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Oscars 2012 – Original Screenplay

17 Feb

Doug: And we’re on to the Original Screenplay category. I think we’re as close to on the same page in this category as we may be in any category, so this should be fun. We’re going to save our definite favorite in this category, A Separation, for last. But I know that one of your thoughts is that it’s pretty awesome to have a silent film nominated in the screenplay category.

Sarah: Because normally part of the equation in the screenplay category is how was the dialogue, was it snappy, was it emotional, compelling? But obviously the Academy is looking at how The Artist had to be written to translate into an actual movie and acknowledging that technically it must have been different and a challenge.

Doug: And I would argue that the dialogue in The Artist, while you couldn’t hear it, was nothing if not snappy. It was quite snappy, quite jaunty.

Sarah: The story was kind of jaunty. And that’s what’s weird. Because you don’t have dialogue, really, so you have to base your thoughts about the writing on the story, which is pretty straightforward, right?

Doug: Again, to me it’s pretty clearly nominated for the dialogue that you can’t hear.

Sarah: It’s not nominated for a complicated story arc. I still think it’s pretty interesting that you can get an Academy Award nomination these days for a film with no speaking. It’s almost like reading a book with no dialogue, just description.

Doug: Yeah, it’s like reading a book with no quotation marks, although in The Artist, I guess you’re watching a movie with all quotation marks, since you’re not hearing the dialogue, you’re reading it.

Sarah: I can’t say I think The Artist will win in the screenplay category, but I think it’s pretty cool that it can get nominated.

Doug: Depending on how you want to frame the argument about what makes a good screenplay, you could argue against The Artist because of the dialogue that has to be written simply enough to be effective in a silent movie. Or you could argue for it in that it overcomes that hurdle and still tells a great story.

Sarah: Well, I can say I’d take The Artist for best screenplay over Bridesmaids or Midnight in Paris.

Doug: Oh my gosh, Bridesmaids as best screenplay? Ouch, that’s a tough one.

Sarah: But I will say this about Midnight in Paris, because I know we knocked it in the best director category. I think it fits a lot better in this category, because it is well written. What I think happened is Woody Allen said, “I like Hemingway, I like F. Scott Fitzgerald, I like Paris, how do I make a movie out of this?” And the story is really fun, and sort of clever. The fact that Owen Wilson is going back to be inspired by these great figures from the past. The story was fun, it just didn’t quite translate.

Doug: I agree with that. I think Woody Allen wrote a great movie here, but he just didn’t direct a great movie.

Sarah: I mean, how do you not like Hemingway in that movie? Woody wrote great characters, he played around with good ideas. Playing around with all those ideas and characters was a fun way to do what he wanted to do, which was sort of pay homage to all those literary and artistic icons. Really fun, but again, I’m not sure he had to dig too deep for all of it. So, I understand the nomination for the writing, but we’re not talking about an Oscar winner.

Doug: So, we’re thinking fun, but not a winner. OK, Bridesmaids. Where to go with this one? First of all, I have to throw in that I read somewhere that a bunch of Bridesmaids was improvised. Are we really going to give a writing Oscar to an improvised movie? But you can argue that writing is writing and it doesn’t really matter what the process is. You can still be writing even if you’re not jotting things down on paper. So, alright, but for me I don’t think Bridesmaids was even that hilariously funny when you get right down to it. And we’re nominating it for an Academy Award? The competition is just too exceptional in this category and Bridesmaids is clearly last place on this list for me.

Sarah: I pretty much have to agree with you on Bridesmaids. Not that funny, and in some places actually kind of depressing. The story was trite and really sort of horrible, the idea of these stupid feuding women. I have to say, I don’t like seeing women being made fools of.

Doug: And it’s kind of ironic because when Bridesmaids came out it was celebrated as a movie that could allow women to be empowered going forward. I was excited to see it. But I felt they really sort of had to demean themselves in a way to make the movie and, honestly, sort of settled for the same old, same old in the comedy they did. It could have been so much funnier. I mean, come on, why didn’t they just go to Vegas? Go wild, have some fun.  It says about all I can say about Bridesmaids that the most memorable part of it was the mass bowel movement scene. Nothing particularly funny about that, nothing particularly original about it.

Sarah: That was horrible.  They wanted to make a raunchy movie for women. But it just wasn’t very funny. A couple of funny lines, but that was about it. It was sort of a pathetic story and the women in it were pretty pathetic. It wasn’t an empowering story.

Doug: It didn’t really seem like a raunchy movie for women, it seemed like a raunchy movie with women in it.

Sarah: The only thing that was even remotely good about the movie was when Megan literally beats up on Annie to get her to fight back a little in her life. And I was thinking that I wished they had done that a couple of hours earlier, because she was so frickin’ annoying. Again, what’s empowering about a movie with a main character that is letting herself fail?  

Doug: If we were giving awards simply for dialogue, I could go with Margin Call. The little details and interactions, the borderline panic of the individuals involved as they slowly realized the financial hole their firm was going down was spot on. Not judging them so much, but just portraying the characters as real people with real, personal reactions to the peril they were in.  And recognizing that while there were people at certain levels that absolutely deserve scorn for the greed and recklessness they showed that caused the financial crisis, there also had to be a ton of people in the middle of that shit storm that had, really, little or nothing to do with causing it that still had to deal with it. And their world was falling apart.   

