Monday, March 9, 2020

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Original Screenplay 2018

The Contenders:

The Favourite
First Reformed
Green Book (winner)

What’s Missing

It’s not often that I disagree with 100% of the slate for a particular set of nominations, and I’m not quite there with 2018’s list for Best Original Screenplay, but I’m pretty close. The Academy’s tendency to avoid caring about horror movies caused it to ignore Hereditary across the board, much to the detriment of this set of Oscars. Both Unsane and A Quiet Place could stand to be here as well. Foreign movies often have issues getting nominations in other categories, which leaves out the excellent Capernaum here. Isle of Dogs has the double-whammy of being both partly in another language and animated, a shame because it’s a dandy story. Oscar has started to embrace the weird much more regularly, but Sorry to Bother You might have just been too much off the deep end for consideration.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I’m in a position where I’m not sure I want to put anything in last place, but I also don’t want to put anything in first. Everything feels like it deserves to be in third or fourth. But something has to go here, and so I’m putting the eventual winner, Green Book on the bottom. The reason is simple enough: it’s lazy. This is little more than an update of Driving Miss Daisy, a film that was also pretty lazy in its own way. I get why this won, but given the other nominations and potential nominations, it not only shouldn’t have won, it shouldn’t have been nominated.

4. Roma was quite the darling come Oscar time, and I still haven’t figured out exactly why this was the case. There’s nothing particularly wrong with Roma, but it’s also not that interesting, unusual, or different of a story. It’s written well enough and the characters are interesting, at least as far as they go, but I don’t know that there’s anything done in this story that hadn’t been done a few dozen times before. Again, I get the nomination, but I don’t think it belongs here, and certainly doesn’t deserve a win.

3. So what about Vice? It’s a fine enough story, I guess, if you’re into that kind of thing. I can’t help but think that of all the people currently still alive and having been connected to the government who deserves a biopic less than Dick Cheney. The one saving grace of this film is that it depicts very clearly exactly how the American right has worked to destroy democracy, and this is shown clearly and without much commentary. Ultimately, I find it depressing that this moral sinkhole of a person gets this kind of acclaim.

2. First Reformed has problems in its third act, something I will not deny. That’s often a pretty major sin for me, but something I can overlook in certain circumstances. In this case, the performance of Ethan Hawke is something to hang onto, and gives the movie a little more credibility, just like the ideas behind Sorry to Bother You lift it beyond the fact that it goes completely off the rails in the last 20 minutes or so. I want to like this more than I do, but I can’t deny that the problems are in the screenplay.

1. What this means is that, like it or not, I’m left with The Favourite as my winner based on the nominations. I don’t honestly hate that result, since of the five nominations I’ve been given, it’s the one I would absolutely keep. In a perfect world, The Favourite would be in the mix, but probably wouldn’t rise above third place or so. It’s a fun screenplay, though, at times tragic but also frequently funny and trenchant. It’s the performances that sell it, of course, but they get there because of a good screenplay. But ultimately, it’s not my choice.

My Choice

My original choice here was Can You Ever Forgive Me?, which would have been a strange winner in this category, since it was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. While Sorry to Bother You does go off the rails in the third act, it's also the movie that tkaes the most chances (by far!) and does the most interesting things. It might be a little too much to actually win this award, but I'd love to have it in the conversation. I like it more than I do the rest of the field at the very least. I'd want to bring in A Quiet Place and Isle of Dogs as well, and maybe Hereditary, too. And while I like all of those screenplays, I admire the thinking behind Sorry to Bother You more.

Final Analysis


  1. I absolutely agree with your ranking and your outsider choice, which was my favorite of the year. I loved "Sorry to Bother You", too.

    1. I'd want Sorry to Bother You in the mix, but it wouldn't win in my opinion because it loses its way in the third act. Still, it's better than a lot of the actual nominations.

  2. There's still a lot of 2018 films that I need to see but giving that award to fucking Green Book (which I haven't seen and have no interest in) is just fucking stupid. I would give it to The Favourite though I would make some consideration for Bad Times at the El Royale, Isle of Dogs, and Game Night. Can You Ever Forgive Me? is in my never-ending DVR watchlist as I hope to see it this year as well as Sorry to Bother You.

    1. Green Book is a safe movie. It has the sort of conflict that allows people to be righteously indignant without really challenging anyone or anything. You're safe unless you (like me) feel a need to watch everything nominated.

      I have Bad Times at the El Royale sitting on my desk right now.