Friday, February 21, 2020

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Original Screenplay 1969

The Contenders:

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (winner)
The Damned
Easy Rider
The Wild Bunch

What’s Missing

1969 is a very strange year for original screenplays, at least in terms of what I have seen. Virtually everything that I have seen from this year is based on an adapted screenplay. In fact, I have found only two movies that I have seen that are based on original screenplays, not already nominated, and that I think are good enough to include on this list. The first is The Italian Job, an entertaining romp with a huge cast. The second is the slow and cerebral My Night at Maud’s, where it’s the screenplay that really sells the film.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. Of the five nominations, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice is the one that I genuinely didn’t like that much. While I’m sure this was very much “the thing” when it was new, shown today it looks like a bunch of self-indulgent ex-hippies decide that free love and hurting each other is spiritually the best thing they can do. All of these characters are either smarmy jerks or have spines made of gelatin. In any event, I disliked all four main characters here intensely, and since I’m supposed to like them, that’s a problem. It’s especially a problem for the screenplay that puts me in that position.

4. Truthfully, I would have probably liked The Damned a lot more when it was released than I do now. In 1969, the clichés that are very much a part of this movie are weren’t nearly as noticeable or as severe. The Damned relies a great deal on a sort of character cliché that it should be better than. There’s no reason to make the genuinely evil Nazi also a series of what in 1969 qualifies as perversions like being gay and a cross-dresser. It’s cartoonish, and while I understand the nomination, it’s not getting higher than this.

3. I rather like Easy Rider because I like the meaning behind the story. I like the attempt at a sort of ideology here. The problem is that there really isn’t a great deal of story here. The characters move from place to place on a sort of doomed quest of self and essentially don’t quite get there because they opt for physical experiences instead. It’s a valid storyline, but the film itself only has story kind of tangentially. I like this movie a great deal, but the screenplay is, to me, the weakest part of the film. This is about the message and what is behind the story, not the story itself.

2. It would be easy to write off The Wild Bunch as nothing more than Sam Peckinpah-fueled violence, and that would be wrong. It is, perhaps, a very simple story, but that doesn’t mean that it’s simplistic. There’s a lot going on here, and a lot to love about the movie. While the action sequences themselves (and the trademark slow motion dead guys from Peckinpah) are again not the height of storytelling, a surprising amount of the movie is. Simple though it may be in many ways, this is dandy storytelling.

My Choice

1. But Oscar did right in selecting Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. This is a film where a lot of the pieces fell together in the right way. The chemistry between the two stars is undeniable, and that is a huge part of what makes the whole thing work, but the actual characters themselves, the relationship between them, and the situations they are in come from that screenplay. It’s a beloved classic for a reason, and much of that reason is the screenplay that gets us from start to finish. Oscar chose well.

Final Analysis


  1. While I think The Wild Bunch is the better film, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was the right choice while Easy Rider deserved that nod as I too would've vouched for My Night at Maud's while I'm not sure if I would include Kes in that list as I don't remember if it's based on another source or if it's an original script.

    1. When I started looking through the other screenplays from this year, Kes was one of the first I looked at. It was adapted by Barry Hines from his own novel.

  2. Not a lot of original screenplays here. Cannot say I disagree with you picks, just wish the selection was larger and of better quality.

    1. The two I mentioned above were the only two movies from this year that I liked, that weren't adapted, and that weren't nominated. Such a weird year!

  3. I agree they chose wisely with Butch, I'd also put Wild Bunch second even if I'm not a huge fan of it. I didn't like The Damned nor B&C&T&A much and I flat out detested Easy Rider so that made the choice simple.

    The only film I'd mention that you haven't is Once Upon a Time in the West, even though it debuted in '68 it didn't premiere in the US until the summer of '69. Butch & Sundance would remain my choice even if it was there but it would probably be my second. However my understanding is that when it was initially released stateside it was heavily edited so that surely hurt its chances.

    1. I respect Easy Rider for what it is, but it's not a movie I think to revisit very often.

      Once Upon a Time in the West is always going to be thought of a a 1968 movie for me for whatever reason, so it didn't really cross my radar for this.