And the Oscar goes to…

Excellent writing is evident in many of the films nominated for Academy Awards this year, with several edgy alternative films sharing major categories with mainstream blockbusters, says Penn’s Timothy Corrigan, a professor of English and cinema and media studies. The Academy Awards will be broadcast on Sunday, March 4.

“What stands out in this year’s Oscars is that there are a number of extremely well-written films—not just structure and plot, but in terms of the dialogue,” says Corrigan. His favorites in the Best Picture category are “Phantom Thread,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” “Lady Bird,” and “The Shape of Water.”

“I will be really interested to see if some of these riskier films actually step up and win a lot of awards,” he says. “The mix has been there the past 15 years or so, but competition from inventive alternative films is particularly strong this year, and the blockbusters are particularly weak.”

Faculty in the Cinema Studies Program have a yearly Oscar prediction contest, and Corrigan competes in a similar game with students in his classes. However, he says he is “a bit of a cynic” about the iconic awards show.

“I know what I think are the best films and best performances, but those are rarely the ones that come away with the win,” he says. “I advise my students: Don’t pick what you think should win, instead pick how you think the industry is thinking these days, and what the larger cultural currents are, because that’s what the Academy people vote for and what they like.”

The 90th annual awards ceremony is expected to include the Time’s Up and #MeToo campaigns resulting from accounts of sexual harassment and abuse by men, including producer Harvey Weinstein.  

“It is the stories off the screen which are really dominating the backdrop of the Academy Awards,” Corrigan says, also citing the #OscarsSoWhite campaign started three years ago in response to the lack of diversity of nominees.


“Get Out” has already made Academy Award history, as Jordan Peele is the first African American nominated for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Director in the same year.

Corrigan thinks that a blockbuster such as Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” or Steven Spielberg’s “The Post,” or perhaps “The Darkest Hour,” will take the Best Picture prize. He is personally pulling for Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Phantom Thread,” which he calls an “absolutely brilliant” film starring an “absolutely stunning” performance by Daniel Day Lewis, but he says the film is probably “too twisted in its sensibility” to win. He says “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” and lead actress Frances McDormand could have a real chance at taking home golden statues.

A reflection of increasing globalization in the film industry, Best Picture nominee “The Shape of Water” is an international collaboration, with Mexican director Guillermo del Toro a leading contender to win the Academy Award for Best Director. The film also is a favorite for cinematography, Corrigan says.

Penn grad Scott Neustadter, who co-wrote the screenplay for “The Disaster Artist,” was nominated in the Best Adapted Screenplay category.

Although a lover of film, Corrigan says he does not plan to watch this year’s three-hour-plus Academy Awards program.

“I’d rather watch a movie,” he says.

Originally published in the Penn Current Express on March 1, 2018.