The Grouches have plowed their way through all of the films nominated for the big eight awards. Now we make the case for which film or performance we WANT to win. Doesn’t mean we think it will win or even have a shot at winning. But if we had a vote on the nominees, here’s who we would pick, and why:

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY NOMINEES: Away from Her, Atonement, The Diving Bell and The Butterfly, No Country For Old Men, There Will Be Blood

JOHN

This category always presents some philosophical problems because there’s the temptation to compare the screenplay to the source material. Does the adaptation improve the source? Does a screenplay that greatly improves upon a mediocre source have a disadvantage to the one that is a straightforward adaptation of a brilliant source? I’m not sure what the answer is, but I’m going to do my best to ignore the source material and just concentrate on the quality of the screenplay and if some are helped by sources that are already high quality well then good for them.

The parts of Atonement that I thought were overdone were pretty much everything but the script: the acting, the score, the shots. So I guess I don’t have much problem with the script itself, except that the movie never really connected and that’s probably its fault to some extent. The first third of Away From Her was terrific as a long-time married couple struggles with the woman’s descent into Alzheimer’s. That part was exquisitely plotted and written. It loses a lot after that, however.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’s success is mostly visual with its unique camera work to show the point of view of a paralyzed man and its vivid dream sequences. But the script does give the paralyzed Bauby a well-rounded character leading a surprisingly complicated life for an invalid. And, jeez, I’m not quite sure what to say about the script for There Will Be Blood. It created a solid foundation to be built upon by great acting, exquisite cinematography, and a haunting score. I’ll just stick to my assessment of the film: very good.

No Country For Old Men in a landslide. The Coens have achieved a cinematic masterpiece. Yes a lot of the film’s success comes from its look, sound, and meaningful silence, but those wonderful characters and captivating monologues came from the script. In the scene at Ed Tom’s uncle’s house I felt like I was listening to art.

Snubs: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Everything Bob Ford said or did felt right.

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BRIAN

As usual, I’m torn when writing about adapted screenplays because I struggle with how to judge a script based on a book/article that I haven’t read. If I loved Diablo Cody’s characters from Juno (which I did), then I can clearly credit the former stripper for her creative genius. But for the ensemble excellence in No Country? Those are Cormac McCarthy’s characters, but the Coens brought them to cinematic life. How do the rest of you guys deal with this…or do you not even care?Going forward, I’m going to take what I’ve heard about the source material into account, when applicable. There’s only one nominee here that makes no sense whatsoever, and that’s Away From Her. The movie was boring, and the secondary characters were broadly drawn (especially the corporate version of Nurse Ratched). No matter how authentic the depiction of Alzheimer’s was, it didn’t make for a quality screenplay. How Charlie Wilson’s War got passed over for this snoozefest confounds me.

I didn’t like the Atonement script, and I said as much in my write-up…And I blame Christopher Hampton for sticking with the book’s fractured ending when it clearly didn’t translate well to the screen. But when there’s a critically acclaimed novel made into a movie, you’d have to be hapless to not get a nomination.

Diving Bell’s excellence came from the directing and cinematography, not the script. It was funny and affecting, but compared to the two giants of this category, it can’t compare.

I loved There Will Be Blood, but I also have a lot of enthusiasm for No Country for Old Men. Both had great monologues, larger-than-life characters, controversial endings…but by a nose, I’d give the award to Paul Thomas Anderson for TWBB. In part, it’s because the most memorable scene to me was the church confrontation “I’ve abandoned my child!” whereas the best scene from NCFOM was the hotel hallway scene that used Hitchcockian suspense and camera angles to keep me on the edge of my seat.

Also, and this may be unfair, but so is life, but everything I’ve read indicates that the Coen Brothers lifted a lot of material, including the unresolved finale, from Cormac McCarthy’s book while PTA used Upton Sinclair’s “Oil” as a loose basis for his script. That’s what really pushes TWBB over the edge for me.

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JARED

My fellow Grouches seem to have a problem deciding what this category should be honoring.  I had no such dilemma.  I see the category as attempting (but failing, as the Academy is wont to do) to honor the best scripts, just as with original screenplays, it is just that these screenplays have been adapted from other material.  So, yes, ultimately the fault of the script may lie with the person who wrote the original material.  But the scriptwriter always has the choice to change the story.

Don’t let the big names in this category fool you.  Don’t let other people fool you.  This category is really really weak.  Only one of these movies were in my top ten, and possibly in my top twenty movies of the year.  Away from Her may be the worst of the bunch.  Without the Julie Christie Oscar buzz, this movie probably doesn’t get the nomination.  It did have a few particularly poignant moments, so it wasn’t a waste of a movie, but I’m stunned it got a screenplay nomination.  At this point, I’m not entirely sure I saw the same version of No Country for Old Men as everyone else.  My version had an unengaging mishmash of a plot that was worse than not being satisfying, it barely seemed to validate watching the sucker.  Clearly it is the world who is crazy, not me.  I wrote up There Will Be Blood earlier this week, so my points haven’t changed much.  The film wanders too much.  Without Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano, I don’t think we see a nomination here, and I don’t think anyone is upset by that.  “I drink your milkshake” may be a good line, but think back to the movie, and imagine someone else in Mr. Moustache’s role.

Atonement should be more of a contender here.  The first third was tremendous, and really, the last bit wasn’t all that bad.  Just that soggy middle section, I suppose.  So yeah, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is my winner here, and I don’t think it is particularly close.  Going into this little project, I would have put a great deal of money down against me ever saying that.  But the script is delicate and touching.  The story had every chance to be some sort of weepy, heavy-handed, slow-moving piece of Oscar bait.  Instead, I found myself thoroughly engrossed.

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ADAM

Winner: No Country for Old Men

I have a little trouble with this category. Should I be picking the movie that best portrays the work that it is adapted from? Or should I be picking the best picture from among the five nominations? If it is the latter, shouldn’t the “Best Picture” film win either this award or the Original Screenplay (if it is original)? Stupid Academy. Regardless, No Country for Old Men – despite Jared’s ridiculous protests to the contrary – is a tremendous film and rightly deserves this award. That being said, if any of my top three films win the award, I will not be disappointed. However, if Atonement wins this award or, God forbid, Best Picture, I’m going to hunt down and *&(!&($#)*#&(%)^*$#%&$ every last one of the Academy members. I also don’t understand how Away From Her made it onto this list.

I really liked NCfOM’s screenplay. I thought the scenes flowed very nicely and the dialogue was well-done. My favorite part of the movie – after Javier Bardem’s performance – was the plethora of common sense that the main characters displayed. Each of the character’s actions exhibited rational thinking – something that is lacking from most films (If you don’t believe me, watch any action movie and see in how many the hero picks up defeated enemies’ weapons – other than Die Hard).

Ranking:

1. No Country for Old Men
2. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
3. There Will Be Blood
4. Atonement
5. Away From Her