Friday, November 1, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 1970

The Contenders:

I Never Sang for My Father
Lovers and Other Strangers
M*A*S*H (winner)
Women in Love

What’s Missing

1970 is, apparently, one of those years where a lot of the movies I like came from original screenplays. I say this because I don’t have a lot of suggestions for replacement films for the Adapted Screenplay category despite not really liking a full three of the nominees. But I have found enough to replace them, at least in terms of finding films I liked better that fit the category. We can start with The Conformist, which was cool and sleek, something I can’t say for any of the actual nominations. I don’t love Catch-22 as a film, but it’s a solid adaptation of a book that is extremely difficult to adapt. Finally, there is Diary of a Mad Housewife with its great lead performance from Carrie Snodgress. Of all the films that weren’t nominated, it’s the one I’d want the most, if only for its rage.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. Lovers and Other Strangers is supposed to be a comedy, and by 1970 standards, it probably was. By modern standards, though, it most certainly was not. Had this been a film that attempted to look at relationships, it might have survived as something worth watching. Instead, it attempts to inject comedy into the proceedings and ends up being cliché-ridden and uninteresting. There are a lot of romantic comedy clichés here, and the movie puts them forward not as something to challenge the conventions but to revel in them. I pass.

4. I’m not a fan of D.H. Lawrence, so it’s no surprise I’m not crazy about Women in Love. In fact, I would suggest that the claim to fame of the film is the naked wrestling match between Alan Bates and Oliver Reed, what is certainly the most homoerotic cinematic moment until the entirety of Top Gun. I didn’t absolutely hate the film, but I can’t say that I loved it, either. Having not read the book, I can’t say if it’s an accurate adaptation; I can only say that I don’t much like the story on the screen.

3. When I look at Airport, I think what I’m seeing is a film where the cast list came before anything else. It’s the sort of film that trades on having everyone in it. It’s exceptionally melodramatic to the point that I expected the soundtrack to be played on a soap opera organ. What it really did more than anything was set the tone for the big-budget summer films to come. It doesn’t care about chemistry, dialogue, or really anything other than putting as many famous people across the screen as possible. The only thing good that came from it is that it was eventually spoofed as Airplane!.

2. I Never Sang for My Father is a movie that shoots for—and mostly hits—capital-T truth. What it gets right in terms of the story is giving us a character who is the sort beloved by everyone who doesn’t really know him and despised by everyone who does. He’s a friendly, sweet, old man on the surface, and a tyrant to everyone who manages to get past that veneer. It’s impressive just how well this is done. I know nothing about what this was adapted from, but at the very least, this part of the adaptation appears to be masterful.

My Choice

1. The biggest problem with M*A*S*H is, honestly, in the screenplay. There isn’t a great deal of plot in this movie. However, that’s not really important because it’s not about the plot. In a lot of ways, it’s a very typical Altman film—lots of characters talking over each other, huge ensemble cast. But it’s also coherent and funny. And it’s still funny, unlike a lot of comedies. Given the nominations, it was an easy choice, and I’d stick with it on an open field as well. Admittedly, the competition isn’t that tough, but it’s still a solid winner.

Final Analysis


  1. I'll start off by saying I L-O-V-E Airport in all its over the top star-studded exclamation point acting ridiculous glory and having read the book say it is a pretty good adaptation of that best selling page turner....but it certainly didn't deserve to win though the nomination isn't out of place since it is a skillful winnowing of the book into a crowd pleasing entertainment.

    It's the only source book I've read of the five but I'd lean in your direction for those top two but probably come down in I Never Sang for My Father's direction rather than MASH even if I enjoyed the latter more. To me MASH is the sloppier of the two.

    Other than what you mentioned as misses I'd suggest Tristana, which I didn't like (but then I hated Diary of a Mad Housewife too, outside of Carrie Snodgress) but a friend who has read the book said it was a good reworking of the source and even more the French "The Confession" and Tell Me You Love Me, Junie Moon.

    1. I can understand loving a movie like Airport because of its excesses rather than despite them. It's not a movie made for me--I jus shake my head at it. And for what it's worth, I agree that M*A*S*H is sloppy and disordered, and yet it works for me, and I find it really entertaining almost in spite of itself.

  2. While I would've also put The Conformist for consideration and I think the Oscars got it right for M.A.S.H., I'm surprised there's no mention for The Wild Child which was based on the studies of Dr. Jean Marc Gaspard Itard in its exploration of a feral child.

    1. That's a film I don't know, so I wouldn't know to add it. I'll take it under consideration, though.