It’s Academy Awards time again, and even though we all know the awards are basically an irrelevant exercise in mutual masturbation it’s still fun to watch. As someone who enjoys words my favorite part of the film-making process continues to be the screenplay. A solid script is the foundation for every great movie, just as a terrible one almost guarantees failure. This year sees a wide variety of films gain entry into Oscar history via nominations for Best Screenplay, Original and Adapted. Some deserve the honor, while others are based on the novel “Push” by Sapphire.
Best Original Screenplay
Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker
There’s no doubt that this is a fantastic film, and I fully support a Kathryn Bigelow win for Best Director… but the script is not the film’s primary strength. The best parts of the movie are Bigelow’s assured direction, an inordinate amount of tension and suspense, and the performances of Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, and the rest of the cast. The script provides the obvious structure, but it’s these other elements that bring the film to life.
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
*Should Win! Will Win!* That’s right, Tarantino’s latest is the best nominated script of the year. From its multi-layered format, to the way it brings together the disparate story threads, to the best dialogue of Tarantino’s career, to one of the ballsiest and most audacious final lines I’ve seen it quite some time… this is the screenplay to beat on Oscar night. I could go on and on about the maturity, creativity, playfulness, ingenuity, and pure brilliance of the script, but I already wrote a full review elsewhere on this site. It deserves to win Best Film, but sadly it will have to settle for a well-earned win in this category alone.
Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman, The Messenger
This barely seen little movie is probably the most unexpected nomination here. It is beautifully written, but after watching it what stands out most are the performances over the script. Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, Jena Malone, Samantha Morton, Steve Buscemi… the movie is filled with powerful performances. There’s an argument to be made that the best scripts shouldn’t draw attention to themselves (a la Inglourious Basterds), but this is not the year for that discussion.
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, A Serious Man
At the risk of incurring the wrath of Coen brother apologists… this is not one of their best films. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good, but they’re trying too hard to make a “Coen Brothers movie.” The same way that Wes Anderson finally tipped too far over the line when he made The Darjeeling Limited, the Coens have moved closer to self parody than ever before. The movie is funny, some of the performances stand out, and it exposed me to more Judaism than any other movie this year, but the script is lacking an ending for Christ’s sake.
Peter Docter, Bob Peterson, Tom McCarthy, Up
From upsetting the Coen Contingent to pissing off the Up Brigade… this screenplay does not belong here. Yes I cried in the opening ten minutes, yes I laughed several times throughout, and yes the movie is a tremendous achievement for animated films. I liked it quite a bit. It’s a really good movie. But it is so far removed from Best Screenplay material… from the talking dog, to the generic story about the importance of companionship, to the goofy villain… a really good kids movie, but not Pixar’s best, and not deserving of an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay (or Best Picture, but don’t get me started on that one).