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  • Originally published 02/25/2013

    Jim Cullen: How Six Oscar Winners Tell the Story of America

    Jim Cullen is chairman of the history department at the Fieldston School in New York and author of "Sensing the Past: Hollywood Stars and Historical Visions" (Oxford University Press). A box office is not a voting booth, but they have their similarities. Neither is entirely democratic in the ways it offers choices, and each is a little too deferential to market forces. But both tell stories about the state of the nation, produced by teams that are fronted by star performers.In politics, some of the most successful performers take on multiple roles. Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama: Their stories have offered versions of the country — where it had been, where it was headed. Some were stories of restoration, others of progress.In the Republic of Hollywood, it’s movie stars, not politicians, who rule. And in Hollywood, as in politics, one of the recurring themes is our national ambivalence about powerful institutions — religious, economic, military or political — and their influence over everyday life.

  • Originally published 02/25/2013

    Jim Cullen: With Lincoln, A New Frontier for Day-Lewis

    Jim Cullen is chairman of the history department at the Fieldston School in New York and author of "Sensing the Past: Hollywood Stars and Historical Visions" (Oxford University Press).(CNN) -- If, as many observers believe, Daniel-Day Lewis wins the Academy Award for best actor on Sunday, he will become the first man to win three (Meryl Streep has done this; Maggie Smith might match her if she wins for her turn in Quartet). Such an honor would ratify Day-Lewis' standing not simply as one of the greatest actors of his time, but for all time.Like Robert De Niro, Day-Lewis is seen as the quintessential method actor, a commitment he has taken to extremes in his well-known penchant for embodying his characters even when the cameras aren't rolling. Day-Lewis also is notable for the extraordinary breadth of roles he has played.He first came to global attention in 1985 when he appeared simultaneously as the priggish Cecil Vyse in the Merchant-Ivory film adaptation of E.M. Forster's 1907 novel "Room with a View" as well as Johnny, the gay East End punk, in Stephen Frears' brilliantly brash "My Beautiful Launderette."...

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