2017 Oscars: Screenwriting

So it’s that time again – when I blow up your social media feeds with a flurry of Oscar posts that talk about films that most of you haven’t heard of. I’ll do this right up until Oscar night, then take the entire month of March off because, let’s face it, after 350 blog posts over the years, it’s hard for even me to come up with a well-thought out opinion 52 times a year (however, half-baked ones are in long supply).

Today we’re going to write about screenwriting.

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY – NOMINEES
ARRIVAL – Screenplay by Eric Heisserer
FENCES – Screenplay by August Wilson
HIDDEN FIGURES – Screenplay by Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi
LION – Screenplay by Luke Davies
MOONLIGHT – Screenplay by Barry Jenkins; Story by Tarell Alvin McCraney

Who will win: Barry Jenkins & Tarell Alvin McCraney
Who could win: Allison Schroeder & Theodore Melfi
Who should win: Eric Heisserer
Who should be here: Gary Whitta & Chris Weitz, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Moonlight is a fantastic and fresh film, and completely deserving of an award. It’s a coming of age story, a film about acceptance of ones self and a look at a highly ignored area of our country all wrapped into one single, compelling story. It’s giving La La Land a run for its money in many of the awards categories, and with the musical in the other category, it should have a clear path.

Hot on its heels is another film featuring African Americans in Hidden Figures. The film about the overlooked, yet critical contributions of African American women in the space program in the 60s has had significant commercial success, and is the most well-known and seen films in this category.

But if I were an Academy member, Arrival would be getting my vote. Stunning yet subtle in its scope, Eric Heisserer created one of the best female roles in years for Amy Adams, and play with time in such a way to tell the story in a unique and interesting way.

Finally, I have no bones to pick with the list here, but I would have like to have seen Rogue One: A Star Wars Story get a nod. What Gary Whitta and Chris Weitz did was nothing short of masterful: finding a way to create a compelling and satisfying story while fitting it into the existing saga, and even managing to answer a few of the series’ most burning questions along the way.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY – NOMINEES
HELL OR HIGH WATER – Written by Taylor Sheridan
LA LA LAND – Written by Damien Chazelle
THE LOBSTER – Written by Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA – Written by Kenneth Lonergan
20TH CENTURY WOMEN – Written by Mike Mills

Who will win: Damien Chazelle
Who could win: Kenneth Lonergan
Who should win: Taylor Sheridan
Who should be here: Guy Hibbert, Eye in the Sky

Can anything stop La La Land? Damien Chazelle managed an impossible feat: First, he found a way to make 40s and 50s old-style Hollywood musicals feel cool again in a 21st century way. Manchester By the Sea is most likely to steal La La Land’s crown away. Kenneth Lonergan’s script is subtle and heartwrenching, and somehow managed to make an internal battle compelling over 2.5 hours.

Personally, I’d go for Hell or High Water, which created a 21st century spin on the old cops and robbers genre. Each of the three characters were well-drawn and felt original and real right from the first frame. Ultimately, Sheridan managed the feat of making you care for the protagonist and antagonist both – and making it such a gray area that you forgot which was which.

20th Century Women was one of the better straight character pieces that I’ve seen in quite some time. The characters it created were all wonderfully damaged in their own ways, and almost lovingly drawn from the first frame to the last. The story was non-existent, but the characters were so interesting that no one cared. That’s an amazing feat in and of itself.

In my least-favorite nomination of the year, The Lobster has somehow made this list. I have to say: I can’t stand this film. There’s one movie a year that seems to take on a life of its own as “arty”, and people jump on its bandwagon. Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz were fantastic, but the screenplay? It barely had enough story to scrape over a 15 minute short. It had two main points: (1) Marriage sucks and (2) Being single sucks and society will vilify you for it. It makes these rather concisely in 10 minutes, then proceeds to beat you over the head with them for an hour and a half.

No, it is a crying shame that Guy Hibbert’s Eye in the Sky missed the cut. That film was taut, timely and didn’t have an ounce of fat on it. It dared to ask any number of hard, yet required questions, and was compelling and tense the whole way.