Best Original Screenplay

I’ve decided to start my thoughts on the Academy Award nominated movies with the writing awards. I don’t want to speculate on the potential winners as to simply discuss the screenplays themselves.

Of the five screenplays which have been nominated in the Writing (Original Screenplay) category, four to them have the director as the writer or one of the co-writers. In these four cases the movies appear to be the director’s brainchild. Foxcatcher is the exception in this instance. Of the five nominees in this category, three of them, Birdman, Boyhood and The Grand Budapest Hotel have been nominated for best picture. Only Nightcrawler was not nominated in any other categories.

Birdman Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo
Boyhood Richard Linklater
Foxcatcher E. Max Frye & Dan Futterman
The Grand Budapest Hotel Screenplay by Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness
Nightcrawler Dan Gilroy

It is interesting to not that, with the exception of Boyhood, most of the stories have a darkness to them. Nightcrawler is most certainly the darkest of all. In fact, I would say that it falls squarely in the tradition of film noir. Unfortunately, I gave my little collection of books on film noir to one of my mother’s students when he was accepted to film school, so I’ll have to rely on the internet. Nightcrawler could be said to be a social problem film with a protagonist, Lou, who is something of a petty criminal or grifter. He begins as someone who is unemployed trying to find work. Unable to find any, he happens upon and accident and comes across a news stringer who listens to a police radio and heads to accident or crime scenes to try to get video footage for local television reports. Lou obtains an inexpensive camcorder and tries to get his own footage. In an effort to succeed, he begins down a slippery slope towards less and less moral actions. We see a world that in is inherently corrupt, where all human relationships have been reduced to transactions. The movie looks at the reality of a world where jobs are insecure and where news is entertainment. It is a dark, dark vision.

On the surface, The Grand Budapest Hotel would seem to have little in common with Nightcrawler, however if we look at the script rather than the visual style of the film we again see a corrupt, dark world. Unlike Nightcrawler, the world inhabited by the characters in The Grand Budapest is far from unrelievedly dark.  The film has the structure of a story within a story within a story. The central part is narrated by Zero, who, while working as a lobby boy at the hotel, is taken under the wing of the concierge, Mr. Gustave H. Twice, Mr. Gustave H. says something to the effect of, “You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity.” One of Gustave’s lovers has been murdered and left him an expensive painting in her will. Gustave is pursued by his dead lover’s greedy son and the family’s enforcer. All of this takes place as Europe descend into war in the background. Mr. Gustave H. sees himself as a bulwark against the decline of civilization. The bright visual style of the film belies the far more somber, although absurd, tone of the script. This lurking seriousness grounds the whimsy and keeps it from floating away into frivolousness.

Birdman has a serious, dark tone, but not in the way of the other two. In Birdman it is not a corrupt world that tortures us, rather we torture ourselves. All the characters struggle with inner demons. The main character is an actor who became famous playing a superhero character in multiple blockbusters. Now he’s seek artistic validation by appearing in a drama on Broadway that he has adapted and directed. I was looking at some clips of the movie online to remind me of it since it’s been several months since I’ve seen it. The dialog is very strong.

Foxcatcher, a story of an unhappy multimillionaire who tries to give himself a sense of achievement by nurturing a wrestling team, but become emotionally entangled with one of the wrestlers, is another dark story. As in Nightcrawler, we have another young man, this time played by Channing Tatum, who is struggling. Foxcatcher, while certainly in interesting movie, is not as tightly written as the others. It lacked the tension it needed or the emotional intensity.

Well, it’s getting late, so I’m going to have to wrap this up. There are a lot of interesting themes that were brought up in the original screenplays, the nature of work, the difficulty of making a living, the nature of the media, what defines civilization and humanity. My own personal favorites were Birdman and Nightcrawler. Since Nightcrawler has received significantly less attention than the other films, I’d like to say that anyone who enjoys film noir should try to see it. Jake Gyllenhaal does a great job as Lou.

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3 comments
  1. I have only watched the Grand Budapest Hotel in this list and I loved it. I can watch it several times over.

    • fojap said:

      It was quite fun, wasn’t it?

      • It was. Quite well done. Nice reviews. AM tempted to go looking for these movies

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