Friday, June 13, 2014

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Original Screenplay 1987

The Contenders:
Au Revoir, Les Enfants
Broadcast News
Hope and Glory
Moonstruck (winner)
Radio Days

What’s Missing

This is a strange year for me when it comes to screenplay in that there’s at least one film that has a screenplay I like in service of a film that leaves me fairly cold. Naturally, there are a few films that I think should have been included in the line-up that were ignored. Among those snubs are a pair of comedies that have managed to stay funny for the last 30 years: Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Raising Arizona, both of which have masterful scripts. On the Oscar-unloved horror front we have Evil Dead II and Near Dark, neither of which could have gotten a nomination in this or any world, but both of which are great. The Lost Boys might chart as well, but I don’t know if it qualifies as an original screenplay. Withnail & I fits the mold better and possibly could have wrangled a nom. As for Eddie Murphy Raw, it deserves a bit of love even if Oscar would never go there.

Weeding through the Nominees

5: Hope and Glory is a film I wanted to like a lot more than I did like it. I liked it fine, but there isn’t a great deal of there there. I guess, ultimately, when I look at something like a screenplay, I’m looking for something akin to a plot, which is exactly what Hope and Glory lacks. I actually don’t mind this film being nominated for Best Picture, which it was, but I don’t understand its nomination here. There were better options.

4: With Broadcast News, we have a film that I find much less than the sum of its parts. I don’t like this film that much even though I like a great many of its component atoms. I don’t know where the film goes off the rails for me exactly. Everything seems like it should work. The characters should work, the situation should work, and it just kind of doesn’t. The fault may well be in the screenplay; at least that’s the most likely spot for it. I sort of like the screenplay regardless, but I think the fact that the film doesn’t completely work is evidence of some flaws.

3: I don’t want to be guilty of stereotyping here, but is there a large number of people of Italian ancestry in the Academy? Moonstruck is a nearly perfect encapsulation of the stereotype of an Italian family—lots of overemotional shouting, speaking with the entire upper body, everybody pissed off at everyone else for not conforming to what they want at all times. Maybe, if I grew up Italian, I’d get it. I didn’t grow up Italian, though, so I see this only as a massive stereotype and not as something approaching my reality. And it won? I don’t see it.

My Choices

2: I hemmed and hawed a lot with this post and changed the order multiple times. The most difficult decision I had was whether or not Au Revoir, les Enfants should be one of my choices or something that just missed (and in fact I changed my mind halfway through writing this paragraph). Ultimately, I put it here. This is a great film, though, and much of its greatness comes specifically from the screenplay. There’s a lot to see on the surface here, and a lot going on beneath it, and what happens below the surface is specifically something that comes out from the masterful screenplay. As it happens, while this isn’t my choice, I wouldn’t be terribly upset if it won.

1: Say what you will about Woody Allen, but when he’s got a topic he likes, there are few people who can pen a better screenplay. Of all of his great screenplays that I’ve seen, none make me happier than Radio Days. It’s a nearly perfect blend of nostalgia, glib humor, family, sorrow, shame, and understanding. It’s so evident that Allen loves this time he’s talking about. He may well be viewing the past through rose-colored glasses, but that’s the sort of thing that makes a recollection like this so special. This would be my choice, even with some of the films mentioned at the top in the mix.

Final Analysis


  1. Best Screenplay is a difficult one for me. I usually get it mixed up with direction and cinematography. When that is said I really loved Au Revoir les Enfants. We are supposed to believe that this film is made many years later by Julian and although we see the story from his viewpoint as a child there are so many adult elements there that may or may not register with a child that you get this feeling that there is a much bigger story here than what you see. That sounds to me like an excellent screenplay. I would have loved to see that one winning.

    1. I'd have been okay with it. It's easy when you go through the 1001 List the get sort of used to the environment of World War II and the Holocaust, as terrible as that is to say. This one affected me far more than I thought it could, and much of that comes from how well it was written.

  2. Well, I've never seen Radio Days, so it's easy for me to go with Au Revoir les Enfants. Radio Days is on the former TSPDT list so I may see it someday. Allen is a mixed bag with me, falling on the spectrum all the way from hated it to loved it when it comes to his films.

    1. I know you have that relationship with Allen's films. That said, I can't recommend Radio Days enough. This isn't Allen trying to sleep with women half his age or mooning about his neuroses. This is him looking back at his childhood through very rosy glasses. It's sweet and heartfelt, and is really some of his best writing.