Monday, December 30, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Original Screenplay 2017

The Contenders:

The Big Sick
Get Out (winner)
Lady Bird
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

What’s Missing

2017 was a dandy year for film, and there were a lot of really interesting ones that featured an original screenplay. As often tends to be the case, we’re graced with nominees that, with one exception, had a ton of other nominations, leaving a lot of movies that deserved some attention out of the running. Both The Post and Roman J. Israel might make some lists, although they wouldn’t make mine. Phantom Thread could have been nominated, and I might consider it, save for the other snubs, like I, Tonya and Dunkirk. There’s precedent for animated films to receive a screenplay nomination, and Coco certainly seems deserving. First Reformed is one I’d consider, but it’s nomination came the following year. The Florida Project is also one that had some real potential as a nominee for this specific award. Logan Lucky was probably too frivolous for real consideration, and Baby Driver was too much of an action movie (and the Academy seems not to notice the existence of Edgar Wright). Battle of the Sexes would have been an interesting choice here as well. I think I understand why mother! was not nominated, but that would have been a fascinating choice, if only for its ambition. Finally, both Good Time and A Ghost Story flew under everyone’s radar, and that’s a damn shame.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I don’t dislike Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, but the screenplay has a lot of problems. For instance, we’re supposed to be repulsed by the fact that Mildred’s ex-husband has a much younger girlfriend, but we’re supposed to be somehow charmed by the May/December marriage of the local police chief. We end with a character redemption that seems to be there because the plot wants it there rather than because it was earned. What I’m saying is that the problems with this movie are screenplay-based, and that makes this a problematic nomination.

4. And now things get hard, because I really, really like the other four nominations a great deal. It pains me in real ways to put Get Out in fourth place, because I think Jordan Peele is a true talent, and I’m still floored that this was his directorial debut. My problem with Get Out is only that so much of it feels like a straight reworking of other films. There’s a lot of The Stepford Wives here, and a great deal of Being John Malkovich. Peele is only going to get better, I think, and while I love the nomination, it wouldn’t be my winner.

3. I’m equally pained putting Guillermo del Toro and The Shape of Water in third. He is my favorite working director by a country mile, and I love that he got so many nominations for a film that was as much a love letter to Universal horror movies as it was to romance and beauty and the films of Douglas Sirk. Once again, it’s a nomination I like, and I’m happy it was up for consideration, but given the other nominations for this year, I just can’t put it in for the win. While it excels in so many areas, the screenplay isn’t where it excels the most.

2. I was really shocked that The Big Sick worked as well as it did. I had absolutely no expectations going in, and found a film that is many things at once, and effective at all of them. It’s funny and tragic and sad and touching all at the same time. It doesn’t hurt that Kumail Nanjiani is one of those actors who is instantly likable. This could have very easily slipped into While You Were Sleeping-style rom-com banality, but it never does. It remains real and honest, and that’s such a surprise for the genre.

My Choice

1. As much as I was tempted to place several movies below the fold, I finally decided that Lady Bird was my clear winner, and no one is more shocked than I am. The truth is that, at long last, I can’t find a single flaw in the screenplay. This is so beautifully written, so completely and honestly real that it feels like it was drawn completely from real life. As much as I like Greta Gerwig on screen and as much as she is already mature behind the camera, Lady Bird makes me want her behind the keyboard as much as possible—this is “best of the decade” work, and it should have been recognized as such.

Final Analysis


  1. I have no problem with Get Out winning Best Screenplay while I wouldn't mind if The Big Sick or Lady Bird getting the prize while the snubs for Coco, I, Tonya, and Phantom Thread was wrong.

    1. I honestly don't have a huge problem with Get Out winning, either. Oscar nominated really, really well for this award. I would have a hard time arguing against the nomination of my top four, which makes adding in one more film pretty difficult.