Monday, February 09, 2009

Black Sheep @ The Oscars: ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

As you are reading these words, I suppose it goes without saying that I am a writer. I have an appreciation for the craft, as I do know, to some extent, the difficulties faced when one sits down in front of the computer to stare at a blank screen. That said, I am mostly uninspired by the nominees in this category. Perhaps I am just bitter not to see THE DARK KNIGHT nominated. Or perhaps I am just upset to see films I felt were held back by their screenplays receiving recognition as the best of the year. I can’t be sure. Regardless, my apathy could apparently make for a great adapted screenplay.

And the nominees are …

Screenplay by Eric Roth
Screen story by Eric Roth and Robin Swicord
Based on the short story, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Daisy: Would you still love me if I were old and saggy?
Benjamin Button: Would you still love me if I were young and had acne? When I’m afraid of what’s under the bed? Or if I end up wetting the bed?

This is Eric Roth’s fourth Oscar nomination. In fact, he actually won the Oscar in this very same category in 1994 for adapting FORREST GUMP. Now, you might be saying to yourself right now that this is amusing seeing as how, when you really think about it, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is an awful lot like FORREST GUMP. Both are epic stories about one man’s life and just how expansive that can be. Both ask the audience to appreciate what they have in their lives by showing us men with serious obstacles still finding meaning in life. Both go on a little longer than they should but personally, I found I at least felt some connection with that lovable guy waiting for the bus. Mr. Roth, I believe you already have an Oscar for writing this script.

Screenplay by John Patrick Shanley
Based on the stageplay, “Doubt” by John Patrick Shanley

Father Brendan Flynn: Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty. When you are lost, you are not alone.

Although it was easy for me to point out that John Patrick Shanley’s direction in DOUBT was what kept the film from achieving greatness, it is impossible for to fault him for his writing. Sadly, I cannot say that I had the opportunity to see DOUBT on stage but if the play held a fraction of the insight and mystery that his screenplay holds, it must have been one heck of a religious experience. The only reason that I am not more excited about this title being nominated is because I don’t imagine that Shanley had to work too hard to make words he already knew worked work again on screen. Perhaps I am being far too naïve about his process but I’d say he was fairly familiar with the material going in.

Screenplay by Peter Morgan
Based on the stageplay, “Frost / Nixon” by Peter Morgan

David Frost: I’ve had an idea for an interview, Richard Nixon.
John Birt: You’re a talk show host. I spent yesterday watching you interview the Bee Gees.
David Frost: Weren’t they terrific?

I like this Peter Morgan fella. His first and last Oscar nomination before this one, for THE QUEEN, was so playful and sincere that he brought great humanity to a monarch that is oft criticized for her lack thereof. And just as he brought us behind the castle gates last time, he brings us this time behind the cameras for an interview that had America holding its breath. You can just tell that Morgan is having a great time with FROST/NIXON. You never know who is going to break first in this historic interview and he makes it so that you aren’t necessarily rooting for one side of the other. Although Morgan expanded his stageplay to a much larger space Shanley did with DOUBT, his familiarity with the material is stellar but not necessarily new.

Screenplay by David Hare
Based on the novel, “The Reader” by Bernhard Schlink

Hanna Schmitz: It doesn’t matter what I think. It doesn’t matter what I feel. The dead are still dead.

Having not read Bernhard Schlink’s tale of dealing and healing, I cannot say whether the criticisms of David Hare’s screenplay are true. It has been said that Hare’s take is fairly straightforward and does not have its own voice. This is the same complaint I have about the adapted stageplays. Adaptation certainly has its advantages. There is a solid framework that is already firmly in existence. The trick is to bring something new to table and make the words seem as if they are all of your own construction without taking full credit for where they come from. Personally, I enjoyed Hare’s script. I found it to be appropriately short and stunted given that it discusses subject matter that no one is comfortable with. Still, despite THE READER’s surge in popularity since it scored an unexpected five Oscar nods, it still has nothing on …

Written by Simon Beaufoy
Based on the novel, “Q and A” by Vikas Swarup

Jamal Malik: When somebody asks me a question, I tell them the answer.

It’s all right there in that quote. By this point, it is no secret that I am not riding the SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE wave all the way to the podium. And here I find myself face to face with my biggest beef about this film, its screenplay. Yes, I will admit to loving the Jamal and Latika’s love story just as much as the next guy and I do admire that it is a love that endures poverty, betrayal and the perils of the slums to find its place in the sun. That said, I cannot condone the beating Simon Beaufoy gives to fate and the stifling structure that robs the film of its spontaneity. Question, answer, here’s how I knew it – over and over again. Seriously though, Jamal’s life history is referenced one question after the next on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” in chronological order. This didn’t strike anyone as odd? This is fate deconstructed, not celebrated.

Rant aside, Black Sheep still predicts that the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay will go to Simon Beaufoy for SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. There is just no keeping the slumdog down.

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