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Feb 22, 2012
10:54 AMTalk about Arts
Spree picks the winners: Best Writing and Directing
Leading up to the Oscars on February 26, Spree contributor William C. Altreuter, our online film reviewer Jared Mobarak, and me will share our thoughts on who will take home the Oscars. Here’s a trio of interesting categories: Best Original Screenplay, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Director. —C. S.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
The Artist – Michel Hazanavicius
Bridesmaids – Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo
Margin Call – J. C. Chandor
Midnight in Paris – Woody Allen
A Separation – Asghar Farhadi
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
The Descendants – Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash from The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings
Hugo – John Logan from The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
The Ides of March – George Clooney, Grant Heslov, and Beau Willimon from Farragut North by Beau Willimon
Moneyball – Screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin; Story by Stan Chervin from Moneyball by Michael Lewis
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan from Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré
These are always fun categories, because they give the Academy the opportunity to throw a bone to some films that otherwise aren’t real threats anywhere else (if nominated elsewhere), or not nominated at all—see Margin Call, Bridesmaids, and Ides.
Let’s start with Original Screenplay. Margin Call stands no chance. A Separation likely does not either; it will win Best Foreign Language honors, but I’m not sure Hollywood is intelligent enough to realize just how good that script was. (Kudos on the nomination, a very pleasant surprise.)
The Artist will soon be honored for its visual delights, and won’t take this. The obvious choice is Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris, a film that, Anthony Bourdain notwithstanding, is downright beloved.
But … I don’t see it happening. Woody doesn’t play the game, and despite garnering more praise and box office than he’s seen since, oh, Hannah and Her Sisters, I think the winners are the only two female nominees in the bunch. My first real “upset” prediction: I say Best Original Screenplay goes to Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo for Bridesmaids. Why? Intense, utter likability.
Bridesmaids plays very well on TV; so does Paris, yes, but it’s also a bit more common-man, and while the Academy does like to think of itself as high-brow, s*** humor likely brings about a more visceral response than Man Ray jokes. Also, I think they would love to see Kristen Wiig’s acceptance speech, while Woody, as they know, will be home practicing the clarinet.
Best Adapted Screenplay is, to me, a slam-dunk: The Descendants. Say what you will about the film—I liked it very much, but its detractors make some very good points—the screenplay is complex, funny, sad, and pretty nuanced. Moneyball seems the nearest competition, but Descendants will win this. Might be its only victory of the night, actually.
William C. Altreuter:
I love the Best Director and Best Screenplay categories because they exist to demonstrate Hollywood’s contempt for the auteur theory. You can get a pretty good argument going in a film class about whether writers or directors are the most responsible for the creative process of filmmaking, but in LA everybody knows it is all about who put the deal together. Everybody else is just the help.
At the risk of sounding glib, and as though that has ever stopped me, The Artist won’t win because the voters Are going to mostly assume that it works because of the performances or the direction. There may be people who wondered how a silent movie could even have a screenplay. Margin Call was a dog, but it caught the flavor of the way they talk in the corridors of high finance. Maybe I’d have liked it better if it had come out in 2009, the way that The China Syndrome caught lightening in a bottle after Three Mile Island. Nobody has thought about The China Syndrome in thirty years—it was dated nine months after it came out, but it hit a sweet spot. Margin Call felt passe immediately.
I found A Separation wrenching. Asghar Farhadi wrote and directed, and I can’t help but think that this will mean that he splits his own vote.
Woody Allen movies are kind of like Bob Dylan albums. If you like the latest one, then it is his best one since whatever the last one you liked was—usually Blood on the Tracks and Annie Hall. That’s too bad, because it means we are evaluating the artists based on who were once were and are today, rather than looking at the work in front of us and responding to what that current work is saying. I liked Midnight in Paris a great deal, and if it won I think that would be a signal, an olive branch from the Academy that Allen has always held at arm’s length. There is a lot of baggage here to overcome, but I can see it happening, sort of.
On the other hand, Bridesmaids. Everyone loved it, for good or for ill it was groundbreaking, and it made a bunch of money. Frankly, it is a lock.
Best Adaptation is a tougher call. The Ides of March was clever, and felt like it was well written. I don’t know whether Clooney’s participation helps or hurts its chances, and I don’t think it matters because it will probably split its support with The Descendants, the other Clooney vehicle in this field. Tinker Tailor was sort of the opposite of The Ides of March it didn’t feel well constructed; it felt like O’Connor and Straughan knew there was a lot of detail that they needed to get on the screen, so they jammed as much in as they could.
