Monday, December 9, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 1978

The Contenders:

California Suite
Heaven Can Wait
Midnight Express (winner)
Same Time, Next Year

What’s Missing

Sometimes I really hate Oscar and the nominations for a particular year. Such is the case with Best Adapted Screenplay for 1978, a year where I dislike three of the five nominees and would keep only one. That’s more frustrating because of just how potentially good this year could have been for this category. Admittedly, looking at the snubs, not many look like Oscar’s traditional fare (which is how we got the list we did). That said, The Boys from Brazil did manage a nomination for Best Actor, so it’s not crazy here. Dawn of the Dead and the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers are much harder sells for Oscar. This is also an era before the superhero movie got any respect, which left a well-deserved nomination for Superman off the table. Similarly, while musicals tend to get a lot of Oscar love, Grease may just not have been serious enough to qualify. It’s also decades before animated films garnered any love, which left out the tremendous Watership Down. If we’re going to talk about the sort of things that Oscar does like to nominate, The Buddy Holly Story would qualify as would The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith.

Weeding Through the Nominees

5. It feels like Same Time, Next Year was nominated because it came across as clever for the time. I suppose it could be called clever, but I think it’s a lot more accurate to call it lazy. Our two protagonists are regularly nothing more than a receptacle for whatever current trend was going on in each period of the film. These aren’t characters as much as they are tropes for each decade in which the film takes place. Over and over again, it’s like someone Googled “1960s” and “1970s” and grabbed the top search result to define the characters.

4. Bloodbrothers is a movie I wanted to like a lot more than I ended up liking. I’ve been told that a great deal of Italian families are overly emotional and frequently act in hugely demonstrative ways, and that’s a huge part of Bloodbrothers. My family isn’t like that, so seeing it on screen is pretty upsetting for me—it’s just constant yelling to a degree that seems like parody. There are attempts to do something a little more than that with this movie, and while I respect the attempt, I don’t like the actual results that much.

3. California Suite is Neil Simon’s attempt to make an anthology story. The film contains four different stories, a couple of which were interesting and a couple of which are just unpleasant and/or dumb. I’d love to claim that this is a success, but the truth is that only about half of this movie works, which makes it no better than half a movie. The cast list is fantastic, and it doesn’t matter at all because half of the stories are unpleasant, dull, or both. Once again, I couldn’t wait for this to be over.

2. I liked Heaven Can Wait at least enough to say that it’s worth watching once, but given the potential for this year, I’m not going to say it deserved to be here. My biggest problems with the film come in the plot. It’s great that Warren Beatty can evidently look like he’s playing quarterback, but the premise here is dumb, even for a spiritual remake. And when I say that it’s dumb, I don’t mean the Heaven stuff, but the stuff that crops up around it. .

1. Midnight Express is the only one of the five nominees that genuinely deserves to be here, and given the weird set of nominations from Oscar, it’s absolutely the clear winner. It’s a good story, if a difficult one to watch, and of all of the possibilities here, it not only tells the best story, it tells its story the best. I’m not limited, of course, and so I can go elsewhere, but no matter where I end up, Midnight Express was right to be nominated.

My Choice

The right choice here is Superman if for no other reason than no one really thought it could be done. There might have been superhero themed or tangential movies before this, but none that really took themselves seriously and really gave us a story and a cast of characters that were worth seeing. While not all of Superman holds up, a great deal of it does, and even if the award goes elsewhere, it should have had a chance to win.

Final Analysis


  1. Superman didn't get nominated? I love that film. To me, it is still the best superhero film ever made and I would've totally given the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay to either that or The Buddy Holly Story. I do like Midnight Express but it's not Superman. They fucked up big.

    1. Of course it didn't. In 1978, a superhero movie was clearly something for kids and didn't warrant being taken seriously. Oscar is always multiple decades behind the times.

      Midnight Express is the class of the nominations and worthy of being on the list, but it's not the winner.