Friday, September 18, 2020

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapated Screenplay 1996

The Contenders:

The Crucible
The English Patient
Sling Blade (winner)

What’s Missing

This is a pretty good collection of nominations. I like most of these pretty well, and a couple of them I like quite a bit. There are certainly some thoughts about what might be included here, though. A movie like Mars Attacks would never make the cut, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun, and probably the best movie ever adapted from trading cards. Similarly, Bad Moon would never get that much attention, but if it had stuck with the original book (which came from the perspective of the dog), it would have been an interesting choice. Similarly, Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie is a personal favorite, but not one that really deserves to be here. Animated movies don’t get a lot of play come Oscar time outside of their categories, but I think I can make a strong case for James and the Giant Peach. Oscar loves Shakespeare, but the modernized and youthful Romeo + Juliet was almost certainly not proper enough for them, and Hamlet already had a nomination. If I could add one, I’d add The Birdcage, which is one of those rare films where I like the remake better than I like the original.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. The English Patient is one of those movies that old school Hollywood loves. It’s epic in scope and tells a romance in the guise of a grander story. It’s tragic and sweeping, and exactly the sort of thing Oscar voters love to bow to. I’m honestly a little surprised that it didn’t win, but of the five, it’s the one I would lose without even thinking about it. It’s not a terrible movie, but it’s an overblown one, and one that I’ve never had a desire to see a second time. That bodes ill for any category, but being not interesting enough for a second watch kills its chances here.

4. The Crucible is quite a good adaptation, good enough that I put in on the short list of possible nominations before realizing it was already here. The issue is that it’s in a year with, frankly, better screenplays. I don’t hate the nomination, though. It’s a story that works on multiple levels, of course, both as the story it tells and as allegory for the McCarthy years and the Blacklist. I’m a little surprised it’s not made more often, because in a lot of ways, it’s pretty timeless as a story. But it’s not getting above fourth.

3. There’s a lot to like in Trainspotting, but it’s one of those movies I have never thought to watch a second time. I think I even own a copy (at least I did at one point), but once was enough for me. If that reasoning is going to keep The English Patient on the bottom of the list, it’s going to do the same thing for this one. Trainspotting runs the gamut from high comedy to seriously disturbing moments, and that might be the biggest issue I have with it. It knows what it wants to be, and what it wants to be is everything.

My Choices

2. I endorse the win for Sling Blade. The genius of the film is just how likable Karl is as a character despite his very clear quirks. Karl is the sort of character who could quickly become overwhelming (like, say, Nell), but he never does. All of his actions, while extreme in places, are completely understandable as something the character would do. I get the win completely, and based on the actual nominations, I’m actually pleasantly surprised at the win. Far be it from me to take the Oscar away from Billy Bob Thornton, but my vote would go elsewhere.

1. I’m giving the Oscar to Hamlet. The reason for this is actually pretty simple. Shakespeare’s play is considered the greatest drama in history, which is going to put it at least in the running if the version is competent. And this version is more than competent. I think it’s the best version on film, and quite possibly the best Shakespeare on film, although that might be a little more than it can support. Branagh turned it into a real movie instead of a filmed play. He made it vital and interesting, and I would chose it without hesitation.

Final Analysis


  1. I was impressed by Branagh's "Hamlet," but I was much more impressed by his "Henry V." For me, "Hamlet" felt bloated and ponderous, and it may well be my familiarity with the main characters—whom I've known since my school days—that kept me from being emotionally invested in them. "Henry V," by contrast, was an experience that I went into cold, and it blew me away. I guess what I'm saying is that, while I can see giving high praise to "Hamlet," I'd probably tilt more toward "Sling Blade." Mmm-hmm.

    1. Henry V is my favorite Shakespeare (followed by Macbeth), and I love Branagh's version of it. Branagh's Hamlet is huge--he included every line rather than trimming down even the parts that were almost certainly intended to be edited out. But I like the scope of it. I love that he wanted to make an accurate version of the story as much as he could, and he genuinely succeeded.

      That said, since I've put Sling Blade as a choice, I don't disagree with leaning that way. It's a great screenplay.

  2. I'd line up almost exactly in the same order except that English Patient (I love this sort of epic and I love KST but this one is interminable!) and Trainspotting (hate, hated that film) would be battling it out for who was last.

    The Crucible couldn't have possibly had a better cast but it was a little draggy. I think that's the fault of the director though since the text is rarely changed and I've seen other productions that moved more fluidly.

    But that's exactly what Branagh got right with Hamlet. It's a bear of a text but it he adapted it, along with his direction, into something that slides right along. I wouldn't say Sling Blade is a bad winner but it would be second for me.

    1. The English Patient takes itself so seriously. It just doesn't work for me, and it started that short Oscar trend of big romances winning Best Picture at the end of the '90s. I have never thought to watch it a second time.

      There are moments in Trainspotting I like, though, which is why it's higher for me, but I won't tell anyone they are wrong for disliking it. It's a pretty punishing movie.

      That Branagh made Hamlet entertaining and watchable for four hours is a real achievement, and I think that should have been rewarded. That said, Sling Blade is a hell of a good script.