Monday, October 14, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 1988

The Contenders:

The Accidental Tourist
Dangerous Liaisons (winner)
Gorillas in the Mist
Little Dorrit
The Unbearable Lightness of Being

What’s Missing

1988 is a year where a substantial chunk of the movies I like come from original screenplays, which makes doing the adapted category interesting. Horror movies are long shots come Oscar time in general, and for screenplays, they’re almost unheard of nominees. So, films like The Vanishing, Dead Ringers, and The Serpent and the Rainbow are a hard sell, even if all three of them are fantastic on the screenplay front. The Last Temptation of Christ was so controversial that the nod for Scorsese might have been as much as it could expect. The two that seem like real misses, though, are Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, which is perhaps more impressive technologically and Die Hard. I admit that’s a sentimental choice, but let’s be honest—no one watches Die Hard for the screenplay. Finally, animated movies are also rare screenplay nominees, as are foreign films, but Grave of the Fireflies feels like a genuine snub.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I hate pretty much everything about The Accidental Tourist. I hate the characters pretty much from top to bottom. I don’t like the characters, I don’t like their “quirky” behavior, and I don’t like the story that the film tells. This might be, in fact, my least favorite nominated movie from 1988 that I saw for this blog. With the movies that were overlooked, I cannot justify the position that The Accidental Tourist deserves a spot on the list. It’s uniformly hateful and stupid, and I wish I didn’t have to watch it.

4. The nominate for Little Dorrit angers me for a lot of reasons. This 6-hour epic was originally created for television, but still managed to get a nomination. This is despite the fact that other films like The Last Seduction, originally made for television, were considered ineligible for that reason. Oh, but it’s really long and has a British cast and is based on Dickens. Watch this and you won’t be surprised to learn that Charles Dickens was paid by the word for a lot of his writing. At half this length, it would still be too long.

3. I’ve never been shy of saying that, despite the fact that it seems like it should be a genre I don’t like, I like a good romance. I am also a fan of Lena Olin for a good 15 years of her career, and The Unbearable Lightness of Being is in that part of her career. So why don’t I love this movie? Part of it is that it’s far too long for the story it tells. Part of it is that I don’t care at all about the self-absorbed characters. A lot of it, though, is that for all of the sexy it’s supposed to be, it just isn’t, and that’s at least part the fault of the screenplay.

2. Make a movie about environmental issues and I’m potentially on board. Make it about someone as badass as Dian Fossey, and I’m in. Gorillas in the Mist is the sort of film that does everything right. It causes the right amount of outrage and does so for exactly the right reasons. While a great deal of the film works because of the strength of Sigourney Weaver’s performance, it starts from a good place. It’s not easy to write a movie filled with tension and surprises when the real-world ending is known, but this film does it and does it well.

My Choice

1. Oscar got this one right, though, by giving the statue to Dangerous Liaisons. This is such a solid film and gives us a story that is arguably the strongest part of the film. It’s smart, sexy, and pulls no punches. Every frame of this film is filled with tension both sexual and otherwise, and all of that comes from a gripping and brilliant screenplay. It’s not my favorite movie from 1988 (although it’s very close), but it is my favorite screenplay without much question. It does everything right for every reason, and Oscar was right to reward it.

Final Analysis


  1. I would totally go with Dangerous Liaisons as well while I agree with you on those films that got snubbed. I've never seen The Accidental Tourist and honestly, I have no interest in seeing it at all.

    1. It really is a damn good screenplay. I don't know why I never think of it.

      You are completely safe never seeing The Accidental Tourist.

  2. So great to find someone else who hates The Accidental Tourist! I watched it after it had won all its awards and acclaim and couldn't believe something so off-putting and dull did so well.

    I could write that exact same sentence about The Unbearable Lightness of Being, although that seems to be a love it or hate it film. I have a friend who thought it was the most fabulous thing she'd ever seen but it was a giant sleeping pill to me.

    I don't have the same issue with Dickens as you but this adaptation of Little Dorrit didn't strike me as anything special.

    My memory of Gorillas in the Mist outside of Sigourney Weaver's performance is vague though I do recall thinking it was a decent picture. It wouldn't be my choice but it would be the first of the five that should be included.

    Die Hard is one of my top five favorite films of this year and I like the thought of its inclusion in the category but even if it were I'd still say Dangerous Liaisons was the best adaptation of this year and rightfully won....if it's good luck could have only spread Glenn Close's way!

    The two other choices I'd mention aside from those that you already have are the gentle Crossing Delancey and Harvey Fierstein's adaptation of his own Torch Song Trilogy where he did what the Dickens's team did not, trim his mammoth stage play into a workable film version.

    1. My mother and I sometimes argue over authors. She loves Dickens, who I find wordy and far too dependent on coincidences. I love Joseph Conrad, who she thinks does nothing but describe things.

      No accounting for taste!