;It's hard to take seriously any institution that purports to be an awards show for the best of anything, like screenwriting, when it can't even manage to nominate the best screenplay of any kind this year, Stranger Than Fiction by Zach Helm. This isn't an exaggeration either. Helm's masterpiece was the hottest property around Hollywood for a while there, sparking a bidding war, and its execution didn't do much to change the quality of the writing.


;Then again, that's the problem with the Academy Awards and Golden Globes and just about any screenwriting awards: They don't focus on the actual screenplay, and instead focus on the execution. This is wrong for many reasons, such as the fact that it blurs the line between Best Picture and Best Screenplay and actually turns the Best Screenplay into a sort of consolation prize, because, after all, you can't have the Best Picture of the year if you didn't also have one of the Best Screenplays of the year.


;This lack of appreciation for the actual craft of screenwriting on the part of the Academy is why Stranger Than Fiction, a movie that actually challenged conventional means of storytelling and asked the viewer to consider the act of literary creation, was overlooked. That's why Guillermo Arriaga's The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada garnered the Best Screenplay award at Cannes in 2005, but couldn't get an Academy Award nomination the next year. His 21 Grams, one of the best screenplays of 2003, also went un-nominated in 2004. This year, Arriaga has finally been nominated for Babel.

;;The Academy has a habit of getting it wrong after its haphazard nominations process, too, because it likes to award execution — as well as popularity and sentimentality. This was never more evident than it was in 2000, when the beautiful but conventional script for American Beauty beat Being John Malkovich and The Sixth Sense, two movies that actually changed the way screenplays would be written.

;;This year's, the Oscar's Best Screenplay nominees are uncharacteristically strong across the board, except, that is, the mysterious nomination of the 847 screenwriters behind Borat — which was a mostly improvised movie, based around a predetermined story arc. Hardly screenwriting, but solid proof that hype can achieve anything in Hollywood.

;;Consider some of the unworthy, but heavily marketed, nominees of the past few years: Crash, The Incredibles, Finding Neverland, Finding Nemo, even Gangs of New York and My Big Fat Greek Wedding. It's like the Academy doesn't care about rewarding original voices anymore. That's what makes this year so impressive.

;;Take Arriaga's Babel, which, like his 21 Grams and Amores Perros, shifts back and forth through time to achieve something like a disturbing memory. Everyday life, Arriaga says, is nonlinear when you think back on it. "Linear is not natural," he said during an interview at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. He elaborated on this mishmash storytelling style, saying, "I have A.D.D. This explains everything about me."

;;On the other end of the scale is the very linear The Queen by Peter Morgan. His script imagines the fallout from Princess Diana's death in England's Royal Court and how Prime Minister Tony Blair probably saved the monarchy. "I think it's accurate … but I'm just the guy who made it up," joked Morgan, also at Santa Barbara. He did add that Blair recently sent him a letter, claiming he hadn't seen the movie yet, but, "When I resign, perhaps we can get together and I'll tell you what you got right and what you got wrong."

;;Children of Men, ignored in the Best Picture and Best Director categories despite being one of the best achievements in most categories this year, can't be ignored either, especially since it's one of three screenplays from Mexicans (including Babel and Pan's Labyrinth), each of whom delivered an infusion of darkness and humanity that helped show how lacking conventional studio screenplays are these days. The Departed proved the value of rich dialogue, as did Notes on a Scandal and Little Miss Sunshine. Even Letters From Iwo Jima reinvigorated the war genre by tackling the story from our enemy's side with sympathy and humanity.


;In the end, the Academy might not have got it right across the board this year, but they got it more right than usual, though they'll probably still screw it up by rewarding the most conventional rather than the most challenging nominees.


;Todd Field, the screenwriter/director of nominee Little Children, tries to dismiss the process. "It is exciting, but it's not why we make films," he says. That doesn't mean he doesn't want one, though.

More by Cole Haddon


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.


© 2016 Orlando Weekly

Website powered by Foundation