Gordon in the News: last updated 03/03/2010

And the Oscar Goes to . . . the Underdog: Gordon Professor Sees Common Theme in 82nd Academy Awards

March 1, 2010

Jo Kadlecek
Office of College Communication

WENHAM, MA—There’s the homeless football player, the laid off employees, the abused inner city girl, and of course, the paraplegic marine dispatched to the moon Pandora. Each character, a protagonist in one of 10 films nominated for an Academy Award in the category of best picture, points to a recurring theme in this year’s films, according to Toddy Burton, assistant professor of communication arts at Gordon College and award-winning filmmaker.

“Most of these movies have us cheering for the underdog hero,” says Burton. “I think they speak to what’s happening in our country. People want to see triumph over evil, the little guy taking on the powers that be.”

Burton, who teaches film production, film theory and screen writing, says that movies usually have two basic stories: a stranger comes to town or a man goes on a journey. Most of this year’s films, she says, are the second, with the odds stacked high against the characters. Either they are re-interpretations of historic tales, or they are re-examining traditional subject matters through fractured views. And of the actors nominated for an Academy Award—which airs this Sunday, March 7—most evoke the underdog theme.

“Even looking at the awards themselves, I find myself cheering for the underdog,” Burton says. “There might be a lot of tragedy in their (character’s) stories but there is also triumph.”

Of those nominated for Best Actor, Burton sees the has-been country singer role created by Jeff Bridges in “Crazy Heart” to be the expected winner. She thinks Christopher Plummer in “The Last Station” will take the Oscar for best supporting actor and expects Mo’Nique to win for her portrayal of a violent mother in “Precious.” The Best Actress prize is more up in the air, Burton says; though she’d like to see Gabourey Sidibe—who plays a battered teenager in “Precious”—Meryl Streep’s interpretation of a younger Julia Childs (“Julie and Julia”) is likely to take the Oscar.

In the Best Director category, two nominees are also outsiders and could make history if they win: Lee Daniels (of “Precious”) would be the first African American to win, and Kathryn Bigelow would be the first woman to win for her directing of “The Hurt Locker.”

Burton says this year’s short films are also worth paying attention to, as are the screenplay categories, because “writers are too often overlooked but their work is so fundamental to any production.”

Of the 10 Best Picture nominees, which does Burton think will take the prize?

“It probably won’t win, but I think ‘Inglorious Basterds’ is the best all around film,” Burton says.  “It’s the most daring and challenging cinematically, with the best creative synthesis of all the elements in one film. And its story line is about a really interesting power struggle.”

For more information, contact Office of College Communications at 978.867.4752.

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Gordon College is a multi-denominational Christian college of the liberal arts and sciences on Boston’s North Shore, offering majors in 36 fields with graduate programs in education and music education. Gordon is nationally recognized for excellence in academics and in character building, and ranks as one of the nation’s top Christian colleges. www.gordon.edu