My Two Cents on the Academys 2001 Screenwriting Nominations
March 14th, 2004
'My Two Cents on the Academys Screenwriting Nominations'
By: Darwin Mayflower
(March 12, 2001)
-- Darwin Mayflower.
By: Darwin Mayflower
(March 12, 2001)
The Screenwriting award has long been a way for the Academy to toss a scrap of meat to dark or subversive films (recent examples: PULP FICTION and FARGO). It always angered me a little bit that this category was viewed with much indifference and its winner usually had little to do with his or her work, but rather how the rest of his coworkers (director, actors, etc.) were doing.
If youll indulge me, Id like to take a look at who the Academy (in their infinite wisdom and occasional obtuseness) has deemed worthy.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:
ALMOST FAMOUS, written by Cameron Crowe.
BILLY ELLIOT, written by Lee Hall.
ERIN BROCKOVICH, written by Susannah Grant.
GLADIATOR, written by David Franzoni, John Logan and William Nicholson.
YOU CAN COUNT ON ME, written by Kenneth Lonergan.
Who should win: Cameron Crowe.
Who will win: Cameron Crowe.
I dont know what the Academy saw in BILLY ELLIOT. It not only got a Screenplay nom, but also a Director spot. It has absolutely no chance of winning, in either category, and it shouldnt. YOU CAN COUNT OF ME is a good movie and Im happy it got some recognition (its just the type of film that gets stomped on by the big boys) but it was seen by too few people to make a ripple in the ocean that is Oscar-campaigning.
GLADIATOR, which will wrap up most of the awards, will probably not take this one because Ridley Scott has talked about the script troubles since the movie was in release. We all know that Franzoni wrote the first draft (little of which remains); John Logan (a Scott fav) overhauled it; and Nicholson patched up any holes, antiquated the dialogue, and was around for on-set handiwork.
I dont know if this script actually deserves the award, but it should be noted that Franzonis screenplay, while not quite ready for prime time, wasnt all that bad. It had a more sardonic view of the warriors and the fights, and he had Maximus as even more of a latter-day WWF superstar.
And now to our winner: ALMOST FAMOUS. Cameron Crowes slight, personal billet-doux to his crazy teenage years.
Im not nearly as enamored of this film as those around me. I think it had a lot of problems and, while entertaining, could have used a bit more kick.
Sticking to the point of view of our underaged eyepiece, Crowe shows us a more-friendly, childs-eye-view of the waning seventies that cracks open a lot of conceptions we may have had. "Just make us look cool."
If anything, Crowe should get this award for his past works: SAY ANYTHING..., SINGLES, JERRY MAGUIRE, and FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH. Crowe, who (obviously) was a former journalist, has an uncanny ability as a writer to craft sparklingly realistic characters in situations we recognize and sympathize with. Hes a pretty rare talent, as it goes, and, so far, hes never shortchanged his audience with something we might have felt he wasnt one hundred percent behind.
Most egregious oversight: David Mamets STATE AND MAIN. Not only was this Mamets best film since HOUSE OF GAMES -- not only was this the funniest movie made in years (by far the wittiest) -- not only is this probably the best satire of Hollywood ever made -- not only is this by far the funniest Mamet has ever been -- but this is also the best film of the year. At the very least it should have gotten a Screenwriting nom (Mamet is, of course, hugely respected and was recently nominated for WAG THE DOG). In my opinion the film should have garnered Director, Actor (for the remarkable William H. Macy), Screenwriting and Picture nominations. But instead it got...nothing. Which is an outrage. You cannot point to a movie made in 2000 that hit, with a more trenchant sense and sure-handed finesse, its purpose than this movie did. Theres not a joke that doesnt work! A scene that wastes a moment of our time! The cast is impeccable: Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Sarah Jessica Parker, David Paymer and Rebecca Pidgeon all do their best work to date. And lets talk about Rebecca (Mamets wife): she is a revelation in this film. The first in which, working with her husbands words, where shes a regular gal -- not some slightly off-kilter person with something to hide. Id never expect to say this about gutter-mouth Mamet, but the relationship between Hoffman and Pidgeon is probably the sweetest and most effective to be put onscreen in a decade. It felt absolutely right and Mamets famous dialogue has never been more effective.
David Mamets next directing gig is a heist flick called...THE HEIST. (Ill be reviewing this soon.) This is a disappointment for me. With films like HOUSE OF GAMES, THE SPANISH PRISONER and STATE AND MAIN youre reminded why Mamets plays were heaped with such heavenly praise. But still he retreats to projects like rewriting RONIN (he used another name after seeing the film), adapting HANNIBAL (though his script was tossed) and taking on studio projects.
