Friday, May 4, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong: Best Original Screenplay 2011

The Contenders:

The Artist
Margin Call
Midnight in Paris (winner)
A Separation

What’s Missing

2011 is one of those years where it feels like no matter where you look, great movies abound. What this means is that no matter what movies have been nominated for Best Original Screenplay, there are going to be some that have been left out. That’s just the nature of the beast. I’ll start here with two films, Jiro Dreams of Sushi and Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters that, by virtue of being documentaries, would never be nominated for a screenplay Oscar. I’ll also bring up both Win Win and The Intouchables as potential nominations that I include on reputation; I’ve seen neither of them. In the “wrong genre for Oscar” category we have The Raid: Redemption, Attack the Block, and probably Hanna, all three of which would contend for my personal list of nominations. Both The Tree of Life and A Better Life (the one with Demian Bichir—there were two films with this name released in 2011) would not make my list, but are the sort of film that Oscar loves to nominate. I’d be more prone to bring in Shame and Martha Marcy May Marlene, both of which tackle ugly and difficult subjects well.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. Bridesmaids felt to me like one of those “flavor of the month” films that gets insanely popular for a short period of time and then no one cares about it later. I know that a lot of people found it screamingly funny, but I didn’t. I thought more than anything it was mean-spirited, something I also thought about The Hangover, the movie to which Bridesmaids was most commonly compared. Angry comedy that isn’t that funny isn’t worthy of a nomination in my world, infused with grrl power or not. I’ve never had the desire to see this again.

4. The Artist also felt like a “flavor of the month” film. It’s pretty and well made, beautiful in places and daring in its way to essentially be a modern silent. And? A good six years after this won a bunch of Oscars, is anyone still watching it? Does anyone care about this movie anymore? The Artist being nominated here and winning other Oscars is further evidence that the best way to hand out these awards is to wait about five years. Had these Oscars been voted on in 2016, there’s no way this gets nominated for much of anything.

3. Margin Call is a very good movie, the sort of movie that typically does get nominated for this sort of Oscar because of the story it tells. It’s a set piece of financial back-door dealings and just-this-side-of-the-law manipulation that feels like legalized criminality to those of us watching. It’s terrifying in its way because it does represent things that happen in the real world. It’s a true horror movie in the sense that we are seeing people acting in utterly sociopathic ways that affect us in the real world and suffering no consequences for it. It just so happens I like two other screenplays from this year more.

My Choices

2. In a lot of years Midnight in Paris would be my winner as well. Woody Allen’s career may be effectively over or close to over in this era of necessary and needful consequence for sexual impropriety, and that’s something that, no matter what, is going to rightfully stain his legacy. Be that as it may, the man could write a damn good screenplay. When he allowed himself to do more than just have the story be about his own libido, he was capable of crafting stories as meaningful as anything in film history. Midnight in Paris is one of those, and in a lot of years, I’d agree with the Academy putting it on top.

1. There are few movies that affect me the way A Separation did. This is a brutal portrayal of the effects of divorce and of lies and half-truths. That it spins deeper and deeper into this awful pain makes A Separation a terribly hard film to watch. That it does so while remaining entirely real and human is a credit to the skill with which the story is told. That it does this while being based in a culture that, on the surface, is so alien to an American audience and still resonates so deeply is nothing short of miraculous. It’s not a film I want to watch again, but it is one that I am so pleased to have seen. It’s my winner.

Final Analysis


  1. You're so right about this being a phenomenal year for movies. You're also right about The Artist and Bridesmaids. I really like The Artist, but it does not have the best screenplay. Bridesmaids was pretty good, not Oscar-worthy comedy good. I'd swap out both for Shame and Martha Marcy May Marlene in a heartbeat.

    Margin Call definitely felt like the type of movie the Academy gravitates towards. I've no problem with that because it's really good. I liked Midnight in Paris, but like with Bridesmaids, I didn't find it Oscar-level good. The only one of the noms that really blew me away was your number one. A Separation works ridiculously well and it's mostly because of the writing.

    Of your other "snubs," I really like Win Win. Attack the Block, and Hanna. I love The Raid: Redemption, but not at all for it's screenplay. Hell, I'm not sure there was one. And that's a compliment. I also loved Jiro Dreams of Sushi, but are docs eligible for screenplay awards?

    Anyhoo, Hated The Tree of Life and haven't seen A Better Life.

    Others that I think qualify and would certainly consider:


    1. Of your other suggestions, I've only seen Buitiful, and it got its nominations the previous year. Tyrannosaur is one that I've been meaning to see.

      What I like about Midnight in Paris is the same thing I like about most of Allen's screenplays that aren't about the contents of his pants. Radio Days is sweet and lovely, and Midnight in Paris has some of those same qualities. There's a wonderful moment of realization when you learn that everyone seems to romanticize the past the way we do that, while it's hardly an earth-shattering revelation, feels like wisdom, at least in the moment.

      But A Separation is raw and brutal and completely real. I don't hate that Midnight in Paris won, because I do like it, but A Separation is nearly perfect in the screenplay department, and then flawlessly acted on top of that. It was, in fact, my unnominated choice for Best Picture for this year.

  2. I couldn't agree more. I think A Separation has one of the best screenplays of any year, actually. So constantly surprising.

    1. I agree. If you told someone all of the details at the start it would feel like complete fiction, but we build to this terrible story so slowly and naturally and organically that it feels like reality.