2009 Honorees: Screenplays
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.