Monday, November 26, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 1983

The Contenders:

The Dresser
Educating Rita
Reuben, Reuben
Terms of Endearment (winner)

What’s Missing

Boy, 1983 was a fun year for movies, and as seems to consistently be the case for the ‘80s, you wouldn’t realize this based on our nominations. As I typically do, I’ll dump the horror and science fiction films first, since they have never been Oscar darlings. For science fiction, this is the year of The Return of the Jedi, the weakest of the original trilogy, but still a damn fine film. It was a good horror year, including the up-and-down The Twilight Zone as well as the classy and stylishly erotic The Hunger. There were also at least three Stephen King adaptations in 1983 including the decent Cujo, the better Christine, and the still-excellent The Dead Zone. Testament, which deals with the aftermath of nuclear war, is sort of science fiction, but isn’t quite, and it’s a film that I wish more people knew. A Christmas Story is from this year as well, and as a perennial holiday classic, I think it merits some love. Some people will mention Scarface here; I wouldn’t, but some people will. For me, the gigantic miss is The Right Stuff.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. With such a good year in movies, I’m consistently disappointed with Oscar’s nominating. In this category, no nomination disappoints me more than Reuben, Reuben, a nasty and ugly little movie about a nasty and ugly little man. Are we supposed to enjoy this story about a man who has almost no good qualities? I sure as hell didn’t despite a good performance or two. My biggest problem with this movie is the characters, and the characters come from the screenplay. As such, my biggest problem with Reuben, Reuben is the nominated screenplay.

4. Truthfully, I didn’t like winner Terms of Endearment that much, either. The difference is that I can see this is a well-made movie even if I don’t like it much. Again, though, the problem is in the story. All of our characters here are caricatures and the plot we get is exactly the plot we’d expect from the neurotic and needy people on the screen. I know there are people who like Terms of Endearment; some of them might even be reading this post. That said, the most positive comment I’ve ever received on this movie is, “I didn’t hate it.” My guess is that I won’t get much pushback placing this in fourth.

3. With Betrayal, I’m placed in a difficult position in terms of ranking it. On the one hand, it’s a fine adaptation of a Harold Pinter script. On the other hand, it’s an adaptation of a play, and there’s a part of me that often thinks of this as being a shortcut to a film screenplay. Oh sure, there’s a lot that can be done and I’m sure a lot has been done. I’m also probably wrong in thinking it’s somehow less work to adapt a stage drama than something like a novel. I admit the bias, and while it might be unfair to Betrayal, it’s where I am.

2. So if that’s my problem with Betrayal, why did I put The Dresser above it, since it has the same issue? That’s a completely fair question. Honestly, it probably comes down to the fact that I liked this movie more and I liked the performances more. That may not have much to do with the screenplay, and yet in a sense, it does. I think the characters here are a lot more developed. I get a much deeper sense of who I am seeing on the screen and what moves and motivates them. In that respect, I think it’s a superior piece of work.

1. Given the five nominations, I’m going with Educating Rita. Truthfully, this is a story that plays out exactly as we think it will in so many ways. This is no more and no less than the Pygmalion story, which is clearly the source of this being nominated in this category. As with The Dresser, the reason here is the characters. I was surprised at how much I liked this movie, knowing exactly what the story was going to be. While a lot of that comes from Michael Caine and especially Julie Walters, it starts with the screenplay. In an open field, this is the only nomination I’d keep. Based on that, it’s not my ultimate winner.

My Choice

As has frequently been the case for 1983, my vote is going to The Right Stuff. I maintain that one of the most difficult things to do with a movie is provide a compelling, exciting, and suspenseful drama about a well-known historical event. That’s exactly what we’ve got here, in a screenplay that gives us portrayals of historical figures that are both heroic and human. It’s a hell of a movie in large part because of where it starts.

Final Analysis


  1. Of the nominations, I've only seen Educating Rita and Terms of Endearment, and have also seen The Right Stuff. I completely agree that it is a travesty that The Right Stuff wasn't nominated, and that it should have won pretty much everything it was eligible for. It is so darn good!

    1. It won four of eight nominations. That it wasn't nominated here and that Philip Kaufman was passed over for a director nomination seems so terribly wrong to me.

      In fact, Kaufman has only earned a single nomination in his career--for the screenplay of The Unbearable Lightness of Being. This means that, among other things, he wasn't nominated for the screenplay for Raiders of the Lost Ark, either.

  2. Bingo! The Right Stuff, and it should have won for picture as well. Once with Terms of Endearment was plenty, it's great, but I can watch the Right Stuff every month and still admire it and enjoy it.The book had a slightly less charitable view of the Mercury Seven, but Kaufman figured out that the story was there.

    1. I will freely admit that I am an easy sucker for NASA stories, so this was an easy choice for me.