Thursday, February 19, 2015

Oscars 2014: The Screenplays (Best Original and Best Adapted)

Unlike with the supporting actor and actress fields, both screenplay categories are a bit trickier to predict this year. Let's get to it.


BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

NOMINEES
Birdman—Alejandro González Iñárritu et al.
Boyhood—Richard Linklater
Foxcatcher—E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman
The Grand Budapest Hotel—Wes Anderson, Hugo Guinness
Nightcrawler—Dan Gilroy

WILL WIN
It's tempting to view this as a duel between the two Best Picture favorites in Birdman and Boyhood. But Academy voters tend to broaden their scope a bit with this category, which makes me lean away from the prizefighters and toward The Grand Budapest Hotel. It triumphed at the BAFTAs, and it defeated Boyhood at the Writers' Guild (Birdman was deemed ineligible). It's also more writerly than the other two screenplays, with snappy dialogue and a quirky time-jumping structure. Given that the two heavy hitters have failed to separate from one another, I don't think either has the tidal wave of support that would bring this award in with the tide. The Grand Budapest Hotel bags yet another trophy.





SHOULD WIN
Birdman is a fun movie, but its screenplay borders on obnoxious, with gimmicks and meta commentary standing in for real writing. Foxcatcher, meanwhile, coasts more on mood than real drama, and its script never satisfactorily explains its horrific true-crime story. Nightcrawler creates a tremendous character in Louis Bloom, with his endless stream of inane corporate rhetoric, but its chiding of modern news consumers feels a tad scolding. So for me, this is a choice between Boyhood and The Grand Budapest Hotel, and as delightful and sorrowful as the latter film's story may be, it lacks the extraordinary depth and scope of Boyhood's screenplay. Its sheer conceptual nerve is astonishing enough, but its heartfelt, intimate approach to growing up is where it really distinguishes itself.


MY IDEAL BALLOT
Boyhood—Richard Linklater
Dear White People—Justin Simien
The Grand Budapest Hotel—Wes Anderson, Hugo Guinness
Interstellar—Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan
A Most Violent Year—J.C. Chandor

Dear White People examines race relations in contemporary America with refreshing frankness and estimable wit. Interstellar tells a story of remarkable ambition but still marries it to flesh-and-blood characters. A Most Violent Year is the most unpredictable screenplay of the bunch—you keep expecting it to zag, but it never does.

My ideal winner: Boyhood—Richard Linklater.





BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

NOMINEES
American Sniper—Jason Hall
The Imitation Game—Graham Moore
Inherent Vice—Paul Thomas Anderson
The Theory of Everything—Anthony McCarter
Whiplash—Damien Chazelle

WILL WIN
Cross off Inherent Vice—one of the more baffling nominations of this year's Oscars—but the remaining four contenders (all Best Picture nominees) are in play. American Sniper is certainly a movie of the moment, and The Theory of Everything won at the BAFTAs, but neither features a particularly showy script. More intriguing is Whiplash, with its riveting and deeply memorable story, but it may be too intense for Oscar voters. So I'll go with guild winner The Imitation Game, a smart, sincere, secretly angry exploration of a compelling historical figure.





SHOULD WIN
Whiplash, because it dared to be great.





MY IDEAL BALLOT
Edge of Tomorrow—Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth
Gone Girl—Gillian Flynn
Guardians of the Galaxy—James Gunn, Nicole Perlman
The Imitation Game—Graham Moore
Whiplash—Damien Chazelle

Edge of Tomorrow is ingenious, not merely in concocting its time-loop concept but in twisting that concept in exciting and unexpected ways. Gone Girl is electric storytelling, daring viewers to keep up with its leaps in chronology and changes in perspective. Guardians of the Galaxy is, pound for pound, the single funniest movie of the year.

My ideal winner: Gone Girl—Gillian Flynn.





Coming tomorrow: predictions for the final four categories (Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Picture).

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