Wednesday, July 05, 2017

OVP: Original Screenplay (2007)

OVP: Best Original Screenplay (2007)

The Nominees Were...

Diablo Cody, Juno
Nancy Oliver, Lars and the Real Girl
Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton
Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava, and Jim Capabianco, Ratatouille
Tamara Jenkins, The Savages

My Thoughts: Finishing out our below-the-line categories (and then we'll be heading into the main events this weekend), we have our Original Screenplay nominees from 2007 (as always, if you want to look at past 2007 races, as well as past writing contests, links are at the bottom of the page).  2007 was a rare year where women actually dominated this category; this was the first time ever that four women were nominated in the same writing category for different films.  One of those women, Diablo Cody, went on to become something of a screenwriting celebrity, and so we'll start with her even though she has yet to return to the Oscars despite two solid attempts.

Cody's Juno is obviously the most iconic of these screenplays, even if it didn't usher in a new wave of fast-talking young people at the cinema as I kind of expected it would at the time considering it's zeitgeist-y impact (there was once a time when you called someone home fry-just own it).  While the movie's writing puts it in a heightened reality that doesn't actually resemble the real world, and where certain characters don't land quite as well as others (Rainn Wilson's Rollo in particular seemed out-of-place), I loved the gut-busting humor that Ellen Page got to have with her parents (played by Allison Janney and JK Simmons), as well as the film has to be rewarded for having an authentic, genuine ending (helped admittedly by the best performance of Jennifer Garner's career).  The actual script may be heightened, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't work in its own world, and Juno feels appropriately in its time-and-place.

The same can be said for Nancy Oliver's Lars and the Real Girl, another quirky film set in the Midwest (I promise not to punish it for being in Minnesota's mortal enemy Wisconsin, though).  Like Cody with Juno, Oliver performs a small miracle with Lars and the Real Girl by taking an opportunity for obvious, big humor and instead inserting smaller, subtler invitations for laughs and introspection.  It takes a lot for a writer to take a man falling in love with a sex doll and not have it become an Adam Sandler-fueled joke or a Weekend at Bernie's-style caper, but Oliver uses the ridiculous central theme to talk about the way that we project on our lives and cope in the most convenient way how, even if it isn't always the most socially-acceptable.  Lars finds a lot of truth in the ways we deal with the shortcomings in our lives, and brings it forward in a genuine way.  It's really a film that needs its script to always be on-point, and Oliver delivers.

The same can be said for Michael Clayton, one of the more recent films that I've seen that genuinely improved upon second viewing.  Initially I was off-put by Tom Wilkinson's overacting (like i said, we'll get there this weekend), but I can't deny that this movie showing the nasty underbelly of high-stakes corporate greed isn't worthy of its place in Oscar history.  The movie rises above the Law & Order-style approach it could have taken with sharp asides on both George Clooney's and Tilda Swinton's characters, as well as keeping its dialogue fresh and unexpected.  The movie is sometimes indulgent, like in Wilkinson's strangely "Latin professor-y" monologues, but the thriller aspect is taut and that's difficult to do in a picture where it ends roughly where you'd expect it to land.  Overall, this is one of those rare films that improved upon a second viewing.

Ratatouille is a movie that AMPAS took a bigger shine to than I expected (had it been ten-wide, it's easy to see this film getting into the Best Picture field), and though its actual dialogue isn't really contributing a lot to that (most of the banter between the chefs is really pat conversation, not really special in any way), the monologues are sublime, and anticipated how the next decade would become an oasis for food-lovers (it's not hard to see that Ratatouille contributed to Giada de Laurentiis and Ina Garten becoming hip icons for a new generation in a similar way that Julia Child led them to become stars in the first place).  Particularly when it comes to Patton Oswalt's and Peter O'Toole's clear devotion to the world of cuisine, the movie is a linguistic gold mine that sort of sustains it through more familiar territory.

The final nominee is Tamara Jenkins' The Savages, a film I found tough to love even if it was easy to appreciate.  The movie, anchored by a strong performance from Laura Linney, is at its best when it's not entirely expositional (a trapping it doesn't completely escape in some of the conversations between Linney and her onscreen brother Philip Seymour Hoffman), but there's something rough and freeing in the way that it approaches broken families and the shared histories of siblings.  Jenkins keeps her characters grounded to the people they were in the beginning of the film (as they're both well into adulthood and aren't going to have complete personality replacements), but instead shows how a series of decisions can shift your worldview in the same way as a series of personality alterations.

Other Precursor Contenders: The Globes combine adapted and original into one category, and as a result we ended up with only one original screenplay contender in their lineup, Juno, losing to the Coen Brothers unstoppable No Country for Old Men.  The BAFTA Awards surprisingly went with Juno, a specifically American film that they normally would have passed over, choosing to skip American Gangster, Michael Clayton, This is England, and The Lives of Others.  Meanwhile the WGA Awards went for a surprisingly close carbon copy of the Oscars, in this case letting Juno conquer almost the entire AMPAS lineup, save for Ratatouille, who was excused in favor of Judd Apatow's breakout hit Knocked Up.  While I could see a world where Apatow got nominated (Bridesmaids did, after all), I want to say that American Gangster was probably sixth place, if only because I think that movie was in a rare position where it missed out on a slew of Oscar nominations by being in sixth place in a year where critics and awards groups were trumpeting the same pictures.
Films I Would Have Nominated: I have to say that while none of the nominees in this category blew me away, I actually quite like this lineup, particularly since 2007 was very heavily invested in adaptations of works when it came to its best films, rather than originals.  I still would have found room, though, for 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (foreign films have a history of sneaking into this category so even without the corresponding Oscar nomination this isn't totally out of the question); it arguably has a better script than any of these movies, and would have been a worthy inclusion.  All-in-all, though, there's not a "bad" script in this bunch, so well done Oscar.
Oscar’s Choice: At the time it was framed as a pretty tight battle between Gilroy and Cody, but in hindsight it feels like Juno was pretty inevitable as it'd already beaten the lawyer three times at that point.
My Choice: Let's work backward as this has me slightly stumped.  I'd probably go with The Savages in fifth & Ratatouille in fourth, as I had more problems there than with the other three movies.  Michael Clayton keeps coming to my mind, but I wonder if I'm giving it that default because of its serious nature and its terrific acting more than the actual script.  As a result, I think I'm going to hit group consensus here with Juno (something I'll admit I wouldn't have done in 2007 so distance from the awards race helped in this case), with Lars in silver and Clayton at the bronze.

Those are my thoughts-what about you?  Are you with pretty much every awards body that this was Juno's trophy to lose, or do you want to argue for Tony Gilroy?  Why do you think that Tamara Jenkins and Nancy Oliver never followed-up their Oscar-nominated scripts with another picture?  And who was your overall favorite original screenplay of 2007?  Share your thoughts below!

Past Best Original Screenplay Contests: 20082009, 2010201120122013, 2014

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