79th Academy Awards (for 2006) – Part 1 of 4

by RISHI AGRAWAL

This week on Commentary Track, I’m going to be writing four articles on the Academy Awards, one each day from Monday through Thursday. I am just going to write about the Top Eight categories (in my opinion): Best Picture, Best Director, the four acting awards and the two writing awards. This will allow me to focus on the categories. I would love to write about all the categories, but at least, in the Top Eight categories, I have seen all the films being discussed. Anyway, today we’ll talk about the two writing awards: Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

The nominees: Babel, Letters from Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Queen.

Awards so far:
Little Miss Sunshine – BAFTA, Writers Guild, Critics’ Choice, Southeastern Critics
Pan’s Labyrinth – Online Critics
The Queen – Golden Globes, Chicago Critics, Los Angeles Critics, National Society of Film Critics, New York Critics, Toronto Critics

I have talked about this before, but I do not like Little Miss Sunshine. I think that Michael Arndt just assigned random quirks to the characters and put them in semi-amusing situations. It didn’t feel like the movie fit together like a cohesive whole, and only ended up being the sum of its parts. They didn’t feel like a family at all, and some of the characters did not even make sense. For example, a teenager with a rebellious and cynical streak who wants to join the armed forces? I mean no offense to cynical teenagers, nor those who want to join the Air Force, but, typically speaking, they aren’t the same people. Unfortunately, the entire buzz is going towards this film right now.

The Queen has certainly got the critics buzzing. I think it’s fairly impressive that Peter Morgan did not have access to Royal Family or Tony Blair while writing the screenplay. He had to write about them based on the impressions of the people around them and from their biographers. Of course, with Queen Elizabeth II being somewhat secluded from the public, no one can be sure whether or not he got it right, but he sure made believers out of the audience.
And I don’t think we can forget about Pan’s Labyrinth. Guillermo del Toro blended fantasy and reality into a seamless vision. This is a unique look at Fascism and fairy tales, and about a reality that is scarier than any nightmares. While The Queen, in my opinion, is a better film, this is a better screenplay.

Who will win: Little Miss Sunshine

Who should win: Pan’s Labyrinth

Pan’s Labyrinth

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

The nominees: Borat, Children of Men, The Departed, Little Children, Notes on a Scandal.

Awards so far:
Children of Men – Online Critics
The Departed – Writers Guild, Boston Critics, Chicago Critics, Southeastern Critics
Little Children – San Francisco Critics

William Monahan is the clear favorite here for The Departed. I did enjoy the film quite a bit, but all Monahan did was take the screenplay from another movie and adapted it for an American audience. Sure, he made Boston live and breathe in his version of the screenplay, but a good part of the plot was already worked out. Monahan already had a film to reference, rather than imagining something entirely. Of course, all the nominees in this category were adapted from something, but converting one film to another somehow feels like less of an accomplishment to me.

When I would think about who I would vote for if I had a vote, it’s a toss-up for me between Children of Men and Little Children. I guess I have to look at what the strengths of each film were. Though the writing was strong in Children of Men, I think I got a stronger sense from the cinematography. The plot was a large part of what made the action sequences exciting, but, without the directing, these could have easily fallen flat. On the other hand, the actors did bring Little Children to life, but I was much more enthralled with the plots, themes and ideas in the film than anything else. And that voice-over was fantastic. So, again, while Children of Men is probably a better film, I would say that Little Children has a better screenplay.

By the way, Borat might seem like an anomaly in this category, since a lot of the film was improvised. I think, however, while the most memorable parts of the film were unscripted, there were very large portions of the movie that were written. Even some of the scenes that look improvised were not, such as the scene with Pam Anderson, which was staged. The movie still might not deserve to win, but I think it does deserve a nomination.

Who will win: The Departed

Who should win: Little Children

Little Children

2 responses to “79th Academy Awards (for 2006) – Part 1 of 4

  1. No offense, but I think you’re being awfully dismissive of the complexities of the characters in “Litte Miss Sunshine.” I’ll concede that those individuals are a bunch of quirky oddballs and that the plot had a familiarity in its road trip setup, but their displayed characteristics were not inherently contradictory.

    The teenaged son’s preoccupation with the air force, for example, makes a good deal of sense when you consider his fascination with aspects of Nietzsche philosophy. I’m no expert on the subject, but part Nietzsche’s writings include notions of morality classification based on one’s “caste,” to throw out a term. Dwayne sees acceptance into the Air Force Academy as affirmation of his belief that he is strong and flowing with ascending life, destined for success. More accurately, he contrasts his path with that of his father, Richard, whose constant inability to sell people on his own 9 Step philosophy is a sign of decline and weakness.

    But that’s the cool part of the script. Everybody’s weaknesses, ironically, become their strengths when they’re woven together as a family unit to overcome the shit life keeps throwing at them.

  2. I’ll concede that perhaps the script has more complexity that I originally gave it credit for, if you’ll concede that, perhaps, you might be reading too much into it.

    I wonder if this was the intention of Michael Arndt or just a happy accident that everything ended up being justifiable. As this was Arndt’s first screenplay (at least first one that was produced), I think we’ll have to wait for another film to reserve judgment.

    In any case, even with those revelations, I think that Little Miss Sunshine is still the weakest script amongst the five Best Original Screenplay nominees.

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