We’re taking a look at Oscar categories in advance of tomorrow’s show. Today we’re on Original Screenplay. The nominees:

  • Another Year
  • The Fighter
  • Inception
  • The Kids Are All Right
  • The King’s Speech

John

This is a really tough category for me. There are three potential winners, each with its own pros and cons. Of course, that makes it easy to discard two. The Kids Are All Right has an interesting premise that it takes in a plot direction that I found not terribly interesting or powerful. I can see why other people reacted strongly to it, but to me it is a mild diversion with promise for much more. And to me The Fighter is painfully straight-forward and much more of an actors’ movie. I don’t know for sure, but the three screenplay and three story by credits screams screenplay by committee and the film sort of feels like it.

This is how you script Inception

But what to do with the other three? There’s Inception, my favorite film of the year. But its success is so much more on the directorial and editing sides, to me. It didn’t get nominated in either of those categories so this could be its shot to be rewarded. I give it high points for having such a great concept and for the imagination required to create the different, interacting dream levels. But it really succeeds in how Nolan visualizes them as a director.

Another Year is a film I liked a great deal more than my colleagues. This is a picture that is very devoted to its theme of the ravages of the passage of time, which it supports beautifully. It does sacrifice plot for its theme, though to my mind that’s not a detriment. A scene that’s slow or subtle can have an impact. But there are several scenes that are both fairly uninteresting from a plot and character perspective AND not particularly good servants to the theme. The late scene featuring the characters of Mary and Ronnie in the greenhouse is an example. Furthermore, it should have been shorter.

I wonder if the way that Mike Leigh composes his movies has something to do with it. He famously relies on actors’ workshops to flesh out characters and plots. And the result is well-developed characters but some meandering scenes. It could use some tightening. The scenes could come together better or more explicitly explore the theme and the less effective ones could have been more direct.

And then there’s The King Speech, a film without a misstep. Every element is solid and it results in an amusing and rousing film. It also doesn’t have anything particularly outstanding. I feel like both Another Year and King’s Speech would have been successful as the same script in a different director’s hands. The same might not be said for Inception. Is that a fair way to judge a screenplay as a separate element? I don’t know.

So what is it? The one I loved for non-script reasons? The one with some really terrific parts and some notable downfalls? Or the one that’s totally solid but didn’t do anything that blew me away? That’s a tough choice. Today I’ll pick Inception, and I’ll be rooting for it on Sunday as it will be the only major category it has a chance in. But my mind may change.

Jared

Original Screenplay is often the category where the Academy will give a token nomination to a smaller, arty movie that is one of my favorite films of the year.  It still makes me smile to think that Lars and the Real Girl received a nomination here.  Of course, the Academy being the Academy, they also often use this category to recognize a smaller, arty movie that I really dislike.  The Messenger last year, for example (over (500) Days of Summer!).  Sadly, this year the academy has chosen the latter option and recognized Mike Leigh’s script for Another Year.  Which was just not good.  Now, I’ll give him credit for creating Lesley Manville’s character (though he obviously must share that with the actress).  But in a sense, she’s quite similar to Sally Hawkins’s character in his prior film, Happy-Go-Lucky.  Both are characters defined by their one-noteness.  They are unique characters, to be sure, but hardly developed.  And the rest of the movie, well, maybe someone out there thrills at the mundane details of a happily married older couple.  I just call my parents.

If you hate sports movies and get a pretty big kick out of insulting working class folk, then I guess I see how you could appreciate The Fighter.  Otherwise, I mean, the script is absolute dreck.  If handed to me, I think I would have demanded every scene rewritten.  The movie flits through time seemingly randomly, stopping to show unnecessary scenes and leaving out interesting or useful ones.  There’s little to no understanding of the relationships of the characters, other than in the broadest strokes possible.  The “humor” is even broader and extremely repetitive.  And the boxing scenes were scripted by someone who might have played Punch-Out once.  To me, the script failed at every conceivable level.

Maybe I’m the weird one, but I tend to prefer comedies to make me laugh, or at least smile a little.  Of course, The Kids Are All Right isn’t terribly dramatic, so I guess you couldn’t call it a drama.  I’m being a little harsh here, the film does at least bring up a number of interesting ideas.  And it does a pretty good job establishing interesting characters.  But the film never rose to the occasion.  The dialogue is serviceable, but never stands out.  The story is fine, but I think it is only a little interesting because of how few movies center on a lesbian couple.  And the script is content with leaving things there.

I think the script to The King’s Speech is being underrated by a lot of non-Academy types.  I’ll be the first to grant that the story arc and themes aren’t exactly novel to the realm of cinema.  But so what?  I don’t think a film has to be unique to be successful, it just has to entertain.  And this script absolutely is entertaining.  It keeps a good pace, has a consistently funny sense of humor, and hits plenty of emotional notes.  If every film were like this one, sure, movies would start getting boring.  But they aren’t, and the vast majority of movies could only dream of having a script of a quality as high as this one.

One thing that’s important to keep in mind is that a script is so much more than dialogue.  All that action, for example, has to be first written down before the director and guys behind all the tech stuff get the chance to work their magic.  Which is something you need to keep in mind when thinking about Christopher Nolan’s script for Inception.  It is big and bold.  It isn’t perfect, but it is wonderful.  Cold and unfeeling, with poor character development, sure.  But fun as all get out.  Without question one of those movies that makes you go, “Wow.”  And isn’t that, really, what movies should be about?

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