Melvin and Howard (winner)
Mon Oncle d’Amerique
No decade frustrates me more than the ’80s when it comes to Oscar. Looking at the nominees for Original Screenplay for 1980 makes me wonder once again what the Academy was thinking with its nominations. Of the five we’ve been given, I’d keep one…maybe. Three movies, 9 to 5, Airplane!, and The Changeling may or may not be eligible for this award; all three are based on stories (a teleplay in the case of Airplane!) and I don’t know if those were ever formally published. That said, there’s still enough here for a completely new slate. 1980 was a good year for comedy with The Blues Brothers and Caddyshack released this year. While the token foreign film seems to be taken here, I’d much rather see The Last Metro or Kagemusha in the lineup. This was also the release year for The Big Red One, an underrated war film from Samuel Fuller and Dressed to Kill. I’m actually a little surprised at the lack of love for The Gods Must Be Crazy. My dark horse is My Bodyguard, a film that seemed to slip under just about everyone’s radar, but that is funny and sweet just the same.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. Of our five nominations, Fame is the one that most doesn’t belong here. Fame isn’t a bad movie, but it’s also one that doesn’t come close to reality. Yeah, I’m not a performer, but my kids are, and I have seen first-hand what they go through before and during a show. Fame overdramatizes things, hoping to ramp things up. It goes too far and slips into something well beyond reality. If it had stuck to what kids really go through in and before a show, it would have worked. As it stands, I just don’t buy it.
4. Winner Melvin and Howard is also not a bad film; it’s just not a very interesting film. Our main character isn’t interesting enough to hold my attention for the length of the film, and that’s a problem. It might well be that the film is accurate to the reality, but if that’s the case, this is a screenplay that should have made the history more interesting. Again, I didn’t hate this film, but I don’t see a reason to ever revisit it now that I’ve seen it. That’s a problem when I’m looking at giving someone a statue.
3. Brubaker suffers from a different problem. It tells a classic story—a lone wolf crusader shows up to a place that needs reform and faces an uphill battle against the people in power who benefit from the way the situation has been set up. When this story is done well, it’s uplifting and interesting. When it’s not done well, it falls immediately into melodrama. Brubaker doesn’t hit melodrama, but it’s also the sort of movie that can only end in one of two ways. It doesn’t go anywhere that new or that interesting.
2. When I first looked at this list of nominations, I was the most puzzled about where to put Mon Oncle d’Amerique. It’s such a strange movie in so many ways that it’s hard to make sense of. It’s experimental, bizarre, and hard to explain. And yet, somehow, the whole thing works. I’m not entirely sure why it does. If I made my own list of nominations, this would be a film that I’d consider, but it probably wouldn’t make it. It’s good, but I think 1980 had many better original screenplays to offer.
1. This means that Private Benjamin is the winner based on the nominations. The biggest problem with the film is that 37 years after it was made, it hasn’t aged very well. What may have been laugh-out-loud funny in 1980 is worth a smile or a chuckle today. Viewed within the context of its time, though, it’s a solid and well-made movie. The screenplay certain treads on familiar territory, but it does it very, very well. It also gives us Eileen Brennan’s character, who may be the most impressive creation of the film. Of the nominations, it wins.
What really wins? A lot of what I mentioned in the first paragraph are films with screenplays I like more than the five that we’ve been given as actual nominations. Put a gun to my head and make me pick one, I think I’d go with The Big Red One, a film that probably didn’t get a great deal of love because writer/director Samuel Fuller was typically thought of as a B-movie guy. He may have been, but he deserved some credit for this one.