Sunday, 19 February 2012

Incoherent Oscar: Screenplays

Titles, I suppose, are extraneous and the screenplay award is the same regardless of what we call them. Still, I’d prefer if the AMPAS returned to their original titles for the screenplay award “Best Screenplay Based on Material from another Medium” and “Best Screenplay written directly for screen”. It would save me from being annoyed when people take umbrage to films with “original” premises losing screenplay awards since the award is for the screenplay, not for the originality. Neither is it for how accurately it mirrors its source, but how well written the adaptation is. Alas, it is what it is.

I shall begin with the adapted bunch.

The Nominees: The Descendants; Hugo; The Ides of March; Moneyball; Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Four novels, and a play, are the sources for these adaptations. This year has been a generally tame one for the adapted screenplays. The film’s with the fine screenplays mostly came from the original branch which meant that the voters were working with a decidedly small group of potential nominees to choose from, which means that other than a specific nominee I can’t think of any choice to boot since the field was so weak. This is, of course, not to sling mud at the actual nominees. It all begins with the writing…write right?

Like so many below the line races, it’s good to look at the similarities between the picture field and the field we’re assessing and find a potential victor and with that logic I begin to dissect the field.

The Descendants Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
And, with that sentiment we come to The Descendants. It’s one of the two films which could in theory, but in reality will most likely not, unseat The Artist in the Picture race. Payne has won here before (for Sideways) and was previously nominated, too (Election) and with the USC win last night, this seems like the most assured win for the film. Its nomination has long been a no-brainer here and as it moves from comedy to drama to pathos and bathos it works as the sort of multifaceted (at least, in theory) script which fellow writers appreciate and would like to fête. For all my issues with the film, the structure of it is easily discernible and it’s that sort of structure that often gets screenplays citation – for better, and for worse.

Hugo John Logan
In some ways, this could be seen as a coattails nomination. “No one likes Hugo for its story,” I’ve heard at least one person say that. And, fair enough, this isn’t a writer’s flick. Curiously, both of Logan’s previous nominations (for The Aviator and The Gladiator in original screenplay) were regarded in the same way. Both of them major Best Picture contenders, neither of them considered a “writer’s” film. The writing may not be the crux of Hugo, or the appreciation for it, but the film is – as I’ve said before – playing with such a wide palette and although I do wonder if it’s the editing which is most significant in that aspect, Logan is effective with the pacing of the story.

The Ides of March George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon
Who’d have thought that this film, the one which depends so heavily on the structure of its script, would turn out to be the surprise nomination of the lot? It’s the single citation for The Ides of March which has faded away a bit despite surprise love from the Globes. Clooney and Heslov were nominated together for their original work on Good Night and Good Luck. Willimon, who adapted his own play, is celebrating his first nomination. It’s a welcome surprise nomination. The film is, foremost, a tale of man becoming disillusioned but the trio’s focus on the ensemble on the fringe often tricks us into considering it to be more of an ensemble piece than it seems, technically, to be yielding one of the year’s best dramas.

Moneyball Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin, Stan Chervin
Chervin is the only one of the trio who has not won an Oscar before, this is actually his first nomination. Zaillian is an Oscar winner for Schindler’s List and a previous nominee for Gangs of New York (original) and Awakenings (adapted). Sorkin earned his first win and nomination last year for The Social Network. For some time this was the also-ran that seemed like it could pose a serious threat, yet now – despite the citation in Best Picture – it seems destined to be an also-ran here, too. Particular credit must be paid to the team for the seamless manner the flashback scenes and the non-baseball scenes are incorporated into the narrative making for a unified film.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan
The husband and wife duo are celebrating their first nomination for their work on the John Le Carré adaptation. Although the actors, and the mood elicited from its technical aspects are all significant, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy lives and dies by its screenplay. It’s a mystery, after all, and the scenes unfold all existing as part of the forward thrust to that reveal. The symmetry of the film is as much because of Alfredson’s direction as it is because of the precisely delineated aspects of the screenplay.

