Friday, January 18, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Original Screenplay 1990

The Contenders:

Ghost (winner)
Green Card

What’s Missing

As often seems to be the case, the movies that I love from this year are the type that don’t tend to get Oscar nominations. If I’m honest, I can’t really say that something like Tremors or Flatliners deserve one. Jacob’s Ladder, while it runs in similar circles, seems to be one where I might better make the case, particularly seeing as how it pulls off a terrible trope seamlessly. I’m not much of a fan of Pretty Woman nor am I hugely fond of Edward Scissorhands, but I can see someone making a case for either. Moving into more serious territory are films like Slackers and Trust, neither of which got a great deal of attention, something also true of My Blue Heaven, which may not have been serious enough for Oscar. Foreign films are rare for this category, which explains the miss on Close-Up. King of New York feels like an odd miss. A bigger miss is Miller’s Crossing.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. Say what you will about Woody Allen, the man is a talented writer. That makes it strange that I would put Alice in last place. That’s the case, though, because Alice is every Woody Allen stereotype and cliché wrapped into a single movie. Our protagonist, filled with the sort of neuroses that made Allen famous, discovers that people have epiphanies not for any reason or because they have grown as people, but because the plot requires it. Allen should be better than this, and in this case, this nomination happened because of his reputation, not anything here.

4. What do you get when you take a plot that feels like the oldest idea in the book and fails miserably to modernize it? The answer is Green Card, a failed romance between two people who shouldn’t be standing in the same building, let alone falling for each other in a way that involves wacky hijinks. Even if I buy the tired premise of two people pretending to be a couple so that they can both have a great apartment, I don’t buy it with these two particular people who clearly hate each other.

3. It’s a little shocking to me that Metropolitan has made it all the way to the middle of the pack, because on purely entertainment grounds, I loathe this movie far more than the other four nominees, and that’s saying something. Metropolitan manages to swing its way to this position because the screenplay is the best part of the film and it does have some aspects that are at least clever. The fact that my reasons for hating this film come from somewhere other than it being buried in cliché or bullshit psychology says little for it in the long run, though.

2. I closed my review of Avalon by saying that while I thought the film was well cast, that ultimately I didn’t really care that much about the story. That a film reviewed in that way has managed to get all the way up to second place for its screenplay is really saying something about the overall quality of the nominations for this year. Avalon isn’t a bad film and the characters are decent, but it’s not a film that excites me that much. It’s fine. It’s serviceable, and again, that’s pretty weak praise for runner-up.

1. That leaves me with Ghost, which is clearly the best of the bunch. Okay, it’s a supernatural romance and it’s certainly sappy in places, but it’s also quite clever in places. It has some ideas that really work for it, and the characters are worth caring about. It wouldn’t be my ultimate pick in an open field, but it’s at least a pick that doesn’t make me cringe or question the sanity of everyone involved. In an open field, there’s no way it wins, but it’s honestly the only one of these five I’d likely keep as a nomination.

My Choices

I think you could take any of the last three I mentioned at the top, Close-Up, Miller’s Crossing, and King of New York, and make a substantial case for each one. Honestly, I think you could do the same for most of what I mention in that paragraph. It’s once again the case where Oscar managed to pick the right winner from the choices, but clearly didn’t nominate the right choices.

Final Analysis


  1. I agree it was never going to get a nomination, but if I had a catalog of produced screenplays I'd written, I'd want Tremors to be on that list. It's fun, scary, has quirky, smart and funny characters who feel real, and a clever plot.

    I love movies with two dumb main characters (Beavis and Butt-Head, Bill and Ted, Wayne and Garth) and it feels like Val and Earl are in the same vein. But as they adapt to the craziness that's enveloping their town, it gradually becomes clear that they're not dumb, but actually whip smart. I love this screenplay.

    1. I can't say I disagree with you. It is a clever script, even it falls into an unnecessary need to chisel in a love story.

      Still, it does get a lot of things right.