Best Writing (Adapted) – 1982

Official Nominations: Missing. Das Boot. Sophie’s Choice. The Verdict. Victor/Victoria

Das Boot is out – not a 1982 movie. That leaves us with a Legal Drama written by David Mamet, a turbulent movie with flashbacks to the Holocaust, a biography dealing with the search for a missing journalist, and a Blake Edwards musical. Victor/Victoria is a remake but also a musical coming in a post Cabaret world – it’s the same vibe as Cabaret but a more light movie. What was it with cross dressing this year? It’s fine, but forgettable for someone like me who’s not into musicals.

Biographies tend to be hit and miss for me, unless I’m interested in the subject. Missing is set in the aftermath of the Pinochet Dictator led and US backed overthrow of the Socialist Chilean government, leading to countless deaths and atrocities. Costa-Gavras adapts the book, detailing the disappearance of an American Journalist, but chooses to focus on the relationship between the journalist’s father and wife as they come from political opposites. It’s good, but doesn’t go deep enough in its pointing of fingers.

You can’t go wrong with David Mamet – he raises the quality of whatever he’s involved in, and rather than being a typical dull courtroom drama, we get the personal touches and sparkling one-liners regarding an alcoholic lawyer who develops a personal relationship with a malpractice suite involving the Catholic Church – his closing speech of the case is among the best you’ll hear in this sort of film.

Finally, Sophie’s Choice is an unflinching look at the long-lasting damage of the Holocaust on a woman who managed to survive and continue her life in the US. Everyone knows ‘that moment’, but the film is a series of such moments both in flashback and present day form which suggest that no amount of time or distance can free you from the past’s most decisive moments.

My Winner: The Verdict

David Mamet, The verdict A screenplay - AbeBooks

My Nominations: The Verdict. Conan The Barbarian. The Thing. Blade Runner. Creepshow. Fast Times At Ridgemont High. The Wall.

A world away from the serious tone of the Official Nominations, my unlikely picks are a lot more fun. Along with ET, Fast Times is one of the movies which defined what the 80s was, early in the decade. Adapted from Cameron Crowe’s book in which he famously pretended to be a high school student (he was 22) and went back to school for a year to detail the lives of the kids he saw everyday. It’s a loose coming of age movie which deals with the always/never changing problems of teens as they cross into adulthood, given that LA gloss by Amy Heckerling.

The Thing is more of an adaptation of Who Goes There? than it is of the previous movie – albeit one which John Carpenter was a massive fan of. It doubles down on the paranoia of the story, sharing just enough of the characters thoughts that we learn about them but never enough to trust them – of course it helps that there’s a few great one-liners in there. Blade Runner features some of the most famous dialogue of the 80s and does arguably the best adaptation of any Philip K Dick story while The Wall is a visual extension of both the album and live show of the same name, adding more transparent detail.

Creepshow… probably doesn’t qualify as a true adaptation, but it still features stories written for another medium rewritten for the screen. Good enough for me. The stories come thick and fast, they get straight to the pulpy point from first frame and waste no time with periphery gubbins – you have the story, the characters, then the comeuppance. In a similar vein is my winner – not only an adaptation of the character and short stories of Conan by Robert E Howard, but also a story of individual strength in overcoming as written by Oliver Stone and John Milius, and again featuring some of the best cinematic one-liners and soliloquies of the decade.

My Winner: Conan The Barbarian

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Writing – Original – 1981

Official Nominations: Chariots Of Fire. Absence Of Malice. Arthur. Atlantic City. Reds.

Colin Welland, perhaps better known for his memorable performance in Kes, picked up the win this year for Chariots Of Fire. It would never be my pick and at times it feels like it’s evangelising (pick up Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running instead), but I understand it winning. Absence Of Malice gets a courtesy nomination, following its Performance-based noms, while Atlantic City and Reds were guaranteed nominees and are about equal in my estimation alongside Chariots Of Fire. That leaves my personal pick out of these five – the anarchic Arthur which feels like the naughty boy in the corner of class that everyone wants rid of, but can’t ignore because his uncle is President of the School Board. Or something.

My Winner: Arthur.

Arthur (1981) - Movie Review / Film Essay

My Nominations: Arthur. Raiders Of The Lost Ark. An American Werewolf In London. Body Heat. History Of The World Part 1. The Road Warrior. Time Bandits.

