It is easy to criticize the Academy for its choices. Like any organization, they are going to make unpopular decisions. And as with any vote, the most deserving person or film isn’t guaranteed victory in the least. But part of the genesis of this project is the idea that it isn’t fair to ridicule a winner without seeing all of the other nominees. So, we watched all the nominees. Quixotic? Maybe. Fun? Almost always. Here’s what we thought of the Best Adapted Screenplay category:

JOHN

This is a pretty weak category. While I still overall at least mildly liked all the nominated films, I had pretty severe problems with most that can be traced back to the script.

Two straight out fail thematically. I refuse to believe in The Reader‘s redemptive power of literacy. That whole part felt ill-advised and poorly executed. There are a few interesting parts when it looks at how we assign blame for atrocities committed by an entire society and I actually thoroughly enjoyed the affair story even though it seems so incongruous with the rest. Doubt, as I’ve said several time before, failed to tell me anything about its central theme of doubt so that seems to indicate a rather epic fail. But I give it credit for having an interesting story with some fascinating characters.

I enjoyed the playful dialogue and zippy story of Frost/Nixon. I also didn’t care. A contrite Nixon wasn’t much of a climax for me because the film didn’t establish any good historical context. If you lived through the era and were of a certain political persuasion it probably didn’t need to, but I did not. Compare it to a film like Milk that very expertly puts us into the time period so that Harvey Milk’s social and political victories shine through even without having any sort of personal knowledge going in. Furthermore, the documentary technique of “interviewing” characters didn’t work for me and the factual fabrications, especially Nixon’s drunk dial, don’t seem necessary.

Benjamin Button has a fascinating plot based on an interesting premise. Simply seeing how life might play out for a man aging in reverse makes for a compelling story. I think it was attempting to do more, however, and any lessons about youth and life didn’t connect with me. There were a couple plot points that also struck me as glaringly bad and the framing device of the dying Daisy as Katrina moved in is also pretty awful.

Which leaves Slumdog Millionaire, a film I greatly enjoyed but whose triumph I think is more rooted in its visual technique and rousing soundtrack. The story is simplistic and contrived and the characters are rather shallow. Now, I think that’s intentional as it is meant to be a modern fairy tale and that gives me some solace. And the story and characters are still compelling. On the significant plus side, this is the only script here that succeeds at what it intends to do with its looks at poverty, fate, and, yes, fairy tale love. I also give it credit for its unique concept.

Snubs: I’m still flabbergasted that the best adapted screenplay of the year, The Dark Knight, failed to receive a nomination. Knock it out of the bigger categories, fine, but this should have been a no-brainer. Extremely entertaining story with some excellent twists and turns. Complex and compelling characters. A surprising amount of depth that will keep you pondering long after you leave the theater. What more could you want? This thing was a winner the moment Christopher and Jonathan Nolan put fingers to keyboard.

JARED

Well, if you liked this year’s Oscar crop, you like this crop of nominees. Unfortunately that wasn’t so much the case for me. The group isn’t terrible, necessarily, just not particularly notable. I didn’t love The Dark Knight as much as most, but it’d clearly be a huge improvement over most of these nominees. I realize I’m just about alone on this one, but Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist would have been in my top five adapted screenplays. And I would have considered Get Smart and possibly Iron Man.

Doubt and Frost/Nixon had serious flaws in their screenplays, I thought. As I mentioned before, Doubt failed to create any sense of tension or treat doubt particularly effectively. It doesn’t have any business receiving screenwriting accolades. Frost/Nixon had some success, at least. The interplay between David Frost and Richard Nixon, if not award-worthy, was somewhat interesting. But the complete failure to develop anything else in the movie was pretty disheartening.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button has received a bad rap, or at least as bad a rap as a such a well-nominated movie can receive. It wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t amazing, but it was a good effort with some great moments. I don’t think the comparisons to Forrest Gump are apt. Aside from the vaguest and most general of similarities, I wouldn’t lump the two together. But the movie dragged at times, and didn’t do a good job with character development. There was a better movie in there not too much under the surface, but I found it relatively entertaining.

Oh, Slumdog Millionaire, why couldn’t you be as good as I hoped? Perhaps I went in with too-high expectations, but I didn’t leave the theater thinking I had seen greatness. Many things worked for the movie, and I’m in no way upset by the acclaim it has received. The rags-to-riches story of how the film became an Oscar favorite is quite compelling. But I thought the pacing of the film was off and it could have used a few more scenes. It could probably could be said of most years, but a very specific set of circumstances led to Slumdog‘s rise to the top.

I really need to get to my post on The Reader, because I’m not sure a short summary of thoughts do the film justice, but I’ll be roting for David Hare’s script.. Not that a long one would either, I guess. To me, the film isn’t a “Holocaust movie,” doesn’t excuse the Nazis, or condone pedophilia, all arguments I’ve read elsewhere. I found the movie to be a horribly depressing look at the effect one person can have on another’s life. I don’t think Kate Winslet’s character ever became a sympathetic one or was ever redeemed. Uneducated, she received justice, but in what sense of the word? I don’t want to put spoilers here, but no matter what she learns, how Ralph Fiennes treats her in the end and the results of her own actions show, to me, that she remained unsympathetic. And I really liked how screwed up Ralph Fiennes’ character became as a result of Kate Winslet’s, both because of their relationship and his refusal to act during her trial. I’ll stop there, but only one movie had more of an emotional impact on me all year, for whatever that is worth.

BRIAN

Slumdog Millionaire. Ugh, what a weak-ass crop.

ADAM

Will Win: Slumdog Millionaire

    Slumdog Millionaire has been sweeping all awards ceremonies. At this point, it seems like an unstoppable juggernaut. Overall, it was a well written screenplay. I have issues with the transition and handling of the older children and storyline, but other than that, I thought this was a very well put together movie.

I Want to Win: Doubt

    I know I disagree with all of my fellow Grouches, but I believe Doubt was one of the best written screenplays this year (The Dark Knight was better, but the Academy did not see fit to include it). Now, in deference to their tastes, I will admit that I may be wrong in this. At some point I will re-watch Doubt to re-visit my opinion, but until then, I will stand by my original assessment.

Dark Horse: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

    This movie has more nominations than any other movie. And yet, I can see it being shut out of ever single category. While I didn’t think the movie was bad – it was decent – I don’t think it excelled in any one area. Honestly, I would like to see it lose every category. However, this is the type of movie that the Academy loves to vote for, so it can not be counted out of any category.

Random Notes:

    As with all of the top categories (excluding Supporting Actor and Actor), I am appalled that the best contestant for this prize was not even nominated. The Dark Knight had the best story, characters, development, subtle complexities…you name it. It is difficult to describe how disappointed I am that it wasn’t nominated. More so than for Best Picture or even Director.
Advertisements