Friday, September 7, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Original Screenplay 1972

The Contenders:

The Candidate (winner)
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
Lady Sings the Blues
Murmur of the Heart
Young Winston

What’s Missing

I am so disappointed in most of the nominees for Best Original Screenplay for 1972. I feel like I almost want to dispose of all of them and start fresh—something I won’t quite do because I do like a couple of the nominees here. I’m also disappointed that I can’t nominate The Stone Tape due to it’s being made for British television. As often seems to be the case, my other suggestions fall into two categories. There are those that would never be nominated because of genre and those that are unlikely because they aren’t in English, when non-English screenplays are already represented. In the first category fall Silent Running and Super Fly, and I think I can make a case for the first. This also describes The Last House on the Left, a screenplay I probably wouldn’t nominate despite not being able to deny its influence. In the second category we have two giants from the early ‘70s. The first is Bergman’s Cries & Whispers, which the Academy nominated the following year, so it gets a pass. The second is Herzog’s Aguirre: The Wrath of God. How this managed to be missed I will never understand.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I hate Murmur of the Heart so much that I almost don’t want to talk about it. I’m so angry about the fact that this is a film that is regularly touted as being whimsical and innocent despite ending with incest. I do not understand why it has the reputation it does or why so many people seem to have fond memories of it. In fact, I’m so angry that this was nominated that I’m having trouble thinking of anything else to say here. I’m blinded by how much this pisses me off.

4. The problem with Young Winston isn’t that it’s offensive in any way, but that it’s really, really boring. There’s a bit of excitement at one or two points, but it’s a really long way to go to get anything worth watching. Winston Churchill was one of the towering figures of the 20th century; he certainly could do with a film that wasn’t dull. Perhaps it’s less the subject of the man himself and more the subject of the man at this point in his life. If you never find or see this film…you’re not going to be missing much.

3. There is a lot to like about Lady Sings the Blues, but if I’m completely honest, the screenplay doesn’t really make the short list. This is all about Diana Ross for me, and beyond that, it has a number of problems. Admittedly, the problems that it has come from the direction in my opinion and not the screenplay. But, that’s faint praise. And, if the problems like the weird montage sequences do come from the screenplay, then there’s no reason this movie should have been nominated at all.

2. Political dramas are sort of their own thing. As political dramas go, The Candidate isn’t bad. In fact, it’s a pretty smart film with a great supporting role for Peter Boyle, who was sadly overlooked for a nomination. What is interesting here is how prescient this film has turned out to be. Much like Network did for news, it takes a farcical and extreme view of the political process that, by today’s standards, seems tame. It’s a movie that doesn’t assume that the audience is dumb, and for that, it gets some high marks.

1. Given the nominations, my choice is The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. Luis Bunuel is the sort of filmmaker who can be tremendous or tremendously irritating depending on the film. The genius of this movie is that over time, it becomes impossible to tell if we are looking at reality or a dream at any given moment. This is one of Bunuel’s more fully realized ideas, and there’s not much about it I don’t like. I love that it was nominated, and given the five, it should have won. But truthfully, something else deserved it more.

My Choice

In a completely open field, I’m going with Aguirre: The Wrath of God, a completely bonkers film from Werner Herzog with an equally bonkers performance from Klaus Kinski. This movie is a fever dream made of celluloid, and the sort of thing that probably shouldn’t exist and never will exist again. I can’t imagine why it wasn’t nominated when straight garbage like Murmurs of the Heart was. Stupid Academy.

Final Analysis


  1. I love both Aguirre and Discreet Charm, and I'd be happy if either had won this award.

    My brother doesn't see that many foreign films, but he seems to like a good French or Italian film every once in a while, and sometimes he (accidentally) comes across a classic. One time he couldn't remember the name of the film. He said "It's the one where they never eat dinner."

    I didn't know that one. I was like "Wha-?" I knew and admired Bunuel at that point but I hadn't seen Discreet Charm yet. I think it was two or three years later that I saw it. I called up my brother when it was over. "It's The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie," I said. "Yeah! That's right!" he said, remembering the conversation.

    He's also seen The Golden Age. But I just can't get him to watch Tierra sin pan, The Exterminating Angel or The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz.

    1. For what it's worth, I agree with him on Tierra sin Pan, which I didn't like much. The Exterminating Angel is pretty great.

  2. And I haven't seen any of the other nominated films. I usually do a little better than that!

    1. The Candidate is good if not great. Lady Sings the Blues has some real problems, but Diana Ross is amazing in it, and it's worth it for her.

  3. Of the nominated films I have only seen Murmur of the Heart, which I share your disdain for. It is one of those "only the French"-type films, and in a bad way (sexual freedom taken too far).

    I have seen Aguirre, and yes, it should be here. No one makes films like Herzog.

    1. Do you have any idea why Murmur of the Heart is so beloved? Because it is--it's currently sitting at a 7.8 on IMDb. For comparison, Dog Day Afternoon is at 8.

      I don't get it. It's just so awful.

    2. I can only assume a serious Oedipus complex; or a blind love of French cinema. Other than that, I got nothing.

      It is one of those films I am angry that I felt obliged to watch, due to its appearance on numerous critical lists.

    3. Exactly! It's not even the content (although that's pretty nasty) but the reaction to that content. Glowing reviews of this movie include words like "happy" and "innocent." It's goddam vile.

  4. Nice rankings here. Yep, of the nominees, Bourgeoisie wins out for me, but where the hell was Aguirre?

    1. Truly, there is only one Werner Herzog, and that's probably a good thing.