The Oscars are almost here, so it's time to make predictions.
Except, if you're like me, you probably haven't seen all the nominated movies. This year, I realized I had not seen any of the films up for Best Original Screenplay. This was a bit of a failure moment for me as a hopeful future screenwriter, but I took the opportunity to do something everyone always says to do when you're learning—read scripts.
I decided to read these scripts and make my predictions based solely on the writing, as it should be. I read each script, then watched the trailer and read a few articles about the movies to answer any questions.
And here's what I decided.
I'd heard great things about this movie before reading it, so I was excited to study this screenplay. It was well written, I will be honest, so bravo to Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara. But, it still left some to be desired. It definitely has its good qualities and is justified in its being a, well, fan favorite.
Except, the script relied heavily on subtext for commentary. Any narrative, no matter what time period it takes place in, will be held against the current societal environment regardless of intentions. However, it was clear that this film's intentions were to place a female voice in history and in current outlets. Which, of course, is not a bad thing. However, this film does so with disregard for true equality. The female focus is at the men's expense, which is not true equality (but that's an argument for another time).
I actually found the story predictable. The story tried to build suspense around the war, but even that seemed like a second priority to the writers after the love triangle. The script didn't explicitly tell the reader "how to feel," but it was strongly implied by the end.
This was a solid film written by Paul Schrader. Each scene really does move the plot forward which is story 101 but still important to note sometimes. Even the scenes that seemed like they would be time fillers allowed for the voice-over narration of Toller's journal.
This voice over was a nice touch of characterization and introduced well in the first scenes. This introduction was so well written, I could see exactly how it would play out, which is textbook screenwriting. The dialogue was believable. The setting description was a good balance and told part of the story too.
But there was that ambiguous, "La La Land"-dream-sequence-ish ending though.
Okay, this one. This film is important and was skillfully written, so definitely a bravo to Peter Farrelly, Brian Currie, and Nick Vallelonga.
This film spoke to racial equality in the sense of true equality—meeting on the same level. It took place in one of America's shameful times and followed a white man realizing how things really are for those different from him and learning how to use his privilege in a way that helps and not harms. Like Dr. Shirley said, "You never win with violence." And as far as movies nominated in this category based on true stories, this did the best at maintaining the integrity of the original.
The writing was phenomenal. There was a personality in the action. The characterization was shown, not told. This was done through the actions, letters, reactions, how the characters treat others and how other characters treat the main characters. There was evident development in growth in the two main characters Lip and Dr. Shirley. It ended nicely, and the scenes were paced well.
This story would be better as a novel, in my opinion. The descriptions were beautifully written, so much so that every time there was dialogue or a scene change, I was roughly drawn out of the story. For a script, the action was almost too artsy and I could tell that it would be better visually than in writing. There were a few inconsistencies, like how Pepe calls Cleo "mom" in the beginning when Señora Sofia is actually his mom. Of course, this was probably meant to be just a kid crying for his mom when he was tired, but it leads to some confusion going forward when introducing characters.
This film was artfully written by Alfonso Cuarón. Most of the time, there was a good balance between detailed and vague descriptions (except that one part that described the color of the sky even though this is a black and white movie). I was struck by the impactful use of sound descriptions woven into the script, such as the car horn or the plane flying overhead. This was something that was present in the other scripts but didn't make as much of an impact, in my opinion, as it did in "Roma"
Oh goodness, where to begin? Adam McKay begins this script with an indignant tone in the superimposed text saying they "did their f***ing best" to tell a true story. But did they? No. If this Best Original Screenplay award is based on the writing, then "Vice" is shockingly nominated. If it's based on political people-pleasing, then I guess the nomination makes sense. The film is riddled with a bias to the left. It assumes the viewers agree with the flat narrative of the film and that we all see the characters as the one-dimensional people they movie portrays. The film even addressed this bias at the end, but the way they did didn't level the playing field at all, but just pandered to that bias, trying to pick a fight. Well, they shouldn't be dignified with a response, in my opinion.
But I digress. The writing. That's what we're here for.
Unfortunately, even the writing was objectively bad compared to the other scripts. And I don't say that lightly. It read like a school project that was completed the night before it was due. There were typos everywhere (notably, "due" was spelled "do"). The story and scenes seemed willy-nilly thrown together with the only goal of pushing an opinion. The framework and organization were centered around how best to convince the viewer of McKay's views, not tell the story. It's a very serious subject that's covered here and could've been handled better instead of this script that reads like a comedy with political propaganda tendencies.
And now, my predictions for best original screenplay go to...
I'll break this down into categories.
My favorite: "Green Book."
What should win: "Green Book."
What will probably win: "The Favourite."
They all have a chance, but if "Vice" wins, then what are we all here for? The writing, or politics?
The other films all had their stance in politics without taking away from the story being told. "The Favourite" was female-driven with LGBT aspects and classist themes while telling the story of Queen Anne and her ladies. "First Reformed" critiqued megachurch culture, environmental activism, and big business while telling Toller's story of grief. "Green Book" also had some classist themes and attacked racist tendencies in a way that can educate and change minds by telling a historical story. "Roma" was the story of a family set in cultural and political context. But "Vice" was just about politics and not the story.
Let's focus on the stories. Let's focus on the writing.