12 Years a Slave (winner)
The Wolf of Wall Street
I don’t love all of the nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay 2012, but overall, it’s not a bad collection. This is a year where I think the best movies in general came from original screenplays. In fact, there’s really only one film that I think is a legitimate snub. Both John Dies at the End and Warm Bodies are interesting adaptations that Oscar wouldn’t come within a country mile of touching. I know Lee Daniels’ The Butler only by reputation. I could see a nomination for Joss Whedon’s version of Much Ado About Nothing. But if I’m completely honest, the only movie I could really see adding here is Blue is the Warmest Color.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. This is honestly a case where most of these movies feel like they should be in third place. I’m going to dump Captain Phillips first simply because of the five, it’s the one I enjoyed the least. Sure, it’s a good story and Barkhad Abdirahman is fantastic, but I don’t really buy that the screenplay is any great shakes. A lot of this seems to have been sold on the fact that Tom Hanks is playing a famous white guy. That seems like Tom Hanks’s job these days more often than not (Sully, Bridge of Spies, Saving Mr. Banks…). I’d rather see Blue is the Warmest Color here.
4. Philomena is a genuinely good movie, despite it being mismarketed. Watch the trailer. Seriously. Based on that, Philomena is a heartwarming, feel-good dramedy. It’s really, really not. I’m putting it here not for that reason, though, but because it didn’t have to do a lot of work to be compelling. The story is compelling by itself, and while the screenplay is a fine one, it starts way ahead of a lot of movies in general because of the nature of the story itself. It’s not a cheat; it just doesn’t have to do as much work.
3. I could say the same thing of 12 Years a Slave. This is a compelling story on its face, so it doesn’t have to do a lot of work to stay interesting. Additionally, this is a movie that trades in large part on the performances that we get. In lesser hands than those of Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o, it would still be good but wouldn’t swing the same emotional heft. Again, it doesn’t have to do a lot of work to be good, and while I’m not surprised that it won (a hefty sense of “if you don’t vote for it, you’re a racist” didn’t hurt), it’s not where my vote goes.
2. There’s a certain amount of the same sense when it comes to The Wolf of Wall Street. Rich guy gone bad is a story that a lot of people really want to see over and over. What makes this different is that it’s so extreme and so over-the-top that it becomes compelling specifically because of its excess. This is a very long exploitation film more than it is anything else, but it’s impressive in just how far it goes and how completely it buys into its own narrative. It’s not one I want to revisit any time soon, but I think it’s brilliant. It’s just not best.
1. I debated for a long time whether Before Midnight is my real choice or if I think this really belongs to Blue is the Warmest Color. Ties always go to the Academy on this blog, which means that I’m giving this to Before Midnight with Blue coming in a very close second. I know that not everyone likes this film because of the characterization of Celine. I disagree. The strength of the film is that it is so natural. Seeing Jesse and Celine move from a romantic evening to a fight that might end their relationship is so damn real that I find it nearly impossible to think it was actually scripted. Anything that comes that close to a real experience deserves to be rewarded.