Friday, January 17, 2020

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Original Screenplay 2000

The Contenders:

Almost Famous (winner)
Billy Elliot
Erin Brockovich
You Can Count on Me

What’s Missing

I think 2000 is a really underrated movie year. There were a lot of good to great films released in 2000, and while many of them are not the sort of thing the Academy likes to nominate, plenty of them were. Per usual, I’ll dispense with the films the Academy would never nominate first. We can start with the sci-fi banger Pitch Black along with horror movie Ginger Snaps as two very unlikely nominations. Shadow of the Vampire has more Academy cred, but is still probably a longshot. Animated movies are also longshot nominations for this category, which leaves out Chicken Run. Finally on that front, documentaries have their own category and don’t really have screenplays in general, which leaves out The Gleaners and I. Oscar loves to nominate foreign movies for things, but generally in small numbers. This leaves out Dancer in the Dark, Amores Perros, Nine Queens, and the astonishing In the Mood for Love. It also ignores about half of Beat Takeshi’s Brother. Were I wanting to create controversy, I could also claim that Oscar’s tendency to ignore foreign-language films excludes Snatch. Sexy Beast could claim a spot here, though. The one I’d love to see nominated is The Dish, a sweet little film that no one seems to know about.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. For as good as this year was in films, I’m really nonplussed by the nominees for Best Original Screenplay. In the case of Erin Brockovich, I think it’s a case where the Academy was so enamored of the story being told here that they put out a lot of nominations for the idea of the film rather than the film itself. The screenplay for Erin Brockovich is fine, but hardly exceptional. In fact, the only thing that is really interesting in this David and Goliath story is that pretty much everyone is unlikable.

4. I could say a lot the same about Almost Famous. I know that I was very much supposed to like Almost Famous and the truth is that I simply didn’t, mostly because I disliked pretty much every character on the screen. The story is interesting enough at its heart, but when all of the people who are experiencing that story are people you don’t want to spend time with, the effect is pretty much lost. And really, it’s got to be the fault of the screenplay that everyone is arrogant, bloviating, or otherwise annoying.

3. My issues with Gladiator are not that I dislike the characters. When it comes to the film itself, my biggest problem with Gladiator is that Ridley Scott hadn’t figured out how to film an action sequence without giving the audience motion sickness. When it comes to the screenplay, the biggest issue I have is that there’s nothing going on in this story that you couldn’t see coming from a mile off. I mean, it’s only five years off from Braveheart, and there are a hell of a lot of similarities.

2. I wasn’t sure what to expect going into You Can Count on Me, but it wasn’t that I would end up really liking this film a great deal. What I really like about it is just how subtle it is. On the surface, it’s not that obvious that a great deal happens to change the characters. On further review, though, there are changes in the characters here. I wouldn’t hate this for the win, but the best part of this film is the subtle work of Laura Linney. The story is fine, but she’s the reason that the movie is worth your time.

1. Limited to the five nominees, I’m going with Billy Elliot. I know where people might complain here. You could easily point to this screenplay and make the same complaints that I did about other films here. It’s got a plot that has an obvious direction. You know where this is going to go once the basic plot is set up. I get that. But this is a case where Billy Elliot does this story so well that I find it irresistible. It doesn’t hurt that both of my daughters are involved in the ballet world. For the nominees, it’s my easy choice. For an open field, it gets nominated, but it doesn’t win.

My Choice

My winner is In the Mood for Love. If you asked me to rank genres, I will happily admit that romances wouldn’t rank very high on the list. The difference in this case is that this is perhaps the best-written romance I’ve ever seen. The characters are deep and beautifully drawn, three-dimensional people with real wants and needs and desires. This is such a smart movie in so many ways that it’s a damn shame that the Academy didn’t care to nominate it.

Final Analysis


  1. I'm going to disagree with you, respectfully, as I love Almost Famous despite what happened to Cameron Crowe afterwards as he made one of the worst films ever made in Aloha. However, I will agree with you on In the Mood for Love although I should note that Wong Kar-Wai actually never wrote a script for the film though never really does write any scripts for his films as he mainly write notes as guidelines along with an outline of what he wants to tell. A similar approach that Mike Leigh does with his films and some of Terrence Malick's recent films until A Hidden Life.

    Of the nominees, You Can Count on Me I think should've won while I'm with you on Amores Perros and Sexy Beast.

    I thought Billy Elliot was OK but I'm not a fan of Stephen Daldry as I tend to liken him as the Oscar-bait equivalent to Michael Bay which he has held that title for until recently by Tom Hooper with Cats.

    1. This might well be why Wong Kar-wai wasn't actually nominated for this Oscar. If that's the case, I get his lack of nomination, although it makes me love the movie that much more.

      I freely admit that my appreciation for Billy Elliot is entirely personal. I've been involved as a spectator in ballet for something like 16 years. I've seen all of the heartache and tears and pain and all of that because my kids have lived it. My older daughter is a professional and teaches ballet and modern. There's something very visceral about that connection.

      I don't have a strong opinion on Daldry, but I do love that screenplay.