a theatre, film & pop culture review
Let’s begin with what’s not here: two screenplays written by (or adapted from the writing of) women. Gone Girl has its problems, for sure, but Gillian Flynn’s screenplay is better-constructed and smarter than most of the nominees above. Nick Hornby’s adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild is beautiful, with edits that make the storytelling more fluid and less indulgent than Strayed’s at times scattered writing. Their lack of nominations is shameful, and let’s be honest, the result of an Academy that is 77% male who doesn’t know how to deal with strong and complex female characters and female-written works. How is this still an issue in 2015?
Instead of smart work by women, we get shit like American Sniper, one of the worst screenplays I’ve ever had the displeasure of encountering, starting with its representations of women. There are exactly two in this film (because there are no women soldiers, right? Ok, whatever): the cheating shrew and the wife-as-accessory. And, hey, maybe the latter’s an accurate representation of Chris Kyle’s wife, but that doesn’t mean it makes for a compelling character; the home sequences are full of yawn-inducing cliché. There’s been a lot of discussion of whether Kyle’s memoir that the film is based on is an accurate account of his life (there are claims that he’s done some more than questionable things which are completely excised from the film), and beyond that, if the film is an accurate adaptation of his memoir. For example, Chris Kyle didn’t actually kill Mustafa, but he does in the film, which is a dramatic choice that works; this is not a documentary after all (let’s remember that fact when we get to discussing Selma later).
What doesn’t work is the black-and-white morality of the film, though I suppose it works for the like of Sarah Palin (dear god). Mustafa literally has zero lines. Zero. Not a single Iraqi in the film has a line of dialogue (translated into English); they are defined only in terms of their potential for violence. They are one-dimensional bastions of brutality, and maybe that’s what Clint Eastwood and screenwriter Jason Hall needed to portray in order to make their pro-war, pro-America, pro-masculinity movie work. But it’s more than troubling that such a one-sided, self-righteous film has crushed the box office and garnered so many accolades. Especially when the dialogue is pretty wretched to boot. (Don’t care what a liberal civilian like me has to say? Check out ex-soldier Brian Turner’s article or ex-sniper Garett Reppenhagen’s critique.)
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash (never mind that it’s not actually an adaptation), a whip-smart tale of a talented drummer with tunnel-vision ambition and his sadistic, barking monster of a mentor. Fletcher is no Mr. Holland, and from the start, there’s zero chance this one was going to end with a teary hug and eternal bond. Instead, Chazelle reinterprets a familiar story with complex characters and gifted performers, fiercely tackling the topic of unapologetic passion. Is perfection worth the literal blood on the drums and the broken relationships? Unlike American Sniper, our answer lies somewhere in the gray area, making Chazelle’s script the most compelling and thought-provoking of the lot, so much so, that it actually has a chance of spoiling here.
As for the other nominees, they’re innocuous, really. The Theory of Everything is the predictable tearjerker that every so often slides into schmaltz in its telling of scientist Stephen Hawking’s life, but otherwise is a fairly tidy narrative. The Imitation Game is essentially the same movie as TTE – your basic biopic about a troubled genius – but gets confused 3/4 of the way through when it abruptly begins dealing with Alan Turing’s homosexuality. Add to that all of the historical inaccuracies and it’s kind of a mess, but no one seems to care (Point of fact: It just won the WGA). Inherent Vice, an adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s 2009 novel of the same name, is a 1970s stoner mystery chockfull of hippies, white supremacists, ex-cons, ex-addicts, and more. It’s your typical Anderson – all cool intellectualism that doesn’t so much have a straightforward plot as a mood. Pynchon has been said to give the largely faithful adaptation his blessing – he even makes a cameo – but this is Anderson’s fourth writing nomination, and if he didn’t win for Boogie Nights or Magnolia, he’s unlikely to win here.