The Academy Awards. The Oscars. Whatever you choose to call them, they have been recognising cinematic achievement since 1929. This year, the award nominations are shrouded in a cloud of diversity criticism, and not for the first time. There has been a plethora of speculative articles, tweets and blogs alongside deliberation amongst the media and film fans, the sheer amount of which means we shall not be looking at it within this article. Instead, we shall be looking at one of the less gossiped about categories: screenplays.
Actually, this forms two categories: one for Adapted Screenplays, and one for Original Screenplays. Why focus on this when there are categories such as Best Film, or Best Lead Actor? Well, put simply, without a screenplay, there would be no film. As Robert Altman said, “I don’t think screenplay writing is the same as writing – I mean; I think it’s blue printing.”
2016’s nominations are:
The Big Short – Charles Randolph and Adam McKay.
Brooklyn – Nick Hornby.
Carol – Phyllis Nagy.
The Martian – Drew Goddard.
Room – Emma Donoghue.
Bridge of Spies – Matt Charman, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen.
Ex Machina – Alex Garland.
Inside Out – Pete Doctor, Meg Lefauve, Josh Cooley; original story by Pete Doctor, Ronnie del Carmen.
Spotlight – Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy.
Straight Outta Compton – Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff; story by S. Leigh, Alan Wenkus and Andrea Berloff.
As much as it would be a complete pleasure to dissect each screenplay, space restrictions deem it undoable. So here are our picks for the winner from each category, and why.
Adapted Screenplay – Room
This category is strong this year, with some period originals such as Brooklyn and Carol, and a return to form for director Ridley Scott with The Martian. All of these are excellently written, with The Martian in particular marrying just the right levels of humour, emotion and science, and Brooklyn oozing style and ambience.
Room has a style all to itself. It tells the story of six-year-old Jack and his Ma. Ma was kidnapped at age 17 and kept in a garden shed, known as “Room,” for seven years. Jack is the product of her captor’s abuse. Having never left Room, the film investigates the pairs reintroduction back into the outside world through the eyes and ears of Jack. How he progresses and develops is juxtaposed to Ma and her struggles with reintegrating into normal family life whilst trying to get over her horrific experiences.
The narrative tools used and the structure of the film display an impressive level of skill from Emma Donoghue, who also authored the book. Told from the child’s perspective, this screenplay keeps its childish simplicity whilst dealing with dark, emotional wounds on behalf of Ma. These wounds are dealt with in a way that is honest and absorbing.
Original Screenplay – Inside Out
Pixar has been responsible for some of the most groundbreaking, emotion-inducing films of recent years. Toy Story broke new ground in terms of animation, whilst Up left its imprint in every viewer worldwide.
This year, the team brought audiences the phenomenal film Inside Out. The film focuses on a person’s core emotions — joy, fear, sadness, anger and disgust, which are the DNA of a person’s responses to stimuli. Inside Out focuses on the emotions of young Riley. When Riley is uprooted from the family home to move to San Francisco with her parents, her whole life is flip turned upside down. Things are made even worse when Joy and Sadness get lost in the recesses of the mind, and no longer have any control over Riley’s emotional responses.
Whilst at its most superficial level Inside Out is a cute story of friendship, if you delve deeper, the screenplay is incredibly well written and pieced together with subplots and narrative arcs that appeal to adults who recognise the troubles Riley is facing through their own experiences and experiencing it through their own children.
The structure of the mind and how it works is so well represented that it makes some of the most complicated psychological processes seem like child’s play. It also brings with it an important message for children, parents and indeed anybody: that sadness is important for us to survive.
Whilst there are a number of other excellent films within both categories, the simple skill with which Room is executed and the sheer ingenious of the structure of Inside Out make them our winners for this year’s screenplay Oscars.