Tuesday, August 8, 2017

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Class of '86: Shirley MacLaine's Spaceship and Best Adapted Screenplay

Best Adapted Screenplay was the first award presented this Oscar night, before host Chevy Chase even took the stage for his opening monologue! Instead, it was preceded by "Crocodile" Dundee star (and Best Original Screenplay nominee) Paul Hogan giving the traditional "keep the speeches short" warning - I watched it last week, but for some reason, the Oscars official YouTube page has taken it down. All that remains is his confusion about where to exit at the beginning of the Writing Oscars presentation, a prelude to further insanity:

It is legit crazy that Shirley MacLaine exited a UFO to present screenwriting awards. Her face when she exits! That cut to the crowd with Jane Fonda looking up into the audience as though to ask, "Who is laughing?" Then, God bless, Shirley's joking about writing and cave-painting and Hollywood. And then, the wall of nominees that looks like it should light up like a game board but does not.

Anyway, James Ivory accepts for Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, writer of A Room with a View. Deservedly? Read on, after the jump....

Children of a Lesser God
Hesper Anderson and Mark Medoff
based on the play by Medoff
Broadens and sharpens the source material in exciting ways. James in the classroom: empathy and genuine affection for the students, but also a benevolent condescension. Sarah's swimming pool seduction: a world without sound, but no less full of passion and life. A dinner party that for once puts hearing James in the minority: not a word is spoken, but it speaks volumes. The play's more politically active passages become lovers' quarrels - it's not just a question of deaf/hearing, but of society's expectations, of molding oneself for your lover.

The Color of Money
Richard Price
based on the novel by Walter Tevis
Crafting a wholly original story, Price (and Scorsese and Newman) makes this 25 years later sequel to The Hustler into a story of resuscitation through vicarious living. Fast Eddie takes Vince (and Carmen!) under his wing, but this is not a sports tale of passing the torch, of training, of bonds - this is the hustle, where only the strong survive, and nobody does a favor for free. Cynical, honest, and funny, with a careful rhythm within the dialogue.

Crimes of the Heart
Beth Henley
based on her play
All Henley's attempts to open up her play cannot disguise that this is a story made for the stage, where some of the more outrageous plot turns could feel at home. I'm still not sure if this is a black comedy embracing the fucked-up-ness, or a satire of the Southern gothic genre. The writing is clearly stronger when the sisters get to interact with each other than with other characters - as though the author herself is bored but felt compelled to add a fuller cast.

A Room with a View
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
based on the novel by E.M. Forster
Jhabvala adheres closely to the novel - why improve on perfection? Yet she does rework some of the dialogue, and while obviously of a different time and place, the words flow more naturally. The decision to more completely sever Cecil from Italy, omitting a section where he meets Lucy in Rome while still referencing it, is a great touch, too, isolating him ever more from her awakening.

Stand by Me
Raynold Gideon & Bruce A. Evans
based on the novella The Body (originally published in Different Seasons) by Stephen King
An unearned note of nostalgia caps an altogether uninteresting story about a Significant Summer in a boy's life. Can't fault it for insincerity, though: it very much believes in its story of misunderstood outcasts, even as it doesn't realize it couldn't give two shits about the fat kid. Extraneous subplot with bullies tries to make a last-ditch plea for an arc. Bologna.


Now, I gave five stars to Jhabvala. Jhabvala won the Oscar. Do I, therefore, give my vote to Jhabvala? Or do I look in another direction - do I put a check next to a screenplay that truly adapted to the new medium? Yes, I do. My vote goes to...


Tomorrow, a listening party, with the nominees for Best Original Score: Aliens, HoosiersThe Mission, 'Round Midnight, and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

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