Thursday, June 24, 2021

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Oscar '85: The Writing Awards

The Best Picture lineup consisted of four adaptations and one original work. All were nominated for their screenplays. Looking back, one sees the obviousness of these wins - the Best Picture juggernaut for Adapted, the lone Best Picture nominee for Original, duh!:

But I don't know that it would turn out the same way today. Maybe Witness would still be the one to beat, given its WGA Awards win, but the way campaigns and buzz run now, I can see a reality where Prizzi's Honor and The Purple Rose of Cairo come out ahead on Oscar night due to precursor support and a spreading of the wealth. Is it a reality I prefer? Find out after the jump...
Starting with Adapted Screenplay:

The Color Purple
Menno Meyjes
from the novel by Alice Walker
first and only nomination; BAFTA Award nominee for Best Adapted Screenplay, WGA Award nominee for Best Adapted Screenplay

There's not enough Celie for my taste - even when she liberates herself from the clutches of Mister, the film focuses on his despair, depriving us of Celie discovering her vocation, starting her business, being independent. For me, it's the crux of the issue with the movie: the adaptation thinks she's too passive, does not trust enough in her as a character, and cedes everything to the supporting cast.

Kiss of the Spider Woman
Leonard Schrader
from the novel by Manuel Puig
first and only nomination

Believably makes a bond between the two men at the center of the film. Simplifying the novel's collection of films into one fictional pastiche of 1940s thrillers and Nazi propaganda films, boldly and vividly evoked, speaks to Schrader's genuine love and knowledge of film history. It is a very well-written film, though I admit there are things about the character of Molina, a character that embodies every fear and stereotype about the queer community you can imagine (frivolous, straight-chasing, unhappy, cowardly), that give me pause.
Out of Africa
Kurt Luedtke
from the book by Isak Dinesen, Shadows of the Grass by Isak Dinesen, Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller by Judith Thurman, Silence Will Speak by Errol Trzebinski
second and final nomination; BAFTA Award winner for Best Adapted Screenplay; Golden Globe nominee for Best Screenplay, WGA Award nominee for Best Adapted Screenplay

You sum the thing up, it sounds like a bunch of episodes linked by Karen's romance with Denys. You actually take a look at how it's put together, and you have a quiet character piece flowing beautifully, the romance only allowable because of how Karen's journey is built. Luedtke's adaptation of Isak Dinesen's style is beautiful, and a read of his August '83 draft shows an even more poetic, erotic, spiritual film than what the final product already gives us.

Prizzi's Honor
Richard Condon and Janet Roach
from the novel by Richard Condon
first and only nominations; BAFTA Award winner for Best Adapted Screenplay, WGA Award winner for Best Adapted Screenplay; Golden Globe nominee for Best Screenplay, LAFCA Awards runner-up for Best Screenplay

Turns the glamor of the mafia from films like The Godfather into a blackly comic story of convoluted alliances and all-around pettiness - so middle class! - and the upheaval of a criminal empire by its supporting players: a freelancer, a go-fer, and an estranged daughter. Again, I have feelings about the movie beyond the way it's written, which I am trying to separate. 

The Trip to Bountiful
Horton Foote
from his teleplay and stage play
past two-time winner, third and final nomination; WGA Award nominee for Best Adapted Screenplay

Foote loves people, and this, to me, is his most tender, empathetic, true portrayal of modest people and their modest-sounding but spiritually epic desires and hopes and wishes. Mrs. Watts wants to return to the land that birthed her, Ludie wants to be a good husband/son/provider/man of the house, Thelma has hopes for a future, stretching ahead of her. The film is as effective in its silences as it is in its dialogue, which I think speaks to the specificity with which Foote realizes his ensemble.


The Oscar went to my five-star Out of Africa, but I surprise myself by giving my vote to:


Lol, nah, no surprise if you know me. I love this movie, and glancing at phrases like "born to the Swedish purple," only made me appreciate it more.

Now for the Original Screenplays:

Back to the Future
Robert Zemeckis & Bob Gale
first and only nominations for writing; BAFTA Award nominee for Best Original Screenplay, Golden Globe nominee for Best Screenplay, WGA Awards nominee for Best Original Screenplay

I love Back to the Future, a fun time travel flick that sees a young man thrust into the past, where he befriends his awful parents and tries to guarantee his existence. Fun in every scene, and so thoroughly detailed in every plot element and joke. Almost too much so - I've always felt the real contrivances (the Calvin Klein running joke, the "Johnny B. Good" sequence, and the finale's at the last minute bag of tricks) to be more artificial than amusing.

Terry Gilliam & Tom Stoppard & Charles McKeown
first and only nominations for Gilliam and McKeown, first of two nominations for Stoppard; LAFCA Awards winner for Best Screenplay

Very funny, very terrifying, but like a lot of dystopian works, I find its politics vague and its view of humanity nasty...though I suppose the latter is more of a feature than a bug, and at least Brazil is self-aware enough to have its "hero" be so ineffective. That it cribs much of 1984 is of little consequence to me - it does what it does very well.

The Official Story
AĆ­da Bortnik / Luis Puenzo
first and only nominations

Takes its time getting us to the central plot, making sure we know our protagonist, her family, and her milieu first. Educates without necessarily teaching - that is to say, it never stops dead to give exposition dumps but organically incorporates debates, history lessons, information about the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo to build the story, not just of Alicia, but of a nation recovering from its past sins.

The Purple Rose of Cairo
Woody Allen
past winner, fifth of sixteen nominations; BAFTA Award winner for Best Original Screenplay, Golden Globe winner for Best Screenplay, NYFCC Awards winner for Best Screenplay; WGA Awards nominee for Best Original Screenplay

During the Depression, a movie character comes out of the screen and woos his biggest fan, a lonely housewife. A filmmaker whose prolific output has made for a lot of slight films, this is one of Allen's most thought-through works, from the concept itself to the cast of working-class folks, movie execs, and film-within-a-film's characters to a finale that perfectly blends his cynicism, romanticism, and love of cinema. Very well done.

Earl W. Wallace & William Kelley
story by William Kelley and Pamela Wallace & Earl W. Wallace
first and only nominations; WGA Awards winner for Best Original Screenplay; BAFTA Award nominee for Best Original Screenplay, Golden Globe nominee for Best Original Screenplay this screenplay. Every moment is earned by the preceding one, every event leads gloriously into the next, and none of it is smack-on-the-head convoluted or proud of itself. It's just perfect. A perfect crime story, a perfect examination of a society on the margins, a perfect character study of a man of action forced into leaning on his emotions. I just love this.


Please, no contest, my vote goes to:


So yes, I would have voted, in both races, the way the Academy did. 

Next, the nominees for Best Director: Hector Babenco (Kiss of the Spider Woman), John Huston (Prizzi's Honor), Akira Kurosawa (Ran), Sydney Pollack (Out of Africa), Peter Weir (Witness).

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