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Oscar talk with alumnus Tom Ue


People across North America will be glued to their TV screens Sunday for the 87th Academy Awards. In a world of streaming video, DVRs and binge-watching, what is the future for the silver screen?

U of T Scarborough writer Chris Garbutt asked alumnus Tom Ue for his thoughts. Ue is a doctoral candidate in English literature at University College London and the editor of World Film Locations: Toronto. (See a photo gallery of Toronto film locations.)

Any thoughts on this year’s list of nominees?
As with any year, there are many worthy nominees and notable omissions. Julianne Moore, for one, is recognized for her career-defining work in Still Alice, but I thought her part in Maps to the Stars is equally deserving. Her co-stars Mia Wasikowska and Robert Pattinson gave equally compelling and psychologically-nuanced performances. Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain were both exemplary in A Most Violent Year.

Guardians of the Galaxy and Live, Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow grossed more than US$300 million and US$100 million in 2014 respectively, and actually got some pretty good reviews. But they only received five technical nominations between the two of them. Do you think there’s a bias against blockbusters in the Academy Awards?
Not necessarily. Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel earned nine nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director, and it grossed over US$174 million. Clint Eastwood’s mid-budget film American Sniper has made over US$394 million and it received six nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Bradley Cooper. The box office success of these films helps to remind us that the Oscar voters are viewers like us.

Movie attendance seems to have leveled off over the last 20 years. What kind of impact is that having on the film industry?
Filmmakers are coming up with more inventive ways for storytelling, and I think that some of the creative energies in filmmaking have transferred to television, making this an especially exciting time for audiences worldwide. HBO, BBC and ITV are all producing wonderful television programs and redefining how we think about cinema.

We hear stories of how many Canadians have done well in Hollywood. Is that reflected in the Oscars? 
I certainly think so! Canadians are very well represented in many categories ranging from music to short films, and from writing to acting. Howard Shore, who won Oscars for music score (2001, 2003) and song (2003) for The Lord of the Rings trilogy, is Canadian and he contributed and continues to contribute to many of David Cronenberg’s films. Sarah Polley was nominated for writing Away from Her (2007), which she directed, and in the same year, Ellen Page received a well-deserved Oscar nomination for her leading role performance in Juno. Christopher Plummer won his first Oscar for Beginners (2012).

Since 1939, the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) has earned 11 Oscars, 73 nominations and an Honorary Oscar on its 50th anniversary. This year, Montrealer Torill Kove is nominated for her animated short “Me and My Moulton,” which was made with the support of the NFB.

Any U of T connections to the Academy Awards?
U of T alumni have always done very well at the Oscars. Mychael Danna, who studied music composition, won both the Golden Globe and the Oscar for Best Original Score for Ang Lee’s Life of Pi (2012). Fellow U of T music alumni Owen Pallett and William Butler from the Canadian indie rock band Arcade Fire were acknowledged for the score of Spike Jonze’s Her (2013). Atom Egoyan was nominated for directing and writing The Sweet Hereafter (1997).

Why are these awards such a big deal, anyway?
The Oscars acknowledge some of the best work in film in any given year and they often introduce us to work that we might overlook. This year I am especially glad to see Marion Cotillard recognized in Two Days, One Night. I hope that this nomination would encourage more viewers to see this excellent film. This international recognition is especially important for independent films and it’s an enormous vote of confidence for new and emerging filmmakers. 

So what are your predictions for Oscar night?
To be honest, I would be thrilled to see any of the eight films nominated for Best Picture win. All of the nominees are deserving, and they remind us of why we go to films, telling stories about both the ordinary and the epic.