Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Oscars 2010: Screenplays

As a once-prospective screenwriter (a dream I haven't completely given up on, but I've gravitated more toward film criticism as of late), I really enjoy the screenplay categories. This year, all but one of the Best Picture nominees received nods for their scripts as well, with Black Swan being the lonely outcast here (its been seen as more of a director-and-his-muse film anyway). I also combined the screenplay nominees because I've already written about Best Adapted Screenplay for LAMB Devours the Oscars, which you can read here, if you wish. I went ahead and included the Adapted Screenplay nominees here anyway. So be sure to check out the link for a more in-depth analysis of those nominees.

 127 Hours; Screenplay by Simon Beaufoy & Danny Boyle

 The Social Network; Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin

 Toy Story 3; Screenplay by Michael Arndt, Story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich

  True Grit; Written for the screen by Joel & Ethan Coen

 Winter's Bone; Adapted for the screen by Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini

My ballot for Best Adapted Screenplay:

1. The Social Network
2. Toy Story 3
3. 127 Hours
4. True Grit
5. Winter's Bone

 Another Year; Written by Mike Leigh

It always seems odd to me that almost every film Mike Leigh has made since his 1996 breakout Secrets & Lies has been nominated for its screenplay, when Leigh usually only has a very loose outline for the film and encourages his actors to improvise much of the dialogue (at least, that's how I understand he does it). But what a fantastic work Another Year was: there's not much in the way of story or narrative here, just scenes from a year in the life of a well-off London couple and the people in their lives. The various vignettes are excellently written (or "written," as the case may be), with dialogue and events flowing so naturally that its easy to forget that this is a fictional film. Given that this is the film's only nomination (a shame) and that its the only screenplay nominee that's not a Best Picture nominee as well, I highly doubt it'll win this prize, though.

 The Fighter; Screenplay by Scott Silver & Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson, Story by Keith Dorrington & Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson

The boxing genre is a well-trod path in cinema, and the story is almost always the same: guy decides to get back into the ring, trains hard, faces setbacks, then finally meets his challenger for the climactic bout. And these kinds of screenplays don't usually win Oscars (back in 1976, Best Picture winner Rocky, written by Sylvester Stallone, lost this prize to Network writer/screenwriting god Paddy Chayefsky). But The Fighter is not a normal boxing movie; yes, there's still the basic setup that builds to that big fight, but the film devotes most of its time to exploring the dynamics between Mickey Ward and his family, who are highly functional in their dysfunction. Its an unexpected approach to the genre, with most of the fights not involving gloves, punches, and promoters but rather shouting between Alice Ward and Mickey, Dickie Ecklund and Charlene, or, best of all, Charlene taking on the gaggle of big-haired, MTV-girl-hating sisters. Its a great screenplay that avoids formula for the most part, but, since boxing scripts rarely triumph here, I wouldn't bet the farm on it winning.

 Inception; Written by Christopher Nolan

Inception is a very clever film from a very clever writer/director. The film is labyrinthine in structure, with dreams within dreams within dreams and an ambiguous ending that suggests that maybe the whole thing is in and of itself a dream (um, spoiler? No, that really doesn't give much away. Besides, I figure most of you have seen this by now). But that ambiguity, the puzzle that Nolan has built, is what makes it such a terrific film. Its a heist film with sci-fi elements grafted on to it, but those elements are never too distracting; in fact, most of the fantastical things that happen are elevated by the fact that their completely realistic objects doing unrealistic things. And the script is much more than just an exposition machine: there's a beating heart behind it all, as the film allows us to investigate Cobb's psyche without ever actually getting into his head (or do we.....?). Nolan's smart script was more than deserving of the nomination, and if I had my way, it would win; its not the favorite, but it could pull the upset.

 The Kids Are All Right; Written by Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg

Like the boxing genre, the family drama is also a very, very well-worn path. But every year we welcome a slew of them, and this past year saw The Kids Are All Right rise above them all. What makes this film - and its screenplay - so special is that it features an "alternative family," meaning that the parents are lesbians, and then presented them with the same kinds of family problems and dysfunction that "normal" families have. In other words, it didn't act like a homosexual family is a huge deal (because seriously, people, its not). Its also a very funny and touching film, with plenty of well-constructed scenes and dialogue, with characters that are so rich that they never feel like characters, but rather like real people that you can easily relate to. Lesbians or not, this was one of the year's best films, but because of its indie-film status (as well as it being a comedy), there's little reason to believe that it will win.

 The King's Speech; Written by David Seidler

The King's Speech is a decidedly old-fashioned film. The script feels as if it were written for the stage (apparently, it was), with most of its scenes being dialogue between a two or three people. But the film felt cinematic, and the script did feature some excellent scenes, such as a terrific confrontation between Bertie and his older brother, who's on the verge of marrying an American woman and thus having to abdicate the throne. At the end of the day, though, the film's strength doesn't come from its good script, but rather from its superb cast and knowing direction. Its my least favorite script out of either category, but even if the film doesn't sweep the ceremony Sunday night, its likely going to pick up the trophy here.

My Best Original Screenplay ballot:

1. Inception
2. The Kids Are All Right
3. Another Year
4. The Fighter
5. The King's Speech

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