As the Madison community settles down from the big Packers win on Sunday, a new celebration approaches. What could possibly matter anymore after that tremendous victory, you might ask? A celebration that unfortunately will not fill the bars with swarming fans guzzling beer — although that would be pretty phenomenal. We’re talking Oscars. Much to this movie-lover’s dismay, you will never see anyone down a jell-o shot at Natalie Portman’s big win for “Black Swan” or hear horns honking down the street for a Best Picture winner, but it’s still one to mark on your calendars.
For some of us, the anticipation surrounding the Academy Awards is as large as the Packers-Steelers faceoff, and it is fast approaching. In a season where Hollywood’s blockbusters haven’t all been diamonds (yikes “Little Fockers”) and Friday’s big releases are pretty pitiful (Bieber’s “Never Say Never” this week anyone?), more people are heading to theaters to get a taste of quality cinema. What’s more, this Oscar season contenders have been extremely audience friendly, from the momentously popular “The Social Network” to the kid friendly “Toy Story 3.” There really is something for everybody at this year’s Oscars, and we cannot wait.
When it comes to the department as a whole, however, many of the professors choose not to follow the politics of the institution. Speaking with Professor Jeff Smith, who received his Ph. D. from the University of Wisconsin in 1995, it is fascinating to examine just how differently a film scholar can interpret the awards season compared to any other viewer.
“In a way,” Smith said, “if your interest lies in contemporary film studies, you follow the Oscars because it’s an important institution. This is my area of specialization, so I do follow.”
From how many awards an actor has won in the past, to the lifetime achievement pressure of veterans who are Oscar-less, like Annette Bening, the many outside factors that play into the institution’s selection process are often so strategic that deserving winners are often overlooked.
However, this is not to say that the department here at UW feels coldly towards the institution it represents. As Smith said with a smile, “One of the things that helps define this department is that we all love movies.”
Yes, the film department loves cinema. Surprise, surprise. However, it’s shocking that a love of cinema isn’t a prerequisite for scholars, making the film department at UW one of the finest in the country.
“You go to other academic programs and they’re interested in movies because they are a cultural symptom of certain kinds of historical ‘you-name-it’. And it’s not uncommon to meet people who are like this, where their decision to study film is sort of ‘careerist.’”
And while some department professors may not find the Academy Award nominated films to be their cup of tea, it hardly means they don’t like to celebrate it. No, you won’t find Professor Smith and his colleagues shouting cheers at Logan’s bar when a nominee approaches the podium, but you will find many of UW’s film scholars and grad students at acclaimed professor David Bordwell’s home, drinking wine and participating in the Oscar pool.
Bordwell is one of the most prominent film theorists, critics and authors in the country, and alongside his spouse, film theorist Kristin Thompson, they’ve made quite a name for UW’s film department. Each year, the department heads over to their humble abode where they gather and watch the ceremony together, placing bets on winners and challenging their peers to beat their bracket. Who said teachers don’t know how to have a good time?
When it comes to this season’s award nominees, Smith is proud to say that he’s seen all the top ten Best Picture nominations, and from the insights of a film scholar, there’s much to say about each of the nominees this year. However, if you’re looking for that inevitable Oscar surprise this year, Smith is placing his bets on “True Grit’s” shining star, Hailee Steinfeld, to beat out the rest of the broads in the Best Supporting Actress category.
“There’s a shocker every year, and that would be my sleeper pick. It’s a role that is absolutely the heart of the film. She’s the driving force! She’s the character whose goals really matter.”
So while you’re sitting on the couch, wondering what to do with your life Post-Super Bowl, hit the theaters and your local Red Box to start your cinematic education, because the celebration is nearly underway.
The 83rd Annual Academy Awards premiere on ABC, Feb. 27 at 7 p.m.