“The envelope please…English faculty weigh in on this year’s Oscar race”

Admission & Financial Aid, Arts & Humanities

By: Amanda Gratsch

Best Picture: Philomena

Could Philomena be the surprise that upsets Oscar predictions? That’s the gist of an ad currently running in The New York Times. This writer sure hopes so. Promotions for the film suggest that its emotional center will be the powerful bond between a mother and the son she has been missing and mourning for half a century. But more intriguing to me is the bond between Philomena and her writer-companion on this quest: a man of considerable intellect and talent who mocks notions of God and faith.  He just can’t fathom how Philomena does not harbor hate for those who separated her from her son. In the end, although there is no happy-ending reunion, Philomena forgives those whose deception caused her much sadness and pain. For me, the quiet beauty of this movie is that we are privileged to witness how one good woman becomes an inspiration and a wonder to one cynical man. It is a touching tale of redemption, a contrast to some of the other Oscar nominees which chronicle lives without purpose or a moral compass.

 

Elizabeth Bookser Barkley, Ph.D.

Professor of English

Faculty Advisor to Dateline

 

Best Animated Film: Despicable Me 2

Frozen may be this year’s obvious pick for Best Animated Film. It’s got strong female characters that give princesses a good name and it underscores the importance of sisterhood. However, in my household, Despicable Me 2 isn’t just best Animated Film of 2014, it’s the best movie ever, according to my almost two-year-old little boy, who doesn’t let us get out much for movies and who giggles uncontrollably whenever he sees minions on TV. And, that’s what makes this movie: more minions and their delightful gibberish. There’s also, for this professor (who incidentally hasn’t yet seen the movie Frozen), some terrific intellectual wit. There’s a great line early in the movie, when a very young birthday party guest asks Gru (former villain gone super-dad, dressed as a princess), why he’s “so fat.” His answer, "Because my house is made of candy and sometimes I eat instead of facing my problems,” should win an Oscar of its own. It may be for purely selfish and sentimental reasons, but, we watch part of this film every day and my son still laughs just as hard as he did when he saw the film for the first time.

 

Elizabeth Taryn Mason, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor in English

Faculty Advisor to Lions-on-Line

 

Best Actress: Cate Blanchett

Though Cate Blanchett already has one Oscar to her name (for her uncanny performance as Katharine Hepburn in Martin Scorsese's The Aviator) and a slew of other nominations, she deserves the Best Actress award this year for her frighteningly good performance in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine. A loose retelling of Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire, the film tells the story of Jasmine Francis, a pampered New York socialite whose life is turned upside-down when her scuzzy, Bernie Madoff-like husband (Alec Baldwin) is arrested for embezzlement. Jasmine is forced to move to San Francisco and live with her estranged sister (the excellent and also-nominated Sally Hawkins) and significantly scale back her lifestyle. Blanchett's turn as the boozy, Xanax-addicted Jasmine is by turns funny, nasty, abrasive, endearing, and, ultimately, heartbreaking. It's been impossible for me to get the film's final image of Blanchett's face out of my mind. Allen is a master at getting wonderful performances out of his leading ladies (Diane Keaton, Mia Farrow, Dianne Wiest, Penelope Cruz, et al.), and here he adds Blanchett to that distinguished group.

 

Drew Shannon, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of English

Faculty Advisor to the Drama Club and the English Club

 

Best Costuming: The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby is nominated for an award for costuming this year. I remember the last time Gatsby was made into a film with a young and romantic Robert Redford as Gatsby, also magnificently staged and costumed, but also disappointing. Author F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Gatsby is a fragile, illusive personification, not a “fully-developed” character. He is a reflection of a glamorous, over-the-top, but morally-decadent decade, morally-empty American Dream.  The film version spends so much energy depicting the “scenery” that Gatsby fades into it becoming one more beautiful prop. We are so overwhelmed and entertained by the representation of glitz and glamor that our imaginations are not engaged in distinguishing Gatsby, and thus finding meaning in his aspirations and failure, which is the task Fitzgerald has set for his reader and the pleasure of reading this great American novel.

 

Marilyn J. Serraino, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of English

 

Why I Can’t Pick a Winner

I find myself in the unusual position of not having seen any of this year’s Oscar nominees for Best Picture.  Most of the time, I’ve seen at least one or two of them, but just never got around to it, I guess, this past year...  To tell the truth, I am an avid movie fan and really enjoy seeing a good screenplay put into pictures—and especially a good book translated into a screenplay that’s, in turn, filmed well.  In fact, I’ve always been interested in the contrast between images evoked in the brain by the written word and the images presented for me on the screen by someone else.  Studies seem to show that doing such “reading between the lines” yourself builds mental acuity when compared to the lesser effort of literally accepting a prefabricated view.  And I’ll confess to being gratified that this appears to be borne out when I hear my students tell me that they find the often intensely deep and emotional visuals they get from reading assignments more satisfying than those sometimes presented to them in movies.  To my mind, though, a compelling story drives visuals having an impact.  While the other way around is not impossible, I think it’s a lot harder to do well.  In any case, I’ll be looking forward this year to hearing, “And the winner is…”

 

Michael R. Klabunde, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of English and History