Monday, April 17, 2017

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 1991

The Contenders:

Europa Europa
Fried Green Tomatoes
The Prince of Tides
The Silence of the Lambs (winner)

What’s Missing

There are some really good nominations for this award for this year, but as tends to be the case, I’d like to make a few substitutions. There are some solid misses in the films that aren’t in the list of five. Let’s start with the films that aren’t of the sort that typically get nominated for awards like Adapted Screenplay. This starts with Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which actually does a pretty solid job of building on the original film. Animated films can swing a nomination for screenplay now and then, and with a Best Picture nomination, Beauty and the Beast wouldn’t be too shocking. Foreign movies are hit-or-miss for any nomination, and with Europa Europa already here, Raise the Red Lantern wasn’t going to be nominated. Cape Fear could well have nabbed one, though. The Addams Family is one I would nominate despite its origins and its being a comedy. Finally, I like Doc Hollywood probably a little more than I should, but it’s a damn fine story well produced.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I didn’t like The Prince of Tides much at all. I found the entire thing to be emotionally manipulative and, once the audience figures that out, its final destination is completely obvious. Very little in the movie makes sense beyond the emotional content. This is a movie that’s supposed to take place in the real world and simply doesn’t make sense in that world in terms of anything beyond the dysfunctional relationships. When a real-world film offers us things that simply don’t work in the real world, the screenplay doesn’t deserve consideration for this award.

4. Europa Europa is based on a true story. The problem is that the story is so crazy that it’s almost impossible to believe. I can forgive that. What is more difficult to forgive is that the story is essentially the same thing over and over again. Our hero finds himself in a situation where someone might discover that he is Jewish. He manages to hide his identity. Lather, rinse, repeat until the final credits roll. Once the pattern is established it never changes. And, since a Jew living as a member of the Hitler Youth is in constant life-threatening danger, it’s not like the stakes can be raised. That’s a problem.

3. I like JFK almost in spite of itself. I have a considered opinion on the JFK assassination (I once edited a book on it), and I think Oliver Stone’s conspiracy theories are pretty entertaining, but not very close to reality. I appreciate just how well the whole thing holds together overall, but it strains belief and believability from start to finish. The best thing it does is maintain a coherent story despite all of the craziness. The problem is all of the craziness. That, and the performances are better than the movie they are in. Still, I like the nomination pretty well.

2. I was shocked at how much I ended up liking Fried Green Tomatoes. I expected it to be a check in the box, but I found the entire film completely compelling. In a weaker year, it would be a winner for me, but there is a significant problem with the screenplay that’s hard to overcome. That problem is that our narrator seems to know far too much of the story without ever being a character in the story. I have an idea of something that would work, and it would take just a line or two to fix this specific problem. That, and the film doesn’t go to the obvious conclusion of the relationship between Idgie and Ruth.

My Choice

1. No, the Academy did the right thing here by giving the Oscar to The Silence of the Lambs. I don’t know that I agree with every Oscar the film won, but I like this win quite a bit. The film works on multiple levels, and gives us a breakout character in Hannibal Lecter without him even being the main bad guy. There’s a lot to like in a gripping story with fully-realized characters. In a year with some solid screenplays, this is the one that is the most interesting and most fully developed. Nice work, Oscar.

Final Analysis


  1. Silence of the Lambs is a brilliant screenplay. Good call.

    1. It really is all the way through. If you're a fan and haven't seen Manhunter, I recommend it. It's a much better version of Red Dragon despite being quite a bit older.