Midnight in Paris (winner)
2011 is one of those years where it feels like no matter where you look, great movies abound. What this means is that no matter what movies have been nominated for Best Original Screenplay, there are going to be some that have been left out. That’s just the nature of the beast. I’ll start here with two films, Jiro Dreams of Sushi and Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters that, by virtue of being documentaries, would never be nominated for a screenplay Oscar. I’ll also bring up both Win Win and The Intouchables as potential nominations that I include on reputation; I’ve seen neither of them. In the “wrong genre for Oscar” category we have The Raid: Redemption, Attack the Block, and probably Hanna, all three of which would contend for my personal list of nominations. Both The Tree of Life and A Better Life (the one with Demian Bichir—there were two films with this name released in 2011) would not make my list, but are the sort of film that Oscar loves to nominate. I’d be more prone to bring in Shame and Martha Marcy May Marlene, both of which tackle ugly and difficult subjects well.
Weeding through the Nominees
4. The Artist also felt like a “flavor of the month” film. It’s pretty and well made, beautiful in places and daring in its way to essentially be a modern silent. And? A good six years after this won a bunch of Oscars, is anyone still watching it? Does anyone care about this movie anymore? The Artist being nominated here and winning other Oscars is further evidence that the best way to hand out these awards is to wait about five years. Had these Oscars been voted on in 2016, there’s no way this gets nominated for much of anything.
3. Margin Call is a very good movie, the sort of movie that typically does get nominated for this sort of Oscar because of the story it tells. It’s a set piece of financial back-door dealings and just-this-side-of-the-law manipulation that feels like legalized criminality to those of us watching. It’s terrifying in its way because it does represent things that happen in the real world. It’s a true horror movie in the sense that we are seeing people acting in utterly sociopathic ways that affect us in the real world and suffering no consequences for it. It just so happens I like two other screenplays from this year more.
2. In a lot of years Midnight in Paris would be my winner as well. Woody Allen’s career may be effectively over or close to over in this era of necessary and needful consequence for sexual impropriety, and that’s something that, no matter what, is going to rightfully stain his legacy. Be that as it may, the man could write a damn good screenplay. When he allowed himself to do more than just have the story be about his own libido, he was capable of crafting stories as meaningful as anything in film history. Midnight in Paris is one of those, and in a lot of years, I’d agree with the Academy putting it on top.
1. There are few movies that affect me the way A Separation did. This is a brutal portrayal of the effects of divorce and of lies and half-truths. That it spins deeper and deeper into this awful pain makes A Separation a terribly hard film to watch. That it does so while remaining entirely real and human is a credit to the skill with which the story is told. That it does this while being based in a culture that, on the surface, is so alien to an American audience and still resonates so deeply is nothing short of miraculous. It’s not a film I want to watch again, but it is one that I am so pleased to have seen. It’s my winner.