Arthur makes it over to my personal list, but it won’t be my winner, not when you have a selection of the most seminal genres movies ever lined up against it. Body Heat puts the sex into the rejuvenated Neo Noir genre and is smarter than it gets credit for, even if it is more fondly remembered for a couple of one-liners. Time Bandits is endlessly inventive and just as quotable as your favourite Python movie. Brooks isn’t at his sharpest in the segmented History Of The World Part 1, but that still means his sharper than most, while The Road Warrior allows most of its supporting cast of creeps and cars to do the talking rather than its protagonist. An American Werewolf perfected the blend of Horror and Comedy in 1982, and few films have come close to capturing its essence, failing to recognise that its success is in its script. My winner falls again to Raiders Of The Lost Ark, a film where every character gets their own satchel filled with snappy dialogue and whip-cracking retorts, all wrapped up in a globe-trotting pseudo history lesson.

My Winner: Raiders Of The Lost Ark.

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Writing – Adapted – 1981

Official Nominations: On Golden Pond. The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Pennies From Heaven. Prince Of The City. Ragtime.

I’m generally wary of screenplays where the author adapts their own work and when it’s Oscar bait – you can almost taste the win before filming even begins. And Lo, On Golden Pond picked up the win. You can’t go wrong with Harold Pinter – picking up a nom for The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Pennies From Heaven has no business being here, and Ragtime was never going to win up against the others. There’s only one interesting choice here – Prince Of The City – but it suffers because it’s basically a remake of Serpico with Lumet attempting to right his perceived wrongs from the earlier film.

My Winner: The French Lieutenant’s Woman

My Nominations: The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Das Boot. Christiane F. Clash Of The Titans. The Entity.

Only one makes it over from the Official list, joining Das Boot which condenses much of the novel’s character detail and anti-war sentiment into a terse and tense thriller. Christiane F is one of the more hard-hitting films of its type with a story and dialogue which dispenses thrills and frills in favour of realism. Clash Of The Titans is fun from start to finish and packs in plenty of quotable one-liners and speeches, while The Entity produces a compelling story of a woman supposedly under attack from a vicious paranormal figure and effectively under attack from medical and behavioural experts.

My Winner: Das Boot

Let us know in the comments which movie is your winner!

Best Writing (Adapted) – 1980

Official Nominations: Ordinary People. Breaker Morant. Coal Miner’s Daughter. The Elephant Man. The Stunt Man.

A mixture of the interesting and the expected this year. Naturally, Ordinary People was the winner, the tale of suburban alienation striking a chord with those in charge. Coal Miner’s Daughter and The Elephant Man were dead certs to be nominated thanks to the calibre of people involved behind the scenes, and the same can be said for The Stunt Man. Breaker Morant is the offbeat choice, the tale of a (no matter which side of the argument you fall) bit of a scumbag military man who committed a series of War Crimes but claimed he was ‘only following orders’. The film was incredibly successful in its native Australia, possibly explaining this courtesy nomination.

My Winner: The Elephant Man

NEW The Elephant Man And Other Reminiscences by Sir Frederick Treves | Elephant, Man, Joseph merrick

My Nominations: The Elephant Man. Airplane! Altered States. Raging Bull. The Shining.

Only The Elephant Man to me is really worthy of coming across to my list given its quotability and heart. Airplane! is one of the many quotable comedies of the 80s and one of the first and finest examples of sketch type humour which would be expanded upon in the decade. Altered States gets a nomination because it’s a marvel it was able to make its way to screen with any sort of coherence, while Raging Bull always felt like a strange snub given the other praise and awards heaped upon the film. My final choice, and perhaps my controversial winner, is The Shining – a much colder ghost story than King’s novel but one with an equal, if different power. There’s no escaping some of the one-liners either, even 40 years on.

My Winner: The Shining

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Writing (Original) – 1980

Official Nominations: Melvin And Howard. Brubaker. Fame. Mon Oncle D’Amerique. Private Benjamin.

Be honest – how many of these films have you, or has the average person heard of. Fame should be a given, Private Benjamin is probably there too. There others? Unless you were there at the time and an Oscars nerd most people won’t be aware of the other three nominees. That’s not to say they’re not good choice or good scripts, but it does suggest that better or more viable options were overlooked. Melvin And Howard won a number of Awards this year – it’s a fine standalone and it hasn’t aged as badly as even some of the bigger comedies of the era. Even so, it’s not that funny – it’s the light sort of self serving humour The Academy always falls back on when they absolutely have to nominate a Comedy. It does get credit for being one, maybe one of the first, of those biopics about some random person with no discernible talent who meets with a stroke of bizarre luck, or whose story is so offbeat and little known that it just about deserves to be told.

