Professors Award Their Oscars

GW film and theater experts share who they think will take home golden statues on Feb. 26.

February 20, 2017

By Julyssa Lopez

If you’re a movie buff, it’s almost the most wonderful time of the year: The 89th Academy Awards will be held Feb. 26 at the Hollywood and Highland Center in California. The technicolor musical “La La Land” is expected to sweep awards in several categories—already, it’s tied “All About Eve” and “Titanic” by receiving a record 14 nominations. However, “La La Land” faces tough competition from other films, such as the masterful drama “Moonlight” and the box-office smash “Hidden Figures.”

With the ceremony just around the corner, George Washington Today had film and acting aficionados from across the university weigh in on who they think will win in the evening’s major categories. See what they predicted below:

Best Actress: Ruth Negga
“This year's nominees are a diverse group: a 'grand dame' of stage and screen, some newer faces and some actors who have been doing consistently outstanding work for awhile. The genres, too, are diverse, including biographical, musical and fictional stories. Thus, it's like comparing apples and oranges—but since that is what happens on Oscar night, I would choose Ruth Negga for her role in ‘Loving,’ based on a powerful but lesser-known piece of our history, to which she brings an understated, authentic and deeply moving performance.”
- Professor of Theatre Leslie Jacobson

Best Actor: Denzel Washington
“For me, it's between Casey Affleck and Denzel Washington. But the balance tips to Mr. Washington's performance in ‘Fences,’ which I find a tour-de-force, filled with intensity, pain, fierceness and great humanity.”
- Professor of Theatre Leslie Jacobson


Best Documentary: "13th/" "I Am Not Your Negro"
"I know it's rare, but I'm hoping Academy Award voters honor both "13th" and "I Am Not Your Negro." Both films are deeply moving, beautifully shot and extremely timely. Ava DuVernay's "13th" is poignantly haunting. As a documentary filmmaker, I was in awe of her compelling film. I always knew  there was a connection between the 13th amendment and mass incarceration but I didn't know the systematic institutionalized connection. Raoul Peck's "I Am Not Your Negro" is outstanding. Using the words of iconic author James Baldwin, the film uses all archival footage to present a dynamic view of race relations in America. Both films are incredibly important and should be honored at the Academy Awards."
-School of Media and Public Affairs Professor Imani M. Cheers

Best Director: Damien Chazelle
“'La La Land,' Mr. Chazelle's film is, and will be held up as, a director’s high water mark for many years to come. Sean O’Connell of said it best: ‘Suddenly, Chazelle looks like a magician, weaving an impossibly skillful musical romance on the big screen that's both classic and contemporary, urban and celestial.’ And a magician he is, from the jaw-dropping opening dance sequence in a traffic jam on an LA highway to the splendid weaving of personal narrative. With outsized Hollywood movie ambitions, he is at the pinnacle of the director’s craft.  

Who do I wish could (also) win? Kenneth Lonergan for ‘Manchester By The Sea.’ On the entirely opposite end of the spectrum of Mr. Chazelle, Mr. Lonergan’s directorial achievement exists entirely on the interior of his stunning use of location as a character, in his deft handling of the terrible reveal of the film’s secret and in the unforgettable exchange which culminates in the final scene between the Casey Affleck character and the character played by Michelle Williams. They are two people locked in the terrible shared experience of unimaginable loss. The film exists entirely in the ochre tones of Manchester and sadness. It is a real and stunning piece of direction in each and every small moment of the movie.”
-Research Professor of History and Media and Public Affairs and Documentary Center Director Nina Seavey

Best Picture: “La La Land”

“I think Best Picture will go to ‘La La Land.’ This is a film that is hard not to love. It is imaginative, fun, brilliantly directed and timeless in its construction and a real antidote to the madness that encircles us in this current political climate. Films about Hollywood are always putative favorites, as this is an industry that is notoriously insular. But more than the expected, ‘La La Land’ takes the old trope of the Hollywood musical, dusts it off and makes it as much a sheer joy of escapism to watch today as audiences used to do in the heyday of the Hollywood musical. The film reminded me of ‘The Artist,’ which won the Oscar for best picture in 2012—similarly harkening back to an older era (in that case, the era of silent films), but with enough sophistication and verve that it didn’t feel hackneyed or derivative.  

But who do I wish would win? ‘Hell Or High Water.’ That was my kind of film—a real character study of society’s outliers in the tradition of ‘Tender Merciea’ (for which Robert Duvall won an Oscar for best actor) or ‘The Last Picture Show’ (which featured a young Jeff Bridges who was nominated for the Oscar for best supporting actor).  ‘Hell Or High Water’ was the best film I’d seen in years. But a jubilant movie that transports audiences back to the golden age of musicals will be hard to beat.”
-Research Professor of History and Media and Public Affairs and Documentary Center Director Nina Seavey



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