Per usual, I am underwhelmed with the Academy’s wanking to standard cinematic drivel.  2010 saw the following epic adaptations: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Fair Game, Alice in Wonderland, Eat Pray Love, even The Rite deserves some credit for its fun take on the eternally spread-thin exorcist concept (although it was technically in 2011). As none of these were actually shown any love, let us now review the nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay in order of their standing:


127 Hours; Screenplay by Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy

Based on Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston (or he who is generally known for cutting his own arm off to save his life), 127 Hours takes inspiration from Aronofsky’s The Wrestler in telling of the time Ralston spent trapped by a boulder in Blue John Canyon, Utah.

Yes, Danny Boyle is a visionary – there’s no denying that.  He and Beaufoy give the film an exhilarating start, followed by an impeccable portrait of Ralston’s thought process.  And though the crutch of flashback is inevitable (and I could have used a little more delineation with the car-orgy scene), it is also entirely valid to Ralston’s experience – which, as was detailed in the book, actually involved far more of the flashback device. Add to that the refreshingly compact running time of 94 minutes in an age of 3 hour Spider-man musicals, and I say huzzah Boyle.

Unfortunately, and while there’s no negating that Aron Ralston fulfills all the proportionate specifications for bad-ass, he also represents a demo that is drastically elusive to my empathetic faculty – i.e., the thrill-seeker. While Herculean, Ralston only ever possessed your average Joe’s stream of conscious.  Most people don’t commonly think or speak in extraordinary dialogue, so for the better part of 94 minutes I’m consequently inundated with lines such as “I’m in pretty deep doo-doo,” and, “It’s no Slurpee… It’s like a bag of piss”, when you’re actually talking about a bag of piss.  Not to overanalyze what one thinks when his arm is fatally trapped by a fragment of grievously apathetic earth, but the script simply ain’t that great.  To be fair though, the flaw is a congenital one.

The film boasts a 94% approval rating among 173 critics at Rotten Tomatoes, but I hesitate to concur that a single incident of man vs. rock vs. non-surgical knife doth a feature truly make.  I guess I didn’t drink the orange gatorade.

127 Hours is nominated for 6 Academy Awards in total, inlcuding Best Picture, Actor, Editing and Music categories, but was curiously shafted for cinematography, which is lame.

*

The Social Network; Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin

Once upon a time in the 80’s, an unemployed actor with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Syracuse University discovered a passion for writing plays.  That actor’s name was Aaron Sorkin, and his stageplay A Few Good Men was bought for movie rights before the play even premiered.  Huzzah indeed.

Clearly the guy has a knack, particularly for piercing and expeditious delivery.  Regardless of the story’s much-debated veracity, Sorkin appears to stay faithful to the book upon which the film is based (or what is The Accidental Billionaires by Ben “I like to write about Ivy League kids” Mezrich).  For a more in-depth review of the film, please refer to my previous article and you can learn the rest for yourself when Aaron Sorkin accepts the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay at the 83rd Annual Academy Awards on February 27.  The Social Network is also nominated for 7 other awards, including Best Actor and Best Picture.

*

Toy Story 3; Screenplay by Michael Arndt, Story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich

This ultimate Toy Story installment is the third animated film to ever be nominated for Best Picture (following Beauty and the Beast, and Up) – so already with the “wow.”  Then you remember it has five Oscar nods total this year, is the first animated film to make over $1 billion worldwide, the 5th highest-grossing film to date, and the first Pixar film released in IMAX.  More wow, and moreoever, Toy Story 3 indisputably rates every bit of trumpeting.

I was a fan from the age of 13 when the first Toy Story debuted.  What marvelously unprecedented concoction it was, too.  The trilogy’s end was no less than holy.  It’s script, reported to have been based on the original treatment for the first (the locomotive western opening in particular), took 2 and a half years to write and storyboard.  Michael Arndt, who won in the original screenplay category for 2006’s Little Miss Sunshine, so ingeniously revived and then sealed the franchise (and with such fascinating developments, such as how the film’s Villain, Lotso bear, was also intended to be in the first Toy Story, were Pixar more adroit at capturing the fur), that there is little more I can add to the oodles of already existing praise.

To wit:  A. O. Scott from The New York Times said “this film – this whole three-part, 15-year epic – about the adventures of a bunch of silly plastic junk turns out also to be a long, melancholy meditation on loss, impermanence and that noble, stubborn, foolish thing called love.”  Owen Gleiberman from Entertainment Weekly said “even with the bar raised high, Toy Story 3 enchanted and moved me so deeply I was flabbergasted that a digitally animated comedy about plastic playthings could have this effect,” further admitting that “he, along with many other grown men, cried at the end of the film.”

