Monday, October 15, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 1980

The Contenders:

Breaker Morant
Coal Miner’s Daughter
The Elephant Man
Ordinary People (winner)
The Stunt Man

What’s Missing

As is often the case, the nominations we have, in retrospect, aren’t the nominations we should have at least in a couple of places. One of the more interesting omissions is The Shining, which was probably left out for a number of reasons. One is that it’s a horror movie; another is that it was more or less orphaned by its author, since the adaptation is nothing like the book. Altered States, based on a Paddy Chayefsky novel and screenplay, likely was ignored for its horror/science fiction roots. We can blame the science fiction bias for the ignoring of The Empire Strikes Back, despite it being the best of the Star Wars franchise. One movie I’d love to see here is The Lathe of Heaven, ineligible because it was made for television. The big miss? Raging Bull.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. Truthfully, I like most of the movies that were nominated for this award in this year, and while I tend to complain a lot, Oscar really did a pretty decent job of nominations. The exception is The Stunt Man, a movie that I actually have trouble remembering. In fact, the only thing I remember beyond Peter O’Toole is that the movie that is being made within the context of this film was a hell of a lot more interesting than what we got. It’s a movie where I like the concept a lot more than I like the actual movie, and I’d replace it.

4. In truth, The Elephant Man doesn’t deserve to be as low as fourth place, but something has to be here. It’s a hell of a good movie, though, and one that is incredibly moving. That said, it seems to me that the main takeaway from this film is the talent of John Hurt. It’s Hurt’s performance that sells the movie and Hurt’s performance that is most worth seeing. While the screenplay is a good one and has its strengths, I have a hard time thinking that anyone who sees this goes away marveling at how good the plot was.

3. Very much the same is true of Coal Miner’s Daughter. While the story is a fascinating one, and even inspiring in places, it is the performances that sell it and make it worth seeing. In particular, it’s the work of Sissy Spacek that recommends the film. Truthfully, I don’t hate the nomination, but once again, I don’t know that anyone watches Coal Miner’s Daughter and walks away most impressed by the plot. It’s fine that it’s here, but with the best will in the world, I’m not putting it above third place.

2. Unlike the previous two mentions, Breaker Morant works in large part because of the quality of the story. It’s a compelling tale, and while the performances are good ones, it really is the story that shines through. Stories that deal with injustice are part and parcel of Oscar nominations, and in this case, where the injustice seems to be a part of everything that happens—even the guilty aren’t entirely guilty of their own volition—it’s hardly a shock that this earned a nomination. In other years, I wouldn’t have a problem with it winning.

My Choice

1. For any number of reasons, I’m partial to Ordinary People. It gets a lot of grief from people who think that Raging Bull should have won everything from 1980, and I think in a lot of cases, this comes from people who haven’t seen this. It’s a hell of a good story, and one that is just as good now as it was almost 40 year ago. That’s something special. You could film this movie right now with the same script and modern actors, change nothing, and have it be just as powerful. Oscar screws up pretty often, but when it gets something right, that’s worth noting. In this case, Oscar picked the right movie.

Final Analysis


  1. What a strong year for screenplays! Breaker Morant is one of my very favorite movies, so I would have gone with that for the win. Can't argue with your choice though.

    1. Hard to argue against Breaker Morant. It's a hell of a good screenplay, and a damn fine story.

  2. Wait. How is Empire an adapted screenplay?

    1. Because it's based on a previous work.

    2. Hmm. I guess I never realized sequels were considered "adapted". Interesting!

  3. Of the nominations, I'd have gone with "Breaker," but "Empire" deserved it more than ordinary "Ordinary." "Empire" was extraordinary.

    1. While I agree with the quality of The Empire Strikes Back, we'll disagree on Ordinary People. I think it's a magnificent film with a timeless screenplay.