Friday, July 26, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Original Screenplay 1973

The Contenders:

American Graffiti
Cries and Whispers
Save the Tiger
The Sting (winner)
A Touch of Class

What’s Missing

This isn’t a terrible class of nominations, but 1973 was a damn fine year for original screenplays. As usual, I’ll start with the movies that didn’t have a chance of actually being nominated because of the genre. This starts with The Wicker Man, Westworld, and Enter the Dragon, which is the template for about 50% of the martial arts movies made after 1973. Don’t Look Now is a little bit classier for a horror-themed film, so it had a bit more of a chance. We already have our foreign languages film with Cries and Whispers, which is going to leave out Amarcord, Day for Night, and The Spirits of the Beehive. Westerns were out of fashion for many, which leaves out High Plains Drifter. Other noteworthy misses include Sleeper, Badlands, and Mean Streets.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. Of these movies, A Touch of Class is the one I didn’t like. In fact, I disliked this movie a great deal. Glenda Jackson, who I’ve never been that fond of, is fine in it, and she’s the only thing worth watching. The characters are awful, particularly the fake macho, whiny George Segal character. As seems to be typical for a lot of comedies in the 1970s, the story is essentially the lighter side of marital infidelity. I hate the plot, I hate the characters, and given what wasn’t nominated, I hate that it’s here.

4. Save the Tiger relies on the twin performances of Jack Lemmon and Jack Gilford to give us a couple of great character studies in search of a memorable film. Save the Tiger takes place more or less in the space of a single day, and it’s one that I don’t particularly care to relive. Lemmon and Gilford are the reason to watch this. I found the plot—the reason it was nominated for this award—to be not very memorable. That’s definitely going to count against a movie when it comes to a screenplay award.

3. The knock against George Lucas has always been that he can’t write dialogue. Watch the Star Wars movies, especially the prequels, and that idea will appear as gospel truth. American Graffiti is the counter to that claim, though. This is a film where not much really happens over the course of the night. Everything has to be carried by the performances and by the dialogue. And it’s really good. It’s not a perfect movie by any stretch, but it’s very nicely written, heart-warming, and rather wonderful.

2. The position of this blog has always been that ties essentially go to the Academy, which is why I’m putting Cries and Whispers in second place. Anyone wanting to put this in first would get not quite my agreement but at least a nod from me that it’s not a bad choice. My issue with the film is only that I should probably revisit it at some point soon. I think I didn’t really understand it well when I watched it. It felt just out of my grasp, but I desperately wanted to get it. I don’t generally like feeling dumb, but it’s okay when that seems to be in the service of something truly beautiful.

My Choice

1. I have said about The Sting before that it’s close to a perfect movie. Everything about it clicks on all cylinders—the characters, costuming, setting, music, chemistry—everything. The plot is a long and involved puzzle, the same sort of con is happening to us as it is happening in the film, and it’s a true delight to watch that unfold in front of us. I only wish that the movie were about something more. It’s a cinematic confection, but it’s a perfect one, and unlike most, it’s one that leaves a smile and a memory of something enjoyable when it’s done. I like this choice, and think Oscar did fine by this category.

Final Analysis


  1. Aside from feeling like I spent close to two hours inside a tomato Cries & Whispers really impressed me in both story and acting even if it was almost relentlessly bleak but The Sting deserved this win.

    Putting the wonderful cast, period detail and strong direction to the side the screenplay really does take you on an elaborate but directed ride to a terrific pay-off.

    1. And really, that's what sells The Sting to me. It's a clockwork, but it's such a wonderful and elaborate clockwork that just clicks along perfectly until the ending.

  2. I still haven't seen The Sting as it's a film I hope to watch soon. I've only seen bits of American Graffiti but not enough to form an opinion of it but I will agree with you that George Lucas sucks in writing dialogue.

    Cries & Whispers is an incredible film but choosing a best original script is hard considering that the film came out the same year as classics like Day for Night, Amarcord, Enter the Dragon, Spirit of the Beehive, Mean Streets, and Sleeper were out. I would consider Badlands for that list but since it was actually inspired by the Starkweather-Fugate murders, I kind of disqualify it in some respects though it doesn't deter what Malick did for the script as it's probably the most accessible script he wrote so far.

    1. I can't stress this enough--The Sting is a two-hour exercise in watching an elaborate puzzle develop into something wonderful. It's a huge Rube Goldberg machine, and it's a joy to watch it operate.

  3. Agreed, The Sting is as near-perfect as a film gets and deserved this Oscar.

    (btw, you mention Don't Look Now in the opening paragraph but surely that one belongs in the Adapted category?)

    1. You may well be right. When IMDb lists someone as having written the story, I'm never sure if it's from a published story or one that was specifically written to be adapted for the screen.

  4. I can't argue with The Sting as the winner. Someone in my family often still quotes that screenplay "You follow?".
    The Mack (1973) is a strong piece of writing (I rated the movie 9 out of 10) though the Academy don't recognize blaxploitation. Great picks in the HMs.

    1. I should track down The Mack one of these days.