CINE104-23S1 (C) Semester One 2023

The Oscar for Best Picture: The Envelope Please!

15 points

Start Date: Monday, 20 February 2023
End Date: Sunday, 25 June 2023
Withdrawal Dates
Last Day to withdraw from this course:
  • Without financial penalty (full fee refund): Sunday, 5 March 2023
  • Without academic penalty (including no fee refund): Sunday, 14 May 2023


This course will trace the trajectory of the Academy Awards: from 1930s screwball comedies and backstage musicals to celebrated wartime classics; from 1950s Minnelli musicals to 1980s post-Vietnam war films. It will provide a concentrated, thumbnail history of American Cinema, which challenges students to consider and question the formal criteria (cinematography, acting, sound, editing) upon which critical judgement is based. It will introduce students to the canonical classics of American Cinema, inviting them to explore diverse film genres and even the occasional Academy extravaganza.

We will first look at the origins of the Academy and examine its early role in shaping American film and popular culture. We will examine Best Pictures from the Depression-era, considering the impact of new sound technologies on the Hollywood studio style and the subsequent enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code, a set of moral guidelines that were enforced from the mid-1930s to the 1960s. In our next section, we will move on to wartime cinema and the consolidation of star culture and the Classical Hollywood Style, considering the way in which celebrated Best Pictures such as Casablanca reflected underlying tensions in cultural and national identity. Turning to the 1950s, we will address McCarthyism, blacklisting, and the advent of television as the perfect storm that effectively swept grand dramatic spectacle into its place of prominence in the Academy Awards ceremonies.

In the third section, we will examine the cultural revolution of the 1960s and the return of socially conscious cinema with the Academy’s acknowledgement of those films that focused on social and racial tensions. We will then move to the New Hollywood of the 1970s and the heyday of the American film school auteur. The final section will be devoted to subsequent decades and those genre films dedicated to social concerns.

Learning Outcomes

  • Knowledge and skills:
  • Basic knowledge of critical and technical vocabulary of discipline
  • Basic knowledge of a range of film history, ranging from early cinema to the present
  • Basic knowledge of the various issues associated with the production, distribution, and exhibition of films
  • Recognition that different film forms impact on the meaning and effects of film texts
  • Basic knowledge of the major theoretical debates and discourses in film studies
  • Basic knowledge of the relationships between selected films and their social, cultural and historical context
  • Basic ability to conduct close analysis of scenes and images from films
    • University Graduate Attributes

      This course will provide students with an opportunity to develop the Graduate Attributes specified below:

      Critically competent in a core academic discipline of their award

      Students know and can critically evaluate and, where applicable, apply this knowledge to topics/issues within their majoring subject.

      Biculturally competent and confident

      Students will be aware of and understand the nature of biculturalism in Aotearoa New Zealand, and its relevance to their area of study and/or their degree.

      Engaged with the community

      Students will have observed and understood a culture within a community by reflecting on their own performance and experiences within that community.

      Globally aware

      Students will comprehend the influence of global conditions on their discipline and will be competent in engaging with global and multi-cultural contexts.

Course Coordinator

Mary Wiles


Assessment Due Date Percentage  Description
Essay 40% 2,000 words
Assignments 10% Five 300-word Online LEARN Assignments
Final Exam 50% 1,500 words

Please check the course LEARN page for further details and updates.

Textbooks / Resources

The Academy Awards: The Complete Unofficial History. 2nd edition. Jim Piazza and Gail Kinn. New York: Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers, 2014.
Readings to be provided on LEARN

(Image: Oscar Academy Awards 3D" by Emilio Gallo, licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0.)


Film List:

Week One:
Introduction to the Course
Best of 1938: The Screwball Comedy
You Can’t Take It with You (Capra, 1938)

Week Two:
Best of 1939: Hollywood Grand Spectacle
Gone With the Wind (Fleming, 1939)

Week Three:
Best of 1943: Classical Hollywood
Casablanca (Curtiz, 1941)

Week Four:        
Best of 1951: Hollywood Musical
An American in Paris (Minnelli, 1951)

Week Five:        
Best of 1960: Comedy-Drama
The Apartment (Wilder, 1960)

Week Six:
Best of 1969: Western Reinvented  
Midnight Cowboy (Schlesinger, 1969)

Week Seven:
Best of 1972: Gangster Film Reinvented
The Godfather (Coppola, US 1972)  

Week Eight:
Best of 1983: Melodrama
Terms of Endearment (Brooks, 1983)

Week Nine:
Best of 1991: Horror  
Silence of the Lambs (Demme, 1991)

Week Ten:
Best of 2009: Anti-War War Film
Hurt Locker (Bigelow, 2009)

Week Eleven:
Best of 2013: Historical Drama
12 Years A Slave (McQueen, 2013)

Week Twelve:
Best of 2020: A Road Movie & A Western  
Nomadland (Zhao, 2020)

Indicative Fees

Domestic fee $821.00

International fee $3,750.00

* All fees are inclusive of NZ GST or any equivalent overseas tax, and do not include any programme level discount or additional course-related expenses.

Minimum enrolments

This course will not be offered if fewer than 40 people apply to enrol.

For further information see Humanities .

All CINE104 Occurrences

  • CINE104-23S1 (C) Semester One 2023
  • CINE104-23S1 (D) Semester One 2023 (Distance)