Best Screenplay 2003

1998 through 2007

What were the best screenplays of 2003?

The Barbarian Invasions (Denys Arcand)
3
8%
Dirty Pretty Things (Steven Knight)
4
10%
Finding Nemo (Andrew Stanton, Bob Peterson, David Reynolds)
4
10%
In America (Jim Sheridan, Naomi Sheridan, Kirsten Sheridan)
2
5%
Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola)
5
13%
American Splendor (Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini)
6
15%
City of God (Braulio Mantovani)
2
5%
The Lord of the Rings (Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson)
5
13%
Mystic River (Brian Helgeland)
8
21%
Seabiscuit (Gary Ross)
0
No votes
 
Total votes: 39

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Re: Best Screenplay 2003

Postby Big Magilla » Mon Aug 25, 2014 8:04 pm

The Original BJ wrote:Question: at what point did sequels start being considered "adaptations"? Because under the Before Sunset logic, The Barbarian Invasions would have to count as one, yet I don't recall one bit of conversation about it being considered as such, and obviously, it received a nomination in this category.


I'm fairly certain it's always been the rule that sequels are automatically considered adaptations since the sequel must be based on the original story. However the Genies and the Baftas also considered it an original. It's stretching it a bit, but maybe they considered it an original because the story had nothing to do with the story in the previous film of seventeen years before even if several of the characters were the same.

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Re: Best Screenplay 2003

Postby The Original BJ » Mon Aug 25, 2014 6:33 pm

Posted in two parts because of the 403 obnoxiousness -- read from the top down.

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Re: Best Screenplay 2003

Postby The Original BJ » Mon Aug 25, 2014 6:32 pm

I thought 2003 was sort of a bum year, but I do think the writers managed to highlight a far more interesting set of films than I expected they would. In both categories, as nominee after nominee came out, I was pleasantly surprised at the candidates they plucked from the margins for recognition.

There is one lousy nominee, though, and that was on the Adapted side: Seabiscuit. I understand that Laura Hillenbrand's book had been pretty acclaimed, but everything about this script struck me as so aggressively ordinary. And, as Mister Tee says, it wasn't even really a very engaging narrative -- at times I wondered, which one of these characters is the protagonist here, and what is this story about? I know that the films I'd have cited (House of Sand and Fog, Big Fish) weren't really in the running, but I think they're far more ambitious and compelling works than this.

American Splendor is a formally inventive piece of work, with a lot of wit and, in its cancer plot, genuine poignancy. So many biographies feel like cookie cutter affairs, I have to salute one that feels this fresh in sensibility. Still, if you'd have told me after I saw it that it would go on to win TWO of the critics' Best Picture prizes AND the WGA, I'd have been surprised. It struck me as a pleasing but minor movie, and though I'm glad it was recognized somewhere at the Oscars, it doesn't get my vote.

I, too, was pretty floored when The Return of the King managed the screenplay award -- I thought only the subtitled effort stood less of a shot at prevailing. I wasn't bothered the way some were, as I think the quality control on this series was pretty high, and I think the script for this third installment has both a strong narrative thrust and a great deal of emotional power (two things I feel have been sorely lacking in a lot of blockbusters lately). But, even though it's among the best written examples of this kind of movie, its win still feels like it just got swept along with the movie's momentum. For a movie that's predominately action sequences, I can grant it Best Director and tech prizes, but not Best Screenplay.

The nominations for City of God strike me as just about the most completely-from-nowhere as any I've seen in my decade and a half of Oscar watching. And as a fan of the movie, I was quite pleased. I know some felt it was mostly a nifty structure obscuring redundant content ("nothing new except the milieu" was a phrase I remember one critic using), but I thought the film's portrait of Brazil's violent favelas wasn't something I'd seen before, and the plot structure felt exciting without seeming like a gimmicky, Pulp Fiction knock-off. It wasn't necessarily groundbreaking in the writing department, but I thought it excelled in this area pretty highly, and it would be my runner-up.

But Mystic River was my favorite movie of the year, and I will vote for it in this category (as I thought a majority of Oscar voters would). The central mystery plot is engaging enough on its own, but where the movie really excels is in the broader portrait of a damaged community, one where past tragedies hang hauntingly over present ones. The ending wobbles a bit -- I never really bought Laura Linney's sudden Lady Macbeth-style turn -- but on the whole, I find it to be a film of great power and despair, with a lot of richly developed characters and surprising narrative turns. Eastwood's direction and the amazing cast deserve a lot of credit for making the film work so well, but it's got a very solid foundation, and the screenplay gets my vote here.

On the Original side, I would probably have voted for 21 Grams had it been an option. I know that's another movie a lot of people hate, and it does have its melodramatic elements, but I think the structure is used in a compelling manner, and the central scenario full of a lot of interesting moral complexity.

