Saturday, February 14, 2009

Black Sheep @ The Oscars: ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

The Original Screenplay category is certainly aptly named this year. This is by far the freshest and most unexpected category in the bunch. There was not one, not two, but three surprise nominations in this category. Three surprises meant no room for Writers Guild nominees, BURN AFTER READING by the Coen Brothers (winners in the Adapted Screenplay category last year for NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN), VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA by Academy favorite, Woody Allen, or the underappreciated and subtle screenplays for THE WRESTLER or THE VISITOR. Still, the WGA winner for Original Screenplay is here so who knows whether all the surprises will actually lead to an original winner come Oscar night.

And the nominees for Best Original Screenplay are …

Written by Courtney Hunt

Ray: I’m not taking them over the border. That’s a crime.
Lila: There’s no border here. This is free trade between nations.
Ray: This isn’t a nation.

It has finally happened. I have seen FROZEN RIVER. I have seen it and can now honestly say that I think it is overrated. Melissa Leo certainly deserves her nod for Best Actress but any one of the overlooked scripts I mentioned above would have made a better competitor here. I do commend Hunt for telling her tale honestly and frankly; this is certainly a bleak tale told by a brave soul. Its setting though is far more compelling than its actual plot. In the end, it doesn’t add up to much more than two women smuggling immigrants across a river again and again so that they can both afford better lives. Perhaps I’m just angry that they portrayed Montreal (the city I live in) with a run down shack of a strip club in a forest somewhere. Montreal certainly has its share of strip clubs but they’re in the middle of a cosmopolitan city, not the woods.

Written by Mike Leigh

Scott: Bear with me.
Poppy: Is there? Where is he?

What I like best about Mike Leigh’s boisterous script for HAPPY-GO-LUCKY is that is as unapologetic as its unforgettable heroine, Poppy (Sally Hawkins). Within the first few minutes, the viewer is instantly challenged to the point where you question whether or not you can make it through this film. It isn’t too gruesome or disturbing. In fact, it is entirely the opposite. Leigh kills you with kindness through Poppy. The woman is seemingly impervious to the world’s incessant negativity and instead of celebrating her, you want to shake her until she sees that the world is a horrible place. That’s pretty much the time when you realize that you see the world as such a horrible place and you begin to wonder why you can’t be more like Poppy.

Written by Martin McDonagh

Ken: Your girlfriend’s pretty.
Jimmy: She ain’t my girlfriend. She’s a prostitute I just picked up.
Ken: Well, you’ve picked up a very pretty prostitute then.
Jimmy: Thank you.

This is only Martin McDonagh’s second screenplay but it carries itself with a weight that typically comes with experience and maturity. It was billed as a comedy and though it does make for some good laughs, it was certainly one of the most tragic comedies I’ve ever seen. When two hit men find themselves literally in the little town of Bruges while they await further instruction from their boss, they have no idea what’s in store. They expect a fairly uneventful few days of site seeing but find that even the most seemingly quaint of places has an underbelly. Ordinarily, they would fit in just fine but they both come face to face with accountability instead. When in Bruges …

Written by Dustin Lance Black

Dan White: Society can’t exist without the family.
Harvey Milk: We’re not against that.
Dan White: Can two men reproduce?
Harvey Milk: No, but God knows we keep trying.

Dustin Lance Black may not have adapted any particular source material to tell Harvey Milk’s life story but he definitely had a plenty of inspiration to draw from. Harvey Milk was quintessentially original. His spirit was infectious; his ambitions and pride, boundless. Still, as larger than life as his particular life was, it was grounded in a harsh reality and Black balances both of these extremes seamlessly. Black gives us Milk, the politician, the humanitarian and the lover. Basically, he gives us Milk, the man, and then we watch that man be built up only to be taken down by hatred and ignorance so disturbing that we can only find solace in the fact that that was then and this is now. Only according to Black, now is still then.

Screenplay by Andrew Stanton and Jim Reardon
Original Story by Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter

Blue-lit eyes.
Wall-E is transfixed..
Inches closer.
Watches EVE from behind the device.
Tilts his head.
Time stops.
She’s the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen.

Dialogue? Who needs it? Certainly not this writing team. WALL-E director, Andrew Stanton, along with Pixar mainstay Pete Docter and relative newcomer, Jim Reardon, shattered the conventions of animated film with this endearing and enduring love story. Sure, it has to be colorful to keep the kids happy but I had my doubts that kids my age would be able to sit through a relatively silent film, let alone the young kids Disney was banking on to make the film a hit. The beauty of WALL-E though is that so many deeply felt emotions are communicated not only without the use of words but through two non-gender specific robots. That little computer generated robot knew love when he saw and he knew how important and precious it was that he was even feeling it. We humans could learn a lot from that guy.

Despite the surprises amongst the nominations, I would have to say the WGA winner, MILK, should follow through as the expected winner. I certainly wouldn't mind a WALL-E upset.

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