The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
If Beale Street Could Talk
A Star is Born
As usual, I’m going to spend a little time discussing also-rans for this category. Best Adapted Screenplay 2018 had some quality choices, but there were plenty that could have been brought in here that were not. It was a big super hero year, and most of them really don’t belong here. These include Ant-Man and the Wasp, Aquaman, Avengers: Infinity War, Black Panther, and Venom. Black Panther and Infinity War might be the two I could be argued into. Not in the same genre, but also not really deserving of being in the conversation from my perspective would be A Wrinkle in Time (good but not great) and Ready Player One (typical white male power fantasy bullshit mixed with ‘80s nostalgia). Movies in the wrong genre include Halloween (overtly horror) and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (super hero and animation). I’ve got a great deal of evidence that Oscar has not only a race problem but a gender problem, which would exclude Annihilation (which is also science fiction), Oceans 8 (which probably wouldn’t make my shortlist, honestly), and Widows (which absolutely would make my shortlist). First Man was skunked on non-technical awards, and might have been too sterile for screenplay. I would have loved to have seen The Wife in the mix. I’m holding The Hate U Give in reserve—it’s on my desk and I plan on seeing it in the next couple of weeks.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. A Star is Born is coming into this fight with a couple of significant strikes against it. The first is that I don’t love the story (I don’t hate it, either). The second is that for my money, the definitive version is the one from the 1950s. The best thing about this version is not that it has been updated and modernized, but the fact that Lady Gaga is ridiculously talented, and is one of the few people in the world who could conceivably work in the role. But the screenplay is nothing special in my opinion, particularly because it gives this amazing talent almost nothing to do.
4. I appreciate that The Ballad of Buster Scruggs presented an anthology film that was genuinely different. Typically, “anthology” is synonymous with “horror,” and that clearly wasn’t the case here. The big problem with anthologies, though, is that they tend to be uneven, and that’s the case here. Less than two years out from watching it, I can’t remember about half of the stories, and that’s a real issue. If half of your movie isn’t worth remembering (or good enough to remember in general), you’ve got some real problems.
3. I liked If Beale Street Could Talk in the sense that I appreciated what it was and the story it wants to tell, but it’s not really a movie that one “likes” in the traditional sense. It’s probably a better movie than I gave it credit for being. I don’t have any real issues with it aside from the fact that I found it exhausting. I’m angered that this isn’t a story about the past, but a story that works as an allegory for the present. This is a story that isn’t just told as history, but as relevant today. It’s not the movie’s fault, but rewatchability figures into this for me, and this angered me enough that I don’t want to rewatch it.
2. I very much liked the idea of Can You Ever Forgive Me?, and much of that comes from the screenplay. This is a smart movie and a damn good one. It’s also one, though, that plays a great deal on the two main performances. In hands other than those of Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant, this isn’t the same movie that it is here. It would almost certainly still be worth seeing, but the performances here are better than the screenplay on which they were based. The empathy we have for these characters comes not from the script, but from the actors.
1. This is a case where I’m going to say that Oscar did the right thing in handing the statue to Spike Lee for BlacKkKlansman. The reason is a simple one, and it’s the reason I didn’t go with Can You Ever Forgive Me?. That reason is that, while the performances here are excellent, this would have been as good or close to as good with a different cast in a lot of places. The genius of this movie is that it manages to be both infuriating and funny at the same time. It’s almost Kafka-esque, and it works in that absurdist way on the page as much as it does on the screen.