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Re: Best Screenplay 2003

Postby The Original BJ » Mon Aug 25, 2014 6:30 pm

Question: at what point did sequels start being considered "adaptations"? Because under the Before Sunset logic, The Barbarian Invasions would have to count as one, yet I don't recall one bit of conversation about it being considered as such, and obviously, it received a nomination in this category. There's a lot of strong writing in the movie, with dialogue that's both full of cynical humor as well as world-weary regret. Based on the conversation alone, I understand people voting for it. But I guess my taste runs a little bit more toward plot-centered work -- there's not a ton of action in the movie, at least not until the end, and though I think it's a very smart piece it falls short of getting my vote.

In America is a movie that I'm still surprised didn't do better with Oscar. It had a lot of heart-on-its-sleeve emotion that would have appealed to the sentimental crowd, but was quite a bit more tough and thoughtful than more generic uplift like Seabiscuit. I think the script has its bumps -- I also think the Djimon Hounsou stuff feels out of sync with the rest of the movie -- but there's a lot of power to the scenes with the central family, from their struggles as new Americans in a new country, to the pain of past tragedies. It's, in many ways, a good example of what Jim Sheridan does -- emotionally moving work that doesn't feel cloying, even if he doesn't break the mold with too much innovation.

Original Screenplay pretty quickly became the place where it seemed everyone agreed Sofia Coppola was to be honored for her film. And I was fine with that -- Lost in Translation was a small movie, but it had resonance and lasting power, along with some laughs. It's the kind of special, personal project that often picks up screenwriting prizes, and there are a lot of nice grace notes to the script. But I don't think it's really what you'd call a truly stand-out piece of writing -- I haven't read the script, but I imagine much of it would seem a little thin on the page, enlivened by its actors and the visual mood on screen. (Plus, I also took issue with one of the film's most-praised scenes -- I thought it was a bit of a cop-out for us not to hear what Murray whispered in Johansson's ear, like the writer just couldn't come up with an insightful line for that moment...which I later learned from an interview with Coppola that that was exactly the case.) A perfectly respectable choice, but not mine.

I went with Finding Nemo, which I do think is special Pixar. Like so many of their triumphs, the film has a really well-constructed narrative, a whole ocean full of imaginative characters, a lot of terrific one-liners (which even feel improved on-screen when uttered by Ellen DeGeneres), and a giant heart. It's a film about the struggle parents have to protect their children, but also give them space, and I think the movie is pretty thoughtful in articulating these themes even within its buoyant adventure narrative. (I also think the opening scene, which kicks off with a big tragedy, is pretty startlingly mature for a supposed kids movie.) In lieu of anything more wildly inventive as an option, I'll pick the script that I thought took me on the grandest journey, and that's Nemo.

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Re: Best Screenplay 2003

Postby FilmFan720 » Wed Aug 20, 2014 9:14 pm

I haven't seen The Barbarian Invasions, so I can't vote in Original, but I endorse the winner here.

For Adapted, American Splendor is pretty obviously the most innovative, entertaining and surprisingly moving of these nominees. I would have loved to have seen two even better screenplays sneak in, though: Shattered Glass (which gets better and more prescient every year) and House of Sand and Fog.
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Re: Best Screenplay 2003

Postby Heksagon » Fri Aug 15, 2014 12:02 am

Yep, "mature" is probably the best possible single word to describe the difference between Barbarian Invasions and Decline of the American Empire.

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Re: Best Screenplay 2003

Postby Mister Tee » Wed Aug 13, 2014 9:53 pm

Greg wrote:I have not seen The Barbarian Invasions, but, I read on IMDB that this is a sequel to The Decline Of The American Empire, which I did see. I have not seen The Decline Of The American Empire for quite a while, and my vague memories of it is that I found it somewhat overly pretentious. I appreciated how the characters were openly portrayed as being pretentious and eventually called out on this by the end, however, it was not quite enough to salvage the film for me. Did anyone who saw The Barbarian Invasions find any of this in that film?

I'm not sure if this quite answers your question, but...

I hadn't seen Decline of the American Empire during its initial release, but after I saw -- and really liked -- The Barbarian Invasions, I went back and rented the earlier film. And I didn't much care for it. They were largely the same characters, but, at that younger stage of their lives, they seemed far more narcissistic and self-absorbed than their older selves, and I couldn't work it up to care about their silly problems. Barbarian Invasions has perhaps more perspective on the characters -- sees their foibles with clear eyes but doesn't judge them too harshly -- and just seems to me a far richer work, the work of an artist whose vision has matured.

