Tuesday, August 24, 2010

2009 Honorees: Screenplays

As usual, one category is full of contenders, the other struggles to keep pace. Meanwhile, the writing remains the thing I most often wish I could fix in a movie. As well as the only filmmaking task that I think I could feasibly accomplish. Hmmmm...

For Original Screenplay...

Andrew Bujalski for Beeswax, for building such rich ties among the three principals, for unfolding their relations gradually, and for so many sharp, anecdotal scenes;

Tony Gilroy for Duplicity, whose inability to lure an audience to his clever, zesty, intricate, and deliciously rewatchable espionage comedy was a great shame of 2009;

Sebastián Silva and Pedro Peirano for The Maid, who make the maid's jealousy both funny and scary, her fainting spells alarming yet dubious, and the last half-hour moving but schmaltz-free;

Adam Elliot for Mary and Max, for writing such outlandish but endearing speeches and characters that a third-act sag doesn't matter, especially at the bittersweet finale; and

Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman for The Messenger, for filling an inevitably sad story with tentative warmth and concise human details, proving the viability of adult drama in Hollywood.

Extremely honorable mentions to four scripts that made strong plays for the Mary and Max and Messenger spots and on different days might appear in their places: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne for the fraught and layered scenario of Lorna's Silence, with its risky swerve into dark fable; Mark Boal for The Hurt Locker, composing taut set-pieces but leaving room for rich characters and finely etched local details; Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck for Sugar, who evoke the experience of a perplexed immigrant to America with piquancy, compassion, and wonderfully specific context, and who snatch back a gutsy, honest ending from the encroachment of cliché in the second act; and Olivier Assayas for Summer Hours, whose "O baleful mortgage of the heritage of France!" premise could easily have rubbed me the wrong way, but for the light hand, the insights, and the push-pull sense of family that he brings to it.

Further honorable mentions to Greg Mottola for Adventureland, Jane Campion for Bright Star, Bahareh Azimi and Ramin Bahrani for Goodbye Solo, Nancy Meyers for making It's Complicated really funny, the quartet of Erick Zonca, Aude Py, Camilla Natta, and Michael Collins for Julia, and Quentin Tarantino for the delicious parts of Inglourious Basterds, which is to say, the parts that aren't sadistic, twitty, slow, or total cheats to attain an ending.

For Adapted Screenplay...

Maurizio Braucci, Ugo Chiti, Gianni Di Gregorio, Matteo Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso, and Roberto Saviani for Gomorrah, who distill the Mob in a new way, not as a scary pyramid of imposing figures, but as a viral contagion that has spread through everything;

Armando Iannucci, Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, and Tony Roche for In the Loop, who give a dozen characters their comic due, with ace plotting and dialogue ("anti-war shag"), but stay duly forlorn about the world stage;

Geoffrey Fletcher for Precious, who avoids a strict emphasis many would have drawn around Precious, Mary, and Blu, and keeps it a piece about the fortitude of young women;

Dave Eggers and Spike Jonze for Where the Wild Things Are, who start with a book you could transcribe on the back of a pasta box, imposing a workable plot and devising an array of distinct characters; and

Shauna Cross for Whip It, who works so adroitly with her clutch of old saws (rebelling girl, disapproving mom, dead-end town, lame boyfriend) and gets 'em all rolling.

Honorable mentions to Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach for the memorable family dynamics of Fantastic Mr. Fox, even if I still have a hard time living in Anderson's dollhouses; to Susannah Grant for the carefully composed characters and growing tensions of The Soloist; and to Henry Selick for the alternate universes and scrappy kid's point of view in Coraline.

I wish I were a bit more excited about these adaptations, or about what I suspect is the greater potential of the Woman in Berlin script, muffled by slightly pedestrian direction; or about the good bits in the District 9 scenario, despite some fuzziness in the whole premise and the utter, bizarre collapse of the dropped documentary conceit. (Do I keep harping on that?) It's tempting to consider 35 Shots of Rum and Julia as adaptations of Ozu and Cassavetes, which they sort of are, or Bright Star as an adaptation of Keats, which it sort of is, but even by the reduced standards of fantasy-baseball Oscar blogging, one aims for integrity.

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Blogger Robert Hamer said...

Oh, I'm so happy to see Fantastic Mr. Fox in your Honorable Mentions! I know you weren't crazy about that film like I was, so for you to still give a shout-out to its clever screenplay is a pleasant surprise.

I'm a little surprised, though, that you are so forgiving toward the screenplay for Precious, or indeed forgiving towards the film in general...besides the obvious feeling of elation that a screenplay about 'Poverty-Stricken Black Women' beat one about 'A Suave Rich White Man Learning to be Monogamous' for the Oscar. I can only imagine how laughably absurd some of that dialogue would have sounded had it not been for the performances of Sidibe and Mo'Nique.

