Friday, January 13, 2023

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Original Screenplay 2021

The Contenders:

Belfast (winner)
Don’t Look Up
King Richard
Licorice Pizza
The Worst Person in the World

What’s Missing

There was a surprising number of good-to-great possibilities for Best Original Screenplay from 2021, and as is usually the case, Oscar did not to the best job of nominating. There are, right now, seven movies that I have rated higher than all five of the nominees, which means there’s a chance that I would come in with an entirely new slate of movies. Animated movies don’t get a lot of traction in screenplay categories, which is going to mean that Encanto, Flee and The Mitchells vs. the Machines are going to be overlooked in general. Spencer would have been an interesting choice, but this is a film that trades mainly on the work of Kristen Stewart and less on the screenplay, good as it may be. The same is kind of true of the Udo Kier Swan Song, which is all about his towering performance more than it is anything else. Fun movies from 2021 include Gunpowder Milkshake, Free Guy, and Nobody, all of which I liked pretty well, but never for this award. Since Oscar still doesn’t like horror, Titane is going to be overlooked and horror-adjacent films like Last Night in Soho are going to be ignored as well. The Last Duel was a disappointment in a lot of ways, so I’m happy that one got skipped. The two that are the biggest misses for me are C’mon C’mon and Mass, which is truly devastating.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. Often with these wrap-ups, it’s about starting with films I at least kind of like and moving into films I really like, but with Licorice Pizza, we’re starting with a film I actively dislike. I genuinely dislike the characters in this movie and I don’t like the story. This is a film about tremendous privilege and somehow still not being satisfied with it. Additionally, if you gender-swap our two main characters, you have a 25-ish guy romantically pursuing a 15-year-old girl. That would be beyond the pale (and should be), but it’s somehow okay when that’s reversed? I’m angry that I had to watch this film for this award.

4. All of the nominations of King Richard including the win for Will Smith have been eclipsed by the controversy that happened at the Oscars ceremony. This is another case where I’m not convinced the movie is worthy of being nominated in this category. The problem isn’t so much the actual screenplay here, but the focus of that screenplay. Richard Williams is not someone who is worth a biopic. Make this about Venus and Serena Williams and you have my attention. Richard comes across as a blowhard and the sort of person who you pretend to agree with so that he’ll stop talking and you can run away.

3. Don’t Look Up is a rare comedy nomination for Oscar, and while I understand the nomination, I’m not sure I entirely agree with it. The problem is that this is not a film that I found funny in most respects. This is a film that made me angry because it reflects a sort of extreme parody of the world in which we live. In that respect, and because it can be taken as a sort of metaphor for politics, climate change, and more, I think it’s an important movie. But there’s something about it that is like biting on tinfoil for me, and because of that, I find it really hard to like.

2. The nomination for The Worst Person in the World is a surprising one, but it’s a sort of positive sign for Oscar as an entity. This is a film that, bluntly, isn’t very long on plot. It is brilliantly written, though. There are plenty of moments in this that are incisive and smart without calling themselves out. The characters feel real and their lives feel lived in, and while much of this comes from the performances, a great deal of it comes from the dialogue that has been written for them to say. I wouldn’t have complained too much if this had walked home with a statue.

1. I don’t know that I’m likely to watch Belfast a second time, and while that often is important to me, it’s not always in all cases. I like what Kenneth Branagh did here, though, and I’m very pleased that he’s won an Oscar for a film that is this personal to him. Despite the difficulties of the time being portrayed, there is a loveliness here, a sense of bittersweet nostalgia for childhood despite the war and pain and destruction. For the actual nominees, I think it was the right choice, but I’m free to vote outside the box, and I’m going to.

My Choice

There are a lot of interesting possibilities outside of the five nominees for this award. It really comes down at times to what I think is the most notable part of the movie. For a film like Last Night in Soho, much of the success is in the script, but much is in the telling as well. For a film like Spencer and Swan Song, certainly the screenplay is critical, but it’s the performances that sell it. C’mon C’mon would definitely make my short list because of how the story works, and there are a number of days where it would be my choice. Mass, though, the story of four people discussing their children and the mass shooting that killed them in one way or another, hits on every single aspect of film making. It is brilliantly made and stacked with performances, but it’s the screenplay that unfolds slowly and tragically that makes it unforgettable.

Final Analysis


  1. I'm glad someone here likes Last Night in Soho which I thought was great. Still haven't seen Belfast and probably won't for a while because I got rid of a lot of channels on cable though I'm trying to convince my mother to go all-in in getting rid of it. I actually like Licorice Pizza a lot.

    1. I'm hugely in the minority on Licorice Pizza. My biggest objection to it, aside from the astonishing privilege of the main character, is that the relationship is gross, and would be seen as such with the genders swapped.

      Last Night in Soho deserved a lot more love than it got.

  2. I agree they got it wrong this year. Mass was criminally underrated. I don't know how that didn't catch on with voters.

    1. If I had to guess, I'd say that Mass was overlooked because we don't want to deal with it.