Bigelow has a following among cinephiles, but her name may not carry the same resonance as that of her awards-season competition. As Oscar nominations draw closer (Anne Hathaway is announcing them Feb. 2), here's a handy primer on the woman who could be racking up the Academy's biggest honors. Director Kathryn Bigelow has been a top contender at every major awards event in 2010 for her gripping war drama 'The Hurt Locker,' most recently winning the top prize at the Directors Guild of America awards. And though 'The Hurt Locker' lost out to 'Avatar' -- directed by Bigelow's ex-husband, James Cameron -- for best picture at the Golden Globes, both the film and Bigelow herself are considered strong Oscars candidates.
Bigelow has a following among cinephiles, but her name may not carry the same resonance as that of her awards-season competition. As Oscar nominations draw closer (Anne Hathaway is announcing them Feb. 2), here's a handy primer on the woman who could be racking up the Academy's biggest honors.
'THE HURT LOCKER'
Shot on location in Jordan, 'The Hurt Locker' is based on writer Mark Boal's experiences in the Iraq war when he was embedded with an Explosives Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team. The film follows elite army bomb squad specialists Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner), Sgt. JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) on their day-to-day missions to find and destroy IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in Baghdad.
When Sgt. James assumes command, his seemingly reckless approach ignites tempers among the team and underscores his absolute responsibility for their lives. Central to 'The Hurt Locker''s power is that it presents not only a raw and scary picture of a war without rules, but also a psychological profile of the soldiers who choose to fight it. In contrast to many war films, 'The Hurt Locker' depicts its fighters not as heroes, but simply as men -- albeit men driven to masochism.
Though the film, which was released in June 2009, had modest box office returns compared to, say, 'Avatar,' it won Best Picture awards from such prominent organizations as the New York Film Critics Circle and and the National Society of Film Critics. Buy or rent 'The Hurt Locker' DVD
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE ABOUT BIGELOW
She may not have won over the Hollywood foreign press at the Globes, but Kathryn Bigelow has been cleaning up across town with a bevy of other awards, including producer of the year from the Producers Guild of America (a prize she shared with her three co-producers) and a long list of best-director honors from national and international critics, such as the New York Film Critic Circle, the National Society of Film Critics, the Broadcast Film Critics Association and, most recently, the Directors Guild of America.
Her DGA win for outstanding directorial achievement holds special significance because in early January she became only the seventh woman to be nominated in the DGA category; on Sunday she became the first woman ever to win (and yes, it's still 2010). Winning the award also bodes well for her best-director chances at the Oscars: According to the Wall Street Journal, only six directors in the DGA's 61-year history have failed to repeat their win at the Academy Awards.
Kathryn Ann Bigelow was born in San Carlos, CA, in 1951, to a paint factory manager and a librarian. She was a painter before she became a filmmaker, moving to New York for a fellowship at the Whitney Museum, and getting hip to the downtown art scene. She soon fell in love with film, and earned a master's degree in film criticism at Columbia University, where renowned critic Susan Sontag was one of her professors.
BETWEEN THE LINES (AKA: THE DIRT)
Bigelow was married to director James Cameron (that guy who made 'Avatar') from 1989 to 1991. Four years later, the two worked together on 'Strange Days,' a tech-driven drama which Cameron wrote and Bigelow directed. The film got a mixed reaction from critics, but Roger Ebert was one of the film's big fans, writing this prescient line: "Bigelow is able to exploit the idea of what is happening; she forces her audience to deal with the screen reality, instead of allowing us to process it as routine 'action.'"
FILMS AND MOTIFS
Prior to the release of 'The Hurt Locker' last year, Bigelow was largely known for directing the cult favorite 'Point Break.' The 1991 drama starred Patrick Swayze as Bodhi, a surfer/bank-robber, and Keanu Reeves as undercover FBI agent Johnny Utah. The film (and its campy dialogue and performances) inspired the traveling stage show 'Point Break Live!,' which casts Reeves' character with an audience member and feeds them cue cards to deliver their lines.
Long before she got gnarly with the surfers, Bigelow began her career with the short student film 'The Set Up,' which she made during her Columbia days. Her film was designed to deconstruct violence in film, and, according to IMDB, explore "why violence in cinematic form is so seductive." This exploration has seduced Bigelow for nearly all of her films, in one form or another. Academics have parsed her work, steeping it in feminist theories and discussion -- a line of inquiry which the director has dismissed.
"I've spent a fair amount of time thinking about what my aptitude is, and I really think it's to explore and push the medium," Bigelow told Newsweek. "It's not about breaking gender roles or genre traditions."
The substance of Bigelow's films continues to reflect that of her student film several decades ago. Along with 'Point Break,' Bigelow has delved into the dark side of human nature with a range of danger-laden films, including Western-vampire flick 'Near Dark' (1987), which starred 'Heroes''s Adrian Pasdar as the unwitting new member of the clan. A few years later, she directed and again co-wrote 'Blue Steel' (1990), which starred Jamie Lee Curtis as a cop who becomes the object of a killer's obsession.
Several projects later in 2002, Bigelow directed 'K-19: The Widowmaker,' based on a real story about a Russian submarine crew whose vessel malfunctions. Despite boasting marquee-worthy stars Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson, the film tanked at the box office and paved the way for a quiet decade for Bigelow, until 'The Hurt Locker' script was in her hands.
Bigelow's films tend to hinge on intense action, visceral tension and technical expertise. In 'The Hurt Locker,' for example, she steered clear of what she calls "HMEs" (Hollywood movie explosions), opting instead for the real deal, down to the kind of grey, particulate smoke that blasts create in the desert. Bigelow also approaches subcultures with a deft hand -- from surfers to rap artists and, most recently, 'The Hurt Locker''s bomb squad experts in post-invasion Iraq.
The director recently reflected on her style, telling Newsweek that it was during a double-feature of 'Mean Streets' and 'The Wild Bunch' that she discovered "a more muscular approach to filmmaking" than that to which she'd previously been drawn.
Now, nearly two decades later, exes Cameron and Bigelow are duking it out for some of the season's biggest prizes. Ever the showman, Cameron underscored this commingling of history and competition when he got gushy at the Golden Globes podium about his present (and fifth) wife, Suzy Amis -- who happens to bear a striking resemblance to Bigelow.