There are two ways to spin this category. The first and most polite way is to say that, unlike Adapted Screenplay, it’s filled with qualified, even great, contenders, that it will be an honor to be nominated in this category this year. The second and less polite way to spin it is that there are a lot of films here that probably ought to be stronger contenders in a lot of other categories, starting with the other category writers can nominate them in: Best Picture. Beyond Milk (which, being based on a true story, is only tenuously “original” given that the Academy delegated sequel-not-remake Before Sunset to Adapted Screenplay), there aren’t many eligible films that feel as though they could crossover into that venerated top category, and yet still we find a surplus of possibilities here. Sure, Rachel Getting Married drives as many people to drink as it does inspire others to celebrate it with a long, unwieldy toast. Sure, the relish with which writer Nick Schenk serves up Clint Eastwood’s persuasive, creative racial slurs in Gran Torino occasionally suggests the use of Paul Haggis’s thesaurus. Sure, we think Vicky Cristina Barcelona is more Icky Christina Barfelona and that buzz for The Visitor has overstayed its welcome and that The Wrestler falls hard into cliché whenever it tries to string a narrative sentence together. The point is some of these movies can at least boast a passionate fanbase, something I refuse to believe exists for Frost/Nixon, even if evidence in the form of a near-perfect precursor record suggests the opposite. It’s a logical fallacy to synthesize the actions of a small subgroup with the larger voting body, and I don’t mean to suggest that a great script automatically means a great film. I’m merely holding the state of this race up as an illustration of why it sometimes seems that you’ll find genuine character in individual categories that you only rarely find at the very top. Why you get Children of Men, A History of Violence, and Borat down in the writing categories but don’t presume they were even in the running against the preordained likes of Babel, Capote, and Ray. Oftentimes you hear film fans moan how the Oscar nominees for either of the screenplay categories would’ve made a better, or at least more interesting set of Best Picture nominees. Nothing suggests this year will be any different.
This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.