We're back with Day 2 of our four-day lumberjack match over this year's Oscar nominations. Yesterday, Greg and I split on Best Supporting Actor picks while throwing some attention to under-recognized performers such as Ann Dowd and David Strathairn.
Today, we wade into the written word with the two screenplay categores:
Best Original Screenplay
Nominees: Amour, Django Unchained, Flight, Moonrise Kingdom, Zero Dark Thirty.
Should Win: A close call among five really good films. I think Moonrise Kingdom is dependent on Wes Anderson's visual sense and Django Unchained runs out of ideas down the stretch. Amour, I think, is rooted most strongly Haneke's precise direction and his melded performances of his two great leads. Flight is a ballsy screenplay, opening with a bang and then burrowing into something darker and more personal. But even though I question the degree to which it privileges a CIA perspective, my vote goes to Boal for his relentless, reported screenplay for Zero Dark Thirty.
Got Robbed: Lots of good candidates here: The surprisingly adult sex comedy undercut by mediocre direction in Hope Springs. The daring, beat-of-its-own-drummer campus comedy Damsels in Distress. Ira Sachs' Keep the Lights On, at once diaristic and sweeping up a whole subculture. The weighty, mysterious The Master. But I'll place my vote for Looper, which renews and elevates a popcorn subgenre while dreaming up one of the screenplay moments of the year by putting Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt at a table together, where they avoid talking about time-travel shit.
Greg Akers: Quick note: Since the time of yesterday's post, I've finally seen Zero Dark Thirty. Add to my list of Got Robbed for Supporting Actor: Jason Clarke, riveting as a CIA interrogator.
Should Win: Without question, Zero Dark Thirty is in a class all its own. It condenses a conflicting time in history, spanning continents and with a widespread cast of characters with shifting on-the-ground realities. It's mesmerizing. Again, the controversy is so bogus to me. It's as if showing "enhanced interrogation," i.e., torture, in some way is an endorsement. It did happen, and the film responsibly shows it and doesn't give it short-shrift. It's an important element in the film; it even frames it with President Obama's words on being a country that doesn't torture and will no longer use such methods. That's always seemed to me the real issue: Not whether or not torture is effective, but whether we should be doing it regardless. Zero Dark Thirty should be screened with Taxi to the Dark Side, Alex Gibney's brilliant, sobering documentary. That said, Gibney needs to slow his roll a little.
Flight is really good but a tad too on the nose, I think. You're right about Moonrise Kingdom being more visual — Anderson's direction is so precise, it's like comedy in and of itself. Django is great in a whole lot of ways, but the last 30 minutes after the natural ending seems like wheel-spinning. (The lynch mob scene is uproarious, however.) And I agree on Amour too, which is an acting/directing thing. The script probably says something like, "Anne struggles to eat."
Got Robbed: You stole my thunder on Looper. That's my pick too. It's a genre picture, about time-travel, but it's also a clever, subtle take on the cycle of violence that gets passed down generationally, from broken home to broken home, victims becoming victimizers. Looper just literalizes it with time travel. Impressive stuff from Rian Johnson.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Nominees: Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook
Should Win: I like all of these films, even Argo, which is in my top 20 for the year. But, to be honest, Argo is like a child's fairy tale of American-global relations and intrigue compared to Zero Dark Thirty. Argo's CIA is the good guys who never got anything wrong (such as why there would even be an Iranian revolt/overthrow of the embassy) in the first place. At least Zero Dark Thirty shows how difficult the situation looks on the ground. I'm sure even that film just barely scratched the surface. Lincoln is the winner here, a magnificent adult film about another really tricky subject in American history. How the sausage gets made has never been more entertaining or emotional a journey. Silver Linings Playbook is a strong second place, with David O. Russell perhaps bettering what he did with The Fighter. Life of Pi is visually dramatic but very slightly, nearly imperceptibly, fails where the book succeeded, in the end. What makes Beasts of the Southern Wild work is more about a couple acting performances and the set design than the script.
Got Robbed: How can it not be Bernie, a docudrama that's the weirdest adaptation I've seen since Adaptation?
First off, now kicking myself for not using "Anne Struggles to Eat" as the headline to my Amour review. Now ...
Should Win: I haven't read Kushner's screenplay, but I'd be happy to. With Lincoln, he crafts some of the smartest, richest dialogue in recent cinematic memory, true to how Lincoln wrote and thought without simply squeezing familiar quotables into his private conversations.
Got Robbed: Agree on Bernie as a worthy candidate. For my pick: Stephen Choblosky adapts (and directs) his own novel for The Perks of Being a Wallflower and the result feels as true to actual high-school experience — or, at least, one particular kind of actual high-school experience — as any film I've seen.