Monday, May 25, 2020

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 1969

The Contenders:

Anne of the Thousand Days
Goodbye, Columbus
Midnight Cowboy (winner)
They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

What’s Missing

I’m a little surprised that our list of nominations is as good as it is for adapted screenplay 1969. I like four of these movies well enough, and a couple of them a great deal. As always, though, there are some suggestions to make the list better. Goodbye, Mr. Chips is not one I would nominate, but I can see a lot of people thinking it worthy putting on the list. The same could be said for Hello, Dolly! Alice’s Restaurant would perhaps have been the strangest adapted screenplay nomination in history based on what it was adapted from. True Grit is another one where I’m mildly surprised at the nomination. I can’t imagine that Venus in Furs would have been a serious contender in any conceivable Oscar race—to Oscar’s detriment. I’d love to see The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie here, and I especially think that Kes belongs here.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. Goodbye, Columbus is not my least favorite of the nominations, but it is the one I think least deserves to be here. In truth, I don’t think Philip Roth translates to film that well. It might be that all Roth seems to care about is sex. I didn’t dislike the movie, but I found that it reminded me a great deal of The Graduate, which is rarely a good thing for me. Richard Benjamin almost certainly deserved a nomination and Ali McGraw might have as well, but the screenplay really didn’t feel deserving.

4. My problem with Anne of the Thousand Days was more the conscienceless scenery chewing of Richard Burton than anything else. I do like the fact that the story is more or less told from the perspective of Anne Bolelyn, which is perhaps the most interesting part of the film. I don’t love the story that much, though, and that’s going to make it a harder sell for a best screenplay Oscar. I like other adaptations more because I like other stories more. I get the nomination, but I don’t think I would nominate it.

3. This was Midnight Cowboy’s year, so the win is not too surprising. I won’t say it’s an overrated movie, but I will say it’s a movie that I don’t love as much as I think I’m supposed to. Once again, it’s not a story that I love. I do love the odd bromance between Joe and Rizzo, but that’s the only thing about the film that I really enjoy, and I like it mostly because it seems out of place for 1969. I get the nomination and I understand the win, but it’s just on the edge of a movie I would nominate here.

2. Z won a couple of Oscars from 1969, notably for Best Foreign Language Feature. It’s also the first of these that I fully endorse as a nominee for this Oscar, and if someone puts it at the top of the list, I won’t say it’s a wrong choice. It’s a very smart political thriller, one that is smart, engaging, and potentially enraging. I love that it was nominated here, and in a lot of years, it would be an easy win. As it happens, though, it was up against what I think is the best movie of the decade, and even a great movie like this one isn’t going to win that competition.

My Choice

1. Frequent readers of this blog are likely already aware of my love for They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, and thus it should come as no shock that I’m putting it in first place. It’s a brutal movie, but also one that is damn-near perfect in presenting the story it wants to. There is nothing about this movie that doesn’t work. And while everything in this movie is perfect, from Jane Fonda’s performance on down, all of that comes from a screenplay that remains vital more than fifty years later. It’s my clear winner in a walk.

Final Analysis


  1. I do have They Shoot Horses, Don't They? as one of my Blind Spots this year as I'm waiting for TCM to show it. Kes should've been in that list while I also would've included Z and Midnight Cowboy. Other films I would've vouched for are Mississippi Mermaid by Francois Truffaut and Sweet Charity by Bob Fosse. I know someone will say Fellini Satyricon but... that's my least favorite film by Fellini based on the films I've seen from him so far as I kind of found it to be dull. I do think On Her Majesty's Secret Service would've been a nice inclusion.

    1. I'll be very curious to hear your thoughts on Horses. I think it's a masterpiece in every sense of the word.

  2. The problem with these screenplay categories is that I never know exactly what is eligible. Given the list of nominees I would probably give Midnight cowboy more love than you did because it is as gutsy as it is. But it is probably taking backseat to Z because if how clever it is.

    1. I don't think either of them would be bad choices. Z would make the list for me in any year in the '60s and would win a lot of them.

  3. I would have gone with They Shoot Horses, Don't They? from this list anyway but having read the book it is the purest distillation of its source material. That doesn't always matter as long as the adapter captures the essence of the story but in this instance Horace McCoy's pervasive sense of ground down dreams and despair are an irreplaceable piece of the narrative and that is transferred to the screenplay.

    1. A lot of that comes from the cast as well. It's a punishing movie, but one that I absolutely love.