Friday, December 27, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 1979

The Contenders:

Apocalypse Now
La Cage aux Folles
Kramer vs. Kramer (winner)
A Little Romance
Norma Rae

What’s Missing

As usual, the list of nominees for this award has some fine choices and a few that don’t really belong here, so there’s lots of room for improvement. It’s a shame that Salem’s Lot would not be eligible because it was made for television, but it’s a dandy version of one of Stephen King’s better books. As usual, horror movies get overlooked in general, so we get nothing for The Amityville Horror, Dracula (the version starring Frank Langella), and Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht. That last one crosses over with Stalker in Oscar’s tendency to ignore foreign language films. Starting Over would have been an interesting choice, as would have been My Brilliant Career. While I probably wouldn’t nominate either The Great Santini or Being There, but I could see someone arguing for either of them. I’d be much more likely to want to see Escape from Alcatraz here. The big miss, though, even though Oscar would never go there, is The Warriors.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. For whatever reason, 1979 was apparently the year for Kramer vs. Kramer, and I don’t really know why. It won this Oscar, probably because it was the film that everyone glommed onto for this Oscars. Truthfully, it’s a very good movie up until the closing moments. Those closing moments moved this movie from what would probably have been third place to the bottom of the barrel. It cheats the ending so badly that on Letterboxd, my review dropped a full star. When there’s a bad ending, it ruins the rest of the film.

4. There are a few instances where the remake of a film is better than the original. That’s even more rare when the original is not in English and the remake is. However, I’m of the opinion that The Birdcage is far better than La Cage aux Folles. That being the case, it’s hard to think that La Cage aux Folles belongs as a nomination here, especially considering what was not included. Truthfully, I’ll happily watch the remake whenever, and I’ve never thought to rewatch this original even a single time.

3. A Little Romance is sweet, but it was a hard sell for me to get there. I eventually decided that I liked it, at least a little, but I disliked it quite a bit at the start. Precocious kids aren’t nearly as entertaining as directors and screenwriters seem to think they are. It’s also a film that dives head-first into the realm of magical realism, but it doesn’t want to admit that. I’ve got no problem with that subgenre, but it seems like wanting to have things both ways by not simply admitting that the film in question belongs there.

2. It’s easy to think that the best part of Norma Rae is the engaging performance of Sally Field, and she is a big part of what makes the movie work. That said, she had a great deal of help going into the role, because the screenplay is damn good. The movie that it is most like in a lot of ways is Erin Brockovich (or Silkwood), but unlike the title character of Erin Brockovich, Norma is someone we’re happy to know and happy to spend time with. She’s intense and dedicated and angry without being a stereotypical bitch, and it’s the screenplay that gets us there.

My Choice

1. I know that there are people who don’t think Apocalypse Now is the Vietnam movie that should always be named first when the topic comes up, but those people are simply wrong. While there are perhaps moments that go too long, you won’t get me to admit to any of them. Much of this certainly comes from the performances that we get, but those performances had a surreal masterpiece of a screenplay to draw from. It doesn’t hurt that this is based on a story penned by one of my favorite authors. There’s no way I’m going anywhere else.

Final Analysis


  1. I will never understand how a film like Kramer vs. Kramer beat Apocalypse Now in anything as that is still the best film of 1979 with Stalker in 2nd. I've seen bits of A Little Romance and Norma Rae but at least they had something interesting to say. Being There deserves to be nominated as should Stalker. I know I'm in the minority but I too think The Birdcage is better than La Cage aux Folles. Where's Woyzeck by Werner Herzog and The Tin Drum by Volker Schlondorff. I would mention Tess but that came out in the U.S. a year later.

    1. I like Kramer vs. Kramer as a family drama up to the point where it shits the bed, but it's nothing like the best movie from 1979, which will always be--as you say--Apocalypse Now with Stalker in second.

      Woyzeck is a hole in my Herzog viewing. I did consider adding The Tin Drum to the list up top until I remembered how much I hate everything about that movie, including the story.