Caren Irr (ENG)

The Academy Award’s Best Picture nominees for 2019 are a genuinely mixed bag.  They include major commercial hits—Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody, and A Star is Born—as well as a smaller political film that has yet to turn a profit (Vice).  The list also features some important familiar faces.  At long last, director Spike Lee is up for the prize with his striking adaptation of Ron Stallworth’s memoir, BlacKkKlansman, but the nomination with the greatest potential to upset existing norms is the Netflix original, Roma.  No foreign-language film to date has won Best Picture, and no Netflix production has either.  From the opening credits forward, this gorgeous black-and-white film written and directed by the distinguished Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mamá También, Gravity, Harry Potter and the Prisoners of Azkaban) and based on his childhood in Mexico City makes the case for the intensity of image and high-impact intimacy of the smaller screen.  With the US-Mexico border zone at the center of serious political controversy this year, granting major recognition to this elegant film would be doubly significant.  That said, the timely costume drama, The Favorite, would be a safe choice for Best Picture, since it offers social commentary packaged in glorious and very white spectacle.  The more conventional feel-good interracial buddy film, Green Book, would in a perfect world perhaps not be a major contender, despite impressive performances by Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortenson, since we’ve seen this story before.  No matter which film wins, though, it’s definitely clear that the stories that excite and excel in 2019 nare of a different hue and sound than those that dominated the screen a mere ten years ago.  

Caren Irr is a professor of English specializing in Film Theory and Media Studies.

Stephen McCauley (ENG)

I think the least interesting, least challenging, and most irrelevant films usually win Oscars. How else to explain why Get Out didn't win last year?  As a result, I never watch the excruciatingly boring show. It gives me a headache to even think about it. This year I only saw two of the nominated films and didn't like either of them. If I was giving out Oscars, I'd give one to the person who designed the large, leather recliner that made it possible for me to sleep through the second half of A Star Is Born.

Stephen McCauley is professor of the Practice of English, Co-Director of the Creative Writing Program and a published novelist.

Michael Strand (SOC)

The controversy around the Oscar nominations this year is not surprising and not different from similar controversies in years past. The Academy was founded to promote the idea that movies can have a purely aesthetic worth, rather like painting had achieved. This standard is only about half a century old, and it is now embattled by competing ways of deciding the worth of movies: market share, political impact, community recognition, especially in the headlining best picture category. But this is also not an isolated controversy. The Oscar nominations reflect a larger controversy brewing within all institutions that perform selections, especially universities, and the recognition that these institutions “select” using criteria of worth that are unjustifiable. To believe that they transcend our drastically unequal world is increasingly impossible to maintain. The real controversy is whether these institutions will be merely a different enunciation of these many inequities or whether they will be transformative of them.

Michael Strand is an Assistant Professor of Sociology specializing in culture, morality, and knowledge.