Best Writing (Adapted) – 1978

aionOfficial Nominations: Midnight Express. Bloodbrothers. California Suite. Heaven Can Wait. Same Time Next Year.

A certain winner for me in Midnight Express, with Oliver Stone switching up some key scenes from the book but retaining the core terror of a brutal penal system. Neil Simon is beloved by The Academy – less so by me – but it was inevitable his California Suite would see a nomination. Heaven Can Wait seemed like another obvious choice, and perhaps could feel aggrieved to not be the winner, while Bloodbrothers is your offbeat family drama of the year, except that it’s not very offbeat or interesting. Finally, Same Time Next Year is another Robert Mulligan directed movie in the category but given that it’s another romantic comedy it doesn’t do anything for me personally.

My Winner: Midnight Express

Midnight Express by Billy Hayes

My Nominations: Midnight Express. The Boys From Brazil. The Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers. Superman. Watership Down.

Only my Winner makes it over for my personal list. The Boys From Brazil sees Ira Levin’s novel condensed into a tense thriller which poses some interesting questions over the nature of good and evil, while Invasion of The Bodysnatchers erases the Communist subtext of the 1950s adaptation and instead transported to film to the liberal San Francisco and argues, with its relentless descent towards a twist ending, that nobody is safe from being trapped by conformity. While there had been Superhero movies before, it was 1978’s Superman which laid the groundwork for everything else which has come since – the tone, the spectacle, the origin story. The work out into the Screenplay pays off – the first half split into Krypton’s destruction and Kent’s upbringing, and the second into the unveiling of Superman and his nemesis. Few comic movies made since don’t owe this, at the script, a heavy debt. Finally, Watership Down is an impressively faithful adaptation of a dark story concerning the war and survival of a group of rabbits – much of the mythology of the novel is abandoned to make a more simple story which kids can be traumatized by.

My Winner: Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Adapted Screenplay – 1977

Official Nominations: Julia. Equus. I Never Promised You A Rose Garden. Oh, God!. That Obscure Object Of Desire.

Not many surprises here, with Julia picking up the win. It’s a standard enough story set in a torrid time, but I don’t think there’s enough here to warrant a win. Equus in its original form is a messed up story, seeing it adapted for screen ups the ante but doesn’t add much to the story which wasn’t already there. I Never Promised You A Rose Garden is a film which never really found its audience. A sister to One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest it deals with schizophrenia and institutionalization while offering several scenes of fantasy as the lead character struggles with reality and her condition. The film takes a less brave approach than the book but on its own merits remains engaging and deserves reevaluation.

Oh God!… it may be better to just say that Carl Reiner directs, that John Denver works in a supermarket and becomes God’s latest spokesperson on Earth, and that God is played by George Burns. Still with me? Denver obviously thinks he’s going mad, his life begins to fall apart, then he accepts the role and becomes a celebrity only for religious nuts to try to discredit him and eventually go to court to prove God’s existence. They don’t make ’em like that anymore. It’s very funny and you won’t have seen anything like it. Finally, That Obscure Object Of Desire is based on a novel from almost a hundred years earlier which details the violent relationship between a French man and a Spanish Woman. The film had been adapted for screen before, but Bunuel makes the story his, keeping the violence and sexual frustration and peppering the film with flashbacks and uncertainty.

My Winner: That Obscure Object Of Desire

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My Nominations: Oh, God!. That Obscure Object Of Desire. The Duellists. The Jabberwocky. The Other Side Of Midnight.

I add The Duellists, which expands Joseph Conrad’s short into a mini epic and features a series of battles and duels against the backdrop of Napoleonic times. Terry Gilliam takes Lewis Carroll’s slice of nonsense as a starting point for his darkly comic fantasy – as a film it has its flaws which Gilliam would iron out in later films, but the script is peppered with invention and vibrancy. The Other Side Of Midnight is a frustrating film with many moments of brilliance, following two lead characters over a period of less than ten years – their initial romance, a breakup filled with careless promises, revenge, murder plots and more. The characters and the scenario is interesting, but ultimately it feels like a proto – crazy white woman movie in the vein of Fatal Attraction which suggests at a high level that women can’t cope without men.

