Friday, September 28, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Original Screenplay 1976

The Contenders:

Cousin, Cousine
The Front
Network (winner)
Seven Beauties

What’s Missing

For a wonder, I rather like most of the movies that are nominated this year, and most of the ones that I could think of as replacements are ones that would never get a nomination. Perhaps the one I’m the most surprised at not being here is Bergman’s Face to Face, which netted nominations for Bergman and for Liv Ullman. I’m less surprised by the absence of the gritty Assault on Precinct 13 and the still-funny Murder by Death. I’m mildly surprised at a miss on The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. But Taxi Driver not being here? That I simply don’t understand.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. Of the five nominees, the one I am most likely to want to boot is Seven Beauties. This is a movie that purports itself to be a comedy. It’s a comedy that includes concentration camps, forcing the main character to seduce a disgusting woman who forces him to name other inmates to be killed, and in which our main character rapes an inmate in an insane asylum. It’s an ugly movie from the start to the end. I understand several of this film’s nominations. I just don’t understand nominating it for such an ugly story.

4. The problem I have with The Front is that it makes the wrong person the hero. It’s mildly a problem that in this case, that hero is played by Woody Allen, but I would have the same problem with anyone else in the same role. Our hero, who ultimately spends the movie helping to circumvent the Hollywood Blacklist, is doing it for reasons entirely wrapped up in money and sex for the bulk of the film. And there are at least two other characters in this film who would be far better protagonists. The Front just makes the wrong choices.

3. I was prepared to dislike Cousin, Cousine just on the general principles of a love affair between cousins. Once I realized that the cousins in question were cousins only related through marriage, it became a bit more palatable. I like a lot of this movie. In particular, I like the way that the romance here works. The screenplay very much wants us to like the two main characters, Ludovic and Marthe. The reason that the film succeeds is that rather than just wanting us to like them, the film actually gets us to like them by the end.

2. You can say a lot of things about Rocky--that it shouldn’t have won Best Picture, that it’s overrated—and I’d agree with a lot of those things. But the screenplay really is dynamite. It does a lot of things really well. For one thing, it gives us real characters. It’s easy to forget in the sequels that followed this just how terrifying Pauly is as a character. It’s easy to think that it’s going to follow that Hollywood formula and when we get to the end, it doesn’t. I like the screenplay more than I like the movie, and I like the movie pretty well.

My Choice

1. Network won this Oscar, and it was the right choice all the way through. This is a screenplay that in 1976 must have seemed shocking and over the top. Today, it seems tame even as it is still as incisive as it was 40+ years ago. Just about everything in Network works as well today as it did when the film was originally released. It’s smart and it’s funny. More than that, it’s funny in that incisive way that makes us laugh because we know that the reality is so much worse than we’re being shown. Oscar got this one right.

Final Analysis


  1. Network and Taxi Driver should be number one and two here. I also like the Rocky screenplay, though not enough to rate it over the other two. In other words, I pretty much agree with you, though I would rate The Front screenplay higher than you have it. Chinese Bookie is a good call as well.

    1. Rocky is smarter than people remember. We remember the training montage and the fight, but it's easy to forget how much character and world building that movie has in the first hour.

      Still, it wouldn't be my choice for the win. I'm fine with the nomination, though.

  2. I'm with you on Network being the best choice, here, but yeah...Taxi Driver.

    1. Why is that not here? Why is Seven Beauties here instead? I have no clue, but Taxi Driver, while not my winner, would probably be my second place.