The Oscars are quickly approaching. Because we’ve spent the time to see the nominees and because we’re really smart, we’re telling you what should win in all the categories.

The nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay are:

  • Chris Terrio, Argo
  • Lucy Alibar & Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • David Magee, Life of Pi
  • Tony Kushner, Lincoln
  • David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook

Jared

I’ll almost never begrudge anyone their enjoyment of a film, and I really do respect the heck out of the little indie that could for all it has accomplished and what it stands for.  But personally, I think the screenplay for Beasts of the Southern Wild is atrocious.  It is nonsensical, meaningless, and it commits the worst movie sin of all: it is boring.  The dialogue is rough and largely unmemorable, the story just kinda meanders along, and I thought the magic realism was jarringly not integrated into the film.

We are at two in a row now where I think people are crazy for showering love onto David O. Russell.  All my problems with Silver Linings Playbook that don’t stem from the direction lie with the script.  I can still remember literally cringing in my seat at West End at the “That’s emotion” line.  Virtually all the supporting characters had major flaws ranging from being pointless (Chris Tucker) to having bizarre and unexplained motivations (the shrink, the random guy who was always around betting with Robert De Niro) to just plain underwritten (the parents).  I did like the main characters, though I wonder just how much of that is attributable to the actors.

Life of Pi’s script certainly beat my expectations.  Maybe unsurprisingly, I found Magee most effective in the earlier, more conventional part of the story (yes, even the start of that framing device most people can’t stand).  Honestly, I wonder if I would have preferred a movie about growing up, young love, and a zoo.  Obviously the section of the story with Richard Parker is the more important bit and way more challenging to script.  Magee held his own, but I think the direction and visuals are more carrying the day.

Tony Kushner’s Lincoln isn’t the Team of Rivals adaptation I would have written, but that’s why he’s one of the best screenwriters on the planet.  He did a masterful job turning a Congressional vote into something riveting to watch.  And somehow managed to service tons and tons of supporting characters while still focusing on the President.  My only real gripe, I guess, is with those supporting characters and how some of them (e.g. all the members of the Lincoln family) seemed to get a little bit lost.  I’ll also count my vote among those who didn’t really think Lincoln’s death was well-incorporated into the film.

Argo gimme the Oscar!

It is interesting that some of the year’s funniest cinematic moments (“Argo f*ck yourself”, the escape plan involving bicycles) occur in perhaps the year’s most taut thriller.  I don’t think it is a coincidence and I do think much of the credit goes to Chris Terrio.  A criticism I’ve heard (or maybe just made up – it has been a long, crazy Oscar season) is that none of the characters are particularly developed.  I can’t really refute that, but to me the film is about people doing their jobs and, in a way related, doing things for other people.  The point isn’t that we are supposed to feel close to the hostages.  The complete opposite, in a way.  The wheels of bureaucracy are turning and crazy escape plans being hatched, all for, let’s face it, a completely anonymous group of people who happen to be U.S. citizens.  The script is gripping and tense and my clear favorite in this batch of nominees.

Should have been nominated: I’m always a bit fuzzy on adapted vs. original, but along with Kushner and Terrio, I would have had Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Michael Bacall, 21 Jump Street, and Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight Rises.  (And Kay Cannon, Pitch Perfect just on the outside.  Which may or may not be the alcohol talking.)

John

I didn’t care for Silver Linings Playbook and a lot of that is due to the script. All I could think when watching that film is, “This is going to end poorly.” Happy ending aside, that relationship is headed towards trainwreck. And that’s not necessarily wrong for a film, but the movie presents this sort of affirmative message about overcoming mental illness via harebrained schemes that left me feeling completely icky.

Silver Linings aside, it’s a lineup of fine films, but several strike me as succeeding on the back of their visual styles more than their script. I won’t deny the immense creative vision needed to make Life of Pi a success but most of that comes its visual style. Commentators seem to frequently mention how the book was regarded as unfilmable. While I appreciate the skill needed to adapt the story to the silver screen, I don’t plan on grading on a curve here. Meanwhile, Beasts of the Southern Wild also relies on non-story elements to really propel it to success: a precocious lead, rousing music, and an interesting visual style. Still, some of its dialogue, particularly some of Hushpuppy’s soliloquies, are really touching and its confused narrative structure informed by its little girl point of view keeps it interesting. I’m not very sympathetic to the argument that it’s too confusing. From Hushpuppy’s point of view, of course it’s confusing! I could have used a bit more to keep the story moving forward, however.

I never quite understood why Ben Affleck kept asking if I liked apples.

I enjoyed Lincoln and its ability to be both entertaining and meaningful. I really wish it had dialed down the schmaltz, however. Argo is my winner, though it does sort of feel like by default here. Rather than schmaltz, its final act is somewhat undermined by an air of unbelievability. Still, the plot is tight, the story is compelling and clever, and it dials up an incredible amount of mostly earned tension: its characters are fleshed out enough that their conflicts feel realistic instead of manufactured plot points.

Should have been here: How about some love for Bernie? Fascinating characters, totally compelling story, and an inventive narrative device to boot!

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