Friday, September 4, 2020

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 1999

The Contenders:

The Cider House Rules (winner)
The Green Mile
The Insider
The Talented Mr. Ripley

What’s Missing

Once again, this is a year and award where most of the interesting possible entrants are in the other category. I check more than 20 movies to see if they were potentially adapted screenplays, and all but five were original. What this means that were this a case where I hated all five of the entrants, I would have just enough possibilities for a new slate, and none of my choices would have really been on Oscar’s radar for a screenplay award. This is probably especially true of Stir of Echoes. Since all of the Oscar love given to The Sixth Sense, a movie with a similar plot (better in almost every aspect in my opinion) had no chance of a nomination. The same is true of Sleepy Hollow, since Tim Burton doesn’t get a lot of love in many categories. The Mummy would have been an interesting choice, but this sort of classic pulp film style never gets much traction. Oscar likes Polanski, but not for a film like The Ninth Gate. As for Fight Club, I can’t imagine Oscar wanting to acknowledge its existence outside of technical awards.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I don’t have any real objections to The Talented Mr. Ripley other than the fact that I find it a movie that I’m not going to want to watch again any time soon. The screenplay is fine for what it is—my biggest problem is probably the casting of Matt Damon, who ends up being more sympathetic because he’s Matt Damon in 1999. I don’t know exactly what is there is in this movie that makes me unable to embrace it fully. Maybe it’s Damon. Maybe it’s the story. I don’t really know, but there’s something here that freaks me out a little.

4. With The Insider, we get a story that again is difficult to watch. What I find strange here is that it plays in a lot of respects like a thriller, but one that is toned down from a typical film of that genre. On top of that, there’s some evidence that the events of the film were actually dramatized to make the movie more exciting. That’s a problem—when the real story is dramatized and still feels like it’s been dialed back, it’s probably not quite got the goods for something that’s really going to make the audience excited.

3. I don’t have a lot of issues with the screenplay for Election aside from simply not liking the movie as much as I do the remaining two nominees. It has the genuine problem of being filled with characters I don’t really like that much. None of the characters are good people or worth rooting for with the possible exception of nihilist Tammy Metzler. When I don’t really have a character to gravitate to in a film, I have difficulty find a reason to watch the film or enjoy it. That’s very much the case here, despite the movie being enjoyable.

My Choices

2. I understand the win for The Cider House Rules, and I don’t hate the win, ultimately. This is a film that deals with some very difficult topics, and does so with a great deal of nuance and understanding. That’s not always easy to do, and it’s especially rare when it comes to a movie that at least marginally attempts to have broad appeal to an audience. It is once again a movie that I can’t think I will watch that often, but it’s one I’m happy to have seen. More importantly, it’s one that handles its themes delicately and well.

1. I’m giving this to The Green Mile, though. The one knock I might have against this movie is the length—it’s probably a good 20-30 minutes longer than it really needs to be, but it never feels long and never gets boring. It’s also a very faithful adaptation of the original source material. The changes that have been made from the source material are minor and don’t affect the story at all, and the story itself is beautiful and tragic in so many ways. It’s a hell of a good adaptation, and it had a hell of a good place to start from. I’d put movies like Fight Club in my own list, but The Green Mile still takes it.

Final Analysis


  1. I enjoyed The Talented Mr. Ripley and thought Matt Damon was good in it but I see what you're saying. He has an innate likability without a lot of underlying malice. That's perfect for the kind of movie star he became but not a big help in this particular film. Alain Delon in the original Purple Noon possessed that key element. Delon never had that warm feeling that Damon has but more of a surly sensuality that draws you towards him with an edge of danger lurking underneath. He's a perfect fit for Tom Ripley.

    While I liked all these films the only adaptation I can speak to directly having read the book is Cider House Rules. It changes and compresses parts of the book, what adaptation doesn't, but it captures the essence of the book and I think that's the most important goal. I'm glad it won, it would be my pick.

    1. I really don't object to The Cider House Rules winning. It's a beautiful film and it takes on some very difficult topics very well.

  2. What about Eyes Wide Shut which was based on a novella from the 1920s? I would've put some consideration into its script while I probably would've rooted for Election for its humor. I've seen some of The Insider, The Green Mile, and The Talented Mr. Ripley but not in their entirety. I have seen Purple Noon. I would've also considered The Virgin Suicides but that was released a year later. Other films I would've considered for Best Adapted Screenplay are Pola X (based on a piece by Herman Melville), Titus, Jesus' Son, and Girl, Interrupted. Yet, I think it should've gone to Fight Club overall.

    1. I don't really object to Eyes Wide Shut as a part of the conversation, but it probably wouldn't make my list.

      Fight Club, for me, is about the direction more than anything else. I will say this, though--the fact that the movie is even intelligible is rather amazing. I managed to scrape through the book, and have honestly found everything else written by Palahniuk to be almost unintelligible.

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  4. I've only seen The Green Mile and The Cider House Rules. I don't remember the latter well enough to say it would get my vote and I'm not the biggest fan of The Green Mile. Therefore, I have to go completely off the reservation to find things I really like.

    Japanese horror just isn't at all on Oscar's radar so that rules out Audition. Same for Black rom-coms, leaving out The Best Man. Then again, they don't care much for White comedy, which eliminates Office Space. I could see them nominating something like The Hurricane, but they ultimately did not. The biggest snub, to me, is The Iron Giant. Then again, it's animated which isn't snooty enough for Oscar. Sigh.

    1. I'd love to include a lot of these movies, but they're original screenplays. The screenplay awards are so frustrating in so many ways because of that.