My Winner: That Obscure Object Of Desire

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Original Screenplay -1977

Official Nominations: Annie Hall. The Goodbye Girl. The Late Show. Star Wars. The Turning Point.

As is usually the case with this category, it closely matches the Best Picture nominees. Annie Hall – not that different from the usual Woody Allen shtick although there are enough one-liners and rambling speeches to highlight. A modern viewer will find much of it hackneyed and cliched, but only because it has been copied so many times. The Goodbye Girl is standard Neil Simon fare – romantic comedies don’t do much for me, even when they are as well written as this, but it needs to be exceptional for me or speak on a personal level for me to rate it any higher than average. The Late Show is the anomaly of the bunch – the film no-one remembers. It’s another unfortunate case because it’s an interesting film merging noir with lighter moments and it’s certainly the type of film you don’t say anymore. The Turning Point doesn’t offer anything new and plays out like a standard soap drama. Star Wars created an enduring universe with a multitude of characters and places and dialogue which has become part of culture and daily dialogue, never mind the number of imitators which the story spawned.

My Winner: Star Wars

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My Nominations: Star Wars. Annie Hall. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. Desperate Living. Eraserhead. High Anxiety. Martin.

Desperate Living…. I just like the idea of something like this getting nominated. Have you seen it? There’s more humour and weirdness in a couple of pages of this script than there are in many comedy writers’ careers. It’s… not for everyone. Close Encounters gets another nomination, Spielberg subtly working in Jewish and Christian allusions and more overarching themes of exploration, knowledge, and tolerance. Eraserhead also gets another nomination – a screenplay created almost entirely to allow for Lynch’s visuals and atmosphere. Mel Brooks knocks out another great script – it’s very difficult to get parody right but he does it once again with High Anxiety, while Martin was one of the first movies to bring vampires out of European castles and Victorian streets and into American suburbs, while at the same time subverting the vampire myth and offering insight into pained adolescence.

My Winner:  Star Wars

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Writing (Adapted) – 1976

Official Nominations: All The President’s Men. Bound For Glory. Fellini’s Cassanova. The Seven Percent Solution. Voyage Of The Damned.

An obvious front-runner and inevitable winner this year. All The President’s Men – even without a huge number of iconic one-liners or memorable dialogue it’s one of the most famous screenplays of its era – William Goldman adapting Bernstein and Woodward’s game changer. Goldman’s own game-changer in defining how cinematic the film should be, was removing most of the second half of the source material, focusing on the the initial investigation rather than the downfall. Bound For Glory is an engaging enough adaptation of Woody Guthrie’s pseudo-biography while The Seven Percent Solution is a star-studded Sherlock Holmes story based on a book not written by Doyle.

Voyage Of The Damned feels like a ‘we have to nominate this because the book was important’ nomination while Cassanova is Fellini’s adaptation of Cassanova’s autobiography, twisting the character into a more self-obsessed character with tragic traits.

My Winner: All The President’s Men

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My Nominations: All The President’s Men. Family Plot. The Last Tycoon. Marathon Man.

Only the official winner follows the money over to my list. Family Plot – it’s not the best Hitchcock movie but it’s still a worthy, and funny, thriller – it wasn’t the best year for adaptations so when I couple that with the fact that this was Hitchock’s final movie, it seems fitting to see one last nomination. The Last Tycoon takes the brave approach of adapting an unfinished F Scott Fitzgerald novel, using the non-ending as an opportunity to convey a disjointed plot. Goldman gets a second nomination, this time adapting his own novel Marathon Man with terrifying results.

My Winner:All The President’s Men

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Writing (Original) – 1976

Official Nominations: Network. Cousin Cousine. The Front. Rocky. Seven Beauties.

