Friday, October 18, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Original Screenplay 2004

The Contenders:

The Aviator
The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (winner)
Hotel Rwanda
The Incredibles
Vera Drake

What’s Missing

Surprise, surprise, but I don’t hate this list of nominations. In fact, I like all five of these movies, and while I might make some suggestions to include some movies I like better, as a role, these are pretty good. Foreign language movies are always longshots in categories like this one, but it was a good year for non-English movies. House of Flying Daggers man not have had enough plot to warrant a nomination, but that doesn’t explain the lack of location for Maria Full of Grace or 3-Iron. Lack of a perceived market likely kept Moolaade off ballots. Oscar’s general disregard of comedy means Napoleon Dynamite didn’t have a shot at a nomination, and might explain the miss on The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou despite Oscar’s adoration of all things Wes Anderson. Ray feels like a real miss, but not nearly as much of a miss as Collateral.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. Of all of these, Vera Drake is probably the movie I’m the least likely to watch again, mainly for the subject matter more than anything else. I like the performances here quite a bit, especially that of Imelda Staunton. But it’s also the one I’m the least likely to want to have nominated. This is not a knock against the film, but a recognition of just how strong this year was for original screenplays. This is a damn good movie and worth seeing, and I wouldn’t have it on the list of actual nominees.

4. I’m going to say roughly the same thing about Hotel Rwanda, which is one of those films that is very good and is also designed deeply in its DNA to be the sort of film that attracts Oscar nominations the way an overripe banana attracts fruit flies. And yet again, I’m not sure that this is a film that I would nominate for the screenplay despite the relevance of the story and the quality of that story. It is almost guilt-inducing to rank this movie this low. It feels like it deserves to be much higher up, and yet I can’t put it above fourth.

3. The Aviator is one of those movies that I apparently like a lot more than everyone else. I think a lot of people have some respect for it, but not a great deal of love for what is on the screen. That’s a shame, because it’s a very well put-together film, and the story it tells is cogent, important, and worth seeing. Of the five nominations, it’s the first that I am likely to want to see in the nominations. It covers a lot of ground and does so seamlessly and beautifully, something with which a lot of films struggle.

2. Say what you may about The Incredibles, but this is a near-perfect film. Pixar’s magic was still on the rise in 2004, and The Incredibles is the company at its height. This is a smart screenplay with good, memorable characters, but it’s the interplay of those characters more than anything else that makes it all work. Despite the fact that we are dealing with a group of superheroes, this is a film that depicts one of the most realistic families in years. These are real family relationships and dynamics, and I love just how much watching this feels like seeing a real family on the screen despite super powers and despite animation.

My Choice

1. Despite my genuine love for The Incredibles, Oscar absolutely did it right by giving the Oscar to The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Frequently, movies get a great deal of acclaim simply for being weird, incomprehensibility being seen as an adjunct of creativity and quality in many cases. Eternal Sunshine cuts through a great deal of that by presenting a film world that is completely cogent and giving us a story that is both unique and easy to follow. There’s no really getting confused here despite a story that is unlike anything seen before. It was the right choice.

Final Analysis


  1. This is one of those choices where the Oscars not only get it right but also went with the right film which was the best film of that year. I agree with you on Collateral as it should've been nominated as should Maria Full of Grace.

    1. Even with Collateral and Maria nominated, there's only one real choice here.