5 myths that prevented 'Carol' from getting a Best Picture nomination
I thought I'd be over Carol's Best Picture snub by now. The Best Actress nominations were so stunning that I figured I'd pile all my hopes there. But no.
Carol, to me, is the rarest of treats: a queer movie by a queer director (Todd Haynes) that explores feminine inner-life and feminist personalities of another era while managing to be a stunning period piece sporting exquisitely accurate visual and aural detail. The story of a sophisticated New York housewife (Cate Blanchett) who courts a younger woman (Rooney Mara) while dealing with the dissolution of her marriage to husband Harge (Kyle Chandler) was visually gorgeous and, at least to me, radically real. Over the past few months I've heard certain movie biz types speculate about Carol, and I can't shake the memory of a few strange, yet eerily agreed-upon complaints in that conversation. I've counted up five of them here in the hope that I can expose them as myths.
1. Carol is just not as well-liked as the other nominees.
Any time I encounter ambivalence about Carol, I think: You must not be a film critic, because according to Metacritic, Carol is the highest-rated film of the year. In fact, the top three critically hailed movies of the year -- Carol, 45 Years, Inside Out -- are female-centric movies that didn't get nominated for Best Picture. Fortunately, the fourth-listed film on that tally and the first to be about men, Spotlight, picked up a nomination.
2. Rooney Mara is too wooden and Cate Blanchett's accent is too theatrical.
Rooney Mara's wide-eyed politeness as Therese is one of the most period-appropriate aspects of the movie. In my recent interview with Mara (see above), she discussed how she worked with director Todd Haynes to speak with intentional, almost childlike clarity because women at the time didn't speak in ironic tones. The snipe on Cate Blanchett's accent is an even stranger offense. Too theatrical? Check out Arlene Francis, a New York actress and boulevardier, as a panelist on the '50s-'60s game show What's My Line?. You can hear in her voice that socialite women of '50s New York valued elocution and a bit of flair.
3. Carol's behavior is predatory.
I have heard this several times from several men in the awards prognostication circuit. Where to begin? How is Carol predatory when Therese, during their first discussion about the train set, is obviously telegraphing her interest? How is Carol predatory when every conversation she has with Therese is a steady, cordial, and slyly libidinous back-and-forth? Are all men over the age of 35 in movies who desire a younger woman also predators? That's a lot of predatory James Bonds, guys. That's a lot of predatory George Clooney roles. That's an entire predatory movie industry. Sort of a shame we've decided to hang that shame on just Carol Aird. This criticism indicates a preference for entirely pleasant, flaw-free queer characters (and female characters) whose tastes and behavior placate us. And by "us" I of course mean "straight men." Carol knowing what she wants (and enjoying that she knows what she wants) is nothing but an important, feminist, and positive aspect of this film.
4. But Room and Brooklyn got Best Picture nominations, isn't that enough?
I think Room and Brooklyn are both very impressive, gorgeously well-directed and well-acted films. But I do think it's telling they earned Best Picture nominations when they're both expertly rendered depictions of very traditional female roles: the consummately lovely romantic (Brooklyn) and a consummately maternal woman whose livelihood and struggle revolve around the well-being of her son (Room). They're movies about women who are thinking about men, whether they're dashing Italian paramours, a horrifying kidnapper, or a precocious son. Carol is about characters who actively flout the presence of men in their lives. Therese disregards her boyfriend; Carol sniffs at her husband, doesn't indulge the boring man who interrupts her lunch, and gleefully spends Christmas without her husband or kids; Carol's friend Abby Gerhard (Sarah Paulson) snaps at Harge for being drunk and appearing at her door. Though Room is more directly about horrifying trauma, I think Carol's strident interest in female inner-life and how it doesn't relate to men is still more radical.
5. It's all style, no substance.
Even if that were true about Carol, let's not pretend for a second that we always give Best Picture to movies that valued deep insight over stylishness. Did I miss the stunning and revelatory subtext of The King's Speech, a movie that pretended a speech impediment and Henry Higgins-type corrective lessons were more notable than an ensuing war? Was Slumdog Millionaire about anything more than a feel-good triumph? Was No Country for Old Men anything other than a brutal bloodbath?
It's not that Carol had no substance. It's that the largely male Oscar voter base were, as usual, apathetic about a movie that presented a ladies-only mentality as valid while actively mocking certain male characters along the way. If you call Carol less than substantive, you should feel pretty bad about The Revenant garnering 12 Oscar nominations. At best, that's a movie you yell "Awesome!" at -- which is the kind of macho prestige we've awarded again and again with Best Picture. Carol is a movie that both charms you and subverts that charm with harsher, tougher insights, and that's a coldness worthy of more accolades than the self-congratulatory brutality of The Revenant.