At first glance, You Were Never Really Here and Leave No Trace are two completely different films. A violent psychological thriller versus a quiet drama, two opposing genres that both end up being character studies on the featured protagonists. In You Were Never Really Here, Joaquin Phoenix plays a suicidal hitman who recuses young girls who are being trafficked while Leave No Trace stars Ben Foster as an Iraq War veteran with PTSD who lives in a public park with his daughter. Two men suffering from a trauma that they don’t talk about, so they’re at constant odds with themselves.
Lynne Ramsay and Debra Granik are the directors of these respective movies, two female filmmakers whose work is always acclaimed but almost never shown for in the form of awards. This current Oscar season has failed to recognize two of the best directors of the year, two women who got masterful performances out of their leading actors, two women who took risks exploring sensitive topics without being exploitive, two women who contributed to groundbreaking cinema in the year 2018.
What’s incredible about Ramsay and Granik’s direction is their ability to focus on the internal. Joe (Phoenix) and Will (Foster) are two characters who are clearly suffering, but they don’t want to show their pain. Joe is haunted by his military past and his abusive father while Will’s PTSD led him to living in isolation, training his daughter how to live off the forest and away from civilization. Joe acts out his trauma in the form of violence towards abusers, protecting children because he couldn’t be protected as child. But even revenge doesn’t bring him peace, and he struggles to contain the urge to hurt himself. Despite Will’s close relationship with his daughter, he doesn’t know how to open up to her. She knows he’s in pain, but she can only do so much for someone who doesn’t want help.
The violence or intensity of the situations aren’t the focus of the films, the journeys of Joe and Will are. Whether or not they find closure isn’t something that’s straightforward because trauma is never easy. Ramsay and Granik realize this and that’s what makes the performances of Joaquin Phoenix and Ben Foster so powerful. Both filmmakers succeed in showing how difficult the process can be, they’re not afraid to normalize the trauma of these men. Their direction deserves more than just celebration, so where is the recognition?
The noticeable absence of female filmmakers in this year’s Oscars is unsurprising, but nonetheless disappointing. Film is subjective, but isn’t it strange when a movie like Vice, which got a polarizing reception at best, is up for multiple Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director while Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace received universal acclaim on all fronts but is shown no love?
What message is the Academy sending when Bohemian Rhapsody, a movie that was not only received badly but is also directed and produced by a child predator, is nominated for Best Picture but Lynne Ramsay’s haunting tale of a man who hunts down child predators is shut out? You Were Never Really Here and Leave No Trace didn’t play it safe compared to a movie like Green Book, a feel-good biopic that simplifies racism. And while Black Panther was groundbreaking in terms of representation and advancing the bustling comic book genre, shouldn’t the same attention be focused on for female filmmakers who create smaller films that are able to take more risks as opposed to being confined to studio expectations?
What’s the point of having ten slots for Best Picture but only using eight of them, as if the eight films nominated—Roma, A Star is Born, Bohemian Rhapsody, Blackkklansman, Vice, Green Book, The Favourite and Black Panther—were the definitive greats of 2018? Or even for Best Director, are we to believe that no woman made a film that could compete in the ranks of the Oscars this year? Will Kathryn Bigelow be the only one?
The Oscars should be a time to celebrate all the best films of the year, but how can that be done when so many of them aren’t recognized? You Were Never Really Here and Leave No Trace are only two of the many great snubs of 2018, but there’s another layer to their exclusion that’s infuriating. Women can create complex masterpieces that still aren’t good enough in the eyes of the Academy. So the question remains, what’s the point of giving attention to a show that has a limited view on what’s considered the best?