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Thoughts On Oscar nominations

Updated: May 16, 2018



All the Oscar nominations are in, so the betting pools can officially begin.


But first, let’s acknowledge an irrefutable certainty about all the eventual winners. Not a single one of them could possibly have won were it not for the 10 nominees in the writing categories.


Because it all starts with the script.


So congratulations to the writing nominees, without whom we wouldn’t have the other nominees, or any of their movies for that matter.


While they’re still fresh, I’d like to give my two cents about the nominees for Best Original Screenplay. And the nominees are (hold your applause):

“The Big Sick,” Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani “Get Out,” Jordan Peele “Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig “The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Martin McDonagh

(now applaud)


After spending the last few weeks trying to catch up on all the screeners the studios sent our way (and tellingly, EVERY one of the nominees had been sent as a screener – a cautionary tale to those that weren’t and then didn’t get nominated), I can say with complete certainty that the winner will be –


- drum roll please –


- one of those five nominees.


Come on. It’s a toughie this year. All the screenplays were worthy of awards. And that’s great news for movie fans and fans of great writing.


The front-runner is, of course, Golden Globe winner Three Billboards. So that’s where the easy money is. Still, it wasn’t my favorite script. Honestly, I enjoyed and appreciated it (damning praise), but it kept me at a remote distance, dropping me into its world well after the significant events that shaped it, and forcing me to rub elbows with characters I had trouble liking, let alone identifying with.


And truth be told, as big a fan as I am of Guillermo del Toro, I was disappointed in The Shape of Water (it was no Pan’s Labyrinth or Hellboy II: The Golden Army). Again, I appreciated its performances, effects, and sheer creativity. But emotionally, I was left as cold as that algae-ridden tank.


And I’m almost embarrassed to say it (and may be forced to relinquish the Woman’s Card I keep in my wallet), but Lady Bird, while enjoyable, left me feeling a bit “meh.” Great performances, sure. Especially from Laurie Metcalf who I think deserves every award she’s been nominated for. But the episodic structure, and let’s face it, a dearth of conflict, made it hard to build dramatic momentum.


The Big Sick, on the other hand, held me captivated from beginning to end. I truly cared about these characters, their plight, and was held fast waiting to see how it would all turn out. The fact that it was written by the two individuals who actually experienced the incredible events of the movie is icing on the cake. I will not be the least bit disappointed if this screenplay wins. Still, in the end, despite how much I enjoyed watching it, it didn't stay with me.


So that leaves, for me, the best written original screenplay of the year, a screenplay that every writer should aspire to write – Get Out.


In my book, Classical Storytelling and Contemporary Screenwriting, I lay out a series of what I call Aristotle’s Guiding Precepts, principles that can be found in the observable patterns of the stories that have stood the test of time from before Aristotle’s day to our own.


And here is Precept #1, straight from his Poetics:

TO TELL A GOOD STORY EFFECTIVELY, WE MUST a) SHOW OUR AUDIENCE SOMETHING UNIVERSAL OF THEMSELVES AND THEIR WORLD REFLECTED BACK TO THEM, AND b) THROUGH THAT IDENTIFICATION, GIVE THEM AN EMOTIONAL EXPERIENCE.


And while, to some extent, all the nominees accomplished that, “Get Out” stood head and shoulders above the others. It made me laugh, cry, shudder, scream, and gasp, while always keeping me on my toes, never knowing until the final moments how all this would resolve.


And through that emotional experience, I saw my world reflected back to me. Truth through fiction. Representation and feeling. Mimesis and catharsis, the two essential pillars of effective storytelling.


When I left the theatre, I found myself thinking “Whew, that was a fun ride.” And “Boy was that an astute commentary on our world today.” I’m hard pressed to think of the last movie that elicited those two responses simultaneously.


Spinach is NOT supposed to be so tasty.


All of which is to say, I’ll be very happy should “Get Out” win. And if it doesn’t, I may have no choice but to retreat to my Sunken Place.

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