Friday, September 23, 2016

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 1989

The Contenders:

Born on the Fourth of July
Driving Miss Daisy (winner)
Enemies, a Love Story
Field of Dreams
My Left Foot

What’s Missing

I genuinely like three of the nominations for this award and question two of them. This means that I need to find some replacements for those two, and I’ve found four that I think are far more deserving. The best part of Shirley Valentine is Pauline Collins, but Pauline Collins had a wonderful screenplay to work with. I’m also a fan of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, admittedly because of my fondness for the first film in the series. The two films that I would genuinely want here are Henry V and Drugstore Cowboy. Branagh’s Henry V is an adaptation good enough that I think it would content for the top position—Branagh took a 400-year old play and turned it into something that isn’t obviously based on a play. That takes some doing.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. The first nomination I don’t understand is Enemies, a Love Story. Sure, it’s an intricate and clever screenplay, but it’s also plagued with serious problems. The biggest problem is that I don’t think the movie knows what it wants to be. It’s a romance, a comedy, a drama, and about four other things, and because of that, it’s none of the above. It’s difficult for me to think that it belongs in the running when it clearly doesn’t know what the hell it’s supposed to be. Any of my mentions in the previous paragraph deserve to be here more, because all of the problems I have with Enemies come directly from what earned its nomination.

4. The second nomination I don’t like is the eventual winner, Driving Miss Daisy. I fully understand the politics of why this film won a lot of the awards it was nominated for; I simply disagree with the politics. This is especially true when the best film about race relations from 1989 was Do the Right Thing and not this one. I even liked Driving Miss Daisy well enough. I just don’t think it’s a great film or anything close to a great film, even if it’s a pretty good one. The screenplay is fine, if manipulative, but it hints at plenty of plot points that it doesn’t adequately cover.

3. There’s a lot to love in My Left Foot starting with Daniel Day-Lewis and Brenda Fricker and the largely forgotten Hugh O’Conor as the young Christy Brown. But the screenplay is incredibly good as well. Day-Lewis gets a great deal of credit for making Christy Brown a real person and humanizing him, but the screenplay does a magnificent job of humanizing everyone else around him. It’s a dandy piece of screenwriting, and while it might come in fifth in my personal list of nominations, I think it would still be on the board.

2. I’ve commented before that Tom Cruise has terrible luck in nominations. When he’s good, he deserves to be nominated, but there’s always someone who’s a little better in those years. Born on the Fourth of July is one of those years for him, and it’s true of the screenplay as well. This is a powerful film, one that still hits on all cylinders almost three decades later, and one that works entirely because Oliver Stone doesn’t slip into conspiracy theory or get caught up in trying to wow us with the camera. It’s just a good story, and one that works because it comes across as true. It’s a hell of a screenplay from start to finish, and in another year, it might win. Just not this year.

My Choice

1. Field of Dreams is so damn good. No, really. It’s just so damn good. Magical realism often has a lot working against it, the main issue being magic in the real world, but when it’s done well, it is truly wonderful. Field of Dreams, while it has a scene or two that don’t work for me, is otherwise infused not just with beauty, but with poetry. Is there a speech from the ‘80s more memorable than James Earl Jones talking about the meaning of baseball? Is there a scene of more poignancy or sweetness than Burt Lancaster talking about staring into a sky so blue it hurts? There’s not a word of this I would want to change. Dammit, it should have won.

Final Analysis


  1. I have never seen Enemies, A Love Story (sounds like I'm not missing much). I would probably rank the other four exactly as you did.

    Another non-nominated screenplay probably worth a mention is Glory (an adaptation of a couple of books.) Glory is yet another 1989 film about race relations that is better than Driving Miss Daisy.

    1. That's a damn fine point. I should've mentioned Glory, which is one of those movies that's always better than I remember.