Secrets & Lies
1996 is a fine year for movies and a really good year for horror. That’s evident when you look at the movies that weren’t nominated for Best Original Screenplay from this year. The horror titles that came out this year include The Craft, The Frighteners, and most especially Scream, which honestly should have transcended the genre for a nomination here. Breaking the Waves is a highly unpleasant movie and I wouldn’t nominate the screenplay, but I can see how some people might. That Thing You Do! was probably too flighty, but it’s a sweet movie and very entertaining. I can say exactly the same thing about Tin Cup. If I really sit down and think about it, the one that probably should be here (aside from Scream, which really is brilliant) is The People vs. Larry Flynt. Both of those are better than at least two of the nominees.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. I didn’t like Shine at all. Oh sure, it’s a fine performance from Geoffrey Rush and I tend to like Geoffrey Rush anyway. But I didn’t care about the story at all and I didn’t care about the issues of David Helfgott. This is a film that seemed genetically designed for award shows, and it works specifically because of the performances. The story, while it’s based on a real story of a real man with real mental issues, plays like a movie of the week about a specific set of mental illnesses. Mental illnesses certainly need more awareness surrounding them, but Shine isn’t the way to do it.
4. Jerry Maguire has its charms, but this is another screenplay I would remove for either Scream or The People vs. Larry Flynt. It’s a fine story if a little formulaic. I mean, the first time you saw this, were there really any shocks here? There weren’t for me. So, while the film is a fine example of its genre, the story is simple a very well-written version of a story that has been around for ages. Nice performances and some clever lines don’t make this worthy of a nomination. There were better options out there.
3. It took me weeks to finally put Lone Star in the spinner, and I wondered why 20 minutes in. I really enjoyed this movie in almost every aspect of it—in fact it was the packaging that bothered me more than anything else. But the issue here is the same as I have with many a nominee. It’s the performances I like more than the screenplay. Oh, the screenplay is a peach, handling a number of different stories coherently at the same time. But it’s all about Chris Cooper and the wonderful Elizabeth Pena for me, not the story.
2. I could say something very similar about Secrets & Lies. Absolutely the best part of this film is the performances, especially those of Brenda Blethyn, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, and Timothy Spall. But I really do like this screenplay for a number of reasons. The primary reason is that it achieves the ending it wants to honestly. It could have given itself a happier, feel-good ending and it doesn’t, settling instead for one that is both satisfying and real. I love that it was nominated and I wish that more people knew about it.
1. I have long been something of an apologist for the Coen Brothers (although I don’t blindly love all of their films). That being the case, it’s not a shock that I’m going to give this to Fargo, which remains one of their best films. Fargo is perhaps the most Coen-y of all of their screenplays, managing to perfectly blend the humor of the characters and life with the terrible crimes and tragedy that happen over the course of the film. The characters are memorable and beautifully rendered and real. I could argue this as the best original screenplay of its decade successfully, I think. Of course it should have won, and of course it did.