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 Original Screenplay category:

JARED

My eyes must be deceiving me, because I could swear I see some comedies in this mix.  OK, maybe not straight comedies, per se, but geez, Academy, you are off your game!  It is a motley crew, my appreciation of the five movies falls on a pretty wide spectrum.  I would have liked to have seen more comedies here, Pineapple Express and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, to be specific, but more realistically, I would liked to have seen Jenny Lumet be recognized for Rachel Getting Married, bonkers wedding scene and  all.  The two scenes I mention in my review, the one with all the toasts and the dishstacking competition remain two of my very favorite scenes of the year.

I absolutely don’t believe Frozen River (sorry John) and Milk (sorry rest of the world) belong on this list.  Courtney Hunt’s spare script just didn’t do anything for me at all.  It is a different sort of a movie, in a way, and I appreciate that, but I didn’t feel its sparseness was particularly effective.  I didn’t hate it, just felt pretty ambivalent.  I believe that if a bunch of scrubs were cast in Milk, I wouldn’t have to be discussing it (as with Doubt, perhaps).  Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, James Franco and to a lesser extent the rest of the case were so good that flaws in the script went overlooked.  Frankly, I didn’t think Dustin Lance Black handled any aspect of the script particularly well.  To be fair, I didn’t think there was anything really awful about it, just kind of average.

Happy-Go-Lucky is an interesting inclusion, seeing how Sally Hawkins didn’t receive a Best Actress nomination.  I liked what Mike Leigh did with her character, and with with Eddie Marsan’s as a counterpoint.  But Poppy was a blessing and a curse, as it is sort of difficult to fashion a script around a character who is happy all the time.  Leigh did a good job, but the story felt flat, and the other characters could have used some work.  I appreciated the effort, but the work wasn’t in the class of the top two.

I’m not going to say anything bad about In Bruges, because Adam would probably hurt me.  Also because it is a darn good script.  I’ll admit that when we saw the film about a year ago, I would have wagered a significant amount of money on it not being an Oscar nominee.  But hey, I’m glad to be wrong.  Wickedly funny, it has a great sense of drama, interesting characters, and a good story.  I’m thrilled Martin McDonagh’s script received a nomination, and many years I’d probably be agitating for it to win.

But not this year.  Last week, a friend told me, “I don’t trust anyone who thinks WALL-E isn’t the best film of the year.”  And you know, I kinda agree with him.  Very few movies blow me away, but WALL-E did, and how.  If it isn’t perfect, it can see perfection from across the street.  It is achingly beautiful and laugh out loud funny.  It is an action film, an adventure film, a sci-fi film, a comedy, and a love story.  I feel sorry for people who can’t see the film as I do, not because I think less of them (necessarily), but because I loved it that much.  The story is by Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter, the screenplay is by Stanton and Jim Reardon, it should have been nominated for Best Picture, and I’ll sure as heck be rooting for it here.

JOHN

This is an interesting group and it’s nice to see the Academy thinking outside the box a bit. Two offbeat films that received no other nominations, an animated film, and an indie released months ago make for an eclectic group that I can appreciate.

Happy-Go-Lucky is a bit too aimless for me. The plot doesn’t go anywhere and the dialogue is really only okay. Some good acting does make the aimless chatter more amusing and that helps. WALL-E is a very good film whose success is mostly visual and aural. Some great animation and creative, finely-tuned sound effects bring the film to life. The most magical parts, like the dance in space, are wordless and storyless. It’s a nice story with a well-designed concept and I do admire the Academy’s open-mindedness for nominating it.

And now on to the really terrific selections. Don’t listen to the rest of these fools, Frozen River is fantastic. It’s an effective portrait of modern poverty with a unique story in a setting I’ve never seen in a film. The film builds a quiet tension and gives us a very full understanding of its characters and their motivations. The little glimpses into Mohawk life are very interesting without becoming conspicuously expository. It’s purposefully narrowly-focused and never goes over the top or melodramatic despite its human smuggling premise.

Milk does a very good job at shepherding the viewer into 1970s San Francisco. It has a little bit of that “tick the box” biopic feel, but it moves from scene to scene with a strong sense of overarching narrative. Sure the events of Harvey Milk’s life sort of write themselves, but the characters spring to life in the film and the treatment of Dan White – giving him so much complexity – is superb. It ends up second because I think some creative directing and superb acting are what really put it over the top.

But my choice is In Bruges because it’s so darn original. I can’t remember ever seeing a film like it. It’s funny, intensely dark, and surprisingly deep. The characters are very well-drawn and the somewhat zany plot is always engaging. The film fires on all cylinders and the writing is no exception. It’s always great seeing something so different and it’s really special to see something different so well-done.

Snubs: Another intensely original and clever film I thoroughly enjoyed is the Coens’ Burn After Reading. And of course the incredible The Wrestler which can never get enough praise. I really thought it had a shot in this category.

ADAM

Will Win: Milk

    In this category, really the only two contenders that deserve to be here are Milk and In BrugesThe Wrestler and possibly Vicky Christina Barcelona should have been included but weren’t.  Since I can’t see the Academy ever giving the award to In Bruges, the winner must be Milk.  Luckily I did think Milk was a decently well written screenplay.

I Want to Win: In Bruges

    In Bruges‘s nomination for Best Original Screenplay was the highlight of the entire nomination process for me.  It even went so far as to start the healing process after the crushing disappointment of The Dark Knight‘s effective shutout from the top categories.  A win here would go a long way in restoring my faith in the Academy.

Dark Horse: Wall-E

    Wall-E has not been getting the love that Pixar is used to.  It was even shut out at one awards ceremony.  There was a lot of talk of it being nominated for Best Picture, but that nomination was not forth coming.  Personally I think the screenplay was the weakest part of this movie and I am fairly disappointed it was even nominated.  However, love for Wall-E is still out there in sufficient amount to give a win here a slim chance.

Random Notes:

    Frozen River and Happy-Go-Lucky have no business being nominated.  For that matter, neither does Wall-E.  I am very disappointed that The Wrestler was left out in the cold on this one.  It was a much better screenplay than three (possibly four) of the five nominees.  With the exception of In Bruges, the Academy has done a horrible job with both screenplay categories.  I agree with Jared when he says that script is the most important element of a film.  Unfortunately, it is with this that the Academy shows its complete ineptitude.

BRIAN

Must withhold judgment until I see Grouches-approved In Bruges and Happy Go Lucky. But where is Forgetting Sarah Marshall?

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