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Re: Best Screenplay 2003

Postby Greg » Tue Aug 12, 2014 11:38 am

I have not seen The Barbarian Invasions, but, I read on IMDB that this is a sequel to The Decline Of The American Empire, which I did see. I have not seen The Decline Of The American Empire for quite a while, and my vague memories of it is that I found it somewhat overly pretentious. I appreciated how the characters were openly portrayed as being pretentious and eventually called out on this by the end, however, it was not quite enough to salvage the film for me. Did anyone who saw The Barbarian Invasions find any of this in that film?
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Re: Best Screenplay 2003

Postby Heksagon » Tue Aug 12, 2014 1:34 am

Overall, a decent line-up. Only Seabiscuit is a really weak film, which shouldn’t be anywhere near Oscars. Additionally, I feel that Dirty Pretty Things and Finding Nemo are decent, but ultimately fairly mediocre films, which I’m not too happy to see here either.

But the rest of the nominees are between good and very good. My votes go to The Barbarian Invasions and Mystic River, which are my two favorite films of the year.

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Re: Best Screenplay 2003

Postby ITALIANO » Mon Aug 11, 2014 5:18 am

Okri wrote:I'm one of the criminals that voted for Return of the King. It's my favourite movie by far in this line-up and this category is really just mediocrity defined.

Hopefully I can get a reduced sentence because I voted for The Barbarian Invasions, though.



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Re: Best Screenplay 2003

Postby Okri » Sun Aug 10, 2014 10:42 pm

I'm one of the criminals that voted for Return of the King. It's my favourite movie by far in this line-up and this category is really just mediocrity defined.

Hopefully I can get a reduced sentence because I voted for The Barbarian Invasions, though.

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Re: Best Screenplay 2003

Postby Mister Tee » Sun Aug 10, 2014 7:05 pm

The adapted list is besmirched by the inclusion of Seabiscuit -- a film that specifically failed as an adaptation of a reasonably strong non-fiction work, as it never found a way to organize the interesting material into a coherent narrative. I'd replace it with either NY Critics' winner The Secret Lives of Dentists, or the at least agreeable amd engrossing Shattered Glass.

The Lord of the Rings chapter also struck me as a sub-par nominee, and, like Sabin, I was pretty stunned it won -- not since Gandhi, really, had an epic without memorable dialogue been carried along for a screenplay win as part of a best picture sweep. (Even better written efforts, like Lawrence of Arabia, were traditionally passed over in this category) Since I in fact find this the weakest of the three Rings chapters, I can't get behind the win or even the nomination in any way.

City of God was kind of a cool nominee if only because it seemed to come from nowhere -- it had opened in NY almost a year prior, and hadn't figured in any pre-nomination speculation. But I can't say I see it as a particularly praiseworthy addition to the slate. The film seemed to me pretty much a variation on lots of other gang-centered movies I'd see since GoodFellas; I didn't feel any thrill of discovery. Plus, what was impressive about the film, if anything, was the directing style.

American Splendor is a well-written piece and an interesting film, though in the end I don't find it to be about very much. It seems more interested in shifting among various levels of reality and media than in saying anything especially profound about the lives involved. It is witty, and consistently engaging, so I can endorse it's nomination. But I expect more from my winners.

I realize some also find Mystic River deficient on that score, and it's possible I might have felt the same had I not read the source novel. I'd found Lehane's book disappointing -- it was clearly aspiring to be more than a genre novel, but Lehane hadn't worked it through enough for it to qualify as free-standing novel; at the same time, it was a less interesting mystery than Lehane's earlier novels had been, Gone Baby Gone especially. What startled me about the Helgeland/Eastwood adaptation is, they cast all those misgivings away: I found the story on screen fully enough to grip me for two hours plus, and as much a dissection of a clannish neighborhood's ethos as the particulars of the investigation of a child' s murder. Helgeland's loss, especially to Jackson and Co., was my biggest disappointment on an overall desultory Academy night, and I'll do my best to ameliorate that by voting for it her.

The original slate is considerably more impressive -- I can't cite anything that was glaringly missing.

Finding Nemo was a fun film -- consistently entertaining in the way almost all Pixar was through the oughts -- and the many funny lines (esp. those intoned by DeGeneres) make this a respectable nominee. But it wasn't special, in the way Wall E and The Incredibles were, and the nomination felt a bit reflexive, as if the better cartoons were to routinely be nominated now.

I like Lost in Translation, but more as a mood piece with actors than as a piece of screenwriting. I think Coppola has an interesting eye, but her writerly sense is not her strongest. Her win here was acceptable as overall tribute to her film, but it's not where I'd have singled her out.

The other three nominees are quite strong, and any would have made a decent winner. The Barbarian Invasions was a well-written, witty and perceptive look at academics who still revel in memories of their iconoclastic youths even while facing up to mortality. And In America is a film that dares to go up to and over the line of sentimentality to present a moving view of the late 20th century immigrant experience. I'm not as enthusiastic as Magilla -- I found parts of it, primarily those centered around the Hounsou character, a bit much -- but I am with him in finding it a hugely compelling, emotionally draining experience.

