I normally start my predictions week with the screenplays. But this year I pushed it a day to catch the one nominee I hadn’t seen yet. Alas, winter storm Octavia (or something like that) hit the southeast so not only did I not get to Inherent Vice but I am a day behind on my prediction. So, with humblest (not #humblessed) apologies for tardiness, I present my screenplay predictions.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Birdman (Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. and Armando Bo) – Birdman is genius in many ways and the screenplay is just the tip of the iceberg. Its sharp dialogue never falls into that trap so many smart screenplays do where it becomes so aware of its own cleverness that it loses its way. These characters are so well developed by the actors that play them but their essence and motivation come straight from the script. Iñárritu had a clear vision for this film and it started with a spectacular screenplay.
Boyhood (Richard Linklater) – For all of Boyhood’s impressiveness, I feel that the screenplay is its weakest spot. It has moments of greatness but other times had scratching my head. But I still think it’s worthy of a nomination. The feat of telling this story with any kind of continuity over 12 years is amazing. The movie is just more complete in other areas.
Foxcatcher (E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman) – This is how you do the slow burn. Write well-developed characters and guide them through this deeply relational but tense story inching them closer and closer to the brink of breaking but holding them there until they can’t stand it anymore and then gently push them over the edge.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness) – Wes Anderson just keeps getting better and better. The brilliance of this story is in one of the least obvious places. The story of The Grand Budapest Hotel is told from the perspective of a girl at the grave of an author reading his memoirs 30 years after he wrote them which is 17 years after the story was told to him by the lobby boy of the Grand Budapest Hotel 37 years after he experienced it. Wes Anderson clearly understands the power of a good story and its ability to transcend generations. The film mostly moves in and out of the latter two timelines but does so smoothly and naturally. The switches never feel like interruptions but just logical sequence.
Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy) – This film could have received much more recognition than it did. I have a friend who worked in local news for years. She could not get over how absolutely spot on this portrayal is, which is a little bit startling considering what happens in this film. It is engaging, funny, disturbing and shocking. Between Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance and this slick script, Louis Bloom is one of the most interesting characters I’ve seen on screen in a very long time.
OSCAR WINNER: Birdman
SELBY PICK: The Grand Budapest Hotel. But it’s hard not to go with Birdman.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
American Sniper (Jason Hall) – War-centric films can be tricky. But this isn’t really war-centric. It’s all about Chris Kyle the man. Not just Chris Kyle the sniper. Hall’s script deftly balances the intensity of the war, showing the audience what Kyle experienced, with how this transformed him. Without that balance it would have just been either another war movie or another PTSD movie. The first tends to miss the heart of the story. The second misses the context. This one, like Kyle himself, is right on target. (You can groan about that pun in the comments below.)
The Imitation Game (Graham Moore) – Like The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game also moves between timelines and just like Budapest does it effortlessly. The Imitation Game is the story of Alan Turing and his significant part in ending World War II by cracking the Nazi’s Enigma machine cipher. It is true that he was prosecuted for indecency years after the war as homosexuality was illegal in the UK at that time. While that is certainly a part of Turing’s story, The Imitation Game never gets on a soap box or overplays that aspect. It beautifully tells the story of one remarkable man, his flaws, his struggles, his friendships and his triumphs.
Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson) – As you know, I didn’t get to this one. However, my brother, an astute cinefile himself gave me this review. “REALLY wanted to be Chinatown a la Altman. Failed to do either. Ideas for interesting and/or funny scenes strung together poorly. Can’t decide if it tried too hard or not enough. It has a few bright spots and Joaquin Phoenix is actually good.” So, take that for what it’s worth. More times than not he and I see eye to eye on film.
The Theory of Everything (Anthony McCarten) – My one, single complaint about this story is, now stay with me for a minute here, that I am not really sure what Stephen Hawking overcame his physical challenges to do. Really. What did he do? Theorize about time and physics? OK. Cool. But it’s not like he climbed Mt. Everest or swam the English channel. Don’t get me wrong. Stephen Hawking knows more about physics that I ever will. But he isn’t terribly happy, had two failed marriages and most physicists think he’s wrong about his black hole theory. But who knows? It’s all just theory. So, what is it again he overcame his disability to achieve? I know, this sounds harsh but I’m really just looking for the heart of the story. I suppose “not giving up” is admirable but “not giving up” is most admirable when you don’t give up and then go on to achieve something. I wish this film could have given me more of a reason to care about Stephen Hawking. (And you guys thought the American Sniper pun was bad!)
Whiplash (Damien Chazelle) – I have had the pleasure of seeing Whiplash twice. It was even better the second time. Andrew Neiman and Terrence Fletcher are really well developed characters and the story never drifts into bad clichés and gimmicks. Fletcher is wicked but you come to understand his motivations. He’s complex and intriguing. While you might despise him at times, and rightfully so, Chazelle never paints him as evil. There’s a lot going on there. With some surprise twists and turns along the way Whiplash bobs and weaves along the emotional spectrum to the point that when you reach the end you actually just might walk out smiling.
OSCAR WINNER: The Imitation Game
SELBY PICK: The Imitation Game
I’ll be back on track tomorrow with Best Actor and Actress.
In the meantime, comment below, tweet at me @cmselby and don’t forget to like the Facebook page. Also, you can check out my predictions for Best Supporting Actor and Actress in part 1 of my predictions here.