Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

Oscars 2013: Best Original Screenplay

Note: This is my personal ranking, listed in order from best to worst, with #1 being my favorite. Prediction for the actual winner is in orange.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

zero-dark-thirty-jessica-chastain

1. ZERO DARK THIRTY

2. AMOUR

3. DJANGO UNCHAINED

4. MOONRISE KINGDOM

5. FLIGHT

I don’t know what kind of crack the Academy was smoking, but it must’ve been pretty good, because John Gatins somehow snuck into this party without actually being a card-carrying writer. There are two not-terrible things about Flight: 1) Robert Zemeckis’s perfectly calibrated use of suspense in the opening plane crash and 2) John Goodman’s scene-stealing turn as the fast-talkin’ The Dude-like drug dealer. Needless to say, Gatins’s script is not one of Flight‘s finer points, as it trots out one alcoholic cliché after another, and its heavy-handed (obvious) lesson — alcoholism is bad! — drags on for far too long. I’d also like to note that Gatins wrote my favorite Oscar-nominated film of last year: Real Steal. And don’t worry, you fans of the battling ‘bots: he’s currently working on the sequel. Hopefully Hugh Jackman sings — live! — in this one.

Wes Anderson has only been nominated in this category one other time for The Royal Tanenbaums, and lots of folks think he’s overdue for an Oscar, but this is definitely not his year. The storybook-styled Moonrise Kingdom, about two very serious kids who act like grown-ups (even though the grown-ups in the film are not exactly what one would aspire to) contains Anderson’s typical droll and deadpan humor laced with a general melancholia. Though I’ve never been a fan, Anderson certainly boasts a completely unique style; truly, no one else makes films like his.

Michael Haneke’s Amour is a brutal and devastating depiction of a couple dealing with the ailments of old age and impending death. The script reveals pieces of their relationship through a series of subtle flash-forwards and flashbacks, yet we never get the full picture. She calls him (jokingly?) a “monster;” he’s distant, almost cruel, to their concerned daughter. The ambiguity intrigues, rather than frustrates, and despite the peppered harshness, there’s real, life-altering, heart-wringing love there. While a great deal of the the complexity of the characters is owed to two superb performances, the script offers a solid, well-crafted base for them to build upon. But Haneke was lucky to be nominated here (most banked on Looper getting the fifth nod), and he has a much better shot with one of his other three nominations.

Quentin Tarantino, shockingly, won the Golden Globe for Best Screenplay for Django Unchained, though he was up against heavyweights Argo and the much-favored Lincoln. While QT’s Spaghetti Southern is full of his typically giddy, bloody revenge, it’s also extraordinarily digressive and overlong, and his title character is, well, boring. We don’t care one lick about him or his estranged wife, Broomhilda; we’d prefer to ride alongside that ironic contradiction, the slavery-hating German Schultz. Luckily, Tarantino does manage to create one deliciously savage personality in the house-slave Stephen, played with tremendous enthusiasm by Samuel L. Jackson. It’s in Stephen’s shocking obsequiousness to his white owner and his even more startling distaste for his fellow black men, that we see that familiar and sparkling QT mischievousness. That, and his over-use of “nigger,” is the delightfully controversial Tarantino we know and love. 

Though Zero Dark Thirty was snubbed a Best Director vote, presumably because of Katherine Bigelow’s supposed “endorsement” of torture, it’s still slightly favored to win here. Mark Boal’s account of the female CIA agent who spent twelve years tracking Osama bin Laden focuses on puzzling together a cohesive and concise plot, not on getting to know the operatives. He trusts that we’ll eventually make sense of all the CIA jargon and Middle Eastern names that he throws at us, and that we’ll catch our bearings in the myriad of  desert and office locations that he takes us to — and we do. This is a complex script that’s a standout largely for the faith it puts in its audience’s intelligence and its fearlessness in its methodology. Boal won this award just three years ago for his excellent The Hurt Locker, so it is quite soon to reward him again. But when his only real competition is an indulgent Tarantino flick, let’s hope voters get it right. 

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