Academe and The Academy are not so different, really: Both are nominally dedicated to the arts and sciences. Both purvey cultural information to the millions of young adults who privilege them with money and attention. And both, as filmmakers and professors alike are wont to attest, are highly politicized.
But who is better at appraising films?
Before The Academy has its say on Sunday night, Inside Higher Ed sought the perspectives of several movie buffs who spend more time in lecture halls than on sound stages. Drumroll, please...
Expert: Ken Burke, professor and program head of film studies at Mills College:
- And the award for Best Picture should go to: "Black Swan." "I think it is a fascinating psychological study of madness... it is unpredictable and it is well worth thinking about and talking about long after you see it -- or see it twice, which I have. I found it to be a fascinating study of the difficulty of an individual trying to navigate a life that has not been her own choice."
- Most likely to end up on a syllabus: "Black Swan." Burke says that for the same reasons he named the film his best picture choice, he finds it "a very high potential candidate on my syllabus."
Expert: Stephen Collins, assistant professor of film studies at Wesleyan University:
- And the award for Best Picture should go to: "The Social Network." "It’s the kind of thing we’re always saying we want more of: a film with real intelligence and wit and complexity to it. It is what we’re always wanting and there they are. Some things just hit the right zeitgeist."
- Most likely to end up on a syllabus: "The Social Network." "I just think David Fincher is one of the most important directors of this era. And I think that ... you could see people doing a course in Fincher. He has a take on the world. I just don’t think there is anything groundbreaking or anything really where I would use 'The King's Speech' ever. 'Inception' I might use as a counterexample of overexposition. The first hour was a big snooze. I would use that as an example of story-smothering emotion."
Expert: Charles Dove, lecturer in visual and dramatic arts at Rice University:
- And the award for Best Picture should go to: "The King's Speech." "In fact I’m confident that it will win. I was very impressed both by 'The Social Network' and the remake of 'True Grit.' I think Colin Firth is going to win Best Actor because he’s enormously popular and he’s never won before, so he’s going to win. You know the academy is skewed older, and it prefers show business films. And 'The King’s Speech' is a show business film. In fact my colleague, a member of the Screen Actors Guild, was so pleased that a film would be about this subject... this idea of performing and teaching people how to speak properly, that was interesting to see."
- Most likely to end up on a syllabus: "True Grit" and "The Social Network." " 'True Grit' because it is a literary adaptation. And it is a Coen brothers film. They’ve become a fairly established source of material. And 'The Social Network' ... is technically a brilliant film, and it covers the historical period of the last 10 years in a really brilliant way. The war is never mentioned once, Bush is never mentioned once. The people in it have lived in a bubble and those things never penetrated it."
Expert: Maria Pramaggiore, professor and director of film studies at North Carolina State University:
- And the award for Best Picture should go to: "True Grit." "It’s not likely to win because the brothers recently won the award for 'No Country for Old Men,' an abysmal travesty that fueled our culture’s perverse appetite for principled psychopaths and reiterated patronizing stereotypes about women’s superior nature that crop up throughout Coen brothers films. Generally, the Coens are not my cup of tea. However, the fraternal duo has finally earned my respect with this remake of a risible John Wayne star vehicle (no: the original was not a good film, no matter who says so) that invites viewers to meditate on the look, feel, and gendered dynamics of the western genre, an utterly American invention. The film owes a debt to [Clint] Eastwood’s 'Unforgiven' (1992), yet it moves far beyond that earlier film’s overt revisionism and relentlessly undermines the Western’s casual approach to the pleasure of violence."
- Most likely to end up on a syllabus: "Inception." "I’m a fan of [Christopher] Nolan’s edgy psychodramas 'Following' and 'Memento,' but I saw my academic career flash before my eyes as I sat through this film, a CGI-driven mess whose hip nerd sensibility recycles ideas about cinema already explored for more than a century by filmmakers whose work challenges its audience to do more than gasp at a predictably 'open' ending. Some of these ideas predate the film medium itself (Plato’s Cave: Hello!). Cringing amidst a wildly enthusiastic audience, I predicted an academic embrace -- possibly driven by student zeal -- to rival the love fest over 'The Matrix' a decade ago."
Expert: Spencer Parsons, assistant professor in media production at Northwestern University:
- And the award for Best Picture should go to: "The Fighter." "It may be a shambolic Frankenstein monster constructed from at least three different kinds of movie, six or seven incompatible acting styles, and a murder of contradictory tones, but it's also probably my top five movies of the year, all rolled into one. Good thing too, because with the nominee list bloated to 10, that's the only way I could keep a rooting interest. What kind of boxing movie lavishes more fondness on Melissa Leo, Amy Adams, and that amazing Greek chorus of sisters than on Mark Wahlberg and/or Christian Bale duking it out for the title of 'title character'? My kind of boxing movie, that's what."
- Most likely to end up on a syllabus: "Jackass 3D." "Taken by itself, the bungee porta-potty stunt isn't simply the best use of 3D all year (maybe ever), but a riot of avant garde technique, scatology, and gender play, swirling around the surprisingly moving question of whether Steve-O can handle such shenanigans anymore, now that he's clean. Given that the boys netted a $50 million opening weekend for what's basically an experimental film, is there any chance the filthy lucre won't coax them into continuing their ongoing meditation on aging and the male body with an explosive documentary on their collective midlife crisis? I can't wait."
Expert: Alexandra Keller, associate professor of film studies at Smith College:
- And the award for Best Picture should go to: "True Grit." "With exceptions like 'Inception,' the best movies are typically television (that's different from on television, but the general enterprise of television is more worth the time these days, to me, than cinema). 'The King's Speech' seems to have the odds on it, and it seems it was designed for Oscar. But if you're looking for that kind of End-of-Empire Utopian class porn, the best drama of the year was 'Downton Abbey,' a BBC production broadcast in the U.S. on PBS's 'Masterpiece Theatre.' "
Expert: Jon Lewis, professor of English at Oregon State University:
- And the award for Best Picture should go to: "Winter's Bone." "Far and away the best film of the year -- nothing came close, except perhaps 'Vincere.' I had the most fun watching 'True Grit,' but I'm not sure it's a great film. I also really liked two low-budget gangster films: 'Animal Kingdom' and 'Down Terrace'.... 'The King's Speech' probably will win -- it's OK in a 'Masterpiece Theatre' sort of way."
- Most likely to end up on a syllabus: "The Kids are All Right." "I suppose that classes on sexual preference/gender issues might show 'The Kids are All Right,' if only because it raises some interesting issues about how Hollywood at once celebrates and hedges its bet about progressive issues.... If I taught the film I'd want to examine how the film seems at once progressive gender preference-wise and not -- it doesn't take much for the Julianne Moore character to change sides, so to speak, and the sex with the guy seems a whole lot wilder and more fun than the sex we see so little of with her longtime partner. 'Kissing Jessica Stein,' a film I also enjoyed when I saw it, raises the same basic problem as well (it normalizes -- as much as such neurotic characters can normalize anything -- the same-sex relationship but then ditches that 'choice' when she finally finds the right guy)."