Friday, November 17, 2017

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Original Screenplay 1984

The Contenders:

Beverly Hills Cop
Broadway Danny Rose
El Norte
Places in the Heart (winner)

What’s Missing

There are going to be a lot of movies for me to go through for 1984. This is pretty much a formative year for me—the first half of ’84 is the end of my junior year in high school and the second half is the start of my senior year. So yeah, there’s going to be a lot to get through, the bulk of which are going to be the sorts of movies that don’t get nominated. That said, since both Splash and Beverly Hills Cop are on the list, we might have a little more freedom. I love Night of the Comet, but even in a more flexible year, it’s not getting a nomination. Stop Making Sense didn’t really have a screenplay, which probably makes it ineligible. From what I understand, a great deal of This is Spinal Tap was ad libbed, which probably makes it ineligible as well. What else would never get nominated? The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension and Repo Man for starters. Probably Gremlins as well. Both The Terminator and A Nightmare on Elm Street are pretty great in the screenplay area, even if they’re not typically the sort of films that get nominations in this category. The same is true of Starman, although Jeff Bridges might beg to differ. The three I think really belong here are Stranger than Paradise, but Jarmusch never gets Oscar love; Blood Simple, but the Coens were brand new to the business; and Ghostbusters. I honestly have no good reason for Ghostbusters not to be nominated.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. Broadway Danny Rose isn’t a bad film, but I didn’t find it to be a memorable one. I remember enjoying it while I watched it and I’m sure I gave it a positive review overall. In fact, I gave it a more positive review than several of the other films here on the list. It’s the fact that the film seems to have made no real impact on me that bothers me more than anything, and is the reason I’m putting it in fifth. I’d rather see Ghostbusters here, and I’d rather see Blood Simple, with all its flaws, since it is a film that continues to resonate.

4. With Splash, I think it might simply be that it’s just too odd for me to ultimately take that seriously. Don’t get me wrong--Splash is a lot of fun and it helps to solidify my hypothesis that Daryl Hannah is at her best when she’s playing something close to but not quite human. I’m putting it here mostly because I like the other screenplays better, and because it’s again a film where I look at that first paragraph and see plenty of movies I’d much rather see on the list of nominations.

3. Places in the Heart is one of the two “serious” movies that was nominated for this award, and it’s not a huge surprise that it won, at least in part, because of it. It is a very good movie all the way through, and one that I liked a hell of a lot more than I expected to. It is a bit too predictable. Both the ultimate conclusion and the sorts of racism and suppression that our characters are going to face on the way there are pretty par for the course. We’re going to get that triumph at the end, and we fully expect that we will. That it follows a standard pattern is what keeps it off the top for me.

2. I watched El Norte in the first month of this blog running reviews, and it has stuck with me the whole time. It is the definition of a wrist-slitter, the sort of movie where nothing good happens to anyone ever. It is also a powerful and brilliant film, and while it was actually released in 1983, I love the fact that it earned a nomination eventually. If we’re going to stick with serious movies only for this award, it’s my choice. We don’t have to, though, and it’s not the movie that I think got everything right.

1. Putting Beverly Hills Cop on the top of this list might seem like a strange choice. The truth, though, is that it works all the way through. Yes, we know that Detective Axel Foley isn’t going to die at the end of the movie. We know that the bad guys are going to lose and the good guys are going to get away with everything. It doesn’t matter. It’s consistently funny and still manages to be a pretty good action movie at the same time. It’s also a reminder that once upon a time, Eddie Murphy was a force to be reckoned with and that he was incredibly easy to root for when he was on camera. It’s my choice for these five films and I love the nomination, but it’s not my winner.

My Choice

Bluntly, I think the two best original screenplays for 1984 are, in some order, Ghostbusters and This is Spinal Tap. I’ve seen both of them probably a dozen times and both of them are still ridiculously funny. As I said at the top, I’m not 100% sure that Spinal Tap would even be eligible, but I think it would be. It would be my choice, because it is the template for parody documentaries, spoofing its topic with love, great humor, and pure genius. Honestly, though, Ghostbusters would be just as good a choice. I could live with either, and both of them should be here.

Final Analysis


  1. "Both The Terminator and A Nightmare on Elm Street are pretty great in the screenplay area, even if they’re not typically the sort of films that get nominations in this category."

    I'd say that that goes equally for "Splash" and "Beverly Hills Cop." I agree with your reasons for placing "Cop" so high on your list, but I'm not convinced the Academy, when sober, would normally even nominate such a movie for an Oscar. "A Fish Called Wanda" notwithstanding, comedies generally don't get that much respect from the Academy.

    1. They do get a little credit now and then (The Producers won, after all). It's true that we're amassed in comedies here, since Broadway Danny Rose is a comedy as well.

      The truth is that there really weren't a lot of great straight-up dramas in 1984 that were based on original screenplays. I think they had nowhere else to go. That being the case, leaving out two of the best and most memorable comedies of the decade let alone the year seems pretty unfortunate.

  2. I love Broadway Danny Rose. It's probably my favorite Allen film made after Annie Hall. I find it nonstop hilarious.

    And it's just as funny and clever every time I see it. And one of Mia Farrow's best performances.

    I know Ghostbusters and Beverly Hills Cop are crowd favorites (and I like them both a lot) but for me, Broadway Danny Rose is just about a perfect comedy.

    The only film mentioned that would compete in this category is This Is Spinal Tap.

    I say this as a big Woody Allen fan. I've seen every one of his feature films. I even watched a Crisis in Six Scenes a few weeks ago. It's worth it for Miley Cyrus and Elaine May and a cameo by Lewis Black.

    1. Like I said above, I remember liking Broadway Danny Rose, but beyond that, I don't remember a great deal about it. That's generally not a good sign for a screenplay.

    2. I don't think that's a good universal rule for judging a screenplay. You watch a lot of movies. You might have been a little tired when you watched it. You would probably love it if you saw it again.

    3. Not all of the jokes work, honestly. There are moments where it seems like Allen was trying to channel his zanier Bananas/Sleeper/Love and Death past, and it doesn't quite work.

      Also, since I evidently watched Mighty Aphrodite on the same day, I probably wasn't that tired.

  3. 1984, like 1982, was a pretty great year for film.

    I agree with your conclusions.

    1. It was a good year. Of course, since it was a formative year for me, I'm going to be really biased.