Monday, November 25, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Original Screenplay 2008

The Contenders:

Frozen River
In Bruges
Milk (winner)

What’s Missing

Once again, we have a hell of a good year for the selected category. It’s one of the better collections of nominees. I genuinely like all five of these movies; there’s not a one that is rated below 4 stars for me on Letterboxd. It would be entertaining to see a weird little inventive horror movie like Splinter here, but it doesn’t honestly deserve to be here. I think I could make a place for Rachel Getting Married, perhaps, and I would really like to see The Wrestler on this list. Documentaries don’t tend to make it as nominations for screenplays, but I could see an exception for Waltz with Bashir. The biggest miss for me is the beautiful Departures, which really does belong here.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I would love to think it’s possible that someday we’ll have an animated feature film that will win something other than Best Animated Feature. It’s a lovely thing to consider, but even with the best will in the world, that was never going to be WALL-E. The biggest issues WALL-E has comes from the screenplay, which gets heavy handed in the second half. It’s so much better when it’s just WALL-E and EVE and it all starts to drop off when we go to outer space. I like the movie, but it doesn’t belong in this category.

4. It’s honestly difficult for me to make a lot of these choices. While that’s frustrating now, these are the sets of nominees that are the most fun. Even with room for improvement, the choices are hard. I’m putting Frozen River fourth only because of the remaining films, it’s the one I think I could most easily remove without feeling too guilty. I like the movie a lot. It’s challenging, and the screenplay is a big part of what makes it work as well as it does. I just don’t like the story as much as I do the other three nominees.

3. The win for Milk may well have been a foregone conclusion. Hollywood and the Academy often like to flex their muscles when it comes to films dealing with an oppressed minority. A well-acted and directed film about Harvey Milk is going to be difficult for them to resist, and even a few sins in the screenplay are going to be covered up by the intensity of the performances. I’m not saying it shouldn’t have been nominated, but given the choice, it would probably come in fifth for me with a revised set of nominations.

2. There’s a great deal to like with Happy-Go-Lucky, not the least of which is the lovely performance from Sally Hawkins. What moved this into second place for me was a moment near the end of the film that, in a lesser screenplay, would be some sort of bullshit romantic culmination where the manic pixie dream girl rescues the bitter asshole and shows him that the world could be so much more. And it doesn’t happen. What we get is so much better and smarter than that, and I love that the movie takes that risk.

My Choice

1. But could this really go to anything other than In Bruges? The best thing about this movie is the screenplay, and that’s with a good performance from Colin Farrell (of whom I am no real fan) and great ones from Ralph Fiennes and Brendan Gleeson. This is a smart movie all the way through, one that buys into its premise and grabs on for dear life no matter where that premise takes it. It is also ridiculously smart and quotable. It’s the sort of movie that one watches for the plot and then revisits for the glorious use of language. Why the hell didn’t this win?

Final Analysis


  1. Personally, I love WALL-E as that was unlike any animated film that I saw and it made me cry. I would agree with you on In Bruges and Happy-Go-Lucky as well as some nods for Rachel Getting Married and The Wrestler.

    1. I love the first half of WALL-E. While I appreciate the message of the second half, it's applied with a mallet.

      Glad to see another fan of Happy-Go-Lucky.

  2. Of the noms, In Bruges gets my top spot, too. It's an amazing movie. I'd also love to see The Wrestler and Rachel Getting Married nominated here. Interesting thought on Waltz With Bashir. You very well could make a case for it since it is sooooo good.

    Sorry, I didn't care for Departures.

    Some others I really liked (I hope they're all original):

    There's really not much else out there. The only one other thing I really feel comfortable saying it might be worth a nod is Burn After Reading.

    1. I admit that my viewing and opinion of Departures is almost certainly colored by circumstance. It was recommended to me by a friend who died before I got a chance to see it, and it felt so much like a chance to say goodbye that I'll forever be grateful to it.

      Burn After Reading is one of the few Coen films I haven't seen and should probably catch up to.