But my choice is Dirty Pretty Things, which may have been the cleverest nominee this category has yielded post-Usual Suspects/Memento. What seemed at first to be a social issues drama, covering the employment of illegals and the illicit harvesting of human organs, turned out to be a delightful well-made piece of craft, where every piece fell unexpectedly into place in a climax that felt fresh but inevitable. I'm not saying it was a great film, but it was the best reminder of the pleasures of the well-constructed narrative that I'd seen in some time. For this, it gets my vote.

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Re: Best Screenplay 2003

Postby Sabin » Sat Aug 09, 2014 2:06 pm

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King winning for screenwriting is one of the most mystifying choices the Academy has made in this category in my life. I scrolled back on the list of winners and most winners remain largely competently-to-well constructed narratives. Then there are films I dislike, but the blame for the film's qualities might not necessarily belong to the screenwriting. And then there's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, a film I certainly like (although I feel zero desire to circle back and watch it again) but where the screenwriting of the film is so largely secondary. I suppose, yes, the choice to hold off on Frodo being stung by Shelob from The Two Towers until this film was a wise choice, but on the other hand most of the creative choices seem to be consolidated to "And then a big elephant shows up and people fight on it." And this act of cobbling together from different sources was nothing compared to what the makers of American Splendor had to/CHOSE to do. I don't agree with giving Peter Jackson an Oscar for Best Director in a year with Peter Weir's Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World but I certainly can't raise harrumphs about it because this is so clearly a director's film, but if there's one thing people complain about the film it's that it's just one giant battle scene and it's an endless parade of endings. These are writing problems! It wouldn't feel like one giant battle if shit was going on! And mind you, even though I likely wouldn't vote for it in a category with About a Boy or Adaptation., the screenplay for The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is a good one, the best of the series. One can only chalk up its victory here to so much indifference to usual suspects that a movie like City of God could end up replacing Harvey's Cold Mountain. You could almost here him screaming on Oscar morning, "What does them liking it have to do with anything?"

Even though I like Lost in Translation and Master and Commander quite a bit, it was a fairly dull lineup and an even worse show to endure. I wish the show had just been Billy Crystal walking on-stage and saying "Good evening. We gave everything to the Lord of the Rings film. Bill Murray didn't win. Every speech was bad. Here to play us off is Mitch & Mickey with a "Kiss at the End of the Rainbow". It also didn't win. The song from The Lord of the Rings did. Good night!"
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Re: Best Screenplay 2003

Postby ITALIANO » Sat Aug 09, 2014 7:10 am

Here we are again: another cartoon (I had forgotten that so many have been nominated in this category recently). So: I haven't seen Finding Nemo, I will never see Finding Nemo, and I find it a bit embarassing even just to think about Finding Nemo. And I am especially sorry this time, because this prevents me from being the only one who'd vote for The Barbarian Invasions, which may not be an American movie, and may not be in English, but is clearly the best of these five - a soft on the surface, but quietly affecting and emotionally powerful portrayal of middle-aged intellectuals. That nobody here picked it makes me a bit suspicious - I'm not sure that all the (mostly American) members here are as correct as me and Sabin and only vote if they saw all the nominees. But we will see. As for the others, they are all minor pieces - In America has some nice moments and is probably deeply-felt - but that doesn't mean that it's deep. Let's say pleasant but not memorable. The winner, Lost in Translation, isn't stupid, and one can see that there's a personality, a character behind it - yet. how shall I put it, not an especially interesting personality. And its approach to a foreign culture - Japan in this case, but it could be Italy or any other country - is so depressingly American! Needless to say, this board is collectively voting for it. Ah well...

It's a bit more difficult in Adapted, because both American Splendor and Mystic River are examples of respectable American screenwriting. Not perfect, of course, but reasonably intelligent, not banal. Mystic River especially has an interesting group of characters and an peculiar mood - though this may come more from the direction than from the script. But I voted for City of God, an ambitious, at times ferocious portrayal of a neglected society, yet also quite involving even from the purely narrative point of view. Here it doesn't have any hope of winning, of course, and I agree that it's not perfect either - but it deserves at least a few votes and I gave it mine.

Oh and I forgot: the three who voted for The Lord of the Rings should be put in jail. Immediately. I can only hope that it's just one person voting three times.

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Re: Best Screenplay 2003

Postby Sabin » Thu Aug 07, 2014 9:13 am

I can't vote for Best Original Screenplay because I still haven't seen The Barbarian Invasions or Dirty Pretty Things. Just as good because I don't have a strong preference between Finding Nemo, In America, or Lost in Translation.

I might not love American Splendor but it seems like the only viable choice to me for Best Adapted Screenplay.
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