Monday, May 20, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 1976

The Contenders:

All the President’s Men (winner)
Bound for Glory
Fellini’s Casanova
The Seven-Per-Cent Solution
Voyage of the Damned

What’s Missing

There’s a certain feeling that perhaps we shouldn’t be awarding Oscars for a good five years after the fact so we can figure out what movies are actually influential and worth celebrating. When you see a nomination list like this one from the year that was 1976, that opinion make sense. Admittedly, several of those movies are not in Oscar’s favorite genres. For instance, from the world of horror, we get The Tenant and Carrie, both of which are dandy adaptations. Science fiction films Logan’s Run and The Man Who Fell to Earth are from this year as well. Westerns have an on again/off again relationship with Oscar, which might be why The Outlaw Josey Wales isn’t nominated. For me, the biggest miss is Marathon Man.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I disliked Fellini’s Casanova for so many reasons. I can’t honestly say that the screenplay was one of the reasons I disliked it as much as I did, but I also can’t say that I gave the screenplay any consideration at all. Every film I mentioned in the paragraph above would have been a better choice for this nomination without question. It’s disappointing when something gets nominated because of what appears to be a love for the director rather than for the actual value of the film itself. This had no business being here.

4. The most impressive part of Voyage of the Damned is the cast list, which is a doozy. The story is an important one, but I can’t say that I was ultimately thrilled about the film itself. There are important stories to be told here, but the film can’t seem to decide on which ones are worth telling. A smaller cast, perhaps, with a lot more attention to fewer stories would have likely made a much larger impact. The movie is perhaps guilty of trying to do too much in its small running time. I don’t hate the nomination, but I wouldn’t have nominated it.

3. I’d love to say that we have a situation where there was a serious battle for second place, but the opposite is true. I don’t want to put anything in second place here because there’s a clear winner and two movies that just barely edge into third. I’ve decided on putting The Seven-Per-Cent Solution in third just because it’s tonally odd. Watson, a central character to the Sherlock Holmes mythos, is essentially wasted here, and exists simply to ensure that this is a Holmes story. Honestly, it shouldn’t be in third place, but here we are.

2. This means that almost by default we have Bound for Glory in second place. There’s nothing particularly wrong with Bound for Glory as a story or as a movie except that it’s slow to get started. In a world where I got to decide on my own nominations, it’s unlikely that this would be on the list of five given what didn’t get nominated, but for those that did, it really is second-best. It’s a good indication of just how lax the nominating seemed to be for this category for this year that I can say that seriously.

My Choice

1. Based on the five nominations, All the President’s Men is the only legitimate choice that could be made. This is as good a screenplay as you’re going to find in this decade. It’s smart, and even though the history is generally known and easily researched, the film still manages to maintain a clear sense of drama. That’s not easy to do. Knowing how this all ends, there’s still a real sense of tension. Even with a clear field of nominations, this is my pick, although with Marathon Man, we’d have a much, much closer race.

Final Analysis


  1. "The Outlaw Josie Wales" would be my pick.

    1. It would be in my top-five, probably third behind Marathon Man and All the President's Men, but a close third. Close enough that I wouldn't give anyone who chose it any grief over the pick.

  2. I LOVE Marathon Man, which improves on the book, but there is no other possible winner for me than All the President's Men. Like Apollo 13 it takes a situation with a known outcome and makes it gripping and compelling from start to finish. A huge part of that is the skills of the cast and crew but without the words on the page they can only do so much.

    What a tremendous year Dustin Hoffman had in '76.

    1. He really did have a great year, not unlike Michael Stuhlbarg who managed to be in one-third of the Best Picture nominees in 2017. Staggering.