The Envelope, Please: Davidson Commentators on Academy

‘Reel Music’ with Prof. Neil Lerner on Best Original Score

Musical film buffs will want to tune in Friday night at 9 p.m. to 89.9 FM WDAV, Davidson’s renowned classical public radio station. “Reel Music” host Matt Rogers will welcome Neil Lerner, a musicologist and Davidson College professor, to sample and discuss music from best original score nominees. The show will be simultaneously aired and streamed live at 89.9 FM and, but it will not be archived due to music licensing requirements. Tune in!

The entertainment world's heavy hitters and up-and-comers will gather at Dolby Theatre in Hollywood Sunday night for the 89th annual Academy Awards. Davidson film experts, aficionados and cultural commentators will be watching as the red carpet rolls out for this year's Oscar extravaganza. Here, they offer a variety of insights across categories.

Randy Ingram

Professor of English

"I like to think about the Oscars as an amateur cultural historian of the future, looking back on 2017. What were the hopes and fears of people back then? What did they want? If it's a big night for La La Land, I would think that those people want to escape from the pressures of their world, into a world of art, where even the laws of gravity do not apply. If it's a big night for Moonlight, I would think that those people also want an escape—into an often-gorgeous visual and musical world, where an at-risk child can find someone as generous-hearted and as tough and as quick-to-laugh as Juan—but an escape with more frank recognition of the suffering of real Americans."

Maggie McCarthy

Professor of German

"I'm rooting for the German film Toni Erdmann. It's unusual not just for being a German comedy but also for being a German comedy that's actually funny. And it makes a trenchant commentary on neoliberalism, or the idea that the market determines the worth of everything, including people."

Joseph Ewoodzie

Malcolm O. Partin Assistant Professor of Sociology

"This is a unique year for the Oscars, especially in the Best Picture category. There are three films with casts made up of mostly persons of color, telling stories of persons of color. In the last three years, there have been a total of three of such films nominated. There were none in 2016. In 2015, we had Selma, and in 2014 we had 12 Years A Slave.

In three of the last 12 years, there were no such movies in the Best Picture category…. The three movies this year also offer a nice range of stories. Hidden Figures is a brilliant, moving film, but it is yet another film about ignored black heroes. Both Fences and Moonlight offer a beautiful look into the intimate, and at times tragic, inner workings of black life in two time periods in two regions of the country. This year comes on the heels of #OscarSoWhite. It is also becoming fairly well established that films with diverse casts do better in the box office. Is this a blip in the history of the Academy Awards or will this be a new norm?"

Paul Miller

Associate Professor of English

"I have to confess I don't see many movies until they're out on DVD. But I did see The Lobster. If you think online dating is bad, The Lobster is a good way to cheer up. Yorgos Lanthimo is the new Bunuel."

Jacquelyn Culpepper

Artist Associate in Voice

"During my college years as a voice major, listening to Florence Foster Jenkins was our favorite party pastime. With great glee we would watch the face of a fellow opera student as they heard her for the first time.

To perfection-obsessed students of voice, it was hard to believe that anyone could be that oblivious to such an awful sound! During the movie however, I was struck by her courage and felt inspiration in my own laughter. Florence's devotion to the music and to her singing, in spite of her poor talent and her illness, was admirable. She did not measure her singing by the world but by her own passions. We should all be so brave."

Zoran Kuzmanovich

Professor of English

"Short Animated Category prediction: Piper pips Pear and Pearl by the tip of the beak."

Animated short nominees include Piper, Pear Cider and Cigarettes, and Pearl.

Neil Lerner

Professor of Music

"I've been a longtime fan of Thomas Newman's film scores, and I even had the honor of writing Newman's entry for the Grove Dictionary of American Music," Wall Professor of Music Neil Lerner said after taping the annual Oscars episode of WDAV's "Reel Music."

"His score for Passengers was nominated this year, making it the 13th time he's been nominated for Best Score. I don't think Passengers is Thomas Newman's best work—it's full of musical gestureshe's used in many previous films—and while history would teach us that at some point he'll win an Oscar as a payback for all the times he didn't (hello, Shawshank Redemption—an incredible score that was nominated in the same year as Newman's score for Little Women, likely splitting his votes), I don't think this will be his year. Instead, my hope is that first-time nominee Mica Levi will get the statuette... Levi is only the third woman to be nominated in this category, ever. It's even more unprecedented, then, that Levi would get the nomination for her score for Jackie, because that score is as unapologetically avant-garde and alienating a score as one could ever find in a Hollywood film."


John Syme