Two big hitters, two foreign oddities, and a Woody Allen movie that he didn’t write or direct make up the list this year. Paddy Chayefsky won his third Writing Oscar this year (an unbeaten record) for Network, a film known for its impassioned speeches and angry one-liners. More than that, the script is replete with social satire which has only become more prescient over time. Rocky is famously the script that everyone wanted to buy, but Stallone wasn’t selling unless he could star. The gamble paid off and Stallone created one of the most famous, enduring heroes of Hollywood. The story borrows heavily from notions of The American Dream and from early rags to riches stories, but updates it to modern day and does so with such charm that it’s impossible to not love.

It’s not often that foreign movies get nominated in this category, but we got two this year – a sign that the daring indie movement of Hollywood was being mirrored elsewhere. Cousin Cousine has a knack for understanding and representing forbidden and budding romance while Seven Beauties is a dark, long spanned tale of one despicable character living through an even more despicable landscape which both shapes and nurtures him. Finally, The Front is a movie about the Hollywood Blacklist of the 1950s made by people who were blacklisted – while good, while funny, and while an interesting subject, it feels like an apologetic nomination.

My Winner: Network

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My Nominations: Network. Rocky. Seven Beauties. Murder By Death. The Omen. Silent Movie. Taxi Driver.

Three Official choices make my list, joining a couple of spoofs, a horror classic, and a hefty snub. If we start with the snub, it seems unusual in retrospect that Taxi Driver was not nominated, given the reverence it has received over the years. I think that it deserves a nod over one of the foreign movies, definitely over The Front. It’s an incisive look into a character’s moral viewpoint of a dirty world and quotable dialogue is scattered from page to screen. Murder By Death is that rare Neil Simon comedy that I fully enjoy, riffing on those mansion mysteries of old while I find that Silent Movie is one of the more clever comedy screenplays of the era despite the fact that only a single word is spoken. Finally, The Omen’s impact on film and on popular culture should not be underestimated, providing successive generations who vaguely preach ignorance from behind the pulpit with misinformation they purport as truth, and fans with a succession of lines to quote at each other.

My Winner: The Omen

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Writing (Adapted) – 1975

Official Nominations: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Barry Lyndon. The Man Who Would Be King. Profumo di donna. The Sunshine Boys.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest continued its clean sweep of the big boys with an official win here. While Kesey was originally going to work on the screenplay, he later pulled out and refused to ever see the film. The film does contain some minor and significant changes to the story, having less of an emphasis on Chief’s role, but it retains the spirit of the novel and is peppered with great one-liners and speeches. Similarly, Kubrick’s screenplay for Barry Lyndon makes a major narrative change in having an omniscient narrator, as well has having little obvious comedy which made for an initially cold experience and reception.

The Man Who Would Be King is a film and story of adventure and glory, and one of the few non-horror films that ends with a severed head in a box. Spoiler alert, I guess? There isn’t much difference from the original story aside from the usual cinematic concessions, but there are plenty of speeches peppered throughout, with the odd bit of sarcastic patriotism. The Italian original of Scent Of A Woman is another weird one – it’s ostensibly a comedy, a film about two injured soldiers returning home to kill themselves, one of whom is blind and therefore accompanied by a younger army aide. While the days tick down he decides to meet as many hot women as he can, getting the boy to spot for him but eventually deciding to, literally, smell them out himself. I never got on well with the remake, and this gives me similar feelings, though plus marks for the unusual story. Finally, The Sunshine Boys, is Neil Simon adapting his own play so if you know his work you know what you’re going to get. It has some great comic talent so no matter what the material is you know they’re going to make it crackle – luckily they have a writer at the top of his game to play off – again plus points for showing something generally unorthodox on screen – old guys bickering rather than teens – but I guess they still did things differently in the 70s.

My Winner: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

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My Nominations: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Barry Lyndon. Jaws. Picnic At Hanging Rock. Tommy.

