Every day until the Oscars ceremony we’ll be highlighting a different category or movie here on the LAMB! Here’s a link to all the posts written so far .
Today, Howard Casner of Rantings and Ravings is here to look at the Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay Categories.
Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay
It’s that time of year again. The Oscars are nigh, and so are the LAMBCast articles on them. This year I am sharing my thoughts on the original and adapted screenplays.
So first the original:
The Favourite is easily the finest screenplay nominated. The story of two ladies in waiting fighting to be the main advisor to Queen Anne, the 18th century British monarch, it’s incredibly pretty, witty and, yes, gay, with huge bouts of hilarity followed by huge bouts of seriousness. Acted to the nth degree, and with such well written characters with searing depth any less would have been a crime, by Olivia Coleman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone (all receiving Oscar noms). The screenwriters are first time Deborah Davis and the more seasoned Tony McNamara, and it’s the first film from director Yorgos Lanthimos where he didn’t contribute to the screenplay. This may very well take home the prize.
First Reformed, starring Ethan Hawke, is the latest from one of the world’s most respected screenwriters, Paul Schrader, who also gave us Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Light Sleeper and many others. Basically a cross between Ingmar Bergman’s Winter Light and Robert Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest, the story revolves around a minister struggling with his faith against a backdrop of man made climate change and money-focused mega-churches. The screenplay falters in the final scenes, but it’s still one of the finest films and screenplays of the year.
Green Book, by Nick Vallelonga (son of the central character), Bryan Haynes Currie and the director Peter Farelly, is fun and entertaining. But it also suffers from being a drama that is another one of those white man’s view of racism (there is a reason why it’s also called Driving Mr. Daisy). Excellently acted, skillfully written, but also formulaic and predictable. A perfectly good film.
Roma is the popular and critically acclaimed film written and directed by Alfonso Cuaron, but I’m an outlier here. Beautiful to look at and well directed, I found the story to be underwhelming. Basically just another tale about an unwed pregnancy, Cuaron doesn’t bring anything really new to the basic concept except for stunning cinematography. It may win since it also may win Best Picture, but I was only moved by a revelation at the end. Perhaps Cuaron’s mistake (though I admit I’m in the minority here) is that the story wasn’t told through the eyes of the character that was Cuaron as a child. It should also be noted that Netflix, who also produced, spent a fortune on Oscar campaigning, resulting in fifteen nominations, ten for Roma.
Vice is the story of the power hungry and vicious Dick Cheney, who oversaw, among other things, our entry in the questionably immoral invasion of Iraq (though there’s no question as far as I’m concerned). Written by director Adam McKay, who also wrote The Big Short, he also uses the same style as that film, a narrator interrupted by historical reenactments, like those films one often saw in high school. It’s more a lecture than a drama, and doesn’t really tell us anything that new. Christian Bale gained weight for the role, and he does a spot on impersonation, but, like McKay, he can’t make the character interesting. Only Sam Rockwell, as George W. Bush, makes a real impact. Probably the weakest nominee here.
Now for the adapted:
A Star is Born, written by Eric Roth, Will Fetters and director Bradley Cooper, has a good first third, but a disastrous next two. A remake of far better earlier versions, it could be claimed that it’s better than the disastrous Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson one, but that’s hardly a high bar to pass. There’s also really nothing interesting to say about it except, perhaps, that though at first the sure winner of the Best Picture award, it may have peaked too soon which is why it will probably only win Best Song.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, written by Joel and Ethan Coen, who also directed, is also the beneficiary of Netflix’s deep pockets. Not expected to get anything at first, it now has noms for Costume, Song and Adapted Screenplay (sources include Jack London and Stewart Edward White). It’s a portmanteau film made up of several different segments, each with a western setting. Though it’s a mixed bag when it comes to the success of the individual stories (the best episodes being All Gold Canyon and The Mortal Remains), it’s always entertaining and imaginative.
BlacKKKlansman, based on the book by Ron Stallworth about a black police officer infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan (you had to be there), is entertaining, but also somewhat an odd film from director Spike Lee, who also, along with three others, adapted the script. In this day of Black Lives Matter, Lee has created a safe and fun film in which the police are not the problem. A far cry from the anger of Do The Right Thing, to say the least, but it is the frontrunner for the award.
If Beale Street Could Talk, adapted from the James Baldwin novel by the director Barry Jenkins (who also gave us the wonderful Moonlight), for me suffered from the same issue as Roma. The story is about an unwed pregnancy, but doesn’t bring anything that new to the equation except, like Roma, gorgeous cinematography and a slow pace.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a screenplay by Nicole Holofcener for a movie she didn’t direct. She shares the screenplay honors with first timer Jeff Whitty, while the directing was by Marielle Heller who gave us the marvelous and controversial Diary of a Teenage Girl. It’s based on the true story of Lee Israel, a floundering writer who made a name for herself by faking letters from the rich and famous. A solid film that is never less than entertaining, it has two wonderful performances by Melissa McCarthy as Lee and Richard E. Grant as her partner in crime.