The Ususl Suspects
There’s a lot of potential for 1995 being labelled as a great year in film, and a lot of those films had original screenplays. Right off the top, I’m tapping Se7en as a film that should have been nominated here; it’s a smart screenplay that works in every aspect of the story it tells. I’d also include Strange Days, the Peeping Tom-inspired science fiction thriller as one with a screenplay better than it’s remembered. Safe from Todd Haynes was pretty much solidly ignored come award season, and that’s a shame because it deserved some love here. Heat is more traditional Oscar fare, and it’s absence on this list is a little surprising. Dead Man’s absence may be from the Academy’s evident dislike of Jim Jarmusch. A similar story could be told about 12 Monkeys and Terry Gilliam, who may not have done himself any favors by crediting Chris Marker’s La Jetee as his inspiration. Before Sunrise is another solid miss. And what about Clueless?
Weeding through the Nominees
5: The more I see and consider Braveheart, the less I like it. It’s not just the vast historical inaccuracies. For me, it really comes down to Mel Gibson deciding that William Wallace is somehow a founding father of the U.S. This is myth making; it’s just not very good myth making, and every time I see Braveheart, I wonder more about the love for it. In 1995, I’d have ranked this much higher. Today, I’m more and more wondering why it’s here.I think it’s bloated, and a part of that comes from a screenplay that is bloated.
4. Nixon is similarly too much for the story it tells. There is a lot to like in the story of an unappealing man thrust into a position of such power and the screenplay is a part of that. It’s the cast here that really sells the film; this is solid from top to bottom. Where Nixon suffers is in the disjointed way that Oliver Stone chose to tell the story. This is the Natural Born Killers fever dream version of Nixon’s life, which makes the whole thing tonally weird. It also suffers from another of Stone’s common issues: it’s too damned long for the story it tells.
3. There’s a lot to like in Mighty Aphrodite including the way the story unfolds ans Woody Allen’s consistently good writing. The story we’re given is plausible and interesting and it’s played beautifully, especially by Allen himself and Mira Sorvino. Where it fails for me is in one of Allen’s unique conceits. He sticks a Greek chorus into the narrative. This is funny at first, but as it starts to intrude more and more into the film, it works less and less. I got to where I dreaded those moments when it came back because I thought it was more filler and distraction than comedy. Without this, the film is better.
2. The arrival of Pixar’s helped people realize that animation could be created that would fuel the imaginations of children and still create a sense of wonder in adults. It’s a great story, creative and building a consistent world. There’s a great deal to love here, and the Academy did right in nominating this in a world in which animated films didn’t get a great deal of love. In a lot of years, it would get my vote, and of all of the nominated movies I haven’t put first, it’s the one I could clearly see supporting for the win. There’s not much I don’t like about Toy Story. It’s only real sin is that it was eligible in a year where one of the truly great screenplays of its year was also eligible.
1. My winner is the Academy’s winner: The Usual Suspects. This is a nearly perfect screenplay, one that spins a completely coherent yarn and then spins another completely coherent yarn underneath. The Usual Suspects is a film that is fractally beautiful. It works at every possible level of detail. It’s also smart enough that it features a twist ending that doesn’t spoil the movie. The Usual Suspects works on multiple viewings, which is not something that every twist ending movie can say. It’s a masterpiece of its craft, and it was rightfully rewarded.