The two big names make my list, joining two big name snubs. Jaws has many quotable one-liners and pieces of dialogue which have long since entered the public conscience – my personal favourite always being the Indianapolis speech penned by Robert Shaw, Howard Sackler, and the great John Milius. In fact, the film as a whole features a number of writers and contributions even though Benchley and Carl Gottlieb get the main credits. Picnic At Hanging Rock is an ambiguous novel and the film takes that ambiguity to the next level by instilling a dreamlike tone to the narrative. Finally, Tommy sees Ken Russell (no stranger to stories concerning music and musicians) somehow concoct a somewhat straight film from The Who’s scattered rock opera, expanding loose threads and minor lyrics into a fully formed screenplay.

My Winner: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Writing (Original) – 1975

Official Nominations: Dog Day Afternoon. Amarcord. And Now My Love. Lies My Father Told Me. Shampoo

I’m surprised they didn’t pick Shampoo as the winner here, but Dog Day Afternoon is the correct choice. Making criminals look like what they actually are… humans. Flawed humans. That was revolutionary in the 70s and in today’s ludicrous black and white culture it would be ludicrous now. Dog Day Afternoon depicts the chaotic botched robbery of a bank and spends most of its time showing the crooks in a sympathetic light. Maybe sympathetic is not the right term, but we spend so much time with them and thanks to a tight script and great performances you can’t help but either take or understand their side. Even though it was an Original script, it was based off real life events and the guys it was inspired by were given some of the royalties of the film. The banter between the bad guys and their hostages was apparently true to life, and many of the film’s best quotes were improvised – that shouldn’t stop the screenplay from winning the award – it’s certainly more memorable than anything else nominated.

Amarcord is funny, weird and funny, and while it’s autobiographical, Italian, and farcical, there’s enough wisdom in the screenplay to make any audience understand what it’s all about. If Amarcord was an odd choice for The Academy, then And Now My Love goes even further, seeming almost like The Academy was overcompensating for years of ignoring foreign films. The film as a whole is good, an epic of sorts, but its the editing which makes the screenplay standout. I’m not convinced Lies My Father Told Me should really be here, given that it was designed decades earlier in a different form, eventually becoming a film – either way it’s a fine story of childhood but one with an inherent distance from me as it features the growing pains of a Canadian Jewish Boy. Shampoo is the runner up here, smart, funny, and preoccupied with the freewheeling sexual politics of the time.

My Winner: Dog Day Afternoon

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My Nominations: Dog Day Afternoon. Shampoo. The Adventure Of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother. Nashville. Night Moves.

In hindsight it’s not surprising The Academy officially nominated so many foreign films this year – there’s little else to choose from. Most of the notable entries were adapted from another source. The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother is touch and go given that it’s based off an existing literary character, sort of. It’s a long forgotten Gene Wilder film, very much in the vein of the stuff he was doing with Mel Brooks at the time – if you like those, you’ll like this. Nashville missed out on getting a nomination here which always seemed odd, while Night Moves is a cool neo-noir with a good lead performance from Gene Hackman. The film eschews much of the power and characteristics of the old school detectives – they’re still macho, but rendered powerless, impotent, and with an even more skewed moral compass.

My Winner: Dog Day Afternoon

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Writing (Adapted) – 1974

Official Nominations: The Godfather Part II. The Apprenticeship Of Duddy Kravtiz. Lenny. Murder On The Orient Express. Young Frankenstein.

The Godfather Part II wins this one easily enough, though I would love to have seen Young Frankenstein getting it too. Lenny is an interesting one – the need to balance the on stage material with the off stage reality is handled well, while Murder On The Orient Express is always told well in any adaptation. The Apprenticeship Of Duddy Kravtiz is the offbeat choice this year, a film with an unfortunate name which I imagine would turn away most potential viewers nowadays. It’s a fun coming of age story though, with a great lead from Richard Dreyfuss, and it has its share of funny moments.

My Winner: The Godfather Part II

My Nominations: The Godfather Part II. Young Frankenstein.

There’s absolutely nothing I want to add this year – there are a number of possibilities but nothing as strong as my two picks above, so what’s the point?

