’s just the most handsome man on the planet. He's definitely a movie star [as opposed to an actors' actor],'" says Akers. "But that's a stupid thing to say, because he's such a gifted actor." It's important to look at his body of work rather than, say, his body.
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But perhaps the most snubbed actor of all is DiCaprio, who has tried in vain to scrub away his image as teen dream pretty boy. He's the Susan Lucci of the Oscars. Thanks to Titanic, we'll probably never let go (to make up for the fact that Rose did) of 90s-era DiCaprio. And maybe Oscar voters can't either. DiCaprio is widely regarded as one of the best actors in the industry. His work in The Aviator and Blood Diamond earned him nominations, but he was shut out of a nod on The Departed (perhaps the most shocking snub of all), Revolutionary Road, Gangs Of New York, and Catch Me If You Can. Losses all around. No wonder he packed on the play-doh for J. Edgar. It's almost as if the way in which women (and some men, too) objectified him sexually as he came up in the business has left a permanent mark on his back.
Look at Albert Finney or Cary Grant — even a Peter O'Toole — all widely-regarded actors who never took home the gold, despite their attempts. And when you look at someone like Jeff Bridges — a veritable force in the industry over the past 40 years — it seems absurd that it took him until 2010 to nab an Oscar of his very own. It wasn't until his face caught up to the slightly grizzled characters he was born to play that the Academy finally took notice. It's as if shiny pretty things blind them, and they can only see the talent after the glow has dulled. For men, it's get old and prosper (compared to women, where the goal is to stay young forever).
When examining the Best Actor winners from the past 10 years — Adrien Brody, Sean Penn, Jamie Foxx, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Forest Whitaker, Daniel Day-Lewis, Sean Penn (again!), Jeff Bridges, Firth, and Dujardin — all are certainly handsome in their own right, but are hardly pretty boy heartthrobs (even if Firth will always be Mr. Darcy to us). Some have described their looks as classic, Romanesque, hard-worn, or even ugly. Nary a pretty boy in the bunch.
But what makes a pretty boy? "Someone with somewhat effeminate features: hairless [body] but with good hair, dimples but with chiseled cheekbones, nice eyes with full eyelashes, and slender but with strapping shoulders," says James Ramey, director of the Fusion Fashion Show competition in New York City. And there's the buzz word, folks: effeminate. The word is widely characterized as a being derogatory in nature (just check any dictionary), which is not only offensive to women (what's wrong with being like a lady?), but also gives the Sean Penns and Jeff Bridges and Forest Whitakers of the world a bit of an advantage — at least in perception. "It’s OK for [a woman] to just have value for her looks, but for a man to have value for his looks, it sounds like he's feminized ... and to be pretty is to be feminine, which is a lower status," says Mizejewski. And if the past Best Actor and Best Actress winners prove anything, it's that the Oscars love a face with character and distinct qualities that carry emotional weight differently than their pretty counterparts.
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It is probably safe to say that Ben Affleck wasn’t snubbed in the Oscar’s Best Director category because of his six-pack abs — no matter how much Fox News might try to tell you otherwise. But it's interesting to think that an industry so integral in fostering society’s obsession with beauty and perfection — and one that all but demands idolatry from its fans — would then shun those that possess both talent and looks. Sure it’s easy to demand a separation of the two in the name of awarding the most worthy, but is it possible? Especially when there's so much stacked up against those that fall on the other side of the 'attractive' line.
It’s a superficial problem that befalls incredibly successful, attractive men for a seemingly superficial thing (awards). So should anyone care? Well, if we're not constantly trying to hold ourselves to a higher and fairer standard in all aspects of life, how are we supposed to find fairness across the board? Maybe when we stop associating 'pretty' with 'femininity' and in turn that with 'weakness,' society will have made a step in the right direction overall. More equality is never a bad thing.
Do you think there's a double standard? Let us know in the comments.
