Friday, July 27, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Original Screenplay 1966

The Contenders:

The Fortune Cookie
A Man and a Woman (winner)
The Naked Prey

What’s Missing

There are some solid nominations for 1966 in the original screenplay category, but there’s a good bit of room for some improvement. It was a great year for non-English screenplays. A Man and a Woman almost certainly took up the lone spot for such a nomination, which leaves out three films that deserve to be here. The first is easily ignored. The Battle of Algiers, while a great film, did eventually get an original screenplay nomination for 1968. The other two are Persona, one of Bergman’s most influential films. The other is the wildly feminist and anti-communist Daisies, which I think is truly brilliant. The other film I’d want to see here was dubbed at least in part. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is a quintessential western, though, and it being ignored is a damn shame.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I know I watched Khartoum and I kind of remember wondering why the film put Laurence Olivier under a ton of makeup rather than getting Omar Sharif for the role. My issue here isn’t that Khartoum is a bad film. It’s that it’s a mis-marketed film. We’re led to believe that it’s going to be a military action film. In reality, it’s a political drama punctuated with moments of military action. Again, not a bad movie, but it hardly has the cache of a film like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly nor does it have the real political sensibility of Daisies.

4. In my opinion, there is only one thing that makes The Fortune Cookie notable: it’s the first time that Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau appeared on screen together. There are moments of grand comedy here and moments of subtle humor that work better for me. My problem is that the story is so mean-spirited that I find it unconscionable. This isn’t a comedy where we’re rooting for anyone. This is a comedy where everyone involved is terrible except for a few victims, and things really aren’t ever made right for the victims. Like I said, mean-spirited.

3. It’s important to remember that the screenplay and the script are different things. Whenever I forget that, I remember that The Naked Prey was nominated for Best Original Screenplay. This is a film that goes long stretches without a word being spoken. In fact, most of the film is wordless, and many of the words we get are not in English and are never translated or subtitled for us. It’s also one of the only films I can think of that made Cornell Wilde palatable. It’s an interesting nomination, but it’s not getting higher than third from me.

My Choices

2. I don’t really know why A Man and a Woman works as well as it does, but it really does. A large part of this comes from the wonderful and real performances of the great Anouk Aimee and Jean-Louis Trintignant, as good here as they ever were. A great deal of the success of this film comes from the screenplay, though, because this could have very easily become maudlin or melodramatic. It never does. It remains simple without being simplistic and pure without being Pablum. I don’t have a problem with the win, but it wouldn’t quite get my vote.

1. My choice for this award and this year is Blow-Up. The reason for this is simple. Most of the time when I say that a screenplay is clever, I mean that as a negative, “clever” and “smart” not being synonymous. The brilliance of Blow-Up is that it’s interesting on a fractal level, meaning the closer you get to it or the further you get from it doesn’t become less interesting. In addition to being clever, it is very smart, and I like that in a film. I like that it builds slowly, but never feels boring. This is where my vote goes.

Final Analysis


  1. I liked A Man and A Woman more than I expected to but it sort of ambled along and usually I'm not much of a fan for that sort of free form filmmaking but the leads kept me engaged. That's a long way to say I didn't think much of its screenplay.

    I didn't care much for Blow-Up either but I really need to rewatch it since its been years and if I remember I was distracted the first time.

    I like Cornel Wilde, though the Oscar nomination for Best Actor is one I'll never understand, but that aside The Naked Prey is a challenging film. One quite frankly that I'm rather amazed the Academy nominated, it doesn't seem like something they'd take note of. Right now without another look at Blow-Up it would be my choice of these five.

    Persona is one of the Bergman's I haven't gotten to yet and I've never seen Daisies but The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is good suggestion however in an open field my vote would go to Roman Polanski's Cul-de-Sac.

    1. As I said with A Man and a Woman, I don't really know why it works for me, but it does for some reason. It does work, though, and I have to credit the screenplay for part of it.

      I would recommend giving Blow-Up another go. It's a slow starter, but once it starts, it goes very quickly. I'm a lot leerier of recommending Daisies because it's the sort of movie you'll either be blown away by or that you'll absolutely hate. I don't think there's a great deal of middle ground.