My Winner: The Godfather Part II

Which film gets your vote – let us know in the comments!

Best Writing (Original) – 1974

Official Nominations: Chinatown. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Day For Night. Harry And Tonto. The Conversation.

Coppola was a busy boy this year, with The Conversation and The Godfather Part II. He also wrote the screenplay for The Great Gatsby. While his entry here could have won another year, it’s up against Chinatown – one of the greatest screenplays ever written. Day For Night gets the vote for trying, successfully, something different, while Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is one of the great examples of the new feminist movement. Harry And Tonto is charming enough, but not on par with the others.

My Winner: Chinatown

My Nominations: Chinatown. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Day For Night. The Conversation. Blazing Saddles. Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia. Dark Star. A Woman Under The Influence. Thunderbolt And Lightfoot.

We only drop Harry And Tonto and add Blazing Saddles in its place for planting 1970 US speak into the Old West and being filled with the lewd, the satirical, the juvenile, and more. Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia is a violent and often confused mystery peppered with a variety of grim characters while Dark Star makes a mockery of 2001. A Woman Under The Influence is a gritt, almost overwhelming character study, while Thunderbolt And Lightfoot is a shining example of a genre which would quickly be lampooned as the decade drew to a close and beyond.

My Winner: Chinatown

Let us know which film you pick as winner!

Best Writing (Original) – 1973

Official Nominations: The Sting. American Graffiti. Cries And Whispers. Save The Tigers. A Touch Of Class.

The Sting was the deserving and expected winner this year, even though the story was heavily inspired by real life events which had been previously documented. Nonetheless, it’s the nuances of the script, the dialogue, and the rapport between Gondorff and Hooker which helped the film become such a hit – you feel that even with lesser names than Newman and Redford the movie still would have been acclaimed, if not as financially successful. American Graffiti deserves a nomination more for its loose, near improvised feel which would go on to inspire many future directors, writers, and the slacker film movement. The script is both nostalgic and innocent, yet eternally prescient – the cars, the moves, the style, the lingo may have changed, but we grow, we explore, and we seek friendship, a mate, and the desire for freedom in an exciting and uncertain future.

Cries And Whispers doesn’t need to be here given that it was released in 1972, suffice it to say, it’s another dense exploration by Bergman, dealing with family, sexuality, life, and death. Save The Tiger is kept afloat by Jack Lemmon’s performance and in many ways it’s the perfect dramatic script for him, the everyman drowning in a world passing him by with the script highlighting his isolation and inability to stay relevant. Finally, A Touch Of Class feels like a film which would have had a greater impact in the 60s, with its depiction of marriage, affairs, sex etc. Its characters are finely drawn, though thoroughly unlikable even with the witticisms  on display.

My Winner: The Sting

My Nominations: The Sting. American Graffiti. Badlands. Day For Night. High Plains Drifter. The Holy Mountain. Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid.

Only two make it over to my list. Joining them is Terence Malik’s screenplay for Badlands – one of the finest examples of being sparse yet dense at the same time; when the characters aren’t talking, the pictures do the rest. Nevertheless, his two central characters and their dispute with the world is both universal, timeless, and symbolic of the USA in the early 1970s. Spacek’s narration feels innocent and alarming, while Sheen’s infrequent outbursts and speeches feel like they deserve iconic status. There aren’t many great films about making movies, or the love of movies, but Day For Night experiments with both of these themes playfully and cynically. Fresh off his work on The French Connection, Ernest Tidyman makes one of the great new US Westerns – new as in being influence by Leone, a story which throws out most notions of the glorious Wild West where enterprising individuals built North America. The Holy Mountain… well, I’ve got to nominate it for something. Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid is a Peckinpah film which is only now getting reevaluated after an initial critical mute response – a film with a torrid production, not least between writer and director with Peckinpah rewriting Wurlitzer’s script – a harsh, downbeat story.

My Winner: The Sting

Let us know your winner in the comments!