[Photo Credit: Hunting Lane Films; Miramax; Warner Bros]
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After decades of moviemaking years spent honing his craft and sifting through the industry's best collaborators to form a cinematic dream team Steven Spielberg is one of the few directors whose films routinely hit a bar of high quality. Even his more haphazard efforts are competently constructed and executed with unbridled passion reeling in audiences with drama adventure and big screen fun. There really isn't a "bad" Spielberg movie. His latest War Horse isn't in the top tier of the grandmaster's filmography but as a work of pure sentimentality and spectacle the film delivers rousing entertainment. Makes sense: a horse's heart is about eight times the size of a human's and War Horse's is approximately that much bigger than every other movie in 2011.
The titular equine is Joey a horse born in the English countryside in 1914 who triumphantly navigates the ravished European landscape during the first World War. A good hour of the 146 minute film is spent establishing the savvy creature's friendship with his first owner Albert (Jeremy Irvine). A farmer boy with a penchant for animal training Albert copes with his alcoholic father Ted (Peter Mullan) and their homestead's dwindling funds but finds much needed hope in the sprite Joey. After blessing Albert and company with a few miracles Ted makes the wise decision of selling Joey off to the war and the real adventure begins.
Like Forrest Gump of the animal kingdom the lucky stallion finds himself intertwined with an eclectic handful of persons. He encoutners the owner of a British Captain preparing a surprise attack. He becomes the ride for two German army runaways the prized possession of young French girl and her grandfather and the unifier of two warring soldiers in the battlefield's No Man's Land. From the beginning to the end of the war Joey miraculously sees it all all in hopes of one day crossing Albert's path again.
Spielberg avoids any over-the-top Mr. Ed techniques in War Horse but amazingly the horses employed to play Joey deliver a riveting muted "performance" that's alive on screen. The animal is the lead of the movie his human co-stars (including Thor's Tom Hiddleston The Reader's David Kross and Toby Kebbell of Prince of Persia) sprinkled around Joey to complicate his (and our) experience of war.
But even with a stellar cast working at full capacity War Horse falters thanks to its episodic nature. It is a movie of moments—awe-inspiring breathtaking and heartfelt—stuffed with long stretches of underdeveloped characters guiding us through meandering action. Spielberg's longtime cinematographer Janusz Kaminski makes the varying environments visually enthralling—from the dark blue hues of war to rolling green hills backdropped with stunning sunsets—and John Williams' score matches the film's epic scope but without Albert in the picture's second half War Horse simply gallops around in circles.
Spielberg is a master craftsman and War Horse a masterful craft but the movie lacks a necessary intimacy to hook us into the story's bigger picture. The ensemble's devotion and affection for Joey sporadically resonates—how could it not? Look at that adorable horse!—but even those emotional beats border on goofy (at one point Hiddleston's character decides to sketch Joey a moment I found eerily reminiscent of Jack sketching Rose in Titanic). War Horse really hits its stride when Spielberg pulls back the camera and lets his keen eye for picturesque composition do the talking. Or from Joey's perspective neighing.
In the 2006 animated blockbuster Happy Feet an alienated emperor penguin named Mumbles found empowerment through tap-dancing and in so doing managed to both attract a mate and stop the overfishing that imperiled his Antarctic habitat. Directed by George Mitchell – the same George Mitchell who gave us the post-apocalyptic Mad Max trilogy and the almost despairingly bleak Babe: Pig in the City – Happy Feet paired its broadly conventional narrative with a darker sensibility not often seen in talking-animal fare.
The film’s sequel Happy Feet Two finds Mitchell (co-directing with Gary Eck) both more jovial and more easily distracted. The story begins straightforwardly enough with Mumbles (Elijah Wood) now grown-up and by all appearances well-adjusted ceding the mantle of self-discovery to his son Erik (Ava Acres). Boogie fever has swept the once dance-averse penguin nation but in a cruelly ironic twist Erik has inherited none of his father’s nifty moves. But just as Happy Feet Two appears intent on recycling its predecessor’s basic storyline the film abruptly changes course and embarks on a series of detours that seemed geared more as fodder for throwaway gags and showy set pieces than anything else. The disparate narrative elements while enjoyable in isolation never quite coalesce into a meaningful whole leaving us entertained but unfulfilled.
