Friday, September 15, 2017

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Original Screenplay 2012

The Contenders:

Django Unchained (winner)
Moonrise Kingdom
Zero Dark Thirty

What’s Missing

Looking at the nominations for Best Original Screenplay 2012, I find it difficult to genuinely find places for improvement. A lot of the movies I like from 2012 are adapted screenplays, and the other original screenplays I like are movies like The Raid: Redemption, which aren’t going to get a great deal of Oscar love. The same can be said of Seven Psychopaths and Looper. Sadly, The Cabin in the Woods falls into that group as well despite it being a truly inventive film and essentially rewriting an entire genre in an effective and clever way. There’s slim precedent for animated films being nominated in this category, but both ParaNorman and Wreck-It Ralph certainly seem like they could be here. In terms of what Oscar looks for, The Master seems like the biggest miss.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I think Zero Dark Thirty is a pretty good movie, but it’s also one that I think is plagued with problems. The main problem I have with it is that it rewrites history in significant ways. There’s always going to be some rewriting of history in any film, but it’s a significant problem with Zero Dark Thirty. Specifically, and I know there is some disagreement on this, I think the film’s narrative offers rationale and support for using torture. Movies have a way of usurping history and reality for us, and I think that’s a dangerous position to take. Yes, it’s been argued that the movie does the opposite, but if that’s true, it’s too subtle to be effective for the sort of person who thinks torture is a legitimate option.

4. I’ve never been shy about the fact that I like Quentin Tarantino a lot less than just about everybody else that I know. That being the case, my putting Django Unchained in fourth place probably isn’t too surprising. That’s not why it’s here, though, at least not specifically. The reason is that I think Django Unchained is only two-thirds of a movie. I genuinely liked the first two acts of the film, and then we get to the third act, which seems to be nothing more than Tarantino making his typical bonanza of violence, this time in a western setting. I felt let down by the last half hour or so, especially after how much I enjoyed the first parts.

3. Flight is a film that is in some ways hard for me to judge. There’s a lot to like here, starting with the performances of Denzel Washington and John Goodman. The screenplay is an interesting one, and both it and Washington manage to create sympathy for a man who in a lot of ways doesn’t seem to deserve a great deal of sympathy. Ultimately, I like the movie and I like the story, but I don’t like it as much as the two nominations I haven’t mentioned yet. I like the nomination and I’m glad it’s here; it just doesn’t win.

2. Amour was my choice for Best Picture for 2012 and Emmanuelle Riva was my choice for Best Actress, but the screenplay is not my choice, despite how good I think it is. There’s a lot to like with Amour, even if “like” is probably the wrong word for a film that covers this topic and was directed by Michael Haneke. What I like about the film is that it feels real in so many ways. This is a terrible, tragic story and hard to watch, but at no time while watching it did I feel like there was anything false or overly dramatic. It’s brilliantly written, and in a lot of other years, I’d probably pick it.

My Choice

1. There are a few changes I would make to this list of nominations given the chance. While I’d love to have movies like The Cabin in the Woods be legitimate contenders for this category, it wouldn’t change the fact that Moonrise Kingdom would be my choice for Best Original Screenplay. Yes, it’s quirky (which I expect from Wes Anderson), and perhaps it’s a little too sweet for some people, but I think it’s a wonderful film and a beautiful story. It’s sweet, but it’s sweet in exactly the right way. It never gets cloying, but instead runs a close line between reality and almost magical realism. I like the characters and I feel like I understand a lot about them and like them because of what I know. It’s my winner.

Final Analysis


  1. I wholehearted agree with your #1 pick, "Moonrise Kingdom," but not with "The Cabin in the Woods" deserving to be in the discussion at all.

    I don't know if you are really into TV, but I posted the following concerning "The Cabin in the Woods" poor film extension (extended television re-telling episode) of Joss Whedon's Buffyverse on Kevin's blog: ""Cabin in the Woods" is 95% a second-rate episode/amalgamation of the Whedon's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel" of which Goddard wrote several of the better episodes. It's amazing no lawsuits were filed, but all this actually takes place in Whedon's Buffyverse between seasons five and six. "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" introduced "the Initiative" in season 4, so you really need to start watching from there to get the whole backstory and even from the beginning of the "Buffy/Angel" series to see where many of the evil players in "Cabin" first entered the "Buffy/Angel" universe. And as Whedon likes staying in-house, so besides a writer, he also used a couple of "Buffy/Angel" actors in "Cabin." It's just too bad he didn't use all his "Buffy/Angel" actors instead of just Amy and Tom, but then it would have been 100% a sub-par "Buffy" episode."