Brubaker is a lower tier prison movie – by this point we’d seen a lot better and we would see better again in the future. Not happy with winning Best Picture, Robert Redford had to through his acting hat into the ring with this one but up against the titans who were nominated, Brubaker got relegated to Best Writing. The category was a little different in 1980, but given that it was clearly based on a book and it not an original story, it shouldn’t really be here. Fame tried to bring back the Musical by focusing on a younger set of characters and audience. It’s tolerable, cheesy, dated as hell as all Musicals tend to be within a few years of release. It doesn’t do nearly enough to rally against the dangers of fame to impressionable youth and those scavengers ready to exploit them. At least it broaches these topics and it’s merely a collection of songs and dances in pretty clothes. It’s not strong enough to be here.

Mon Oncle D’Amerique – you always know The Academy’s desperate or up to some funny business when it nominates a foreign movie here. Both Resnais and Depardieu were high on the list of ‘lets give these guys awards’ for The Academy which surely played a part in this being nominated, but it is a fairly interesting film both for the topics discussed, the real life people involved, and its structure. French Philosopher and Scientist Henri Laborit is the lead character, taking the audience on a virtual tour of his brain (and by extension the human psyche) via connected fictional stories. It’s the sort of nonsense you could see Charlie Kaufman tackling now. Private Benjamin is one of those classic fish out of water stories, elevated by a few funny moments and a star turn by Goldie Hawn. It’s a crap selection of movies all round and I’m not sure any deserve the nomination, never mind the win. I’ll go with the most entertaining one.

My Winner: Private Benjamin

See the Cast of 'Private Benjamin' Then and Now

My Nominations: 9 To 5. The Big Red One. The Blues Brothers. Caddyshack. The Empire Strikes Back. The Fog. Heaven’s Gate. The Long Good Friday. Used Cars.

The problem with this category this year is that there’s no stand out. There isn’t a single film you can point to as having the originality and the the dialogue and the one-line zingers you would normally expect a winner to contain. What you do have is you pick of comedies to choose from. Rather than go through each, as in truth they all strike the same anarchic nerve and each have their classic zingers – The Blues Brothers, Caddyshack, Used Cars – each have more memorable dialogue than any of the official nominees, while 9 to 5 surely deserves a nod if Private Benjamin gets one. I’m no fan of 9 To 5, but fair is fair.

That leaves us with a selection of unlikely heroes which were never going to be nominated. Heaven’s Gate had no hope even before it was released, and it was such a disaster that it basically destroyed the Auteur system until the 90s Indie scene offered some new hope. Upon re-evaluation, it’s a damn strong movie. It’s no Deer Hunter, but had the original vision been allowed to be seen, and had the thing been kept on budget, the last 40 years of cinema could have been very different. It plods, it’s bloated, but it’s somehow worth it. The Big Red One has seen less re-evaluation and is both less famous and less infamous than Heaven’s Gate, a Sam Fuller War movie with an interesting cast and one which questions the value and human cost of war before the swath of Vietnam movies would ask the same questions later in the decade.

The Long Good Friday is that rare example of a British gangster movie which I enjoy, and an Irish crossover movie which doesn’t embarrass. It didn’t make a huge splash in the US, but was popular enough that it set up Bob Hoskins for life. The Fog sees John Carpenter continue the unbelievable run kicked off with Assault On Precinct 13. It’s the perfect campfire ghost story blown up for the big screen, a terrific example of a simple, hokey premise given weight, drama, and scares thanks to a script which keeps things simple yet offers some self aware smarts over a decade before that became the norm.

My final choice is hardly unexpected. As the sequel to A New Hope, Empire had some big shoes to fill. The script more than lives up to the original by complicating relationships, offering new characters, worlds, and languages, peppering the movie with one-liners still in regular use today, and providing more of what people enjoyed about the first movie. Plus there’s the small matter of one of the greatest twists in movie history. As much as a Star Wars fan as I am, I would like to pick something else here – but I don’t see any other viable choice.

My Winner: The Empire Strikes Back

Let us know which movie you would pick as winner!

Best Writing (Adapted) – 1979

Official Nominations: Kramer Vs Kramer. Apocalypse Now. La Cage Aux Folles. A Little Romance. Norma Rae.

Kramer Vs Kramer continues its winning streak by picking up the Adapted Screenplay Award. I’m not much of a fan of films which spend a considerable amount of their running time in Court, but the intensity, integrity, and emotion of the performances keeps things interesting. Time has passed so the legal stuff is hit and miss and the dialogue is plain rather than quotable. Apocalypse Now is the very definition of quotable, with a number of speeches and one-liners becoming iconic, definitive moments of Cinema, turning yet another school-kid-hated-text into something monumental. La Cage Aux Folles is a funny enough story but it seems strange it was ever nominated here given some of the ‘crass’ material. Norma Rae is a much more credible nomination – The Academy loves a heart-warming underdog story, and if it’s a biography – all the better. Finally, A Little Romance is a little seen film with a terrific cast which almost never works, a saccharine script which probably only works on a specific person at a specific place in their life.

