Friday, August 27, 2010

The Fifties for 2010: Best Screenplays

Otherwise known as Attack of the Writer-Directors, though at least the adapters tend to employ a buddy.

For Original Screenplay...

David Michôd for Animal Kingdom, for pulling out consistent surprises about who does what, who dies when, and who about-faces, yet emotion and vision outweigh shock value;

Giorgos Lanthimos for Dogtooth, who under-exploits certain threads (the misapplied words) but achieves a doomed, tragicomic synthesis from what seems like a loose structure;

Maren Ade for Everyone Else, who parses relations so finely and knows her characters so well that she conveys as many planes of tension as there are people in each scene;

Noah Baumbach and Jennifer Jason Leigh for Greenberg, who avoid stagnation despite a protagonist whom everyone justifiably repudiates and a co-lead who both baffles and elicits our sympathy; and

Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Lee Unkrich for Toy Story 3, who don't just work around 2's tied-up finale but turn resuscitation itself into a blessing and curse: greater ecstasies, graver reckonings.

Honorable mentions to Bong Joon-ho and Park Eun-kyo for the crazy, purple melodrama of Mother. Christopher Nolan deserves mention for the ambitions and imagination of Inception, as do Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg for the humor, warmth, and fraught relationships in The Kids Are All Right, even if both scripts wind up selling themselves short. Their peaks surpassed those of Frédéric Mermoud and Pascal Arnold for Accomplices and Mia Hansen-Løve for The Father of My Children, although those two were more lived-in and consistent, and in many ways more involving.

For Adapted Screenplay...

Robert Harris and Roman Polanski for The Ghost Writer, who can't avert late-film diminishing returns, but who concoct ingenious scenarios of tension, both when Ewan acts savvy and when he doesn't;

Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders for How To Train Your Dragon, who capture a playful euphoria and the sensitive intuitions between two lonely kids, scaly and not; climax problems, but foot reveal is deft;

Thomas Bidegain and Jacques Audiard for A Prophet, whose carceral coming-of-age ends much as you'd expect, but the scenes along the way bristle and thrill: the hidden razor, the blazing ghost;

Alex Reval and Laurent Herbiet for Wild Grass, who give Resnais great ingredients to spice: not the opposed realities of early works, but characters who feel incompatible with themselves; and

Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini for Winter's Bone, who don't balk at the mythic structures or mannered dialogue, but who ground their story in a vivid envelope of noir, gallows humor and all.

Honorable mentions are few, when I already feel lukewarm about Wild Grass. John Requa and Glenn Ficarra came close to displacing it, if only I Love You Phillip Morris felt less gimmicky, and let the unexpected character relationships really drive the plot more than a saturating impulse to tickle and shock us. Plus, the film might never open. The Secret in Their Eyes is too soapy and over-conceived and Green Zone too naïvely wish-fulfilling to rate here.

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Anonymous JStor said...

Interesting that Toy Story 3 gets put in the Original Screenplay category but In the Loop was put in the Adapted category for last year's 'Best of' list. Any particular reason? If anything, TS3 is even more based upon its predecessor than In the Loop was on The Thick of It!

2:59 AM, August 27, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

A good point, and I wasn't fully sure that In the Loop belonged among the adaptations. But, "Adapted Screenplay" is really a colloquial distillation of "Sreenplay Based on Material from Another Medium," by which right TS3 and Loop seem pretty clearly original and adapted, respectively.

8:55 AM, August 27, 2010  
Blogger Tim said...

If we're following Academy rules (but who wants to do that?) sequels are inherently "adapted", cf. Before Sunset.

However, I comment not to weigh in on parliamentary matters, but to note that my own list of five for Adapted thus far matches yours exactly (adjusting for the TS3 thing). I'll take this to be a sign of the annual tendency for adapted screenplays to be kind of dodgy, so that it's hard to come up with more than five or six that everyone agrees are pretty much the only good ones.

(Also, I haven't seen most of your Original noms - homework time!)

11:40 PM, August 27, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Tim: Are we sure there are concrete rules about that? I thought Before Sunset was a classic case of studios marketing and voters balloting where they saw a hole in one category and a surfeit in another, à la the dread Greek Wedding. I don't expect TS3 will have to play Dodge the Heavyweights in order to grab a nomination, so it ought to be a good test case about AMPAS's view of sequels. But it sounds like you might already know something I don't.

9:43 AM, August 28, 2010  
Anonymous JStor said...

According to the great source that is Wikipedia (couldn't find the exact rule on the Oscars website):

"All sequels are automatically considered adaptations by this standard (since the sequel must be based on the original story)."

There's obviously aforementioned Before Sunset, but remakes (The Departed) come under this as well, as do feature versions of short films e.g. District 9, Sling Blade, so I'd imagine TS3 would be forced in Adapted whether Pixar liked it or not.

2:23 PM, August 28, 2010  

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