Academic Oscar Predictions

Our panel of scholarly experts offers insights into the competition -- and lessons for students from this year's contenders.
February 23, 2007

To help with your Academy Award viewing Sunday, Inside Higher Ed asked a panel of academics with connections to film, drama and pop culture for some predictions. Each expert was asked which nominated film would win best picture, which should win best picture and what lessons the nominees offer for students. The answers:

Expert: Lynn Bartholome, president of the Popular Culture Association and professor of English at Monroe Community College, in Rochester, N.Y.:

  • Predicted winner: " The Departed is going to win. It's the kind of picture that wins an Oscar. It's a typical Oscar pick."
  • Preferred winner: " Little Miss Sunshine should win because it's such a portrayal of American popular culture. It's got everything in it, but it's a comedy and traditionally, the academy doesn't vote for comedies. You have a great dysfunctional American family and most families are like that."
  • Lesson for students: "There continues to be a difference between what gets nominated and what the American public goes to see. If you look at the films that get nominated, they are films that are not the most popular with the public."

Expert: Chuck Tryon, assistant professor of film and media studies at Fayetteville State University and author of the film blog The Chutry Experiment:

  • Predicted winner: "There isn't a clear-cut favorite in this year's race, which makes it difficult to predict who will win. I was surprised to learn that several of  the betting services have listed Little Miss Sunshine, which I found to be aggressively quirky, as a heavy favorite, but because comedies generally don't win Oscars, I think The Departed will likely win."
  • Preferred winner: "While Letters from Iwo Jima and Babel are certainly ambitious films, I'd like to see The Departed win. This may reflect my bias toward crime films and Scorsese's trademark cinephilia, but I found the film to be a well-executed piece of storytelling. Plus, Michael Balhaus's cinematography and Thelma Schoonmaker's editing were gorgeous."
  • Lesson for students: "One of the more interesting aspects of The Departed, which I've already discussed with my students at some length, is its status as an adaptation of the Hong Kong crime flick, Infernal Affairs, which was itself influenced by Scorsese's crime dramas. It represents an interesting case for thinking about the global flows of cinematic images. I'd also enjoy discussing The Queen's treatment of the politics of celebrity via the relationship between Queen Elizabeth and Tony Blair and their response to the death of Princess Diana."

Expert: Eric Faden, professor of film at Bucknell University, who bought and revived a historic movie theater in Lewisburg, Pa.:

  • Predicted winner: "I think the Oscars tend to alternate each year between picking more "independent" winners versus more "studio" winners. Last year, we had Crash. So, I think the Academy will lean more toward The Departed or Letters from Iwo Jima. Also, I think Scorsese is due."
  • Preferred winner: "Personally, I like Babel. It's global in scope and somewhat original in form (unless, of course, you've seen Inarritu's earlier work)."
  • Lesson for students: "Despite my cynicism, this is a year where a lot of unconventional films rightly received nominations. I thought Little Miss Sunshine was fantastic -- it really demonstrated that a great script, smart cinematography, and honest acting even on a small budget can produce great results."

Expert: Jon Lewis, editor of Cinema Journal and professor of English at Oregon State University:

  • Predicted winner: "I think Babel will win -- it's the sort of politically conscious (but not offensive) film that often seems to win. The notion that we're all part of the global village is no doubt appealing to liberal-minded Academy types."
  • Preferred winner: "Probably The Departed. It's not Scorsese's best film -- Mean Streets is. But it's a terrific crime film. The Queen is just OK -- like a very good BBC miniseries. Little Miss Sunshine is funny but unambitious -- a good little film. Letters from Iwo Jima is admirable if not all that much fun to sit though (and Ken Watanabe is just great in the lead role). Babel will probably win and that won't be such a bad thing -- I like Inarritu's use of parallel narratives (also in 21 Grams and Amores Perros) and the performances in the film (especially Rinko Kikuchi and Adriana Barraza) are just great. I thought the three best films of 2006 were Pan's Labyrinth, Volver and Children of Men, probably in that order. Pan's Labyrinth has a decent chance of winning best foreign language film. I guess if I had to chose a film in English, it would be Children of Men."
  • Lesson for students: "Inarritu's a very cinematic filmmaker and the script for Babel (nominated as well) is perfect for him. It's not literary (there's no "voice"). The parallel narratives make the film move quickly and give the editing scheme a key role in telling the whole story. Student filmmakers and screenwriters would do well to look closely at the structure of the film."

Expert: Maravene Loeschke, president of Mansfield University of Pennsylvania and formerly an actress, production assistant and a theater arts professor:

  • Predicted winner: "My prediction is that Letters from Iwo Jima will win, although in my mind Babel is just as worthy and would have my vote. Both films are exceptionally well crafted, with exceptional performances. Both carry messages that deeply touch audiences. I think Iwo Jima will win because Clint Eastwood is a better known director and Hollywood favorite."
  • Preferred winner: " Babel would get my vote because I think Eastwood's direction can be a bit self indulgent, making his films, this one included, lack economy."
  • Lesson for students: "For all budding theater and film artists there is lesson to be learned from this stellar array of nominees. All of them pursued their dreams despite overwhelming odds. There are hundreds of thousands of talented actors, directors and theater and film artists in this country alone. Only a select few ever reach the point of being nominated for a major award for their work. There are qualities that all nominees share: They have talent from the gods, a passion for personal excellence, an intense work ethic, and a desire to change the world with their work. Each of them also has a major chunk of good luck."


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