    If you've never seen a "Buffy" or "Angel" episode, search google for Joss Whedon's favorite "Buffy" episodes and start there and watch a couple. If you then decide to watch "Buffy" (from at least season 4 through season 6), you'll see "Cabin" is just a more condensed rehash of the best from the "Buffyverse" from seasons 4 through 6 but nowhere near as in-depth or as well done.

    1. Honestly, I can't speak to Wheedon writing this incestuously for The Cabin in the Woods. I've never seen a single episode of Buffy or Angel, so I have only the film to go on. With only the film, there's quite a bit to like, and from that perspective, it's a very interesting and creative film.

      Aside from The Great British Baking Show and Game of Thrones, I don't watch much television. I've literally never seen an episode of Friends or Seinfeld, for instance, and have seen maybe two episodes of The Simpsons. Television doesn't interest me much. A movie, at least to me, is an affair. You're in and out. Television shows are a relationship, and I just don't have time for it. It's part of the reason I gave up on caring about sports, too.

    2. Since you really enjoyed "Cabin," you might want to give Whedon's short film, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, a watch. I don't want to spoil this gem for you, but I loved that many of Whedon's "Buffy" and "Angel" writers had cameos, including Drew Goddard. And if you enjoy "Dr. Horrible" as you did "Cabin," I definitely recommend you give their precursor, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," a shot. It's just as you describe "Cabin," being a truly inventive film and essentially rewriting an entire genre in an effective and clever way," only more so as my 16 year-old niece is finding out as I slowly re-watch the series with her. She's so enthralled with the strong, female-led show, that she's trying to rack my brain for other great series and films that she's missed out on in her short life. I guess "Veronica Mars" is next in our queue with a few Barbara Stanwyck films thrown in for good measure.

    3. I love Dr. Horrible. In fact, my entire family loves it, and I'd love to be able to sit down with it right now, except that my older daughter stole it when she moved out.

      I've been told that Buffy is worth my time, and I think it's likely that I'll get there eventually. Right now, my time for television is pretty limited, although the two shows that I watch religiously (Game of Thrones and The Great British Baking Show) are both done for the year, so...

  2. I typically hate Wes Anderson, but I did kinda like Moonrise Kingdom (and I loved Grand Budapest Hotel). So I can see this placement. Of the 5, the only one I haven't seen is Amour, so I can understand most of your placements here. Though I almost certainly liked Django more than you and might have ranked that mildly higher. And Flight didn't leave a long-lasting impression on me (though I did like it), so I might have rated that one lower. But despite that, I can't argue with you either.

    My issue comes with all those other movies you listed. If all of that was in the running... I feel the list that should have been nominations with their desired rankings, it would probably be (for me):

    5) The Master
    4) ParaNorman
    3) Moonrise Kingdom
    2) Seven Psychopaths
    1) Cabin in the Woods
    *Amour might deserve to be on this list, but as I haven't seen it, I couldn't tell ya.

    1. I'm not going to quibble about flipping a couple of rankings. With a better third act, I wouldn't have a problem with Django Unchained moving up, and for me at least, the main elements of Flight that stuck with me were Denzel Washington and John Goodman, no the screenplay.

      In my own list of five films, only Amour and Moonrise Kingdom would make the final five. My final five would probably look a lot like yours rearranged, although I might take Wreck-It Ralph over either The Master or ParaNorman if only because that movie is really nostalgic for me.

  3. Haven't seen »Flight«, »Zero Dark Thirty« feels quite heavy, and »Django« is certainly a competent piece of entertainment – but is it because of the screenplay? I would definitely place it below both »Moonrise Kingdom« and »Amour«. Not really sure which one that would be my final pick, though.

    Strangely enough, I don't remember much of »Wreck-it Ralph« aside from the visuals.

    1. Wreck-It Ralph, since it concerns itself with classic video games, is something dear to my heart. I worked in the industry when a lot of the parodied/featured games were new, so it felt very much like a film made for me.

      Flight is good, but mainly for its performances.