Monday, September 24, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 2009

The Contenders:

District 9
An Education
In the Loop
Precious (winner)
Up in the Air

What’s Missing

When I first sat down to write this up and went through movies from 2009, I had a surprisingly large list of great movies that weren’t nominated, and then I realized that I was writing down original screenplays and not adapted ones. And really, while I don’t love all of the nominations, I don’t have a ton that I think are worthy of being here. The Blind Side got a surprising amount of love. I wouldn’t put it here, but I’m a little surprised that a classic feel-good didn’t get this nomination, too. I feel in much the same way about Crazy Heart. I know some people who would suggest Watchmen, and it is an interesting adaptation, but not one that I love. The only movie I can think of that I’d really want here is 3 Idiots, and even that would get here only because I like it more than some of the actual nominees.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. When I first watched Precious, I thought it had a lot going for it. That’s a feeling that has faded a great deal the more distant I am from having seen it. I think it still has some things in it that I like, but it’s one of those misery parfait movies that just piles on more and more terrible stuff as the film goes on. The truth is that I like the performances a hell of a lot more than I like the screenplay. I guess I’m not surprised that it’s here or that it won, because it’s one of those “Look at how progressive we are” Oscar wins. I get it, but I don’t get it.

4. I get a great deal of grief for not liking An Education, but it’s an opinion that I stand by. The main reason is that it is exactly like every other coming-of-age story for a young woman that I can think of. It’s wrapped up in inappropriate sex. And once we get beyond the inappropriate sex, we’re treated with an ending that gives us essentially zero consequences for the actions through the entire movie. And despite these two glaring problems, lots of people really like this movie and give me crap about finding it questionable.

3. I am a huge science fiction fan, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if people thought that I was pushing for District 9. I do like this movie, but I think that the biggest problem it has is in the screenplay. This is one of those movies that has a very obvious Message!, and that Message! is delivered to the audience with a sledgehammer. Could it have been done in a more subtle way? I don’t know, but it certainly would have been worth a try instead of giving us a message that came equipped with flashing neon.

2. Perhaps no one was more surprised than I at how much I was moved by Up in the Air. It’s not a perfect story by any stretch, but it’s a damn good one. What it does very well is give us characters who are extreme in how they live and act, but are still believable and compelling. They aren’t compelling because of their oddity, but simply odd in certain ways and also compelling. It’s the sort of movie that I don’t typically go for, but I like the way it operates and I like how it treats the characters. I especially like the way that it ends.

My Choice

1. My choice, though, is In the Loop. On the surface, this is an easy, and perhaps an obvious choice. Peter Capaldi’s character is wonderfully foul-mouthed and the writing is smart and incisive. That’s true, and while it would serve as a reason to pick this for Best Adapted Screenplay, that’s just sitting on the surface. Dig deeper, and this turns out to be a much smarter and better movie than that. What makes In the Loop work is not that it’s funny but that it’s funny while being truly terrifying at the same time. You laugh so that you don’t scream.

Final Analysis


  1. I agree on In the Loop having the best screenplay of this field. What an amazing piece of writing that is...assuming it's all written, of course. Lots of Capaldi's stuff feels improvised. I have no idea if it is, or isn't. And it doesn't change how good it is.

    I'd personally have An Education in the bottom spot for the same reasons you gave. Didn't like that movie one bit.

    When looking around for movies that were snubbed, I keep coming up with movies Oscar wouldn't dare touch. I'm talking about animated fare Coraline (from a novel), and Korean vampire flick Thirst (if loosely based on a novel counts).

    More up Oscars alley, I also thought the writing was really good on A Single Man and The Informant!

    1. I really enjoyed Coraline the first time I saw it. I liked it a lot less on a rewatch.

      I genuninely need to get to Thirst one of these days.

  2. "Difficult...difficult...lemon difficult." I still use that quote. In the Loop is my choice as well. Wonderfully sharp screenplay performed by comic masters.

    1. It's so brilliantly written. The performances add to it, but those performances have such a wonderful place to start from.