It’s finally Oscar season again, a time when everyone seems to find their purpose in life once more: bloggers have reason to blog, celebrities have a reason to dress up, reporters have reason to report, and Christian Bale has a reason to freak out. However, the most important purpose found is by a group of seemingly qualified individuals: the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Once more they become highly influential, having the opportunity to write some of film’s history.
Best Original Screenplay is, by far, my favorite award category of the night. However, as I sat down to read each screenplay nominated for the prestigious honor this year, I couldn’t help but be underwhelmed. Except for a few glimpses here and there, the screenplays fail to meet the exceptional standards set by the nominees of previous years.
I, personally, like to compare the contenders of Best Original Screenplay to ice cream. I’m pretty sure I only do this because, since the New Year, I have been partaking in an intensive boot-camp/workout regimen – of which ice cream is nowhere on the menu. Putting aside my diet-induced fanaticism for the frozen treat, I find that the five nominees fit perfectly into this analogy.
First, you have a chocolate flavor nominee. It’s traditional, all-American, and always a crowd pleaser. Next, there is Green Tea. It’s an acquired taste, and not intended for everyone. This flavor usually takes form in a well-respected “indie-type” film. Of course, there is Vanilla. Though it has the reputation of being the “boring flavor”, it has the opportunity to break the mold by exploring new complexities. This flavor/movie may not be thrilling, but it satisfies the customer every time. Then there’s Spumoni. This flavor is always talked about. While the ice cream is controversial because of its candied fruit content, the films of this flavor have controversial content as well. They usually break away from traditional movie themes and explore things that are considered “taboo.” Finally, there is Rocky Road. Represented by the ultimate ice cream flavor, these films are well respected, blockbuster hits.
See? It’s relevant and tasty.
The screenplays nominated for the 83rd Academy Awards did not fail to meet the Oscar-Ice-Cream-Movie-Model (patent pending).
#5 – The Fighter (Chocolate)
Screenplay by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson. Story by Keith Dorrington, Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson
The Fighter enters this competition with the championship belt in Chocolate. Two brothers fight to achieve their dream of glory in the boxing ring. If that sounds like a generic boxing movie, it’s because it is. Don’t get me wrong… it’s just that the core story is, at times, unoriginal. The film is based on real people and borrows heavily from the HBO documentary High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell. However, the film is edgy and compelling where other traditional boxing films are not. The relationships between Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale), are definitely enough to secure Bale a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. In all, The Fighter has great directing, great acting, but only good writing.
#4 – The Kids Are All Right (Spumoni)
Written by Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg
Next up is Spumoni. This year’s controversial pick is The Kids Are All Right, penned by Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg.The film explores a family that is headed by a lesbian couple. As their two children form a relationship with their sperm donor father, the family must deal with the implications and ramifications of “him” in their lives. Funny and intriguing, this film thinks outside the box for content. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for it’s writing. When looking at a Spumoni film, it’s not enough to have controversial content. The content must be executed in an exceptional way – which is not the case for The Kids are Alright. It reads as a dramedy that often leaves relationships and characters unexplored. Just like The Fighter, what makes The Kids Are All Right shine is the direction and acting.
#3 – Another Year (Green Tea)
Written by Mike Leigh
Now on to Green Tea… and for all you indie-lovers out there, fear not. Another Year is about as Green Tea as it gets. The film revolves around a year in the lives of a blissfully happy married couple. Each season they’re friends and family members return for their annual visit, each visitor completely broken and unhappy. Written by Mike Leigh, this film’s commendation marks his seventh Oscar nomination. Leigh has received nominations in directing for Vera Drake and Secrets. He has also been nominated for writing Vera, Secrets, Happy-Go-Lucky and Topsy-Turvy. He’s a staple in foreign film, and has a large following that’s vying for his win – and it’s easy to see why. Another Year is perceptive and intriguing. The film delves into the complex corners of the character’s minds and personalities in a way that far outshines any other contender in this category. However, an actual Oscar win for Leigh seems extremely unlikely this year. Leigh makes no bones about the fact that much of the magic of his films comes from improvisational work – a trait that makes the screenplay fall flat compared to the execution of the film. Still, I hope he wins an Oscar someday (Best Director, please)… if for no other reason than for just being a cool guy. Pertaining to the Oscars, Leigh has said that “at one, weird moment, some strange force suddenly convinces you that you're about to win, while you affect to look benign and generous for the camera that's suddenly in your face; then you don't win, and you spend the rest of the night trying to be grown-up and sporting.” See what I mean? You can’t not like him. If I were in charge, I would make a Mr. Congeniality Oscar and give it to Mr. Leigh.
And now, it’s time for the heavyweight contenders: The King’s Speech vs. Inception.
I know what you're thinking. Inception? Really, Noelle? Everyone knows the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay will go to The King’s Speech.
It’s true. It probably will.
But only because it’s the easy choice. While The King’s Speech has gracefully landed in the palm of the critics’ hands, Inception has fallen ill to what I like to call the “Britney Spears Syndrome.” BSS happens when something or someone takes the world by storm. After the subject has reached a certain amount of critical acclaim and fame, it's immediately torn down by critics and bloggers, who see themselves as the only people smart enough to understand the real value on this new phenomenon. It’s enough to make anyone shave their head and beat up a car with an umbrella… but back to the point.
#2 – The King’s Speech (Vanilla)
Screenplay by David Seidler
The King’s Speech is a smart choice for Best Original Screenplay. The screenplay is next to flawless in execution. The form and structure are beautiful. It flows the way only great movies do. The characters are heartwarming. The story is interesting and enjoyable. And… it was a fast read – took me less than an hour to read (which is always a good thing). And it actually made me laugh out loud…. more than once. Still, I can’t help but think that a script worthy of Best Original Screenplay has to have the mysterious “it” factor. Enter Inception.
#1 – Inception (Rocky Road)
Written by Christopher Nolan
Maybe it’s because I like to cheer for the underdog that my pick for Best Original Screenplay is Inception. Though, having made over $292 million gross at the domestic box office and $531 million overseas, this film can hardly be considered the underdog (not to mention the eight Oscar nominations it’s snagged). Or maybe I just like to be yelled at for bad exposition: did you read that part with Ellen Page! Let me defend myself. When I read the script, I had never seen the film. I know. I was that one annoying person who hadn’t seen Inception. So my mind was a clean slate, ready for Christopher Nolan to “wow” me.
He did. It was the only screenplay I read that got me – my heart was literally pumping. It was the only screenplay that felt truly original.
In a competition that focuses so much on form, structure, and execution, I can’t help but feel that the places where Inception shines – originality, voice, and story – are often overlooked. It’s not that Inception does form and structure badly; it’s just that The King’s Speech does it better. And it is my personal opinion that as much as screenwriting is a science, it is first and foremost storytelling. While the science can be learned, storytelling is more of a natural and organic talent. Some people have it. Some don’t. And Christopher Nolan definitely has it.
I get all emotional thinking about past Original Screenplay winners:Little Miss Sunshine, The Hurt Locker. Would I put The King’s Speech in the same category as these titles? No. Would I put Inception there? Maybe…
But what can I say? I’ve always been a Rocky Road type of girl.
And now, check out our "should be" Oscar win for Best Adapted Screenplay.