There is eternal polemic can today anything be original. Can anybody make anything original anymore? Fellini once said that graphic novels are most original media of our time, but even the great filmmaker as he was, didn’t mention movies as original anymore. How to grade original screenplays, then? How to predict that category in this year’s “Oscars”? I wouldn’t miss much if I say that Original Screenplay is one of the most difficult categories of the year. The nominees are “Birdman”, “Boyhood”, “Foxcatcher”, “Nightcrawler” and “Grand Budapest Hotel”. Between them Academy will choose who will win the Award and since I’m willing to experiment I’ll roll the dice before the final decision and give my own predictions about possible winner. In the following paragraphs I’ll try to give my pros and cons about each nominated film and I’ll try to give arguments why they should or why they shouldn’t win the “Oscar”.
- Foxcatcher: It beats me why “Foxcatcher” is even nominated in this category. The true story was original, the movie adaptation of that story was lacking a lot in the screenplay department. There is a book by Mark Shultz “Foxcatcher: The True Story of My Brother’s Murder, John du Pont’s Madness, and the Quest for Olympic Gold” which was not an inspiration for the film, but rather a response to the tendentious approximation to real events which takes place in the movie. But even if we put all that aside, the screenplay was the weakest link in “Foxcatcher”. There is no dramatic gradation to the Du Pont-Dave Shultz conflict. One moment we are in Seoul Olympics and the other we are shifted to 1996 pre-Atlanta period when Du Pont finally flipped to the extreme and shot Dave Shultz, killing him in his driveway. Real story, we learn from it, tells us that Du Pont was harassing Dave Shultz and his family and that this harassment continued for a while. Here, in clear contradiction to the Miller’s atmosphere up to that moment, Du Pont is visiting Dave once prior to the fatal act. Then the scene cuts and we see Mark Shultz in UFC ring. Original screenplay? I don’t think so. The screenplay is, unfortunately the weakest part of “Foxcatcher”, and a nomination in this category is totally undeserved.
- Boyhood: “Boyhood” is original in many different ways, but screenplay isn’t one of them. I admire the fact that Linklater took the slices of real life and served them to us in small pieces in 12 year timespan. I even admire tries of activism in which Mason criticizes social detachment, but I can’t say that any of that criticism is truly original, worthy of an “Oscar”. “Boyhood” is beautifully written. It is like a letter lost in time. But in competition of other films in the category it’s not good enough for the award. Especially in the context of “original” screenplay. Nomination, however, is well deserved.
- Birdman: I really loved “Birdman”. It was one of the most original movies of the year and powerful story of a once great actor looking for his own last great performance (proof that he’s more than a superhero actor) was well thought off with many Easter eggs along the way. In “Birdman” we can see clear references on the career of Michael Keaton, but there is also an homage to Marlon Brando and a critique of the critics. There is a powerful Tabitha character who wants to write a negative review without even watching the film, and then leaves stunned after the final (or almost final) events of the movie. All that is just on the surface of “Birdman” and it’s the first legitimate candidate for the “Oscar”.
- Grand Hotel Budapest: When I first saw “GHB” I wasn’t so impressed. After phenomenal “Moonrise Kingdom” this seemed funny, but not too much of a great film. Then some time passed and I caught myself thinking about all the references I recognized in the movie and all the allegory so beautifully hidden in the otherwise campy story. I reviewed the movie in my head and then I’ve written the review here, on this blog. I was stunned. How did I miss so much on the first viewing? Is it possible that all of this is really in the film? I read the newspapers, and there was all this tension about the situation in Ukraine and people started to talk about war. I felt like I’m living in Zubrowka in the beginning of “GBH” trying to preserve my dreams and my sanity. I felt so close to Gustave and Zero. Then I realized, “Grand Hotel Budapest” is a truly great film. Ahead of its time (even if it’s only a year or two, the joke is even bigger) and the worth of reviewing again and again. Great references and great moments are lost in his illusions, laughs and appearances, but history showed us many times already that caricature is the best prophet of all. In that regard, it’s my second place winner in the struggle for the original script.
- Nightcrawler: One of the few films that had a story so well and so insulting at the same time. Lou is a vulture of sorts, he preys on other people’s misfortunes and he feeds on them. You don’t want to see him with his camera in the night. He’ll probably be the last picture you’ll ever see in your life. Imagine that synopsis on your TV screen, imagine it as an announcement. You did? Well, remember that feeling. Remember that scary voice from the TV. Boyhood gave us slices of ordinary things in life, but “Nightcrawler” gave us its extremes. “Nightcrawler” probably won’t win the award, but in my personal opinion, it had the best screenplay of the year. A story that can be read on so many different ways. Because of that “Nightcrawler” is my favorite for the “Original Screenplay” award.
In the end, all of the nominated films (except maybe “Foxcatcher”) deserved their nominations. They all are very good at least, and the choice of who will win will be difficult. My favorite is, as you can see, “Nightcrawler” but I don’t think it will win the award in the end. If I must choose who the Academy will honor with an Oscar I would say that it’ll be “Grand Hotel Budapest” or “Boyhood”, but I will be satisfied with any of the first three on my list. However, the Academy has a problem with dark movies like “Nightcrawler” and I would really like to see a movie like that to be nominated in the “important categories” once in a while.