Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

Oscars Predictions 2015: Best Original Screenplay

wNote: 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.



Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness

Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., & Armando Bo

Dan Gilroy

Richard Linklater

E. Max Frye & Dan Futterman

Should’ve been here: Selma

Paul Webb, a British ex-high school teacher and communications consultant who basically hasn’t written anything else, should be here – and he should win – for Selma, his forthright and affecting retelling of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s historic 1965 Freedom Marches from Selma to Montgomery. There’s been a lot of griping about the accuracy of the film, particularly its representation of LBJ and the relationship between the president and MLK Jr. But the film is accurate, though it does exaggerate characters and moments for dramatic effect (try naming a historical film that doesn’t), allowing it to bring stark focus to a movement, rather than individuals. No one seems to care about the inaccuracies of American Sniper or The Imitation Game, both of which are nominated in the adapted screenplay category, so Selma‘s omission here is particularly galling.

Two-time nominee Dan Futterman (Capote) hasn’t any real shot here. Foxcatcher is a bloated true crime story that attempts to pin John DuPont’s mental problems on his upperclass isolation, which is more interesting than reality (he was considered for institutionalization and he wasn’t really segregated from society), but doesn’t ever really go anywhere. The story meanders, lifelessly.

If Richard Linklater didn’t win this award for his far superior screenplays Before Sunset and Before Midnight, he’s not going to win it for Boyhood, no matter how critically beloved it is. Where the success of the Sunset/Rise trilogy hinges on the talky, improvisational-seeming screenplays, Boyhood‘s effectiveness relies on the physical impact of time as the actors and characters age and grow over the years. While there’s some beautifully astute sections of dialogue (Arquette’s “I just thought there’d be more” among them), the narrative as a whole isn’t cohesive (Is this really about boyhood, or is it about parenthood?). The wonders of Boyhood don’t exist in its screenplay.

“If it bleeds, it leads” is the motto of Nightcrawler, writer-director Dan Gilroy’s chilly media satire about a psychotic guy desperate for work who infiltrates the world of crime journalism and proceeds to scarily blur the line between observer and participant. More Taxi Driver than Network, the early – and only – takeaway seems to be that an economic recession can lead to conscienceless corruption in a capitalist society. Apt, of course, but one wishes the film went deeper than just that. Instead, we know exactly how far one-note crazy Lou is going to go – he’s going alllll the way, of course. Still, the humor is deliciously dark and Gilroy manages a couple shocking moments to keep us on our toes.

Birdman (or the unexpected virtue of innocence)‘s screenplay is tricky to assess, largely because the rest of the film is so stellar that it’s easy to overlook the flaws in the writing. This is a comedy with dramatic inclinations, and at its heart is a story of art-versus-entertainment with Broadway as the artistic medium of choice. (This of course is amusing to those of us working in theatre who don’t exactly consider Broadway the pinnacle of theatrical artistry.) Iñárritu & Co. fumble the details – if previews were cheaper, no one would actually see shows post-opening – and they never take the time to let us know if Riggan’s adaptation is actually any good (which has varying degrees of import depending on what you like/dislike about the film). But it gets the dynamics of theatrical relationships exactly right (except, of course, the Times critic is the opposite of the star fucker that Brantley is), as well as the increasingly pressurized atmosphere in the days leading up to opening. It’s a messy screenplay, but a thoroughly engaging one that invites audiences to immerse themselves in the backstage drama.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a delightfully deadpan, complex caper featuring an opulent hotel and quirky inhabitants. The adventures of M. Gustave, a legendary concierge, in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka between the first and second World Wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend, could only exist in a world created by the imaginative Wes Anderson. He ever-so-precisely tells his story within a story within a story (did I get them all?), which eventually devolves with deliciously madcap abandon. While everyone thought this would be a race between Birdman and Boyhood, Anderson’s screenplay just won the WGA, and in the past decade or so, the WGA winner has correlated with the Oscar winner approximately 80% of the time. It sure looks like six-time nominee may be a first-time winner here.




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