This is, of course, potentially disastrous news for the film’s chances of taking home the Best Picture prize at this year’s Oscars since generally speaking, a nominated film doesn’t win if its director isn’t at least in the running herself. While Jessica Chastain still seems a lock to take home Best Actress and David Boal’s screenplay stands a decent chance of emerging victorious (there are several other technical awards Zero will likely grab as well), the exclusion of Bigelow in the race is a bizarre, controversial development indeed. Bigelow’s Hurt Locker comeback, after years of being diminished to little more than James Cameron’s ex-wife and reportedly being passed up for big Hollywood films that ultimately went to flashier male directors, offered an irresistible narrative to complement Locker’s unprecedented slow-burn success. Bigelow telling the story of the decade-long hunt for Osama Bin Laden and his ultimate assassination—all apparently orchestrated by an obsessively committed female operative—seemed a natural fit, and her path to Best Director perfectly paved. Until last week, that is, when the nominations were announced and she was conspicuously absent.
So, how did this happen?
Let’s assume Zero Dark Thirty is in fact still poised to take Best Picture on Oscar night; perhaps the Academy decided to earn itself some “street cred” by allowing room for Beast of the Southern Wild director Behn Zeitlin to swoop in or, more possibly, create an opportunity for a win for Michael Haneke, whose unflinching Amour has garnered massive praise and exposure few anticipated. Even if this should be the case, Bigelow—or even Quentin Tarantino or workhorse Ben Affleck—would have made more sense than another obligatory Spielberg nod.
Or maybe, despite the fact that I personally found Zero Dark Thirty leagues more involving and captivating than Hurt Locker (that shot of the helicopters above the mountains during the film’s final act by itself deserves copious praise), the Academy simply felt that it was more of the same. Stylistically, Zero feels like a sister film to Locker, in movement, in color, in the taut direction of its most crucial scenes of action. Zero also serves as a tight behind-the-scenes procedural much in the way Locker does, which may or may not have led to some dissent over whether or not it is indeed enough of a “film” as opposed some sort of simulation?
Unfortunately, the snub was most likely political in nature. In the past few weeks, the film’s release has been mired in controversy, with senators disowning the film as an inaccurate portrayal of what actually transpired during the Osama Bin Laden hunt, claiming it celebrates torture, and insisting that the film carry a disclaimer to make known that the US government doesn’t stand by Bigelow and Boal’s portrayal of events. There has also been an ongoing investigation over just how much confidential information Bigelow and Boal were made privy to in order to achieve their account of what went down on May 2, 2011. It wouldn’t be the first time the Academy has caved to controversy (lest we forget it was only a few years ago that the trite Crash inexplicably trounced Brokeback Mountain).
We can speculate until we’re blue in the face, but of course we’ll ultimately never know why the decision to overlook Bigelow was made. So, we at PopMatters ask that you sound off about this snub in the comments section below. Why do you think Bigelow didn’t make the cut, despite her film’s other significant nominations and the tremendous buzz in the months leading up to its release? Was it a matter of politics of performance?