Friday, May 22, 2015

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 2011

The Contenders:

The Descendants (winner)
The Ides of March
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

What’s Missing

As is often the case, I’m generally unfamiliar with the source material of these adapted screenplays and with many others that may be qualified to be nominated. So, instead, I go with the story as presented on screen. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo seems to be a miss right off the top. I’d also throw out The Skin I Live In as a significant miss. I’ll be pilloried by Nick Jobe if I don’t mention Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 here somewhere, and while it had no chance, I don’t think it’s a terrible nomination. If we need any others, how about Coriolanus?

Weeding through the Nominees

5: I’m launching Hugo immediately as the film here that definitely didn’t deserve a nomination. I like Scorsese and my kids loved the book, but I’m still of the opinion that this film was a complete failure at what it wanted to do top to bottom. It’s pretty, but it’s a film that resolves halfway through, presenting a great mystery that simply ends without much in the way of actual resolution. Maybe it’s accurate to the book. I don’t care, because I don’t think the story works at all.

4: The second to go, and it’s a pretty close second, is Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. This is a decent movie, but not a great one, and a lot of its problems can be found stemming from the screenplay. The biggest miss with this film is that it’s boring. Spy movies are supposed to be exciting, and this one features rooms full of people sitting around thinking really hard at each other. I can accept stupid or ridiculous or silly, but I have a hard time praising dull, and that’s what this one was.

3: Here’s where we start to get into a tough spot, because I genuinely like the three films that are left. I’m sticking The Ides of March here for no reason aside from my liking the other two movies better. This is a smart screenplay, and one that has a number of good twists to it. If I did have to make a complaint about it, it would probably be that a political thriller really only has a few places it can go, and so there are times when the twists feel like something we should have expected. Still, it’s a solid screenplay and a nomination I like.

2: I’m not a sports guy, so placing Moneyball in second place might seem out of character for me. This is a hell of a good movie, though, and one that is fascinating in spite of its subject matter rather than because of it. This is a movie not so much about baseball but about statistics and clever problem solving. Sounds dull, but it’s absolutely not. I was engaged with it the entire time it was on, and I like that it sticks to the actual truth. I came very close to putting this as my winner.

My Choice

1: Ultimately, this is one I think Oscar got right. It seems like forever since I’ve credited the Academy with a correct decision, which may ultimately be why I chose this year and category for today. It would be easy to write off The Descendants as rich white people problems, but it’s a lot more than that. This is a very human movie for all its tropical paradise landscape and focus on financial issues. Finally, it feels like I get to pat the Academy on the back for not screwing it up yet again.

Final Analysis


  1. Your original review of "Tinker, Tailor" didn't seem quite this harsh: I went back and reread it. ("It’s not that it’s dull, it’s just that it’s not enough.") In fact, at the time, you seemed at pains not to call the film dull, although you did acknowledge the slow pace. Did something change in the interim?

    I mean, I also found the movie slow, but I thought it was fascinating, especially in how the film's main villain is essentially composed of negative space, i.e., people talk about Karla, and Karla's machinations are seen and felt, but Karla himself makes almost no appearance at all, and he certainly hasn't been caught by the end.

    It seems almost as if something curdled for you in your remembrance of this movie. Which raises another question: how often does this happen? Are there other movies that you'd appraise differently now, as compared to when you reviewed them—movies that, over time, have worsened in your memory?

    1. I think that happens pretty often, actually. It might be a better movie than I recall, but over time, I can't remember anything that interested me about it.

      "Boring" might be the wrong word. "Emotionally flat" is closer to the truth perhaps.

  2. This is a good example of how poorly updated I am on recent movies. Out of the five nominees I have only watched Hugo. Sad really. So I cannot question your ratings except that I had a very different experience with Hugo. I loved it all the way through and as I was myself watching silents at the time I totally got Scorcese's love for early cinema and his tribute to Melies.

    1. I go into the reason why I call Hugo a failure much more in my full review and did so much more thoroughly on an old and now long-forgotten podcast. I'll be brief.

      Hugo is a great deal about Scorsese showing that he is a film geek and his love for silent cinema. I get that. The problem is that I'm pretty sure his intention was to spread that love of the classics as much as he could, and in my experience, the only people who were at all interested in the silent film history aspect of Hugo were the people already interested in silent film history.

      Three of these (Hugo, The Descendants, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy hit the list for at least one year. The other two are worth your time, although Moneyball might be much more difficult for someone unfamiliar with the culture of baseball.

  3. I think your order is good; I might put Moneyball at the top just because I'm still amazed at how good the movie turned out. It's written in a way that baseball fans aren't embarrassed but non-fans can enjoy it. My wife really liked it, and she doesn't care about baseball at all. The Descendants was also a great choice, so it's a tough call.

    1. That really was the hardest part of this post. I went back and forth three or four times on which one I thought should win, and almost put them both as choices I would pick. I'm still thinking that I probably should have had both as potential correct choices.

  4. On this one I'm going to be mostly different from you.

    I'd put The Ides of March at the top for being the best story. I'd put Hugo second. I loved most everything about the movie (except the cartoonish station security guy, which was there for the kids). And I loved the story and how it integrated real characters and events into a fictional narrative.

    Like you said, this is an award for adaptations, and as it turns out I've read both Moneyball and one of your suggested misses in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I do agree that Moneyball turned what is a very non-narrative book into a movie with a story that was serviceable, but I felt the movie as a whole was lacking, perhaps because I am a baseball fan. And in regards to TGWTDT, they really botched the adaptation big time by trying to change a twist as a surprise for all the people who had already read the book and it became something that made no sense whatsoever. The original TGWTDT movie was much better in regards to its adaptation.

    The Descendants was a good movie, but one that ultimately hasn't much stayed with me since I saw it. And I'd definitely have TTSS at the bottom, but also because the movie was dull and the casting left no suspense on who the mole was.

    So, I'd put the nominees - The Ides of March, Hugo, The Descendants, Moneyball, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

    1. Wow...we're really different on these. I stand by the idea that Hugo is a very attractive and well-made failure, and that it's two halves of two different movies. It moved me not at all.

      I wouldn't be terribly upset had The Ides of March won. I like the nomination, even if I'd vote for other movies ahead of it.

  5. I'm with you - Hugo and TTSS don't need to be here (would have loved to see We Need To Talk About Kevin occupy one of their slots). The winner is a toss up between Moneyball and The Descendants for me. I'm not a sports guy either, but I love Moneyball.

  6. I think they got it right as well. In terms of what is missing, though, I would say Drive was missing. Didn't even have much dialogue yet it was still engaging.

    1. I liked Drive, so that's likely a miss on my part at the start--I often miss one or two when I do these.

      I really, really need to watch We Need to Talk About Kevin one of these days.