Friday, December 12, 2014

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Original Screenplay 2006

The Contenders:
Letters from Iwo Jima
Little Miss Sunshine (winner)
Pan’s Labyrinth
The Queen

What’s Missing

In truth, the Academy did a pretty decent job of nominating good original screenplays for 2006. The biggest miss for me is Stranger than Fiction, which would end in one of the top spots for me, gun to my head. Best Foreign Language Film winner The Lives of Others feels like a significant miss as well. I think a case could be made for Inside Man as well, since this is a very tightly designed story that is realized beautifully. The two movies that would never get nominated but that I enjoy are Slither and Talladega Nights, neither of which really deserved a nomination. Other than that, I’ve got nothing—the other films I’d love to mention had screenplays adapted from other sources.

Weeding through the Nominees

5: Based on what I’ve seen of other blog reviews and comments here, I like Babel more than a lot of people. The biggest plus the screenplay has going for it is that it holds together despite its complexity. The biggest negative is that same complexity, at least in my opinion. It feels like Babel earned a nomination specifically because it holds together across all of its stories, but that also seems like that is the job of the screenplay. Why should it be rewarded for simply being competent?

4: There’s a lot to like about The Queen, and I’d include the screenplay in that. The issue I have with it is that an argument could be easily made that this is more of a television movie than a theatrical release. The performances are the real sell for The Queen and a big part of that comes from the screenplay. Still, of all the scripts, even Babel, which I’ve rated lower, this one feels like it might not belong. I like what it offers, but even with a larger-than-life subject, it feels too small.

3: Winner Little Miss Sunshine boasts a fine script and I enjoyed this tremendously when I first saw it. This is a film that hasn’t held up for me over time, though. I didn’t like it nearly as much on a rewatch as I did seeing it in the theater the first time around. That may be because comedies often have difficulty holding up through repeated viewings. Whatever the reason, the lack of staying power is a knock on the film for me, a fact that lends some credence to the idea that Oscars shouldn’t be awarded for a few years to determine how well things hold up over time.

My Choices

2: The biggest strength of Letters from Iwo Jima’s screenplay is that it humanizes people who were, at the time, enemies of everything this country claims to stand for. It could be argued that this task is made easier with the distance of 60 years, but that doesn’t change the fact that the film does this admirably. It would be easy to caricature the characters and the situations either positively or negatively, but Letters from Iwo Jima is nuanced. It also holds up. This would have been a solid choice for Oscar.

1: Bluntly, Pan’s Labyrinth should have won. A larger part of this film creates a completely new world that works as something entirely internally consistent. A single slip here and there and the whole thing tumbles down like a house of cards, and it doesn’t. The fantasy elements of this film are beautifully realized and completely consistent. Even more, the entire thing works in the real world as well, and the two stories function as their own parts of the story and also as comments on each other. It’s a wonderful screenplay and perfectly realized, and it should have won.

Final Analysis


  1. I agree that among the nominees Pan's Labyrinth should have won. Best Original Screenplay often goes to a movie a little outside the mainstream - some would call them "quirky" although I tend to avoid that word now since a sizable number of people seem to find it to be a negative description. Little Miss Sunshine was a lot more comfortable, slightly different story whereas Pan's Labyrinth was scarier, weirder, and, if interpreted literally, was Fantasy - a genre looked down upon by Academy voters.

    I completely agree on Stranger than Fiction and The Lives of Others being deserving of nominations. I'd drop The Queen and Little Miss Sunshine to make room for them. I'd have Babel higher. I liked parts of the movie quite a bit, but felt other parts were not that interesting. The Japanese girl's story was the best part of it. Like you just said in a response to my comment on A Touch of Sin - I would have liked to have seen the entire movie be her story.

    1. Ultimately, I think we're in agreement on four out of the five screenplays that should have been nominated. In either case, dropping either Little Miss Sunshine and The Queen or Babel and The Queen, the wrong movie won.

      I agree for the reasons Little Miss Sunshine won. It was outside of the norm, but not so far outside of the norm that it made people skittish and Pan's Labyrinth really pushed the comfort zone.

  2. The Lives of Others was to me the most interesting story of the year and Pan's Labyrinth was the most imaginative. For me it would be a toss up between those two. Little Miss Sunshine I did not get at all, except for everybody being weird. Babel left me rather cold except for the Japanese part. Like Chip I would have prefered a story focused on them and you are a right, keeping the storylines together was the achievement of that movie. I never saw The Queen. This type of movies (Biopics) just never really appealed to me

  3. I think, gun to my head, The Lives of Others would be my second choice, with Stranger than Fiction finishing third or fourth either before or after Letters from Iwo Jima..

  4. Stranger Than Fiction would have deserved the win had it been nominated, which it should have. Aren't you glad you're not a golem?

    1. I think I'd still end up with Pan's Labyrinth, but the lack of nomination for Stranger than Fiction is a huge miss. I'd rank it second or third--it would fight for those positions with The Lives of Others, given that I'd dump both The Queen and Babel.