Prediction: The Descendants
Alternate: Moneyball (unlikely to happen, though)

Then, the originals…

The Nominees: The Artist; Bridesmaids, Margin Call, Midnight in Paris, A Separation

Incidentally, even as I’d easily say that the original screenplays of 2011 were a strong bunch, the pickings that the awards’ bodies turned to were generally such bland one that I’m happy with this slate and glad that something like 50/50 didn’t turn up. Three of the nominees spill over into the Picture race, and in theory – like with the adapted race- we could begin there in finding out who is the odds on favourite for a win…

The Artist Michel Hazanavicius
Hazanavicius is celebrating three Oscar nominations this year and with the inescapable Best Picture hubbub surrounding his film, it’s impossible to extrapolate the film’s screenplay chances from it. It recently picked up a win from the BAFTA for its writing, so there’s that too. The falling star/rising ingénue paradigm is a familiar one, but that’s no reason for voters to immediately disparage the film’s writing. In fact, in a year so many have credited with nostalgic roots there’s no reason why voters might not fall collectively in love with The Artist and reward it, even with other options to choose from.

Bridesmaids Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo
Like with The Artist I do think that general appreciation for Bridesmaid tipped over to a screenplay nomination. I’ve often found there to be this entrenched belief that all good comedy comes from a good screenplay…but, I digress. By the nomination here, it means Wiig gets honoured for her work on the film and with the film being heralded for its pro-female stance it became a likely nominee here. Wiig and Mumolo get points for that, and in a race that seems heavily dominated by two films could it sidle in for the prize? Unlikely, but it’s worth chewing on, I think.

Margin Call J. C. Chandor
Lucky Chandor gets his first nomination for his first film, and it’s one of the two surprises here. I haven’t seen Margin Call, which puts me in prickly position in discussing its place here. I’d assume that its focus on the financial crisis allow it to tap in on that zeitgeist that voters, I’m sure would be happy to appreciate. In the year of looking back, it seems like the most zeitgeist of the screenplay nominees.

Midnight in Paris Woody Allen
Woody hasn’t won an Oscar in decades, although I feel he should have won for Bullets over Broadway and Match Point. Logically, this is the place where Midnight in Paris will prevail. Yet, there’s the feeling that overwhelming love for The Artist will make it lose its footing. Woody is bringing his usual caustic nature to the love of nostalgia and even for all its sweetness, the film’s notable for its serious undertones. First and foremost, a comedian, Woody gets to milk the humour in dealing with literary greats and examining the dynamic of the past and present.

A Separation Asghar Farhadi
This is the second surprise of the category, and shows love for A Separation, also up for Outstanding Foreign Language Film. The film succeeds on all facets, but everything seems to return to the screenplay which is excellently examining a host of issues and character inclinations. The type of equilibrium of the screenplay is the sort that always brings screenplays recognition, and it’s nice to see Farhadi noted for his work. If there is any spoiler to the apparent top two battling out for the win, it’d be Farhadi because if voters cared enough to give it enough #1 votes for a nomination, it could be a serious threat for the win…surely?

Prediction: Midnight in Paris
Alternate: The Artist

I remain uncertain as to whether or not I think The Artist will take away wins for the the majority of its nominations….for now, I think no.

What say you? Do Woody and Payne take it easily? Are Moneyball and The Artist viable threats? Is A Separation in the game? What do you see taking the writing prizes?


Nick Prigge said...

Once you see Margin Call, and I think you should see it, you will understand why it was nominated. Very deserving. And I like how you say "everything seems to return to the screenplay" with A Separation. Which is why I'd like it to win. Even though it won't. Even though my favorite 3 screenplays of the year didn't get nominated. But never mind.

Paolo said...

A Separation is the least flawless nominee out of the original while I can't say the same thing about the adapted nominees.