Sarah: And you have to give props to J.C. Chandor for trying to boil the entire financial crisis down into something that an audience can try to wrap their brains around, as least as to how it might have played out on a human level.  I’m not exactly sure how I feel in general about trying to put a human face on a Goldman Sachs-esque company, but that had to be a pretty difficult undertaking and it was done pretty well.

Doug: There are lots of institutions we get cynical about these days. Government, the banks, etc. And I do think it’s OK to at least try to understand that there are plenty of people out there just trying to do their best. Or we just give up to the cynicism. It’s more complicated than just everyone is evil. But I do agree that Margin Call glosses over, at best, and completely misses at worst, the severity of the pain the financial crisis really brought in order to focus on a particular set of characters.

Sarah: And it gets points for taking what could be a very difficult subject for people to understand, the toxic assets, the risk variable formulas being used, and translated them for a wider viewing audience. I’m not sure it completely got there but, like Moneyball, Margin Call could have been really tedious, but isn’t. If nothing else, it works as a sort of financial thriller. It’s got sort of a John Grisham quality, almost more of a suspenseful mystery. But, of course, we know how this one ends.

Doug: And I’m maybe putting more responsibility on Margin Call to recognize the big picture than it deserves. The whole point is a financial firm in the middle of it over a 24 hour period when decisions had to be made right now. Few people in the middle of it would have been able to see the big picture, which was part of the point. When you come upon a car accident and people are hurt, you’re not thinking about the big picture necessarily. You’re just trying to figure out how to stop the bleeding and minimize the damage. And in the financial world, the selfishness of saving your own butt, and not worrying so much about anybody else’s.

Sarah:  Margin Call is really depicting the financial collapse in a way that people can understand. But the best lines were often throw-away one-liners, and it was largely propped up by an all-star cast. Ultimately, my vote goes to A Separation. Everything about this film is so good, the acting, the directing, and what a great story. We’ve spoken about this before and will again, but how did this not become a Best Picture nominee?   

Doug: I loved The Tree of Life, but A Separation is my favorite movie of the year. Tree of Life is so beautifully shot and has a wonderful philosophy of what we can shoot for in life as humans. To me, a truly beautiful film. But, in contrast, A Separation is one of the best films I’ve ever seen about what it means to actually be human; all the complexities and nuance and complication that comes with life; what we see as important in life; how what we see as important can and does change; and what influences us in our own individual cases to decide for ourselves what we see as important in our life. This film is certainly and absolutely a film about life in Iran, and what that means in today’s times. But it is so much more than that, completely universal in its themes. What can I say? This movie explores family dynamics as a family comes apart, male/female, religious/secular, class dynamics, working class/intellectual, young/old, moral/survival dynamics.  And that just scratches the surface of what’s going on in A Separation. And not for a second does it get cumbersome. And, oh by the way, did I mention that it comes in a suspense package that would make Hitchcock proud? You could argue that The Tree of Life could be more of a work of art than A Separation. But A Separation is so purely what truly great movies can be. A riveting, entertaining story, to be sure. And one that is so eye openingly perceptive about life that it should be required viewing for any person who looks at life in absolute terms on any level. And it’s all down to the story. Wow, this was a great film, and my clear, clear pick for best screenplay.    

Sarah:  Hah!  You’re gushing!  I feel like I need to bring this party down a little.  You said earlier that you thought A Separation was like a companion piece to the utterly loathsome The Tree of Life and I have to disagree.  I know, I know, you like all that overarching, high-falutin’ universality in movies, but that’s not what I look for.  What I think is compelling is perspective on the human condition.  I don’t think a comment on the very nature of humanity is necessary.  I think A Separation should be partnered with A Better Life because of how they bring into focus the nature of life; they are both so detailed, so focused on the one story they are trying to express.  I think people’s endurance through life – especially with the oppressiveness of the circumstances represented in these two films – is what is awesome, in the old-school awe-inspiring sense of the word.  That’s why A Separation is my pick, it’s the compelling and sort of cunning way it brings into focus people’s ability to endure and affect their circumstances.

Doug: You got me, I am gushing. I was just fanning myself over here while you were talking. And, yeah, my whole point about why I like A Separation more than Tree of Life is just what you said. A Separation is so perceptive about the basics of simply what it means to be human. And how our own upbringing and background and world view and gender and spiritual view and current circumstances and so much else can all intertwine constantly in a changing mishmash that informs everything we do. A decision we may make today, maybe we don’t make if we had gone through different experiences in life, and maybe we don’t make the same decision 5 or 10 years from now. Maybe I’d say A Separation is about human reality and Tree of Life is about human hope. But they both still touch on aspects of just being human. It’s a great point you make about A Better Life as a companion for A Separation. I think A Separation goes much deeper than A Better Life, but certainly they both explore how one’s circumstances can control a person in many ways. OK, I’m going to stop gushing now. A Separation is probably my favorite movie since There Will Be Blood.

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