Also, how could the "O baleful mortgage of the heritage of France!" premise of Summer Hours have "easily" rubbed you the wrong way? As Nat - actually, his boyfriend - observed, "How many films do you ever see about Cultural Patrimony?"

2:07 AM, August 24, 2010  
Anonymous Guy Lodge said...

"...even by the reduced standards of fantasy-baseball Oscar blogging, one aims for integrity."

Well, the Academy themselves certainly didn't aim for that integrity -- they classified Bright Star as adapted, after all. So you could have got away with that one! (I like to imagine it's Precious that would have suffered.)

Anyway, the Best Adapted Screenplay category was a chore this year, wasn't it? With such a paltry slate, it's both baffling and infuriating that the Academy couldn't jive to Where the Wild Things Are -- not just the best adaptation of the year by a country mile, but the most adaptation too. Isn't that usually the formula for a nomination -- particularly in a year where they had to resort to naming District 9 on the year's best-written films?

Further proving the thinness of the field, our ballots overlap more here than in any other category so far -- particularly when you consider that Gomorrah, which made my 2008 list, would have been a cinch for 2009's -- though I'll assume that, unlike me, you didn't spend much time deliberating over whether to include The Informant! or He's Just Not That Into You.

Obviously, much richer rewards are to be found in your original list, where I'm pleased to see my nomination for Mary and Max echoed, though once again, I'm slightly surprised that Sugar doesn't even crack the honorable mentions. With the benefit of hindsight, it'd now make my five over either Bright Star or The Hurt Locker.

4:32 AM, August 24, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Robert: Glad to have it known that I'm willing to give credit where it's due, even when I don't love the whole film! As for Summer Hours, I could have had very limited patience for watching the tetchy siblings of a rich woman go, "Who gets the vase? Who gets the rolltop? Oh, this is so impossible...," but Assayas, his actors, and Gautier make it involving and moving.

@Guy: Sugar was a complete oversight here, so it's been instated in its rightful position as one of the nearest misses to the final field of five. Thanks for snagging that! I can't get as indignant as I probably should about the Academy's Adapted roster, partly because it seemed so inevitable by the time it was announced, and partly because An Education and even Up in the Air might have seemed like stronger scripts with more careful direction, and District 9, though a baffling misfire of execution, at least has some memorable scenes and some originality to it. Though I always dislike it when expanding one's own short film to feature length counts to AMPAS as an "adaptation." I think that's called a drafting process?

7:51 AM, August 24, 2010  
Anonymous JStor said...

Yay for the In the Loop love! The Thick of It is a better TV show than In the Loop is a film, but Loop was probably the best film version of that show that could ever be made, even if it does slightly fall apart in the final 20 minutes.

If District 9 kept up the documentary conceit and Up in the Air just completely dropped the wedding subplot and final third, they'd probably be in my theoretical list. It's also good to see that this list doesn't elevate Inglorious Basterds' screenplay most other award shows elevated it to. 50% of a great screenplay and 50% of a crap screenplay doesn't equal a good screenplay.

I'd probably put The Informant! very near the top of my adapted screenplay list, if not the very top: the sheer impossible task of both adapting the behemoth that is Eichenwald's book and turning it into a comedy (whether you think it's funny or not, it's at least trying to be funny) means it's performed a considerable feat in my book.

3:09 PM, August 24, 2010  
Blogger Unknown said...

I'm thrilled to see Whip It among the honorees, as well as In the Loop. I'm a little surprised Adventureland didn't make the cut, since the fertile ground for the great characterizations springs directly from the writing, rather than the direction. At least, that's my memory. It's been a long time since I've seen the movie, and I have a tendency to forget that kind of thing.

From my list, you can tell I thought it was a banner year for animation. Honestly, I thought it was one of the strongest categories on Oscar night. Anyway, my choices:

Original Screenplay
1. The Hurt Locker
2. Summer Hours
3. (500) Days of Summer
4. Adventureland
5. Up

Adapted Screenplay
1. In the Loop
2. Whip It
3. Where the Wild Things Are
4. Fantastic Mr. Fox
5. Coraline

5:41 PM, August 24, 2010  
Blogger tim r said...

Just two observations from me: one, that I'm thrilled your choice of In the Loop quote is one my friend Olivia got to say, and two, that I'd like to see Thirst mentioned here. I had no idea, or had entirely forgotten, that Zola's Thérèse Raquin was its inspiration. Whether or not this would have troubled the Academy enough to stick it in Adapted, who can say? (It involves imagining the Academy taking more than half a look at Thirst without blanching.) Either way, that was some memorably loopy plotting and character drawing, though I concede Park's direction and camera heighten the loopiness in all the best ways.

6:34 PM, August 24, 2010  

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