Friday, April 10, 2015

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Original Screenplay 2009

The Contenders:

The Hurt Locker (winner)
Inglourious Basterds
The Messenger
A Serious Man

What’s Missing

As much as I didn’t really like Avatar, I’m a little surprised it wasn’t nominated for Best Original Screenplay. It’s a rare moment when the Academy was smarter than I tend to give it credit for being. For as much fun as I had with Taken, I’m not surprised that it wasn’t nominated (and it really probably shouldn’t have been). Moon is one I would bring up, though, and (500) Days of Summer might warrant a look as well. Other than Zombieland, I’m tapped here—the other films I’d want to nominated are adapted.

Weeding through the Nominees

5: I consider myself a Coen Brothers fan, but I really disliked A Serious Man intensely. There was nothing about this film that I found enjoyable, and a great deal of that comes from the script from whence it starts. I’d have much rather seen Moon on this list than this film, and I can only imagine that in a year that was otherwise fairly weak in the category led to this film being nominated. This was a bad nomination in my opinion.

4: From here on, we get films that I liked pretty well. There was a great deal to like with The Messenger, including a couple of great performances by Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson. The reason I’m putting it fourth is that there are some significant plot points of which very little is made. The Woody Harrelson character goes on a drinking binge that is supposed to be meaningful thanks to his membership in AA, but it’s really not. There could be a lot more made of what The Messenger wants to do, and that’s the fault of the screenplay, as is the very soft ending.

3: I’ve never been much of a Tarantino fan and Inglourious Basterds didn’t turn me into one. There’s a part of me that sighs at a lot of the man’s screenplays are so carefully designed to be “awesome” that they aren’t always that good. This one has much less of that than a lot of his other screenplays, which is why I’m putting it as high as third. There are some excellent points to this film and the screenplay helps, but there’s simply too much here of Tarantino pointing to how cool he is rather than just making a good screenplay that I’m not prepared to bump it any higher.

2: I like The Hurt Locker a lot, possibly more than it deserves. What it does so well is present something like a story about addiction but makes that addiction something completely understandable and in a certain mindset, noble. This is a very carefully crafted film because we get to such a potentially shocking and astonishing conclusion from what seem like such normal progression of events. I’m not terribly upset that The Hurt Locker won, but it still probably shouldn’t have.

My Choice

1: The only reason I can think that Up didn’t win for Best Original Screenplay is that it’s an animated movie, and the Academy can’t bear the idea that the best original story produced in a given year was produced with an audience of children in mind. This is a brilliant piece of screenwriting, though, exemplified nowhere better than in the staggeringly beautiful and emotional opening of the film. That is filmmaking at its best and screenwriting at its best, and one of the most perfect film sequences of the last 100 years. We should be rewarding the best in film regardless of its source or style, and for 2009 in the original screenplay department, the best was Up.

Final Analysis


  1. I have not see The Messenger, but among the other four I would rank them in the order you did.

    The thing that struck me about Inglorious Basterds when I got done watching it was that the title characters were almost completely irrelevant to the outcome. It was the French woman and the German officer who mattered.

    I completely agree on the opening of Up. Some people feel that if there are no words being spoken then there is no screenplay, though. The only nit I'd pick with the story in Up is that the adventurer would have had to have been in his 90s and he was damn spry for a man that age. That's really minor, though.


    1. The Messenger is worth your time if you're up for a "message" film, although it doesn't slather that message on too hard. It's well done with some good performances, even if it feels a bit unfinished.

      Agreed on Inglourious Basterds. I think it's good, but it's not as good as everyone seems to think it is.

      And yes about the adventurer in Up. That's a quibble, though. In the world of kids, old people are all just "old" and they don't really have ages, so in that sense it doesn't really matter. Anyway, that opening sequence covers a lot of problems.

  2. This is a pretty easy one.

    Inglourious Basterds!

    I've seen it five or six times and it gets better every time.

    1. I think that's a pretty common opinion. I'd still hand it to Up though, although I have no real issue with Inglourious Basterds being nominated.

  3. Agree completely. Up is a staggeringly good screenplay. It's so unusual and unpredictable, you just have no idea where it's going next.

    1. I was skeptical going in and after a couple of minutes, I was completely invested in it.