Friday, July 14, 2017

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Original Screenplay 1997

The Contenders:

As Good as it Gets
Boogie Nights
Deconstructing Harry
The Full Monty
Good Will Hunting (winner)

What’s Missing

There are some gaping holes in the Best Original Screenplay lineup for 1997 even if the five actual nominees are pretty good. The biggest shock, honestly, is the absence of Titanic, which won a bunch of other awards. I didn’t go all the way back, but I can tell you that based on my own research, this is literally the only time since 1965 that a movie won Best Picture without being nominated for one of the two main screenplay awards. Much less likely to receive a nomination are films like the original Funny Games, which does some very interesting things with narrative and Princess Mononoke, one of Miyazaki’s more violent films. Additionally, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery isn’t the kind of film to turn the heads of Academy members, but this first film was very clever in many ways, and a great, legitimate spoof of the James Bond series. Science fiction is often overlooked, but Gattaca’s screenplay deserved some love. The big miss as far as I’m concerned aside from Titanic is The Apostle.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. Of the five nominations, the one that I’m the most honestly surprised by is As Good as It Gets. I know that a lot of people really liked this movie, but I don’t actually know why this is the case. I agree that it’s well made and even well-acted, but the story isn’t that good and the characters are generally hateful. I wonder about movies like this one. I wonder why someone would want to make a movie where the main characters are nothing more than a bundle of quirks and unpleasant character traits. Titanic is a better choice here, and The Apostle is a far better choice.

4. Deconstructing Harry is a film that I liked, but it’s also a film that has suffered greatly in retrospect. I like this movie less the more that I think about it and the further away from my viewing of it I get. I think there are things in it that are good, and Allen is too good of a screenwriter to make a lot of duds. There’s just something unpleasant about the film. I may be allowing a particular bias of mine to creep in here. I think this film would be a lot better with Allen only behind the camera and not in front of it, and that might drop it a bit in my estimation.

3. On the flipside of the first two movies I’ve written up here, I really like The Fully Monty. The biggest problem with it is that it’s going to get us exactly to the place we want it to take us to with the problems that we expect to happen and the resolutions that we expect to happen as well. It hits too hard on the tropes to get to the story it wants to tell. It is, more or less, an underdog sports story, but with out of work men who become strippers instead. All of the emotional moments are the same, though. It’s a good example of the style, but it’s clearly of the style.

2. I’m not surprised that Good Will Hunting won for Best Original Screenplay. It gave us two fresh new faces in Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. It contains one of Robin Williams’s better and more heartfelt performances. But it suffers from the exact same problems that The Full Monty does. There’s a very specific place we want to get to with Good Will Hunting, and the screenplay is going to very specifically take us through those moments as we hope they will. I’m not entirely sure it gets its ending honestly.

My Choice

1. My choice is Boogie Nights, which is a screenplay that does just about everything right. Boogie Nights has moments of genuine humor, cringe moments, shock, fear, and disgust. The characters are fully fleshed out with bizarre foibles and petty little dreams. There’s a sense of wanting to like these characters as we laugh at them, fear for them, and are shocked by them. It’s a smart film in so many ways, and while it generally ends on an up note, it gets the honestly, and it doesn’t get us all the way there to the full Hollywood feel-good. A lot of screenwriters could take a lesson.

Final Analysis


  1. If "The Apostle" were in the lineup, I'd have trouble deciding between it and "Good Will Hunting" for first place. Duvall made an incredible film—a true labor of love. I think your criticism of "Will Hunting" is legitimate, but despite the predictability, I found the movie to be emotionally powerful and quite authentic (mainly thanks to my reading of M. Scott Peck, who apparently had some therapy sessions that were as shouty as those portrayed in the movie). For it to have been written by two youngsters is a testament to the mental and emotional maturity of which both guys were capable. And it's hard to believe that 2017 is the twentieth anniversary for "Will Hunting."

    1. Oh, I don't disagree with you on Good Will Hunting. I think it's a damn good movie in a lot of respects, and for it to be a rookie screenplay is pretty astonishing. But Boogie Nights for me is a complete screenplay and story, and one that genuinely surprised me in many ways.

      I like The Apostle a lot. It's again, a great screenplay, but it's also a movie that trades so much on the completely unconscious performance of Robert Duvall. Duvall is almost always one of the best things in any movie he's in, and in The Apostle, he might be better than he is anywhere else in his career.

  2. My choice would be the same as yours even though I didn't enjoy Boogie Nights as a viewing experience. That's not because I thought it was bad nor poorly constructed, it wasn't, it was because those were sad broken people in a self destructive cycle that was more than likely only going to end tragically. But the script pulled you along on their downward spiral in a way that made it hard to look away.

    Very happy to see As Good As It Gets in fifth. I detested that movie.

    I'd never nominate Titanic for Best Original Screenplay. I admired the technical marvels that the film achieved and loved both Kate Winslet and Gloria Stuart but the main love story was hogwash that never would have happened given the class restraints of the day. There were over 2200 people on that tub, Cameron couldn't find a real story to tell?

    1. Given the choice to subtract one film and add one film, I'd drop As Good as It Gets and add The Apostle. It was more surprise that Titanic wasn't nominated than a desire to have it nominated, although I would pick it above As Good as It Gets.

      If you like ship sinking stories, I'd recommend the book Lusitania: Triumph, Tragedy, and the End of the Edwardian Age by Greg King and Penny Wilson. It's a bit repetitive at times, but there are some really interesting stories on that ship.

  3. I'm totally with you on Boogie Nights being the best of the bunch. It really does do everything right. The screenplay for Titanic doesn't do it for me, so no biggie to me that it didn't get a nom. I haven't seen The Apostle yet, but sounds like I should.

    1. You definitely need to find time for The Apostle. It's not a happy movie, and it's odd that someone as antithetical to religion as I am would like it, but Robert Duvall is unreal.

      Like I said above, Titanic not being here is more surprising because of all the other Oscars it was nominated for, less because it was a great screenplay.

  4. Tough call for me, because while I love that Good Will Hunting won in this category (and I'm a fan of the film), time as shown that Boogie Nights is the real star here. Of those not nominated, I would have loved to see James Mangold's script for Cop Land to get some attention.

    1. Cop Land is one I don't know, although I remember hearing good things about it.

      I don't honestly object to Good Will Hunting winning. It's a great nomination, and in the moment I can't say that I wouldn't have voted for it. This blog gets the benefit of years of hindsight.