Friday, July 3, 2020

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 2016

The Contenders:

Hidden Figures
Moonlight (winner)

What’s Missing

It’s an interesting list of nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay for 2016. As it happens, it’s one of those years where the vast majority of the movies I like are made from original screenplays. Off the top I want to mention films like Deadpool and Doctor Strange as ones that others might mention but that I would not take as serious contenders. I was also heartily disappointed in Pride & Prejudice and Zombies. 10 Cloverfield Lane probably doesn’t really deserve to be here, either, but up to the last few minutes, it’s pretty great. I would love to see more horror-themed films get Oscar attention, and The Girl with All the Gifts would have been a nice place to start. Science fiction, another Oscar blind spot, leaves out Rogue One. Was a film like Queen of Katwe too wholesome for Oscar, or was it simply a case of being too Black? Was Hunt for the Wilderpeople too goofy or too Kiwi? Was The Handmaiden too sexual and brutal or too Korean? And what the hell were they thinking by leaving out Lady Macbeth?

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I have nothing against Fences as a story, and I’m sure the adaptation is accurate from the source material. So why is it last? Because it does nothing with the source material. This could have been nothing more than a filmed performance of a very well-rehearsed theatrical company. It’s so clearly a filmed version of a stage drama because it looks exactly like a filmed version of a stage drama. So, while it’s certainly accurate, there’s nothing here to recommend the stage version over a theatrical performance aside from the virtuosity of the cast.

4. I liked Lion as well—in fact I like all five of the nominees to some degree or another, but I don’t know how much I love the way Lion plays out on the screen. But this is a movie that trades entirely on the performances. There’s not a lot of nuance to the story here. It’s a straightforward tale of someone looking for his past. Dev Patel should have gotten a great deal more recognition, as should Sunny Pawar for turning in one of the best child performances of the decade. But the story itself, while good, isn’t that interesting.

3. I love Hidden Figures as a movie, but it has some issues. This is a great story, but naturally it got Hollywooded up into being something much more than it needed to be. The story of these women of color helping to land the first men on the moon is a fascinating one. So why did we need the entirely fictional white savior character played by Kevin Costner? Why do we need the scene of him tearing down the bathroom signs—something that didn’t happen in reality? The real story is enough here. Give us that without the unnecessary pandering.

2. I’m not terribly upset that Moonlight won this award, because I think in a different year I probably would give the Oscar here. This is a story that has a lot of similarities to Lion in the sense that it is told over separate time periods in someone’s life. The difference is that Lion feels entirely like narrative while Moonlight seems to be touching on something deeper. There’s more here than just a story, but something that wants to speak about the deeper meanings and realities of being human. It’s not my choice, but it wasn’t a bad one.

My Choice

1. No shock here, though, that I’m going with Arrival. Of all of the movies released in the previous decade, none has spoken to me as a person on a deeper level than this one. I am a science fiction nerd and I have a post-graduate degree in linguistics. I talk in lecture to my students about the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. It is as if this movie was literally made for me, touching on so many things that I love, study, and care about. That it’s also a brilliant story and a beautiful adaptation allows me to overlook the fact that the story really pushes Sapir-Whorf much further than they should. I don’t care—this is a personal choice, and Arrival is mine.

Final Analysis


  1. I will disagree with you respectfully on Arrival which I liked but Moonlight had the better script but where's The Handmaiden by Chan-wook Park which was an adaptation of Sarah Waters' novel Fingersmith? That was one of the best films I had ever seen. I'm also with you on Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Lady MacBeth which are awesome films.

    1. I'm not going to claim rationality when it comes to Arrival. It really does feel like a movie made for me--one of my grad school professors was interviewed in Slate about it.

      My five nominations would almost certainly be Arrival, Moonlight, The Handmaiden, Lady Macbeth, and Hunt for the Wilderpeople in some order, but Arrival is always winning for me.

  2. Moonlight takes it for me, but Arrival isn't a bad choice at all. Still, I'd have it third behind The Handmaiden in an open field.

    I know they had no shot at noms, but I would have loved to see Deadpool and Rogue One there. I still need to see Lady MacBeth.

    1. I completely understand Moonlight's win. Truthfully, it probably has more to say than Arrival does, but my choice is absolutely a personal one.