Should Mamet never return to what he does best, well still have STATE AND MAIN to marvel over, and hold up as an example.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:
CHOCOLAT, written by Robert Nelson Jacobs.
CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, written by Wang Hui Ling, James Schamus and Tasi Kuo Jung.
O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?, written by Joel and Ethan Coen.
TRAFFIC, written by Steve Gaghan.
WONDER BOYS, written by Steve Kloves.
Who will win: Steve Gaghan.
Who should win: No one on this list.
It must have been a lean year in the adaptation department. Thats probably the only reason O BROTHER was nominated. This nomination, while I love that the Coens continue to gain wide respect and fame (O BROTHER was even a B.O. hit), makes no sense. O BROTHER -- and you can ask any Coen bro. aficionado (Im one) -- is the only film by the Coen brothers that doesnt work. The film feels off. What really hurt it was its star: George Clooney couldnt have been worse for the role. The Coens write their dialogue phonetically. George ignored it and sounded woefully modern when hes supposed to be an on-the-lam chain-gang prisoner.
I walked away from the film thinking it was terrible, but the script gave me more than a few laughs (especially the scene inside the movie theater: "Weee thought you were a toad!").
So maybe, since it wasnt the brothers fault, they should hand them the award.
Just out of curiosity: has anyone actually seen CHOCOLAT? I see thats it made over twenty-five million dollars. But who is seeing this film? Its lightweight, luminous-cinematography at its worst and acknowledging its script is baffling. Lasse Hallstrom must have an in with the Academy. Because his last film, that bore-fest with a great cast about a dork who travels around and falls in love, got a few undeserved nominations, too.
The CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON nomination struck me as especially bizarre. The problem about giving out awards is that people rarely focus on the category (which theyre supposed to). In this case the movie is well-liked because of its rousing, gravity-defying stunts and action scenes. But does anyone walk away from this thinking "My God! What a great script!"? I dont think so. Its just another kneejerk nomination that takes the spot another writer merits.
I was glad to see Steve Kloves get the nomination for all the wrong reasons: Im not crazy about the movie (though the author who wrote the book its based on is quite talented), but hes a very nice guy and the movie in question made no money. I long for the days when all the nominees are based on their worth and not their box-office take. (Recent films like RETURN TO PARADISE were sunk because of that.) Steves actual script, by the way, was truly strange: it appears as though he doesnt always use periods. Im not sure of the aesthetic reason, but it makes for some awkward reading.
And now, once again, to our winner: TRAFFIC. By Stephen Gaghan. Im one of the few people who didnt find this film totally satisfying. The only thing in it that really worked for me was Benicio Del Toros performance and his story line. As for the rest of it, folks -- weve been there before! And, I dont mean to burst bubbles, but dont you find having the drug czars daughter be a teenage junkie just a little too ironic? The heavy-handed metaphor that the drug czar couldnt see what was happening right under his nose -- let alone that which happens outside his house -- left me rolling my eyes. That story, which features said drug czar going out into the slums unprotected to find his wayward daughter, is so conventional Nora Ephron would choke on it.
Everyone keeps saying this "exposes the drug problem in America." But what does it expose? That our drug programs are a joke? That dealers make so much money theyll never be stopped? That DEA agents are outnumbered a thousand to one? That Washington, D.C. looks cross-eyed down its nose and doesnt see the real problem? This is new? I could have told you about this years ago.
The film reveals nothing and its mired in movie convention. (The Zeta-Jones section of the film is part rip-off of every drug film you ever saw (car bombs! snipers with rifles! safe houses! police protection! assassinations!) mixed with a shame-faced ape of THE GODFATHER -- where Michael goes from uninvolved Army officer to killer and head of the family.) Steven Soderbergh does a great job behind the camera. But I think Gaghans script (which is based on a Brit miniseries) is sloppy and humdrum.
Egregious oversight: BEFORE NIGHT FALLS. This is an extraordinary film and it deserves to be recognized. Its single nom, for actor Javier Bardem, is an insult. I have a feeling this was nearly shut out more because of its subject matter rather than its low-on-the-radar indie status.
This category has awarded some of the great writers and movies -- William Goldman, Ron Bass, the Coens, Woody Allen, Oliver Stone, CHINATOWN, PULP FICTION, THE GODFATHER, AMERICAN BEAUTY, etc. -- but this year, I think, they got it all wrong.
-- Darwin Mayflower.
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