Secrets & Lies
1996 is a fine year for movies and a really good year for horror. That’s evident when you look at the movies that weren’t nominated for Best Original Screenplay from this year. The horror titles that came out this year include The Craft, The Frighteners, and most especially Scream, which honestly should have transcended the genre for a nomination here. Breaking the Waves is a highly unpleasant movie and I wouldn’t nominate the screenplay, but I can see how some people might. That Thing You Do! was probably too flighty, but it’s a sweet movie and very entertaining. I can say exactly the same thing about Tin Cup. If I really sit down and think about it, the one that probably should be here (aside from Scream, which really is brilliant) is The People vs. Larry Flynt. Both of those are better than at least two of the nominees.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. I didn’t like Shine at all. Oh sure, it’s a fine performance from Geoffrey Rush and I tend to like Geoffrey Rush anyway. But I didn’t care about the story at all and I didn’t care about the issues of David Helfgott. This is a film that seemed genetically designed for award shows, and it works specifically because of the performances. The story, while it’s based on a real story of a real man with real mental issues, plays like a movie of the week about a specific set of mental illnesses. Mental illnesses certainly need more awareness surrounding them, but Shine isn’t the way to do it.
4. Jerry Maguire has its charms, but this is another screenplay I would remove for either Scream or The People vs. Larry Flynt. It’s a fine story if a little formulaic. I mean, the first time you saw this, were there really any shocks here? There weren’t for me. So, while the film is a fine example of its genre, the story is simple a very well-written version of a story that has been around for ages. Nice performances and some clever lines don’t make this worthy of a nomination. There were better options out there.
3. It took me weeks to finally put Lone Star in the spinner, and I wondered why 20 minutes in. I really enjoyed this movie in almost every aspect of it—in fact it was the packaging that bothered me more than anything else. But the issue here is the same as I have with many a nominee. It’s the performances I like more than the screenplay. Oh, the screenplay is a peach, handling a number of different stories coherently at the same time. But it’s all about Chris Cooper and the wonderful Elizabeth Pena for me, not the story.
2. I could say something very similar about Secrets & Lies. Absolutely the best part of this film is the performances, especially those of Brenda Blethyn, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, and Timothy Spall. But I really do like this screenplay for a number of reasons. The primary reason is that it achieves the ending it wants to honestly. It could have given itself a happier, feel-good ending and it doesn’t, settling instead for one that is both satisfying and real. I love that it was nominated and I wish that more people knew about it.
1. I have long been something of an apologist for the Coen Brothers (although I don’t blindly love all of their films). That being the case, it’s not a shock that I’m going to give this to Fargo, which remains one of their best films. Fargo is perhaps the most Coen-y of all of their screenplays, managing to perfectly blend the humor of the characters and life with the terrible crimes and tragedy that happen over the course of the film. The characters are memorable and beautifully rendered and real. I could argue this as the best original screenplay of its decade successfully, I think. Of course it should have won, and of course it did.
I love your assessments here. Fargo is a worthy winner as it really is a wonderfully written film. The People vs. Larry Flynt is more than deserving of a nom. So, too, is Scream which, if I'm being honest, would be my winner. The way it simultaneously constructs and deconstructs horror is nothing short of genius.ReplyDelete
Scream would come in second for me, not terribly behind Fargo, but I stand by the comment that Fargo may be the best original screenplay of its decade.Delete
Scream wins I think every other year in the '90s for me, and that includes beating Pulp Fiction and Good Will Hunting.
The Coen-esque humor is unique for sure. I prefer Secrets & Lies over Fargo, I find it easier to relate to since I grew up in the UK. I guess both films have the goal of showing a slice of life, just very different ways of doing so.ReplyDelete
Perhaps not top 5 of the year, Wes Anderson's Bottle Rocket (1996) screenplay had a quirkiness that's fun and original. Happy Gilmore (1996) and From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) may not be of much substance yet both are quotable original screenplays.
Secrets & Lies is really good, and gains a lot of credibility in my opinion because of how real it stays with the ending.Delete
But I freely admit that I'm a Coen apologist, and that's going to have some consequences when it comes to their great films--and Fargo is pretty great.
Fargo is the clear winner here, especially from these nominees. (I hated Jerry Maguire so much. I don't walk out of the movies. But during Jerry Maguire, I would roll my eyes until they hurt and then stand in the lobby for a few minutes before going back. I think I did this two or three times.)ReplyDelete
But a quick look at my IMDB Favorite Movies Year-by-Year list shows a tie between Fargo and ... Mars Attacks!
Not your usual Oscar fare but heck yeah! That is a great screenplay!
I watch Mars Attacks! from time to time but I haven't seen Fargo for a while, so I would hesitate to say which screenplay is better.
I should add that I saw Secrets and Lies fairly recently and I wouldn't have a bit of a problem if it had won.Delete
And Lone Star and Shine are both quite a bit better than pretty good.
My guess is, though, that Mars Attacks would be considered an adapted screenplay, and would thus be ineligible as an original. Gotta stick to category, after all.Delete
If you get the chance, Google "Patton Oswalt Jerry Maguire." Seriously.
Oh you're right about the category. The best movie ever adapted from bubble gum cards!Delete
That Patton Oswalt bit is extra funny because I remember the Galaxy theater. It was ... weird, and understandably short-lived. But not the worst place to see a movie. Not even the worst place to see movie on Hollywood Boulevard.Delete
I highly recommend his book Silver Screen Fiend. Especially the story about sitting near Lawrence Tierney at a revival house while Citizen Kane was showing.
That is one I need to pick up one of these days.Delete
That story of his never fails to kill me, though.
I did like Secrets & Lies much more than most Mike Leigh films, which I usually find depressing slogs to work my way through. Even Vera Drake, while a good film with the brilliance of Imelda Staunton's performance to pull me along was something I was glad to see end.ReplyDelete
Despite S&L's strong screenplay however I won't make any other choice than Fargo which is just so unique in its ability to leverage it's twisted sensibilities between laugh out loud absurdity and the bleak darkness of the soul. It certainly helps to have that cast all on their A game enacting the script but without that base it won't be anywhere near what it is.
I think that's a pretty good assessment of Mike Leigh's work. I've got a couple more to go on the Oscars list. Vera Drake wasn't an easy watch, but I think it's a very good movie. Topsy-Turvy...a lot less so, and despite the performance from David Thewlis, I absolutely hated Naked.Delete
I despised Topsy-Turvy. My memory of it is hazy now but I'm pretty sure I fell asleep in the theatre while I was watching it.Delete
I would have loved to have fallen asleep during it. That movie never goddam ended.Delete
I'd have to give it to "Scream," because while I enjoyed "Fargo," I didn't like the wood chipper scene as I have a fond memory of the deadly wood chipper from 1981's "Dark Night of the Scarecrow" which starred an evil Charles Durning. While the movies aren't very similar, the use of a wood chipper is, so I don't know how "original" an original screenplay has to be to be considered original.ReplyDelete
I'm not sure I agree entirely with the point. There's a woodchipper sequence in Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, for instance, and that doesn't immediately put me in mind of Fargo. I don't see the two scenes being that similar between Fargo and Dark Night of the Scarecrow. And even if they were, that leaves little to no room for homage.Delete
That said, Scream certainly wouldn't be a choice I'd complain about.