Monday, September 3, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 2008

The Contenders:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire (winner)

What’s Missing

It’s a nice collection of movies for Best Adapted Screenplay for 2008, but as generally tends to be the case, I’ve got a few suggestions. Because the stories themselves appear to not come from a specific source but the characters do, I’m not sure of the status of films like Iron Man and The Dark Knight, both of which could be considered if eligible for this award. Since the Academy still isn’t always that keen on nominating non-English language films in screenplay categories, films like Gomorrah and Let the Right One In were much less likely. Animated films are rare in these catagories, too, which probably leaves out Sita Sings the Blues. So I guess we got the five movies that made the most sense.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. What can I honestly say about The Reader? Is it a good movie? It might be, but it also seems to be a movie that wants very much to generate some level of sympathy for a Nazi or a Nazi sympathizer (which is just a longer way of saying Nazi). Because of that, there’s a part of me that objects to it on its face, the sort of film that I don’t really want to see as successful because of what it is trying to do. It’s a story that I find gets really ugly along its running time, and not in a good or interesting way, just in a really ugly way.

4. I have no idea how accurate the translation of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to film is, and I kind of don’t care. This is a film that essentially has a premise that is interesting, or potentially interesting, and that’s about it. That interesting premise didn’t need to be stretched out for nearly three hours when it absolutely can’t sustain the story for that length. That’s a problem when it comes to a screenplay. Cut this down to roughly two hours and we can have another conversation, but as it stands, it’s not enough story in the story. It’s a narrative hook and that’s all.

3. Winner Slumdog Millionaire was sort of the feel-good movie for 2008 in a lot of respects, and that being the case, I’m not really shocked at its win. It’s not a bad film, but it’s one that very much wants to dive head first into a classic Hollywood ending. So much of the movie is just an explanation of how someone knows something, and while it’s interesting, it’s also not interesting enough (for me) to win this Oscar. Look, I like this movie probably more than a lot of people, but the story is something that feels like it could have been written (in substance) 60 years ago.

2. A good movie tells a good story that answers our questions. A very good or great movie asks a lot of questions and doesn’t answer many or most of them. Doubt is this sort of movie. Based on the real-world actions of dozens (hundreds? Thousands?) of Catholic priests, we are absolutely geared to thinking about things in a particular way. But are we right? Is there something else at work here? Doubt is smart enough to not provide the answer for us, but just leave us with more questions.

My Choice

1. While I think it’s possible that Frost/Nixon might be seen as more relevant now than it was in 2008, this would have been my pick last year, the year before, and 10 years ago as well. It’s a hell of a good movie that investigates one of the strangest interviews in the history of television. Sure, it’s beautifully cast and has a couple of knock-out performances, but those performances come from a dynamite screenplay that gave us what feels like a real story about a real situation. This is my pick without a second thought.

Final Analysis


  1. Yay we agree! Actually we concur on most of these five and their faults. I thought The Reader was a mess with a very negative message and Benjamin Button would have been SO much better with a much shorter running time. I struggled through Slumdog and at its conclusion was mystified how it received any accolades let alone the top prize or this one. I'm not as fond of Doubt as you seem to be however it is not a bad film but I haven't given it a thought since I saw it and really have no interest in revisiting it.

    At first I thought Frost/Nixon made such an impact on me because I'm fascinated by the entire Watergate story and all its surrounding tales having lived through it. But when I watched it a second time I realized that beside that factor it's really a superior film in pretty much every aspect. It should have taken this in a walk. It's the only one of these five that I've rewatched (many times) or ever will.

    1. I think it's likely that I do like Doubt more than you do, but these days I seem to be attuned to religious issues in a lot of respects. It would make a fascinating companion piece to something like Spotlight, especially because of how it ends and how little we end up knowing.

      That said, Frost/Nixon gets much of its power from its performances (Langella is tremendous in it), but those performances are energized by a script that could have won in a lot of years.