Dances with Wolves (winner)
Reversal of Fortune
The nominees for 1990 are, on the whole, pretty solid, but as usual, there’s some room for improvement. The biggest snub in my opinion is Misery, which manages to keep all of the tension and fear of the novel and makes changes only in ways that work better on the screen. I can think of no good reason it wasn’t nominated. With the others, I’m unfamiliar with the original and can only go based on the screenplay and story. I’d toss up Miller’s Crossing as one that deserves another looks, as does the Gerard Depardieu version of Cyrano de Bergerac. The two longshots that I’d consider are Total Recall and the vastly underrated Quick Change.
Weeding through the Nominees
5: I’m convinced the Academy had its head up its collective ass regarding Dances with Wolves in general, and it winning the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay is simply more evidence. This isn’t a bad movie, but it’s a bloated one and it was overrated in 1990 and even more overrated 25 years later. Hit that screenplay with a weed whacker and cut an hour or so from it, and you might have an argument that would at least have me reconsider. Until that time, it doesn’t even belong as a nomination.
4: My problem with Reversal of Fortune is entirely the story it tells. It may well be a great adaptation of the source material (I wouldn’t know), but if it is, that source material is really ugly. The entire point of this film is to make sympathetic two people who don’t deserve a great deal of sympathy, namely Claus von Bulow and Alan Dershowitz. The story itself is interesting, but trying to get me to empathize with these two guys is an exercise in futility. No thanks.
3: Awakenings is a film that has the benefit of Robin Williams under the firm control of the director. That’s a good thing, and that’s key in letting the screenplay do its work. And it’s a good screenplay, and the first that I am comfortable with being on the list. It comes in third not because of any specific problem I have with it, but because I happen to like the other two quite a bit more. This is a good story and it’s beautifully told. Point of fact, I’m not sure how it could or should be improved. I just like the others more.
2: I’ve caught some heat in the past for this, but I really like The Grifters. I think it’s a great story and it’s one that is perfectly told in the film. A large part of that is a screenplay that offers just enough information to keep us knowing what is going on without giving away so much that we know what’s coming. In fact, every time we do know what’s coming, the screenplay manages to throw a curve and do something different that still makes sense and works in the larger narrative. That’s good writing, and it shows real trust of the audience’s ability to keep up. I always react well to that.
1: But really, this award should have gone to Goodfellas and I think most people know it. In fact, I think most of the voting members of the Academy who voted for Dances with Wolves know that they screwed the pooch on this. I could make a serious argument for Misery to be in this position, and choosing between these two might come down to a coin flip for me. In this case, though, I have to go with the nominated film over the one that wasn’t nominated, and had Goodfellas won, I’d not be the one to say it was a wrong choice.