2015 Oscars: Best Original Screenplay

It’s Oscar season, and over the weeks leading up to the awards, I’ll be rolling out nine blog pieces breaking down (what I consider) the eight major races – Picture, Director, both writing and all four acting categories.

Like with most things on this blog, this will be a mix of fact, popular opinion and my opinion – the three of which don’t often intersect. Then I’ll post a full list of my Oscar picks right before the show as best I can.

On to today’s posting: Original Screenplay

 

The Nominees
“Birdman” Written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo
“Boyhood” Written by Richard Linklater
“Foxcatcher” Written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Screenplay by Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness
“Nightcrawler” Written by Dan Gilroy

Who Will Win: “Birdman” Written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo
Who Could Win: “The Grand Budapest Hotel” Screenplay by Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness
Who Should Win: “Interstellar” by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan
Who Should Be Here: “Interstellar” by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan

To me, the best screenplay categories don’t necessarily reflect the best writing in film for a particular year. Nor the wittiest dialogue, the best drawn characters or even the most interesting stories.

Rather, they reflect two things: (1) Films people nominated for the Best Picture Oscar and (2) Which of the Best Picture contenders don’t have much of a chance of winning.

(Big piece of Oscar trivia coming) In fact – since about 1935, only THREE Best Picture winners weren’t at least nominated for one of the writing awards: Titanic (1998), Sound of Music (1966) and Hamlet (1949). Even more telling is that only once in the last 10 years has the Best Picture winner failed to win a writing award (The Artist, 2012).

This year, seven of the eight Best Picture nominees at the Oscars have also been nominated for a writing award, with Selma being the lone exception. History tells us that Selma, which also failed to receive an acting nomination, is now essentially finished in the Best Picture race at the 2015 Oscars.

Writing’s important people. Even for those who make motion pictures. Pay your screenwriters and treat them nice-like.

I’m going to start with the biggest snub: Interstellar, one of my favorite films of the year. The Brothers Nolan crafted a true piece of science fiction – one that didn’t involve any lasers, guns or really a lot of shit blowing up. It was a family story about who we are and where we are going. It had soul, it has perspective and it had some great characters. In my view, it is the most “original” film of the year, and deserves not only to be here, but to win as well.

From what I understand, it’s pretty much a dead heat between Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel for the Oscar here, which is interesting to me because both films’ strengths lie in their performances and visuals, not necessarily in their writing. I liked both films, I didn’t love either. I got tired of the endless narcissism that oozed throughout Birdman – reminds me of the old Joss Whedon quote: “’Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke.” Yes – Birdman tells a lot of jokes, but in the end, makes its characters so unlikeable it’s tough to really care about their fates.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the Grand Budapest Hotel, which is light almost to the point of completely floating out of consciousness. Wes Anderson is a polarizing filmmaker – most people either love him or hate him. His strongest work in my opinion, and I know I’ll be in the minority here, is The Darjeeling Limited. Grand Budapest was fun and light, but almost too self-aware and too cutesy to be taken seriously. Ultimately, I pick Birdman in this photo-finish, because it’s getting more play for Best Picture.

Though Boyhood is near the top of the list in most areas, at press time it seems likely to be only the second Best Picture winner in over a decade to not take home a writing statue as well. That’s because Boyhood’s strength is its 12 year experiment – watching the little moments in the family’s life evolve in real-time. That would seem to indicate less of a cohesive approach to writing, and a more of a “let it evolve”, or semi-improvisational track. Certainly not a bad way to go (see television’s Parenthood and Friday Night Lights), but that doesn’t win you writing awards.

Foxcatcher is a film I have a lot of trouble with. There’s no question when you watch it that you’re watching a quality film. Channing Tatum has never been better, Steve Carrell proves he can perform against type and Mark Ruffalo is unrecognizable. But – and it’s a big but(t) – my question coming out of the theater was: Who wanted to tell this story? What was in there that inspired them to write a screenplay about it? It’s so creepy and weird, and devolves so quickly in the third act that it’s hard to pin down as a cohesive story with a beginning, middle and end. I firmly believe that’s why it didn’t get a Best Picture nominee, and that’s why it’ll go home without a writing award too.

Rounding out the category is Nightcrawler, which has its own element of creep as well, but without moving into the realm of Foxcatcher (which broke new ground in the creepy category, at least at this year’s Oscars). It’s a well-done film and a well-told story with some good twists and turns. But all anyone is going to remember from that film is how Jake Gyllenhaal went all in on his character, losing a ton of weight and going all pasty, and the resurgence of a dramatic Rene Russo. The story comes a distant third.