Herrington and Akers on the Oscars (2011), Part 1: The Screenplays



For the past two years, Flyer film writers Chris Herrington and Greg Akers have held palaver over the ultimate #FirstWorldProblems: who will and who should win the Oscars, and who got snubbed. Well, those kooky members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences went and nominated a whole new slate of movies and performances from 2010. This demands our attention.

And if it demands our attention, it demands it in a five-part series, running through Friday, rounding up the major Oscar categories.

Let's start with the screenplays.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Nominees: 127 Hours, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit, Winter's Bone

GREG AKERS: Since there may be no bigger slam dunk of the night, I'll keep this short: Will Win: The Social Network (by Aaron Sorkin).

Should Win: Co-sign with the lock. The Social Network's script is dynamite. It's but one element that makes the movie great, but it deserves the lavish praise it gets. Of the other nominees, 127 Hours is the weakest, though it at least tries to contextualize what brought a man to get his arm stuck in the earth. Toy Story 3 was another wonderful Pixar film, though I don't know that what makes it work is its script so much as some kind of alchemical emotional voodoo. True Grit has grown on me the more I've thought about it, and much of what I attribute its success is in the Coen brothers' script. Two long scenes of dialogue — Rooster in the courtroom and Mattie bartering about horses — are classic Coen entertainment. Winter's Bone was an excellent film that I'm happy to see get recognized. Jennifer Lawrence is great, but she gets the cues for her steely resolve from the script.

The audacious opening of The Social Network:

Got Robbed: I have no beef and wouldn't knock off any of these for anybody else. But if I have to play I guess I'll say The Town. Sure, whatever. I didn't see Shutter Island, but if it's even 30 percent better than that ridiculously subpar novel, then that would probably get my vote. What won't get my vote for "getting robbed?" Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. I liked the movie a lot, but technically speaking, it's got to be one of the worst comic book adaptations ever. It actually shows the words "Ring! Ring!" when a phone rings, and other ridiculous onomatopoeia. It's a movie for god's sake. You don't have to show the words. Utilize your dang medium.

CHRIS HERRINGTON: Yep, Will Win: Sorkin and The Social Network got this.

Should Win: And The Social Network will be the right pick. That long, still opening set-piece between Jesse Eisenberg and Rooney Mara is the screenwriting moment of the year. Not only is it a formally audacious way to open a movie, but it neatly lays out all the motivations that will drive its main character through the rest of the movie. That scene sets the bar high, and the rest of Sorkin's screenplay continues to clear it. But I'll give a strong runner-up nod to Winter's Bone. Obviously it's hard to truly judge the success of an adapted screenplay if you haven't read or seen the source material, but unlike a lot of movies adapted from novels (see Barney's Version in local theaters now), it doesn't feel like anything's been left on the cutting room floor here. It feels like an original screenplay even though it isn't and it ably ties together different genres/styles — film noir, social realism, coming-of-age, etc. As for the other noms, I think your comment on Toy Story 3 is perceptive, but I'll save my spiel on that for a later category. 127 Hours works more because of James Franco and the cinematography than because of the script (or direction), and while I think the dialogue is a strength of True Grit, I remain pretty meh on the enterprise as a whole.

Got Robbed: The Town, huh? Guess that's hard for me to judge without knowing how much of the too much gunfire the screenplay calls for, but what works for me most there is some of the supporting performances (Jeremy Renner and Rebecca Hall, in particular) and the sense of place you get at times when bullets aren't flying. I'll cast my vote here, instead, for The Ghost Writer, director Roman Polanksi's cool, elegant, erudite political thriller, which shows how to land an improbable ending with subtle flair, in contrast to The Town's more Hollywood denouement.

AKERS: Okay, you've shamed me with my pick of The Town. It's honestly just my next favorite movie that was actually adapted instead of original, and I can't come up with anything better. I don't think The Illusionist is technically adapted, though it's an interesting artifact of one filmmaker (animator Sylvain Chomet) adapting the techniques of another (Jacques Tati). I like what you said about Winter's Bone feeling original even though it's not. But honestly, no one got robbed this year.

Best Original Screenplay
Nominees: Another Year, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, The King's Speech

HERRINGTON: This is a two-horse race between The King's Speech and The Kids Are All Right. Will Win: The King's Speech is a somehow a Best Picture contender and is probably the favorite here, but I feel like this is the perfect place for the industry peeps to recognize The Kids Are All Right, which seems like it has to win something. And that's a film whose success is based pretty heavily on the screenplay itself. I think it pulls what I assume would be considered an upset.

Should Win: Another Year is Mike Leigh's fifth Oscar screenplay nomination, which I find pretty amusing, especially considering how heavily collaborative workshops and rehearsals factor in crafting his characters and stories. Leigh is a consummate filmmaker first, not a writer making films. He's not Woody Allen. But because they are too semi-popular and "difficult" to get in the Best Picture hunt but too good and widely respected to ignore, Leigh's chatty, adult films are always pushed here. But, fine, as a bit of a Leigh fanatic, I'll cast my "vote" for him where I can. For runners-up, Inception creates an entire film world with its own set of rules and does so extremely effectively. It reminds us that a good screenplay isn't just about dialogue. And I do think The Kids Are All Right is a good screenplay. As for my personal also-rans, The Fighter is more about performance and direction. And The King's Speech is about performance, period.(Okay, and maybe art direction.)

Got Robbed: There are a couple of less-celebrated contenders — at least — that I'd much rather see on this list than The King's Speech or The Fighter. One is Blue Valentine which builds a nice rhyming but not facile counterpart between the early and final days of a relationship. My top choice, however, would be writer-director Tanya Hamilton's barely released Night Catches Us, which honorably avoids easy nostalgia with its prickly portrait of former Black Panthers in mid-Seventies' Philadelphia.

AKERS: I enjoy disagreeing with you, so it's my pleasure to go a different route with this category. First, though it will disappoint me, Will Win = The King's Speech is going to take down this category. Before The King's Speech's weird insta-momentum kicked in this last month, I would've said The Kids Are All Right was nearly a lock in this category. And now I think it would be a pretty big Oscar-night upset.

Should Win: You alluded to it in your analysis, but I think Inception is a remarkable achievement. It sticks in the mind because of its visuals and technical brilliance, but that script is stunning. I'll get into this with the Editing category too, but the way Inception tells you exactly everything you need to know about the brand-new world it has created, then goes about exploring those rules and that world, in riveting fashion, made the movie not just my favorite of the year but a kind of titanic filmmaking achievement in my mind (no pun intended). The fact that there are a number of readings one can have of the film — and I'm not talking about the supposedly trick ending — underscore how much is actually going on Inception.

The trailer for Inside Job, the forgotten great screenplay of the year:

Got Robbed: I don't know if it would have been unprecedented, but Inside Job should have been nominated for its script. Charles Ferguson takes an incredibly complex series of events, stretching across three decades, and makes an accessible, inarguable, inexorable case for exactly how our economy got to where it is today. In a way, it's kind of the Inception of documentary screenplays — so airtight its kind of exhilarating.

HERRINGTON: Damn. Why didn't I think of that? Yes, Inside Job, which is overwhelmingly well written and organized, might be the best original screenplay of the year. Or maybe it's really more like an adapted screenplay, condensing the pre-existing story of the decades-long lead-in to financial crisis into 120 furiously lucid minutes.


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