Friday, February 18, 2022

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 2020

The Contenders:

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
The Father (winner)
One Night in Miami
The White Tiger

What’s Missing

Screenplay awards are always interesting to me because it’s always a bit of a crapshoot as to which award a movie might be eligible for (it would be nice to have a master list). Based on the other awards I pay attention to, the biggest miss here is Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, a film that is clearly based on a play (a red flag for me sometimes, but that doesn’t change the fact that the script is a dandy one). Horror movies are a hard Oscar sell, but A Quiet Place Part II built on the earlier film and added to the lore well. The Invisible Man is also a horror screenplay, of course, but it’s also a great reimagining of the original story, perhaps so much so that it felt too different from its source material. Comic book movies still don’t get the respect they always should, but both Birds of Prey and The Old Guard were smart enough to deserve some respect. Finally, I would have thought that Shirley might get a look here.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. It seems a bit lie dirty pool to drop the film I just saw in last place, but this is the film of the five that I liked the least. There’s a particular genius to Borat Subsequent Moviefilm that is remarkable. It requires that genius to work. But it’s the performance of Maria Bakalova that sells the movie She is better than the screenplay, which is good, but also depends a great deal on the improvisation of the players and the inability of so many people to see through the ruse. For people this works for, it’s brilliant, but it doesn’t work for me as well as it should.

4. One Night in Miami is a film that is very clearly based on a play. The idea is an interesting one, and there’s a lot here that is really well written, but this is essentially a series of dialogues and conversations. Nothing really happens beyond those conversations, and while there is a lot there and there is a lot that is important and needs to be said and heard, there’s nothing more than those conversations. At least in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom something happens beyond people talking.

3. I like the nomination for The White Tiger well enough, because it’s a movie I’m happy I saw and that I likely wouldn’t have seen otherwise. It’s not an easy story and it’s unpleasant to spend that much time with a character who is so clearly self-serving and willing to do anything for his own benefit. The success of the film is the telling of that story and selling that change from a man with ambition and little else to a man willing to kill to get to where he wants to be. It’s not a pleasant story, but it is a good one.

2. There is a very strange resonance to Nomadland right now. The people in the film that we care about are modern-day nomads, living in their vehicles and going temporary job to temporary job around the country. These people, embodied in the role played by Frances McDormand, are seeking and finding connection, but staying connected only temporarily, living in a liminal world of near-total autonomy. It’s melancholic and beautiful, and based on how many other awards it won, I’m a little surprised it didn’t.

My Choice

1. I’m fine with The Father taking the screenplay prize. Much of what makes this film work is how fluid it is with time and location. This is hard to realize, and while much of it depends on the masterclass from Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman as well as the inventive (and unnominated) work of Florian Zeller, it’s the screenplay that drives the engine. If the screenplay can’t account for the time shifts and moving back and forth across faded and fading memory, nothing else works here. It’s beautiful work even if it’s one I don’t want to see again anytime soon.

Final Analysis


  1. Aside from Borat, I haven't seen the rest of these picks but I'm trying to catch up. I agree with you on the lack of love for comic book films as I feel like they have a lot more to offer than just being popcorn fare. Marvel has managed to make films that go beyond its intended genre while DC is taking risks with that as well. Francis Ford Coppola can keep on whining about all of these movies and not getting the money he needs for his own work. Plus, his daughter is a better filmmaker than him.

    1. Well, she certainly is a better filmmaker than he is right now.

      This is an interesting grouping of films--it's hard to say that I truly loved any of them, but I liked all of them well enough. Your mileage may vary on some--a few of these are very divisive.