Monday, June 10, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 1977

The Contenders:

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden
Julia (winner)
Oh, God!
That Obscure Object of Desire

What’s Missing

This is a very weird nomination class for me. I can’t say that I dislike any of the movies that were nominated, but when it comes to adapted screenplays, there is a quartet of movies that I genuinely like as much or more than all five of the nominees. We’ve already got a non-English movie in the mix, which almost certainly leaves out the atomic acid trip that is Hausu. The American Friend was partly in German, and that might have annoyed the Academy here as well. It’s possible that the mid-late ‘70s weren’t the right time for a pro-war military epic like A Bridge too Far, although it’s a hell of a good war movie. The big miss for me is Saturday Night Fever, that was at least partially inspired by an article. Is it truly an adapted screenplay? I think if Adaptation qualified, it should.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. Julia won this Oscar, and of the five movies, it’s not my least favorite, at least in one sense. My issue with the film is, well, the second half, which makes no sense to me. If the second half was as good as the first half, this would be a clear contender for Best Picture in a good year. Unfortunately, this absolutely shits the bed in the second half and out of nowhere becomes a spy thriller that simply doesn’t work. This disconnect is entirely the problem of the screenplay, so its win leaves me completely baffled.

4. I’m probably penalizing That Obscure Object of Desire for the sins of its director, but those particular sins are manifest here. Luis Bunuel, by virtue of what he did and his own philosophy, was one of those people who made it difficult to tell when he was being serious and when he was clowning. I don’t know what parts of this film I’m supposed to take seriously and what parts I’m supposed to laugh at. I suspect it’s both of those things at the whole thing. Sometimes Bunuel makes me feel stupid, and so I’m penalizing him.

3. Oh, God! is a charming little film, and the theology presented is about as harmless as we might expect from a mainstream Hollywood film. It benefits hugely by putting George Burns in the seat as God and by giving us the likable John Denver as a main character. I, despite my own heretical position, enjoy this film for what it is, but it’s pretty toothless. Sure, that’s going to guarantee that most people find the feckless version of Christianity presented here amenable and cute, but it’s not much more than a toss-aside comedy.

2. Of the five nominees, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden is probably the one that I would be the least likely to watch again. It’s a tough sit, mostly because it tries very hard to be a realistic and real depiction of schizophrenia. However, it’s a hell of a good screenplay, and the difficulty of the viewing comes from just how good the screenplay really is. Sure, it benefits in a large way from the killer performance of Kathleen Quinlan, but she had a hell of a strong position to start from.

1. It’s possible that Equus would be the hardest rewatch for me, partially because of some surprising gore and partially because of animal cruelty, but it’s difficult to deny the particular power the film has. Coincidentally, this is another film that attempts to deal realistically (in part) with ideas of mental illness. It’s a more extreme case, of course, but that makes it more compelling. In a perfect world, Equus wouldn’t get the win from me, but I think it’s the best of the nominations, and it’s one that I would clearly nominate.

My Choice

Saturday Night Fever is the clear choice for me, and I think it’s a shame that it wasn’t nominated. It’s possible that it wasn’t eligible for some reason (although I can’t understand why that would be). If so, I think my choice would go to Hausu, at least if I were voting now. In 1977, I watched a lot of war movies, and A Bridge too Far would have been my clear choice.

Final Analysis


  1. I'm going to have to agree with you about Saturday Night Fever. I would've probably given it to Hausu, The American Friend, or even Suspiria that was based on some obscure book. Of the films that were nominated, I've only seen Oh God! and that was OK.

    1. I honestly had no idea Suspiria was based on anything more than Argento mentally masturbating over the idea of Walt Disney making a horror film.

      Of the nominees...none are really must-see. Julia was such a disappointment after a great start.

  2. Yeah, Saturday Night Fever was a big miss. Unfortunately, I don't have much else to add.

    1. It's a bit of a shocker, I admit. I don't know how it got skipped.