Friday, January 19, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Original Screenplay 2003

The Contenders:

The Barbarian Invasions
Dirty Pretty Things
Finding Nemo
In America
Lost in Translation (winner)

What’s Missing

I have to say that on the surface, the collection of nominations for Best Original Screenplay for 2003 are pretty solid. While there are some other quality original screenplays from the year, the five that we have are pretty damn solid. Three foreign films would seem to belong here, although the “not in English” nomination seems to have been taken up by The Barbarian Invasions. These three start with Osama and continue on to wildly inventive and entertaining Goodbye, Lenin!, and end on the epic and rather astonishing The Best of Youth. All three of these films could be argued as belonging here, but there’s really only one movie I’d like to put on the list, and that’s the beautiful and moving The Station Agent. This is one of those rare movies that everyone seems to like; not a single person I know who has seen it doesn’t love it, and that in and of itself is a good reason for it to be here.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. As said above, this is a solid year and a good list of nominations. It’s hard to go wrong with a lot of these films, but In America is the one that I think has real issues in terms of the story itself. The third act has real problems. It doesn’t earn the ending we get, and everything seems to happen all at once and come together to put a perfect little bow on all of the different stories and different threads. I can overlook that if we’re talking about an acting performance, but not when we’re talking about the screenplay itself. This is the one I’d dump for The Station Agent.

4. Here is where I have to make this post’s disclaimer: anyone looking at this award and this year who puts these four films in a different order has my complete blessing and will get no argument from me. This is the most difficult of these that I have done in some time, because I think I can make an argument for each one of them. Dirty Pretty Things is being put in fourth for perhaps the most unfair reason of all; of the four remaining screenplays, this is the one that is the least fun, the least purely entertaining even if it is perhaps the most important on a grander scale. I could genuinely see it winning, but I like the others more.

3. I didn’t love Finding Nemo when I first saw it. When I watched it for the review, my kids were older and the older of my daughters was starting college full-time and talking about moving out of the house. Let me tell you, the film really resonated with me in those circumstances, and my respect for it went up a hell of a lot. It seems strange to say that I really sympathize with a cartoon clownfish, but I fully understand what the film is about now, and with that same child now done with college and preparing to potentially move across the country…yeah, it resonates a hell of a lot.

2. I really liked The Barbarian Invasions, which came as a shock to me. It’s a sequel, and I genuinely disliked the first film, a fact that prevented me from watching this one for a couple of months. The Barbarian Invasions gets everything right, though. What it especially gets right is the ending, giving us something truly emotional and beautiful and (more importantly) something that the film has earned. We get to this wonderful emotional moment honestly, and that requires good writing all the way through.

1. Based on the five nominations, I’m happy with Lost in Translation winning, even if it is kind of the trendy pick, or at least the popular one. It’s a very smart movie, and one that does something very difficult. Lost in Translation accurately creates the emotions involved in feeling totally displaced, of being alive somewhere that you genuinely don’t belong. There is beauty and sadness here, and beauty that comes from that detachment, sadness, and loneliness. I approve of this choice, and I’m tempted to give this the win…but I can’t quite.

My Choice

I can't quite go with Lost in Translation because I think The Station Agent is one of the closest to perfect screenplays I’ve come across. It doesn’t hurt that having Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson, and Bobby Cannavale as the main cast is a near-perfect cast. The genius of the film is that it is about the Peter Dinklage character without being about his dwarfism. That’s not close to the defining element of his character. Roger Ebert once said that Danny DeVito doesn’t play short guys; he plays guys who are short. Same thing here with Dinklage. That this also contains the same sort of detachment and loneliness as Lost in Translation, and that it avoids a gratuitous romance plot when it could so easily go there just adds to my respect for it. It absolutely should have been nominated, and while Lost in Translation is a fine winner, I’m going with The Station Agent specifically because it’s lack of a nomination really pisses me off.

Final Analysis


  1. I'm totally with you on The Station Agent.

    1. I don't know a single person who has seen it who doesn't absolutely love it. That's rare.

  2. I've only seen Finding Nemo and Barbarian Invasions. Finding Nemo is an amazing film with a brilliant screenplay so I'm good with that nom. On the other hand, I absolutely hate Barbarian Invasions. I found it to be totally boring and didn't get any of those things you got from the writing. The main character was unlikable even though the movie needs him to be the opposite and every decision made by the son was the worst possible one he could have. I haven't seen Osama, Goodbye, Lenin! or The Best of Youth but I'm sure any of them would've been a better choice for the "not in English" spot.

    I guess all that means is Finding Nemo is my winner of these choices. Of other movies, Monster came out in '03 and I really like that screenplay, just not sure it qualifies as "original."

    And yes, I still need to see Lost in Translation.

    1. I really like Lost in Translation a lot in no small part because it's a movie that often fits my mood. The Station Agent is so worth your time as well.

      Monster was off my radar here because I haven't yet seen it (soon...soon). While it was clearly based on a real life, it's evidently not based on a specific work, so it's considered an original screenplay.

      It's facts like this that mean eventually I'll have to do a massive round-up of these posts.

  3. Again... I'm with you on Station Agent. Dinklage FTW.

    1. Dinklage, yes--and also Patricia Clarkson, who I always love.