Friday, May 20, 2016

OVP: Adapted Screenplay (2014)

OVP: Best Adapted Screenplay (2014)

The Nominees Were...

Jason Hall, American Sniper
Graham Moore, The Imitation Game
Paul Thomas Anderson, Inherent Vice
Anthony McCarten, The Theory of Everything
Damien Chazelle, Whiplash

My Thoughts: Wow.  This is not a list of movies that are particularly friendly to my tastes.  Honestly, if you made a list of all of the major contenders at the 2014 Oscars, and I had to pick the five I was least enthused about, this would surely be the list.  The Original Screenplay category had better be a vast improvement on what's going on in this lineup, that's all I have to say.  We've actually visited all five of these films before (click below for past 2014 contests, and a whole host of other stuff really-if you like these kinds of articles I've got hundreds of them to peruse), but let's get started on what may be almost all of these film's biggest weak point (save one).

We're going to commence with the movie with the most literary of starts, Inherent Vice.  The only one that had its origins in the hands of a literary genius (don't you love that they've actually found a way to adapt a Thomas Pynchon novel like this into a movie), this is the sole entry of the films that I can without question say that the script is a true asset to the film.  The movie occasionally meanders, and the performances are all over the board (in my opinion its the most uneven PTA film since Magnolia), but I genuinely loved the dialogue, oftentimes feeling plucked from Pynchon's novel but exquisitely executed on the screen, and the mystery stays sharp for most of the picture.  Overall, it's a win and finds that wonderful tone that Pynchon brings to his prose.

The Theory of Everything the further and further I get from it, I like it less, but I do have to give some credit to the writers here (based on my review I just read as a refresher) for at least keeping a relatively calm balance between the two leading characters in terms of the destruction of their marriage.  It would have been so easy to blame, say, Jane for her infidelity or Stephen for clearly favoring his work, but the film shows a complicated relationship between two people who once loved each other romantically, and after decades of trying to work it out, fell apart.  The film would have been better had they treated them as equals in other ways, as Jane's wants and needs feel like they have to be justified (and there was that ridiculous "join the church choir" scene with Emily Watson which borders on the unforgivable), while Stephen's wants are never in doubt (there's a sexism angle there that rears its head and is never acknowledged).  Still, kudos for keeping the romantic angles of the picture properly in view.

Whiplash, unlike Theory of Everything (or quite frankly, Inherent Vice) has a strong close to the picture, much better than any other film on this list, and I have to give it credit for that.  After all, Chazelle had so many "tell off" style moments that could have resulted in those final bangs of the drum, but he's smart enough to leave that to the music.  It makes up for the fact that the rest of the film is relatively run-of-the-mill, and some of the characters (especially JK Simmons' teacher and Melissa Benoist's girlfriend) are woefully underwritten, to the point where you can't quite understand their actions and feel like missing pieces got cut on the editing room floor.  The film is also not really a writer's triumph, unless you consider a series of profane insults to be particularly fine scripting (in which case why don't we just give Donald Trump's Twitter feed an Oscar?).  Still, the ending is good, which is more than I can say for...

American Sniper.  Honestly, you have no idea how much I wanted to love this movie.  Clint Eastwood's so good at showing the broken souls of men, and we saw that with his greatest triumph Unforgiven, and American Sniper's subject is in that wheelhouse.  I know it's not professional to re-write scripts during a review, but the politics would have been so much more appropriate if he'd gone with an "only some men can accomplish war" route rather than a "rah-rah, oh yeah, PTSD probably" sort of plot that felt like it was tagged on to excuse some of the more controversial aspects of Chris Kyle's life, I think it would have been a truly great movie.  As it is, though, the electric politics and power of the battlefield scenes always overshadow the hackneyed and drawn-out civilian scenes, and I truly hated the ending, where we saw Chris Kyle's killer become the enemy for not having the same personal strength and resources that Kyle did to overcome his PTSD.  It's a pointless exercise of a picture, despite occasionally fine direction and a towering central performance from Bradley Cooper.

Finally, we come to The Imitation Game, a film that I was once willing to forgive but am no longer there anymore.  I have written profusely about Graham Moore, the movie's screenwriter in the past, and how much his Oscar acceptance speech bothered me, but I'm going to try with all of my might to not let that color my review here.  And yet, it can't completely because The Imitation Game is one of the most straight-washed films about gay culture I've ever seen.  It feels like it was made in the 1980's, as we are forced to sit through a love story about Alan and Joan for hours, and yet Alan's homosexuality is only strongly suggested, despite the fact that him getting caught with a hooker is the catalyst for the entire movie.  If he was so asexual, why was his career brought down by a sexual act with a man?  The film is not good, even if Keira Knightley is trying desperately to make it better than Moore allows, with bad performances from Cumberbatch and Goode, but it's the writing, the way that we are expected to only want what is on the screen and are insulted for asking for more as if it's motivated by hormones rather than representation, that keeps me aghast at this film's story.

Other Precursor Contenders: The Globes combine their writing categories so there is no adapted or original distinction, though weirdly of the two adapted nominees, only The Imitation Game went on to be Oscar-nominated, as we skipped over Gone Girl despite many people thinking it would make the cut..  The BAFTA Awards gave their top prize to The Theory of Everything, while American Sniper, Gone Girl, and The Imitation Game were joined in a weird instance by Paddington, which technically wasn't eligible for the Oscars until the following year (it wouldn't be nominated).  Finally, the WGA went with The Imitation Game for its top prize, choosing that over American Sniper, Wild, Guardians of the Galaxy (huh?), and once again Gone Girl, which surely was the sixth place finisher of this bunch.
Films I Would Have Nominated: I wouldn't have waited for Gone Girl, that's for starters, as that was a better script than any of these contenders.  Ditto Wild, which should be in for that brilliant voiceover at the end alone.  Jonathan Glazer's magnetic work in Under the Skin surely deserved mention, as did the inventive world-building of The Lego Movie.  Finally, I might actually have replaced the entire count with the shockingly succinct The Babadook, which was marvelously claustrophobic despite my occasional troubles with the picture, or perhaps even Captain America: Winter Soldier (the best Marvel movie by a mile).  All of this is to say that the Oscars really fouled this up when even the best nominee here would be struggling for fifth in my book.
Oscar's Choice: Wanting to go with a rare "Give Every Best Picture Nominee a Trophy" year, they went with Graham Moore's controversial The Imitation Game over American Sniper and Whiplash.
My Choice: Easy choice for Inherent Vice-the only one of the films I'd say the script was "good" without a caveat to throw after it.  Follow that with The Theory of Everything, Whiplash, American Sniper, and The Imitation Game.

Those are my thoughts-what about you?  Are you with the Academy on giving this to Alan Turing's life story or are you with me that Thomas Pynchon is the way to be?  Why do you think that Gillian Flynn somehow missed for Gone Girl?  And who would you have kept of this lineup in your own OVP (this is one of the only years where I genuinely would have replaced every nominee in this lineup, even if I did enjoy the writing on Inherent Vice)?  Share below!

Past Best Adapted Screenplay Contests: 20082009, 2010201120122013

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