I’d say it comes down to Hugo and Moneyball, and as good as Hugo was, the mere fact that a pretty good movie got made out of a book like Moneyball is so amazing that I cannot imagine it being denied. It kicked around for so long in development that everyone had a chance to wonder how anyone could make it into a movie. It kicked around for so long that the SABERmetric theories it espoused have gone from eccentric outsider analysis to received and accepted opinion. And it turned out to be a baseball movie that wives and girlfriends liked. That’s a pretty good story, and that’s why I pick Moneyball.
There have been so many great screenplays this year, but I have to admit this is the category I care the least about. Unless a film is written by its director, I generally forget who did the work. I’ve always been a director guy because, frankly, film is a visual medium. Yes, you need a great story to be successful, but I’ve seen many bad scripts made into exciting films and many great scripts ruined by an inept voice behind the camera.
Almost all here are deserving of the award and while I’d usually go for more stage fare like the very conversation-heavy Margin Call or Ides of March, one cannot deny the success of films like Tinker and The Artist finding greatness inside the silent subtext surrounding their speech. A perfect world would probably see A Separation and Tinker take the prize for their ability to say so much with so little, but a perfect world this is not.
Therefore, my match made in heaven becomes Bridesmaids and The Descendants for what the acceptance speeches could hold. We all know Kristen Wiig and would love to hear what comic soundbytes she might share, but what most may not know are the faces behind the names alongside Alexander Payne’s for Adapted Screenplay. Nat Faxon and Jim Rash—a.k.a. the badly accented German dude from Beerfest and “Dean Dong” Dean Pelton from Community—are two funny, often absurd performers willing to do whatever necessary for a laugh. So, the fact they are the original writers behind such a poignant film about life and death is a feel good story in and of itself and to see them honored above broad preconceptions would be the best artistic vindication since those precocious Bostonians Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (who, of course, some still say never actually wrote Good Will Hunting). Sometimes the talent within overcomes the image the media loves to manufacture.
Woody Allen – Midnight in Paris
Michel Hazanavicius – The Artist
Terrence Malick – The Tree of Life
Alexander Payne – The Descendants
Martin Scorsese – Hugo
I don’t mean to be trailing off here, but I think this is another no-brainer: Hazanvicius for The Artist.
Does he deserve it? When did that start mattering? Let us not forget that Tom Hooper defeated David Fincher last year at this time.
Malick should win, but the nomination was his reward. The Descendants buzz really has died down, so I don’t think Alexander Payne is a real threat. Honestly, a win from Marty or Woody would not go down as a shocker. But as well-liked their films are, it doesn’t feel like their year.
It does, however, feel like Michel Hazanvicius’s year. He’ll ride the Artist love to a win. And whether or not that’s the proper pick, I just can’t bring myself to get too perturbed by the film’s victory lap.
William C. Altreuter:
Best Director is such an odd category, isn’t it? It always feels like Miss Congeniality to me, even though it shouldn’t. Out of the eighty-five films that have been awarded Best Picture, sixty-five have also been awarded Best Director, and only three films have won Best Picture without their directors being nominated. In other words, Best Picture is a way to give out an additional prize: one for the director, and one for the money guys, who are the real Hollywood royalty and want to get their moment in the sun just like everybody else. Of course this means that the best way to handicap the award is to pick the likely Best Picture winner. In sports terms that’s called following the chalk, and the chalk line this year points to The Artist.
Of course, there are cases to be made for and against the other nominees. Midnight in Paris is wonderfully done, but Woody’s relationship with the Academy has been fraught. Hugo was stylish and an artistic reach by Scorsese, one of the greats who was regularly snubbed by the voters—but they gave him a Lifetime Achievement award, and that ought to hold him for a while.
Alexander Payne’s The Descendants deserves credit for getting such strong performances from all involved, but it doesn’t really feel like a Best Picture winner—it comes up a little short in its ambition, maybe. I’d love to see Terrence Malick win for The Tree of Life: great performances, a stylish, distinctive look, and a movie that feels like it was intensely personal to the director, even as I related to every moment. I’m not sure what the case against it is, actually. I’d vote for it.
I agree. Hazanvicius has been on an awards tear and no one seems able to defeat him.
Malick should get the win because no other film on that list has more of its director’s fingerprints smearing frames than The Tree of Life. A recluse who would most likely never show up—not that Woody will—it almost seems unworthy of the Academy’s time or efforts to give him more praise than the nomination. My question, however, is that while the fervor behind whether Banksy would retrieve his Oscar in 2011—he didn’t end up winning—why does no one seem very intrigued where it concerns Malick being almost as much an enigma as the graffiti artist?
Scorsese already won his coveted statue for probably his least effective Best Director nomination and Allen won’t be winning anything besides screenplay, if that. And as far as this year’s Jason Reitman slot for subtle directing with no chance of victory, Payne will be happy to get the recognition after a lengthy hiatus from the spotlight.
It is Hazanvicius’ night and he should prevail with more than just this ...