Friday, December 30, 2016

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 1985

The Contenders:

The Color Purple
Kiss of the Spider Woman
Out of Africa (winner)
Prizzi’s Honor
The Trip to Bountiful

What’s Missing

I can’t say that I’m overly thrilled about most of the nominations for this award in 1985. Oddly, while I don’t love the majority of the nominations, it’s a great year for movies. The problem is that most of the movies I like from 1985 are the type that don’t get nominations of any stripe, let alone for an adapted screenplay. Let’s knock out a few “never in a million years” choices. Leading off in that category are Re-Animator and Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, both of which are better than their pulp roots. Fletch probably isn’t serious enough. The fact that the brilliant Clue was based on a board game almost certainly worked against it. Both Cocoon and The Quiet Earth are too much science fiction to get much play. That leaves us with two nominations that I think could have gotten here: Agnes of God and To Live and Die in L.A.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I genuinely dislike just about everything concerning The Color Purple. I have no idea if this is an accurate portrayal of the story, and that doesn’t really matter a great deal to me. What I do know is that I dislike this story intently. I understand completely why it was nominated and am actually a little surprised that it didn’t win. But this is not a film I want to watch again or have anything to do with again. Say what you want, but it’s one I’d leave out.

4. The best thing about Out of Africa is the scenery. This is little more than a pulp romance writ large, and it doesn’t become much of a romance until two hours have gone by. I don’t mind slow films from time to time provided there’s a reason for them to be slow. I don’t understand why this one is so ploddingly paced nor do I understand why it needed to be this damn long. For whatever reason, this was Out of Africa’s year despite it being dull as paste. Ah, well.

3. There are a lot of ways to look at what should be rewarded when it comes to Best Adapted Screenplay. Where the award to go to the most faithful adaptation, The Trip to Bountiful would win in a walk. That’s kind of my problem with this as a nomination; it’s more or less just a stage play mainly filmed like a stage play. I guess what that means is that I don’t see a great deal of actual adaptation happening here. Very little was done to make this a film from what it was, and that’s a problem.

2. Aside from the performance of Jack Nicholson, the best part of Prizzi’s Honor is the screenplay. This movie wants to be a comedy, a drama, a romance, and a mob movie all at the same time, and it actually manages to pull this off pretty well. I don’t know if it’s as good a movie as I’ve been led to believe. Having seen it, I haven’t ever really thought to go back and watch it a second time, but I think this is where the Academy has at least started to nominate something worth nominating.

1. It’s Kiss of the Spider Woman that seems to hit everything that Oscar typically looks for, though. It’s daring in a lot of ways, seems to highlight a sort of triumph of the human spirit in the face of terrible adversity, and manages to come across with something deep and meaningful for the audience. This is a half-hearted endorsement at best from me, though. I think it’s the best of the actual nominees and I’d probably want it nominated, but with a wider field, it’s not where I would go with the statue.

My Choice

The problem is that the movies I love from 1985 aren’t Academy-style films. That said, I’d be a lot happier with pretty much anything I listed in my first paragraph winning over everything that was actually nominated. I include Remo Williams and Re-Animator in that list. Gun to head? I think Fletch works on every level. It’s got its feet set firmly in noir and its head completely in comedy, and the whole thing works in both genres. That’s not easy to do.

Final Analysis


  1. Yeah, Out of Africa does not deserve best adapted screenplay. Nothing about the screenplay stuck out to me. This is a best cinematography movie at best. The movie is overlong and dull as hell. And very cliche and rife with ugh. I'd give the win to Clue, which is absurdly clever and we'll written.

    1. I'd be fine with Clue, which is devilishly smart.

      This was very much an off year for this category.

  2. Tough choice if picking from the nominees since you're right they all are lacking in one way or another. The one I enjoyed the most of five was Trip to Bountiful but that was really because of Gerry Page's performance more than the adaptation which isn't inventive.

    The Color Purple is close to the book, neither of which I liked much and I'd never say the film deserved any noms outside of Oprah Winfrey's performance and maybe cinematography.

    Out of pretty, so boring.

    Prizzi's Honor-meh

    I didn't think much of Kiss of the Spider Woman and I HATED William Hurt's arch affected performance. Why was he even nominated and the far superior Raul Julia wasn't?

    So out of these five I unenthusiastically would go with Bountiful but my actual vote would be for Clue.

    1. Honestly, my vote might go for Clue as well, but by the time I got to the end of this, I was so disappointed with all of the nominees, that I went with the first one I saw when I went back to my first paragraph.