As before Happy Feet Two features a variety of buoyant song-and-dance numbers with Alecia Moore (aka P!nk) lending her formidable pipes to spirited re-workings of “Rhythm Nation” and “Under Pressure ” among others. Robin Williams returns for double duty as both Ramon a diminutive oversexed Latin lover and Lovelace a fiery Southern-preacher type. (Lovelace later adopts a Rastafarian dialect allowing Williams to achieve the rare culture-caricature trifecta.) His voracious scenery-devouring is all the more impressive given the grandeur of the scenery. Not to be left out of the quasi-Vaudevillian comic shenanigans Hank Azaria lays on a thick Scandinavian shtick as Sven a charismatic Arctic émigré who presents himself as the only penguin in the world who can fly. Azaria is a hoot but the film’s best moments come courtesy of the cast’s highest-profile additions Matt Damon and Brad Pitt voicing Bill and Will (respectively) two tiny krill in search of meaning at the bottom of the food chain.
If you thought the Viking Age was uninteresting in that old history textbook Pathfinder does it one better by actually upping the boring ante. In fact even ye Old World buffs out there will be disoriented. It’s set “600 years before Columbus ” when “people had to guard America’s shores from marauders.” One of those most noble guardsmen was Ghost (Karl Urban). Native Americans happened upon him as a young orphan boy and decided to raise him as one of their own--even though he was never truly accepted due to his unknown ancestry. Fifteen years pass and Ghost once a frail child has blossomed into a beast-sized man capable of warding off almost anyone. His size and skill set come in handy when Norse invaders look to raise hell in his village. Armed with horses swords and thorny helmets they kill and maim everyone in sight and mostly get away with it. That is until they mess with the object of Ghost’s affection Starfire (Moon Bloodgood) thereby seriously messing with Ghost. You don’t put Ghost in a corner! Beefcake actors are apparently a dime a dozen these days and Pathfinder lead Urban does nothing to separate himself from the supporting actors of his own movie let alone from the aforementioned Hollywood stereotype. Looking like a runway model on steroids the Lord of the Rings and Bourne Ultimatum star only stands out aesthetically here and is in danger of being pigeonholed and typecast for a long time to come. Unless he can somehow show a different side Urban will wind up on a long list with the likes of wrestlers-turned-actors who can’t act. Thing is in Pathfinder he can’t even manage the uber-virility his character is meant to project. Bloodgood (Eight Below) meanwhile owner of the best non-porn name in showbiz holds her own and softens things up in a movie otherwise completely dominated by males. And finally there's veteran Native American actor Russell Means (Natural Born Killers) who as the Pathfinder himself at least lends some desperately needed credibility. Looking up a director’s name and past work isn’t a fair way to pre-judge his or her movie but it may sometimes hint at what you’re in for. Take Pathfinder for example: Director Marcus Nispel's past work includes Texas Chainsaw Massacre and music videos. Massacre was terrible and music videos are stylized; thus we arrive upon Pathfinder which is terrible and stylized. When parents complain about violence in the movies this should be their focal point. Nispel like other offenders is unable to ever refrain and beheadings and such in all their slow-motion glory resemble fun video games. Not that his lack of morality makes Pathfinder the crap it is however. That blame rests on his apparent decision that such violence is all moviegoers want to see. And it is perhaps the sheer lack of a story that accentuates how mediocre the violent scenes really are--scenes that are meant to leave us agape in amazement as if we’ve never seen a loose eyeball on the screen before. On a (lone) positive note though the set design seems up-to-snuff.