Monday, April 29, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 1975

The Contenders:

Barry Lyndon
The Man Who Would Be King
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (winner)
Profumo di Donna
The Sunshine Boys

What’s Missing

There are times when I wonder what the hell Oscar is thinking when it comes to nominations. Seriously, 1975 is one of the best years for adapted screenplay and we got this odd collection of films. Sure, there are things like Tommy that probably don’t really deserve a nomination and things like The Stepford Wives that never would, but that doesn’t explain the snub on Picnic at Hanging Rock. It doesn’t explain why Three Days of the Condor isn’t here, and it doesn’t offer a reason for Dog Day Afternoon languishing without a nomination. The big one, though, is Jaws, since it is one of those rare cases where the screenplay is better than the source material.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I am not a fan of Profumo di Donna. The American remake for which Pacino won his only Oscar is a better version of this story, but not by a large amount. One of the biggest problems here is that our blind man who we’re evidently supposed to find charming and entertaining is a sexist asshole who doesn’t deserve our respect, let alone our pity and concern. He wants to kill himself? He’s a bastard who makes everything he touches and everyone he knows worse for the contact. I don’t condone suicide, but…

4. Barry Lyndon is one of those cases where I disagree with the critical mainstream. There are loads of people who have nothing but heart eyes for this movie and I can’t stand it. I’ve seen pretty much every feature-length Stanley Kubrick film, and this one is my least favorite. In fact, that I have put this in fourth place is a good demonstration of just how much I genuinely dislike Profumo di Donna. There are a lot of years where, had this been in the running, it would have come in fifth for me.

3. The Sunshine Boys is a completely harmless movie. It’s totally benign. What’s frustrating about that is that there are movies that are genuinely daring from this year that were completely ignored so that we could have a nomination for The Sunshine Boys. Why the hell would anyone want this here instead of Dog Day Afternoon? While I’m putting this third because I like the screenplay better than the previous entries, this is Oscar at its most white bread and worst. This is the safest possible nomination, and because of that, it rankles.

2. The Man Who Would Be King is the first of these nominations that I’m not actively angry about. The movie is a fun one. It’s more or less a boys’-own adventure style film, but the cast is great and they’re given a hell of a lot to do with the screenplay that they’re given. Given the films that were ignored this year for this award, I still wouldn’t nominate it, but I’d at least rank it in the top-ten, which makes the nomination (in my opinion) unwarranted, but not egregious. That it’s made it to here is disappointing.

1. Of the five nominations, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is the only one that would make my top-five. That being the case, I can’t say that, when it came down to actually handing this award out, that the Academy did a bad job. In fact, gun-to-head, this is probably my number two, and I can’t really fault the ultimate choice. But the race should have been much more interesting and much tighter. And, had it been tighter and more interesting, I would have had another screenplay on top.

My Choice

I said this at the top: the screenplay for Jaws is better than the source material. There are so many things in the book that simply don’t make a great deal of sense for the narrative, things that seem to be there just to be there. The movie version is pared down to the basics, just the brute story that we need and the characters who drive the story to its ultimate conclusion. This was the right pick, and Oscar couldn’t be bothered with the right nomination.

Final Analysis


  1. Dog Day Afternoon actually won Best Original Screenplay, so I don't know what your complaint is with that one.

    1. That's a completely fair point. However, since the movie is based on a magazine article, I think the case could be made that it belonged in this category.

  2. I not a huge Cuckoo's Nest fan and not having seen Profumo di Donna-but utterly despising Scent of a Woman so if this is worse I can't even imagine-I'd agree that it should have won. I'm glad to see someone else shares my low opinion of Barry Lyndon-it's an absolute beautiful looking snooze fest.

    But yikes what was left out!!!! Every single movie you mentioned in your first paragraph would beat any of these five for me. My winner would be Three Days of the Condor. It does exactly what you said about Jaws, paring down 6 Days of the Condor which is an excellent read but from a cinematic standpoint the screenplay winnows it down to its essence. Had Dog Day, Jaws or Picnic at Hanging Rock been nominated and won though I wouldn't have been disappointed.

    1. I haven't read 6 Days of the Condor, so I can't say one way or the other on that, but I'll trust your judgment on it. It's not something that happens often, but it's definitely the case with Jaws. It's also the case with The Bourne Identity, which was a complete snooze as a book.

      This could have been a hell of a horse race. Instead we got one clear winner and four "why is this here?" movies.

  3. Obviously Carl Gottlieb deserved to be nominated, I think that because there was so much tinkering with the best sequence, by John Milius and Robert Shaw, the rest of the movie got overlooked. Hell, it's the Best directed movie and the director was ignored. It only became the most successful movie of it's time because Spielberg and Gottlieb strongarmed the story into a movie.