Monday, January 15, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 1984

The Contenders:

Amadeus (winner)
Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes
The Killing Fields
A Passage to India
A Soldier’s Story

What’s Missing

It’s an interesting collection of nominations this time and I like at least three and probably four of them. There’s some room for improvement, though. Nominating Dune would be ridiculous, of course, but I do love it more than I should—but it’s not one I would honestly nominate. The opposite is true of The Natural. I’m surprised it wasn’t nominated, although I’m fine with it not being on the final list. Under the Volcano was reputed to be unfilmable, and yet it was filmed, and that fact alone makes it worth considering. The little-known Birdy is beautifully adapted, and it’s a movie that more people should know. Given the ability to add only a single film, though, my vote is almost certainly going to Once Upon a Time in America.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. A Passage to India is just about everything I hate about this era of films wrapped up in a single package. It’s bloated, overlong, slow, and brings up real questions of justification of colonialism. It would be easy to watch the film and, squinting, see this as an attack on the colonial mentality. I get that. But our putative hero, Dr. Aziz, is the most wannabee British Indian man since Gunga Din. This is a tiny story placed on a massive backdrop, and it never really seems to work for me that well.

4. There is a lot to like in A Soldier’s Story, the unmistakable gravitas of Howard E. Rollins not being the least of it, but the story is really where I take some issue with the film. It’s not that the story is bad or badly told, but that it feels derivative. When I reviewed this, I said that in terms of story, it was little more than a military In the Heat of the Night. Looking back at it, I think exactly the same thing. That’s disappointing, because there is a strong cast here and some potential for something new and different. We just don’t really get that.

3. Having Greystoke as a nomination is kind of a win in and of itself. There’s not much in the way of “great literature” or adaptation available from the Tarzan books or from Edgar Rice Burroughs in general, and yet, here we are. I love that this was nominated, but I freely admit that a good part of that is because I grew up on Burroughs and pulp fantasy/science fiction. It feels like validation to have an adaptation of his work nominated. But if I’m honest, it really doesn’t belong any higher than third.

My Choices

2. Placing The Killing Fields in second is happening only because I’ve gone on record as saying that any ties on this blog go to the Academy. This is a virtual tie for me, because The Killing Fields is a powerful and devastating film, one that demands to be seen and should never be forgotten. I would honestly be completely satisfied with this award had The Killing Fields ended up on top. I consider this about as close to a dead heat as I have encountered lately. If you haven’t seen this, track it down—it’s more than worth your time.

1. Had another movie won this Oscar, I’d have to think long and hard about putting The Killing Field first or putting Amadeus on top. Since Amadeus won, and since ties go to the Academy here, it made this easier. I spend a lot of time on this blog complaining about how historically inaccurate many movies are. With Amadeus, there’s not even any pretense about accuracy, and I don’t care at all. The story itself is so good that I’m willing to run with it, even at the expense of Salieri’s reputation.

Final Analysis


  1. Of the noms I've only seen A Soldier's Story, a film I love, so that would be my winner of the five. However, my true number 1 in every category for '84 is Once Upon a Time in America. It's one of my all-time favorite movies.

    1. I'd say the top two on my list are required viewing. Greystoke can be ignored and A Passage to India should be ignored.

      I like A Soldier's Story in just about every aspect but the story, which comes across as derivative to me. I like that aspect, but don't love it. Howard E. Rollins is a big part of what makes the film worth seeing, but it's Adolph Caesar's Sergeant Waters who stays with me.