My Winner: Apocalypse Now

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad: Critical Essay | by GoPeer | GoPeer | Medium

My Nominations: Apocalypse Now. Escape From Alcatraz. Nosferatu The Vampyre. Quadrophenia. Scum. The Warriors.

Only my choice of winner makes it over to my own nominations where I add five films which never stood a chance of picking up a genuine nomination. Quadrophenia may be the most interesting of these seeing as the film is adapted from the album of the same name. I generally enjoy when bands are so overblown that they decide to branch into film – it almost never works well, and it works even less when it’s the story of an album rather than some standalone story which just happens to feature the band. Quadrophenia works so well because it is a time-honoured tale of adolescence, a coming of age story set against the Mods vs The Rockers and featuring music from The Who’s best album. The dialogue, while trenched in the era and place, is not a barrier to modern or foreign viewers and features the gritty realism you would expect from British cinema but as a whole it is less kitchen sink drama and more an energetic quest of rebellion and purpose.

Escape From Alcatraz is one of the finest prison break movies, dispensing with such tired devices such as love interests and exhaustive dialogue, and instead doubles down on the bare essentials – clever inmate decides to escape from inescapable prison. An odd choice for this category then, but the screenplay takes the core details from the true life story and transforms it into a taut and streamlined action thriller. Keeping on the topic of streamlining – the original novel of The Warriors deals more heavily in the main characters’ motivations while also exploring modern notions of family, sexuality, machismo, and the very nature of the gangs themselves. Hill and Shaber’s film is more minimalist in theme and plot and instead succeeds as a quotable proto-Western, a road movie on foot, a cross-country chase from one end of a city to another, and the fantasy of a possible future of laws based on codes of honour rather than ticker tape, bureaucracy, and entrenched white ideals.

Scum doesn’t make for pleasant viewing, but that’s precisely the point. It’s as hard hitting as it needs to be, with a gavel thud of violence and language which raises the bar over the original BBC version. Nosferatu adds precious dialogue and characterisation over the original and while the general outline of the Dracula story should be familiar to all viewers, there are enough changes to satisfy experienced fans of that story, from the portrayal of the lead characters, to their respective conclusions.

My Winner: Apocalypse Now

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Writing (Original) – 1979

Official Nominations: Breaking Away. All That Jazz. And Justice For All. The China Syndrome. Manhattan.

As strange as it may seem, this is both a very 70s selection of films and a very Oscar selection of nominees. You know you’re getting a court movie (And Justice For All), you know they’ll do anything to get a musical in there (All That Jazz), you know they’ll go for a Woody Allen (Manhattan), you know they’ll go for an All American Coming Of Age story (Breaking Away), and you know they’ll throw in a topical political thriller (The China Syndrome). There’s nothing wrong with any of these choices and they’re all good films with solid screenplays – it’s that there are no real surprises in the choices or the films themselves. Any is as worthy a winner as any other, but I’ll stick with my personal favourite.

My Winner: And Justice For All

You're out of order!”: …and Justice for All (1979) — The After Movie Diner

My Nominations: And Justice For All. Alien. The Jerk. Mad Max. Life Of Brian.

I punt for the more interesting choices, again there was no way The Academy would have ever voted for any of these – possibly Alien due to its unavoidable success is the front-runner of the ‘could have been nominated’ category. While it’s not the most quotable movie in the world, it does a stellar job of world and character building and somehow presents itself as a truly grounded and realistic science fiction horror movie rather than the more operatic and fantastical offerings of the preceding years. There are also plenty of surprises and revelations within the script which have reverberated through Cinema in the decades since. The Jerk is silly and vulgar and just the antidote to the usual sour-faced drama or up-market comedy The Academy usually goes for, while Life Of Brian pulls off the same trick while also being highly quotable, controversial, and ridiculous. Finally, Mad Max flips notions and expectations of US action movies and apocalyptic dramas over, and knocks them rolling fourteen times down a dusty lost highway. The characters are rarely given a voice to be heard over the growl of engines, a personality beyond a name, or emotions beyond merely trying to survive in a bewildered thousand yard stare fashion.

My Winner: Alien

Let us know in the comments which film you would pick as winner!

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!