Tuesday, August 8, 2023

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1984: Best Original Screenplay

Best Original Screenplay, 1984. What do we see in this lineup? A nomination for a writer-director that seemed to get invited any time he sneezed, even though he never showed up; a low budget "arthouse" non-English language film with sociological heft; a Best Picture nominee; and, bookending these, the #1 and #10 box office hits of the year. I'd make a comparison like, "That'd be like if last year's Original Screenplay nominees were..." except that the biggest film of last year that would have qualified here - i.e., wasn't a sequel or adapted from a comic book - was Elvis...at #12. 1984 was a different time in many ways.

The only nominee here that didn't show up at the WGA Awards was Beverly Hills Cop - the aforementioned #1 movie of the year - taking the slot held at the Guild's ceremony by Romancing the Stone. We'll see what I think of that. We'll also see what I think of the eventual winner which, unsurprisingly, was the aforementioned Best Picture nominee:

And we'll see those thoughts...now:

Beverly Hills Cop
Daniel Petrie, Jr.
story by Danilo Bach and Daniel Petrie, Jr.
only nomination for either

Detroit cop Axel Foley welcomes an old friend from his petty crook days, just in from Beverly Hills - and that friend is almost immediately assassinated in front of him. Foley, already on thin ice thanks to his unorthodox ways, ignores superiors and heads to Beverly Hills, where he links his friend to an art gallery owner who moonlights as a drug dealer. Can the hard-headed Foley get the BHPD to trust him? Will white people ever learn not dismiss a man, even a cop, just because he's Black? The thriller aspect is well-plotted, the comedy aspect genuinely funny - everything with the local cops assigned to watch Foley is a hoot, Foley's repartee with his captain is a hoot, his manipulation of social situations to reflect and challenge prejudice is razor-sharp. A great story and script.

Broadway Danny Rose
Woody Allen
past winner, fourth of sixteen nominations in this category; BAFTA Award winner for Best Original Screenplay, WGA Awards winner for Best Original Screenplay

Showbiz vets tell the story of theatrical agent Danny Rose, the worst in the business, whose loyalty to even the most unbookable of clients knows no limits. This specific story is about Danny Rose trying to revive the career of an alcoholic lounge singer who's gotten a serious case of stage fright, which can only be cured by the presence and support of his mistress, who just dumped him - so, of course, Danny goes to get her, they have a wild day of fortune tellers, mafia hitmen, and Macy's parade floats, and fall in love. Is it one of Woody Allen's best screenplays? Yes, without a doubt. Is it one of the best scripts of the year? You know, I think there's a great case to be made for it: the characters are fleshed out, the comic beats hit, and a suspenseful shoot-out is played out amidst helium - clever, funny. The movie's great, too!

El Norte
Gregory Nava and Anna Thomas
story by Gregory Nava
only nomination for either; WGA Awards nominee for Best Original Screenplay

The story of a Guatemalan brother and sister who flee their country after their father is murdered in a political purge; the indigenous teens make a perilous trek to Mexico, where two attempts to cross the border teach them (a) how to fool border agents, and (b) not to trust anyone. When they finally get across via a pitch-black pipe crawling with rats, they wind up in Los Angeles, where people are keen to exploit their undocumented status and desperation for security. It is a ceaseless barrage of suffering, commendable for its empathy, while also falling into that weird habit of having saintly protagonists who deserve to win because, well, they're not like those bad ones you hear about! But this, too, is true: the good are taken advantage of by the wicked, and the wicked have the power to do so because they understand how to play the game - even against their own. It's an uncompromising work.

Places in the Heart
Robert Benton
past winner, fourth of five writing nominations; NYFCC Awards winner for Best Screenplay; Golden Globe nominee for Best Screenplay, WGA Awards nominee for Best Original Screenplay

A farmer's wife during the Depression suddenly finds herself widowed; with the help of an itinerant Black farmer and a blind border, she aims to keep the land her husband worked so hard for - and to do that, she'll need to win the prize money from the annual cotton harvest contest, despite the local men (and bankers) doing everything in their power to discourage or sabotage her. Meanwhile, the widow's sister must deal with her own husband's infidelity, in a subplot that, for me, distracts. It may be an alternate take on what a woman in the Depression had to go through, deciding whether to risk society's shame or her own, but that central storyline - one that becomes a tale of a makeshift family of misfits and survivors - needs no help.

Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel and Bruce Jay Friedman
screen story by Bruce Jay Friedman
original story by Brian Grazer
only nomination in this category for all; NYFCC Awards runner-up for Best Screenplay, WGA Awards nominee for Best Original Screenplay

Tom Hanks is a produce merchant who has never felt real love. On a journey to Cape Cod, where he spent summers as a boy, he is knocked overboard and rescued by a mysterious, silent beauty - a mermaid, who quickly leaves rather than be caught. She later tracks him back to New York City, where they fall in love as she learns the ways of the surface, and he learns how to open his heart. Ah, but scientists have caught wind of the mermaid's presence, and are hunting her down... Charming movie, but as a concept, as a script, one of those uncomfortable sex fantasies about the perfect woman: hot, insatiably horny, and infantile - she can't even talk! The movie gets by on the charm of the performers, but the script, while fine...I don't know, why not Romancing the Stone or Country or Footloose or The Karate Kid or...


My vote goes to:


Tomorrow, the nominees for Best Supporting Actress: Peggy Ashcroft (A Passage to India), Glenn Close (The Natural), Lindsay Crouse (Places in the Heart), Christine Lahti (Swing Shift), and Geraldine Page (The Pope of Greenwich Village).

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