How Jane Campion just made Oscars history in the directing category
With her nomination for “The Power of the Dog,” Jane Campion becomes the first woman ever nominated twice for the Oscar for directing.
“Oh, I didn’t know that,” Campion said when informed of her accomplishment in a phone call on Tuesday from Sydney, Australia. “Well that statistic I hope is just going to be blown out of the park, that there’s just going to be so many more women. I’m really thrilled these last couple of years, just to see so many women do so well in the academies and different festivals’ prizes.
“To be honest, the #MeToo movement really meant a lot to so many of us, that they have really helped to open the eyes of everyone to the systemic abuses that went on and the lack of equality,” Campion said. “And I think that’s changed and I think that women are emboldened and it’s a great moment for all of us. For me, I feel emboldened too. I feel emboldened to do a project like this, which for a change has got quite a lot of men in it. And I don’t think I would’ve felt that without feeling how many other women were now making films and exploring the female space, and whatever space they wanted to, really. So I give a lot of gratitude to those brave women who cracked it open and really risked a lot.”
“The Power of the Dog” led the day with 12 nominations. Campion was also nominated as a producer for best picture, along with Tanya Seghatchian, Emile Sherman, Iain Canning and Roger Frappier, and in adapted screenplay for her adaptation of Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel. Benedict Cumberbatch was nominated for lead actor, Kirsten Dunst for supporting actress and Jesse Plemons and Kodi Smit-McPhee for supporting actor.
Ari Wegner became only the second woman nominated for cinematography for her work on the film. Jonny Greenwood was nominated for original score, Peter Sciberras was nominated for editing, Grant Major for production design and Richard Flynn, Robert Mackenzie and Tara Webb for sound.
Of the film’s nominations, Campion said, “It really did bring a tear to me. I felt really emotional and a sort of gratitude actually that the academy have so widely embraced so many of our team for this film. I think it’s a kind of complex film, so it meant a lot that they graced us with so many nominations. Absolutely a thrill for everybody.”
Campion’s previous directing nomination was for 1993’s “The Piano.” Steven Spielberg took the Oscar that year for “Schindler’s List,” but Campion won the Oscar for original screenplay.
When she was nominated as director for “The Piano,” Campion was only the second woman ever recognized in the category. (The first, Lina Wertmuller, died in December of last year.) In the years since “The Piano,” five other women have been nominated for directing, with two — Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”) and Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”) — winning the award.
Campion, 67, was also the first woman to win the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival, the Palme d’Or, for “The Piano.” The second, Julia Ducournau for “Titane,” won the prize just last year.
Set in 1925 Montana (though shot in Campion’s native New Zealand), “The Power of the Dog” is the story of a brooding rancher named Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch), a Yale graduate who spends his time working hard amid the ranch hands. When his brother, George (Jesse Plemons), brings home a wife, Rose (Kirsten Dunst), and her son from a previous marriage, Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Phil sets about psychologically and emotionally tormenting the woman any way he can. He then shows an unexpectedly tender side when Phil seems to take Peter under his wing, much as an older cowboy known as Bronco Henry had done for him in his younger days.
When the film premiered at the 2021 Venice Film Festival, Campion was awarded the best director prize, and she and the film have continued to rack up accolades ever since, including eight BAFTA nominations, 10 Critics Choice nominations, three wins at the phantom Golden Globes awards and numerous critics group prizes, including best director from both the New York Film Critics Circle and the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn.
Since “The Piano,” Campion has continued to make stirring, challenging work, including the Henry James adaptation “The Portrait of a Lady,” the willfully flaky “Holy Smoke!,” the controversial erotic thriller “In the Cut” and the poetic romance “Bright Star.” She also made two seasons of the TV series “Top of the Lake,” starring Elisabeth Moss.
“The Power of the Dog” is the first of her films to feature a male protagonist and unsparingly examines the roots of toxic masculinity, fashioning Phil Burbank as both a villain and a tragic victim.
As Campion put it in an interview with The Times last year, “Why would I now go in this direction? For the first time in my life since my time in Cannes with ‘The Piano,’ there are so many more women in this space doing some of the best work out there. We’ve crossed over the line, and everyone wants to be on our side. No one is saying, ‘That’s too hard for women.’ The Berlin Wall is down, and it’s not coming back again.”
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