Thursday, February 02, 2006

Two Oscar Tidbits.

Getting geared up for Oscar season, I'm sorry to say that I've seen more of the nominees for Best Documentary than I have for Best Picture. That may or may not matter, as it has been suggested that looking at the screenwriting nominations and winners are often a better guide to film quality than the eventual winner of best picture.

Upon examination, there is something to it. Arbitrarily looking at the winners from 1991-2001 (because, for some reason, they are arranged in a block in that manner at the above link), we get the following winners for screenplay, original and adapted:

A Beautiful Mind; Gosford Park; Traffic; Almost Famous; The Cider House Rules; American Beauty; Gods And Monsters; Shakespeare In Love; L.A. Confidential; Good Will Hunting; Sling Blade; Fargo; Sense And Sensibility; The Usual Suspects; Forrest Gump; Pulp Fiction; Schindler's List; The Piano; Howards End; The Crying Game; The Silence Of The Lambs.

The following are the Best Picture Winners:

Silence of the Lambs; Unforgiven; Schindlers List; Forrest Gump; Braveheart; English Patient; Titanic; Shakespeare in Love; American Beauty; Gladiator; A Beautiful Mind.

Since there is some overlap, I've x'ed out those which appear on both lists. Which group of films is 'better'? Considering that at least three of the five "best pictures" are at least somewhat crap, the winner is screenwriting, almost by default. Further, compare the movies on a yearly basis:

  • Unforgiven over Howards end and the Piano I can live with.
  • Braveheart over The Usual Suspects? Look, I love Braveheart. Probably a good deal more than I should, but it's formulaic pap, albeit with good production values, blue face paint and a Scottish accent. And I believe in the devil, and the only thing that Scares me in Keyser Soze.
  • English Patient over Fargo or Sling Blade. I reckon that's a bad decision, mmm-hmm.
  • Titanic over L.A. Confidential? Of course without the succes of Titanic, Lost probably never gets greenlit, so it's not all bad.
  • Gladiator over Traffic or Almost Famous? I suppose it's colorable, but Almost Famous is one of my fave's, so I'm hardly objective. (As I've said before, if its Kingdom of Heaven w/ Russell Crowe instead of Orly Bloom, that's a movie

Matt also passes along a preview of an intriguing book, which calls for something of a coup which would place the screenwriter in the position of preeminance rather than the director. So just remember, when you are wondering why there are fewer good movies nowadays, it's the writing stupid. (I might add that since cable has embraced episodic television, much of the best writing talent is concentrated in that venue. You think the people who write The Shield, Six Feet Under or The Sopranos couldn't turn out kickass screenplays?)

. . .

In other Oscar-related events, this has to smart: If you are going to criticize Hollywood as rewarding little-seen, leftish-indie crap, it appears neccesary to bring your A-game

Yes, since 1998 Oscars have been all about indie films that nobody's ever seen. How in the name of God did Saving Private Ryan, which grossed over $216 million dollars at the box office, get beat by the scruffy little "indie film nobody saw" Shakespeare in Love, which limped across the finish line with the pathetic indie film gross of $100 million dollars. I mean, that's practically community theater gross! Peh. Spielberg was totally shut out -- all he won was Best Director that year. That's ALL. Con-so-lation prize. Just that sad little Best Director Oscar and ... five of the eleven Oscars for which his film was nominated. Granted, Shakespeare did win seven of the thirteen for which it was nominated, two more then Ryan. However, those extra two were for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, and seeing as Saving Private Ryan had, um, no actual female roles in them, I think those were kind of gimmes.
(via Ezra) Sometime before I die, I would like to give someone a righteous rhetorical beatdown of this magnitude. If you have few minutes to spare, read the whole thing, possibly NSFW due to inadvertant snorts of laughter.


demimondian said...

This says it all:

Yes, Mr. Apuzzo. That is me beating you with your own idiot stick.


Fletch said...

Looking over those two lists, I have to agree that the best screenplay list is far more compelling. However, Unforgiven is far and away the best movie on either list. I would put Unforgiven up against any movie from the screenplay list (Pulp Fiction? Usual Suspects? The Piano?) and Clint Eastwood would win hands down.

I still remember the day in my film class on Westerns when a student asked the professor if the movie for our final analysis could be Unforgiven. Prof. Slotkin looked at him and said that there was waaaay too much genre-play going on in the film for us to grasp after only 15 weeks of class. And he was right.

Pooh said...

Fletch, good points, it depends on what you are looking for. In terms of traditional narrative, Unforgiven is probably head and shoulders above any movie from the period, with the possible exception of Silence of the Lambs. That being said, Pulp Fiction was revolutionary because of the way it exploded that traiditional structure. It's hard to get a handle on its influence precisely because it is so pervasive.