99% of critics made Toy Story 3 the best reviewed film of 2010.  Awesomely enough, Quentin Taratino also named it his favorite for 2010.  And I’m with them.  The Social Network should not win over this, but it will.

*

True Grit; Written for the screen by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

The Coens have authored some truly magnificent original scripts, which is perhaps why I had higher hopes than were warranted for their rendition of Charles Portis’ True Grit.

Kudos for honoring the book’s crisp, rhythmic language and the  formidable point-of-view of 14 year old Mattie Ross, but I still managed ambivalence for the first time ever with a Coen product.  I couldn’t even understand half the things said by Bridges, Damon, Brolin and Pepper (basically everyone other than Hailee Steinfeld).

As such, I am disinclined to analyze the script further.  Save yourselves Coens, PLEASE stop re-scripting classics (*coughs* Gambit much).  Seriously, Diaz and Firth smell like bottled dog fluff next to MacLaine and Caine.  And cue my gagging over my former worship of the brothers.

*

Winter’s Bone; Adapted for the screen by Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini

Based on Daniel Woodrell’s 2006 novel of the same name, 17-year old Ree is the product of a criminally impassive mother and a criminally criminal (meaning meth-lab technician) father.  Basically, he is the Tom Chaney to Ree’s Mattie Ross, and she will stop at nothing to track him down in order to save her house from court repossession and her younger siblings from homelessness in the unyeilding and grizzly Ozarks (or where people tend to personally equal the weight of an oil tanker, own derelict lawn furniture, and sing in cranked Bible verse).

Still, it’s better than True Grit; and while the dialogue’s hardly daring, you believe it.  It’s a dour experience from beginning to end, and I in no way claim to understand who exactly each of the characters were (cousins of procedural inbreeding? Mormons?), Winter’s Bone easily proves it’s Oscar worth in the performance categories.

However, as a script, apart from the intermittent provoking of translated figurative chat, the majority of the dialogue fails to live up to the spectrum of nominations it maintains.  Woodrell’s composition is touted as lyrical and seductive.  I agree that Granik and Rosellini’s dialogue does preserve a certain, bare-boned realism (i.e., when uncle Teardrop dissuades his lady-friend from confiding too much with the obdurately inquisitive Ree: “I said ‘shut up’ already with my mouth”), but the script still allots for plenty of glaring inanity, i.e. when Ree defends herself against a hillbilly thug: “You must think I’m a stupid idiot” (…you mean as opposed to an astute idiot?).

Some lines are so country plain they’re almost brilliant: “He loved y’all, that’s where he went weak” (spoken by Teardrop, about his brother/Ree’s father); such extenuators at least prevail to get the emotion across, as hard and unavoidable as bare bone.  Apart from that, it’s just repetitive and incensing cranked-hillybilly brawling, or spitting and sighing and grey woodland pauses and the distant plucking of a banjo: moderately entertaining, nothing all that new.

Winter’s Bone is up for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (John Hawkes, aka Uncle Teardrop), and Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence).

Of these five films, Toy Story 3 is the only commendable nominee and thus the only pronounced winner as far as I can see.  Though entertaining (which is what movies are, no?) The Social Network is merely coursing on political fumes.  Though better than The Social Network (per me), Winter’s Bone and 127 Hours have no business being nominated in script.  True Grit is just silly and, again, churning the political machine.

Road to the Oscars Series:

January 27: Live Action Short – Kit Bowen

January 29: Animated Short – Savanna New

January 31: Documentary Short Subject – Christa Youngpeter

February 1: Documentary Feature – Rebecca Rose

February 3: Foreign Language Film – Savanna New

February 4: Animated Film – Nate Freiberg

February 7: Visual Effects – Ani Khashadoorian

February 9: Sound Mixing – Dennis Callahan

February 10: Sound Editing – Sasha Mitchell

February 11: Original Score – Adam Spunberg

February 12: Original Song – Adam Spunberg and Savanna New

February 13: Makeup – Katie Mae Peters

February 14: Costume – Jax Russo

February 15: Art Direction – Steve Neumann

February 16: Film Editing – Hannah Depew

February 17: Cinematography – William Paul Jones

February 18: Original Screenplay – Jeremy Martin

February 19: Adapted Screenplay – Sasha Mitchell

February 20: Supporting Actress – Kacy Boccumini

February 21: Supporting Actor – Rebecca Rose

February 22: Actress – Rebecca Rose

February 23: Actor – Kit Bowen

February 24: Director – Adam Spunberg

February 25: Picture – Kit Bowen

February 27: The Academy Awards