Herrington & Akers on the Oscars, Day 2: Screenplays



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.

Chris Herrington

Zero Dark Thirty
  • Zero Dark Thirty
Will Win: This is where the apparent Zero Dark Thirty backlash confuses me most. My minimal contact in Oscar handicapping suggests this is the category where the film is most likely to win, but shouldn't Mark Boal's CIA-aided screenplay be the aspect of the film that most troubles the film's opponents? Would a win here while Kathryn Bigelow goes unnoticed for director be dissonant? Just misogynist? In my confusion, I'm calling it for Michael Haneke for Amour, which has arguably the most overall strength of the nominees. And screenplay seems like the area where artier faves are more likely to prosper.

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.

  • Looper
Will Win: I agree with your thoughts on Zero Dark Thirty controversy as it pertains to Boal and Bigelow. The fact that there's a controversy at all seems politically fabricated and something that I don't think will get in the way of Zero Dark Thirty winning. The controversy seems so "January." The fact is, the decade of the 2000s sucked, and Boal's brilliant, staggering screenplay captures a piece of why it sucked, with its unholy confluence of geopolitics, power, bureaucracy, and death. It's an impressive work, regardless of where the truth and reality lies. If it's anyone else walking away with it, I suspect it will be Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained.

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

  • Argo
Akers: This is one tricky category to call. Well, maybe not. I think/fear Argo Will Win this one, on the strength of its hot streak. But this will be a great indicator of which way the Academy will tip for Best Picture, as the other leading contenders, Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook, are featured in this category. Thirteen of the last 17 Writers Guild winners have won this category. Argo won the WGA. I'm a sucker for "advanced analytics." (Though never forget that statistics aren't everything: They don't play the Oscars on paper!)

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 ...

  • Lincoln
Will Win: This feels like one of the strongest categories, and I won't be surprised if either Argo or Silver Linings Playbook wins, but Lincoln has the most nominations and Tony Kushner's screenplay, almost as much as Daniel Day-Lewis' title performance, is its calling card. If Spielberg wins in Director but Kushner is bypassed here, it will be a disservice to what's best about the film. Disagreements like this are why I'm terrible at predicting the Oscars.

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.

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