Friday, December 11, 2015

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Original Screenplay 1983

The Contenders:

The Big Chill
Fanny and Alexander
Tender Mercies (winner)

What’s Missing

There were plenty of good movies in 1983, as indicated by the solid list of contenders for Best Original Screenplay. As is often the case, many of the films I’d love to see nominated here are adapted stories and thus aren’t eligible. On the “never in a million years” front, we have Videodrome, which I like probably more than I should. Local Hero is the sort of film that sometimes gets a little Oscar love for being cute and earnest and nicely made. Beyond this, everything I want to mention is a comedy. The trio of Trading Places, Mr. Mom, and Risky Business probably weren’t serious enough for Oscar contention, but all three have held up pretty well. So has Monty Python’s Meaning of Life. On the “serious comedy” side, I’m mildly surprised at how much everyone has forgotten Zelig. But if I had to add a single film here, it would be the acidic The King of Comedy, which is both funny and brutal.

Weeding through the Nominees

5: I hate The Big Chill. I hate it. I realize that there’s an entire generation of people who feel like this is the movie that best describes their generation and I don’t really care. I think it’s filled with whiney, self-centered assholes who do nothing but complain about white people/first-world problems and about how hard their lives are because they haven’t been handed everything they want. I have little time for this level of narcissism and solipsism. I have nothing good to say about it, and would pick virtually any other movie from this year I have seen to replace it on this list.

4: Silkwood came out at a time when the word “nuclear” send a chill down the spine of almost everyone who heard it. It’s very much a product of its era; remade today, I can’t imagine people being that interested in it. It’s also a “lone hero stands against an evil corporation” tale, and those really only go in two directions—the upbeat “lone hero wins” and the downbeat “lone hero dies.” That this was based on a true story gives us the ending. It’s not the real Karen Silkwood’s fault that the story goes the way it does, but it is the fault of the screenwriters for leaving it this predictable.

3: I was pleasantly surprised by Tender Mercies. Its greatest strength is Robert Duvall’s performance, but the screenplay helps quite a bit. My only quibble with it here is that it’s far more of a character study than it is an actual story. I mean, it’s a hell of a good character study, but it doesn’t really go any further than that. I recommend the film completely, even with the overload of country music, but in terms of the screenplay, I can’t bring it past third. I get why it won, and ultimately I’m not that torn up that it did. It just wouldn’t get my vote.

My Choices

2: Fanny and Alexander might be Ingmar Bergman’s most human film in a lot of ways. At the very least, it might be the most realistic family he ever created on screen. There are real joys and real sorrows in the film and, I think, some real truths in the idea that we are never fully able to escape from our past. Fanny and Alexander was Bergman’s last theatrical non-documentary release. It shows a lifetime of skill in its making and in its writing. Had it won, I’d be satisfied. But it’s not my ultimate pick.

1: The real win for WarGames was simply being nominated. This is not the sort of film that typically gets recognition come Oscar time. The truth, though, is that WarGames gets almost everything right from start to finish. It tackles the whole “nuclear” thing that Silkwood does, but manages to be both lighter in tone and to have more at stake. It’s really the tone that WarGames gets right. There’s the threat of worldwide nuclear destruction, and while things get tense, it never feels oppressive. I love that it got nominated, and I’d have loved to see it win.

Final Analysis


  1. Love that you chose WarGames, it is the most purely enjoyable of all the nominees and the freshest. As far as the other placements I'd agree with all but Fanny and Alexander which for me was akin to watching paint dry on a misty day.

    I don't hate Big Chill as actively as you but I harbor very little affection for it and only watched it once from beginning to end. Every once in a while I stumble across it but it never pulls me in and I pass it right by.

    Silkwood is a standard biopic memorable only for its performances, likewise that's the only memory I have of Tender Mercies.

    I thought of a couple other titles that were worthy of note but they turned out to be adapted screenplays. It would have been great to see King of Comedy score a nomination, I didn't love the film but it was certainly a well turned out and unique script.

    1. The biggest problem I have doing both Adapted and Original Screenplays for these Friday posts is the number of movies that are inappropriate for one of the awards.

      I found a lot worthwhile in Fanny and Alexander, but I it's different in a lot of ways from typical Bergman. Then again, I also tend to like typical Bergman.

      I'm proud of my review of The Big Chill. It's one of my better rants.

  2. Good choice. War Games is great with a great screenplay, coming from a simpler time when having a modem was exotic. And I really love Mr. Mom as well. Too bad films like that never get nominated.

    And I also agree that The Big Chill SUCKS.

    1. Most people like The Big Chill more than I do. Since I really hate it, though, that's not saying much. Good to know I'm not alone in that.

  3. Re: The Big Chill - "I have nothing good to say about it" - not even that the soundtrack was good?

    Wargames is a fun movie. Looking at the nominees none of them really jump out at me as one I'd give the Oscar to. I'd drop Fanny and Alexander to the bottom; I would use the word "endured" to describe my experience watching it.

    I second Allen's movie Zelig. I liked it and it's pretty inventive, even if the base concept is pure fantasy.

    1. It may well be that The Big Chill had a good soundtrack, but I'll never go back to it to find out.

      I'm not sure why Zelig seems to be forgotten. I think it's a dandy little film.

    2. Well, it's politically incorrect now, what with him changing races. I liked how he inserted himself into old footage, more than a decade before Zemeckis did it with Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump.