Friday, March 23, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Original Screenplay 2013

The Contenders:

American Hustle
Blue Jasmine
Dallas Buyers Club
Her (winner)

What’s Missing

It seems staggering to me that Gravity was five years ago, and yet here we are. While there’s not a huge amount of dialog in Gravity, it’s a hell of a good screenplay, and I’m a little surprised it wasn’t nominated. That’s even more the case with All is Lost, where the screenplay presents us with a gripping story with virtually no dialogue at all. Locke is almost all dialogue, most of it very good. The other three I find worth mentioning as original screenplays are ones that almost certainly weren’t on anyone’s radar. Fruitvale Station might well have been a few years too early to get the kind of attention it needed. Short Term 12 wasn’t seen by enough people, sadly. Only Lovers Left Alive is simply the wrong genre, or it was half a decade ago.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I honestly don’t know why American Hustle got as many nominations as it did. Every couple of years, we get one of these movies that gets tons and tons of nominations (it got 10) and no wins. It wasn’t the best choice for any of its nominations, and for original screenplay, I don’t think it even belongs. And it’s sad, because there could be a real story here, and a good one but I found this entirely unmemorable. I’d take every movie I mentioned in the paragraph above ahead of American Hustle for this award, and probably for some of its other ones, too.

4. The strength of Blue Jasmine is the towering performance by Cate Blanchett, who is brilliant at portraying a truly miserably, self-absorbed train wreck of a human being. It’s exceptional to me when someone can create a character who is so awful that brilliantly. But that’s also the entirety of the film—there’s nothing more here than the terrible psychology of a person who is truly awful. This is another case where I like the content of my first paragraph more than this film, and would swap out this for pretty much any of them.

3. Dallas Buyers Club is a better film that I would have expected, and it’s almost certainly a more important film than many of the other films on this list. There’s a lot to like with Dallas Buyers Club, and if I’m making my own list of five nominations, it’s going to be mentioned, if not necessarily added. My problem here is that while it’s a pretty good film and a good story, it comes across to me as not a lot more than just serviceable. It’s good, and I think it could be argued that it deserved at least some of the Oscars it won, but here? I’d say the nomination borders on questionable.

2. Nebraska is at least an interesting story, but it’s another movie that is made far better not by the story it tells or its dialogue but by the performances that move it. If nothing else, this is the film that made everyone realize who June Squibb is. I like Nebraska, probably more than just about everyone I know, and even with that I don’t really love it. The screenplay is good. It’s beautifully written all the way through, mostly because it comes across as real. If I came up with my own list of five nominations, it’s likely to make the list. At the very least, it’s on the short list.

My Choice

1. I always find it a combination of fun and righteous indignation when I say that we can sweep aside the entire list of nominations for five of my own choosing. I can’t do that with Best Original Screenplay for 2013 because the Academy at least nominated Her, and then gave Her the Oscar. It was right in both cases. This is clearly the best, most innovative, and most interesting screenplay of its year, and one that I think we’re going to be feeling the effects of for a long time. It’s one of those rare films that adds something so new to its genre and does it so well that it feels like it’s been there all along. It was the right choice.

Final Analysis


  1. You are right about "Her." It's just a shame so few people in the world actually saw this unique film in a theater (less than 6 million out of how many billions in 2013). As it stands, only "American Hustle" had a semi-decent box office tally (mostly due to its well-known cast), while the rest of this group languished in relative obscurity.

    1. I won't get righteously indignant here because I didn't see it in the theater, either. then again, I rarely see anything in the theater (3 films total in the last 27 months).

      I think it's the template for a modern love story, though. It's also another reminder that "Best Voice Acting" is a category that Oscar needs.

    2. I saw it due to the cast more than anything else, but even when it came out on video, I found it a hard sell for many of my friends and family.

      Same about "Fruitvale Station." I did get one brother to watch on video, but he was a fan of one of the stars from the "Friday Night Lights" TV show. I wonder if any "Black Panther" fans will search it out now.

    3. I still see a lot in theaters as I live by a couple that charge $3 and $4 for showings before 6pm. They aren't cream of the crop movie palaces, but I can't complain for the price.

    4. Who knows? People may become more interested in Short Term 12 based on the success of Get Out. Stranger things have happened.

      I don't have a really cheap theater around me. The closest is one that does movies for $6, but it tends not to get much rated past PG-13, and even those are pretty rare. Years ago, we had a second-run theater that showed films for $3, and it was just outside of walking distance from my house.

      Mismanagement killed it, sadly.

  2. For once, I've seen all of the contestants – plus »Gravity«. I am pretty undecided, though. »Her« is very interesting, no doubt about that, but is it really that good a script? A little predictable, I'd say, and the ending feels like something of a cop-out.

    On the other hand, I don't know if any of the others are more worthy winners. Maybe »Nebraska«.

    1. I like Nebraska well enough. Her might be predictable, but I don't take issue with it in the sense that it earns the ending it gets. I find it satisfying.

  3. I'm okay with the win for Her. It is the most innovative of all the noms. Besides, I find Dallas Buyers Club very overrated. Great point about most of these being what they are thanks to the performances. Glad to see you give some love to Gravity and Fruitvale Station. Those were two of my favorite films of that year.

    1. Fruitvale Station would make my list of nominations, and Short Term 12 likely would as well. I'd strongly consider Gravity.

      Her is still my winner, though.