Best Original & Adapted Screenplays: And the Oscar doesn’t go to…

Ann Lewinson reviews films for the Boston Phoenix, The Kansas City Star and other newspapers and is a member of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists and the Boston Society of Film Critics. Ann is also a NYWC workshop leader and has led workshops for the formerly homeless, young adults with autism, Downs syndrome, cerebral palsy and other disabilities. She currently facilitates a NYWC writing group for youth at The Door. For Oscar Week, Ann sings the praises of a few unsung screenplays — and gives us a few golden nuggets of dialogue too! 

Good writing — and in particular crackling, original dialogue — is increasingly rare at the movies, so it was thrilling to see Beasts of the Southern Wild get an Oscar nomination for best adapted screenplay. Here are four more of my favorite screenplays from last year, overlooked at the Oscars but available on DVD.

 

Screenplay_Safety

Written by Derek Connolly

Safety Not Guaranteed

Of the four movies I’m highlighting, this was the only one for which I received an awards-consideration screener, which at least means that someone believed in this little movie. A supermarket clerk (Mark Duplass) advertises for a companion for time travel (“must bring your own weapons”), and sullen magazine intern Darius (Aubrey Plaza) is determined to prove her investigative mettle. But could he be telling the truth? First-time-feature writer Derek Connolly is a graduate of NYU film school and his screenplay has all the beats in the right place, all the character arcs arcing (you can hear Robert McKee asking, “What is Darius’ journey?” “What does Jeff want?”), and yet it’s so fresh and committed to the happiness of its sadsack characters that the wheel-turning isn’t annoying.

Darius: What makes you think there’s something wrong with him?

Jeff: Because he thinks he can go back in time.

Darius: Was there something wrong with Einstein or David Bowie?

 

Written by Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling

Written by Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling

Sound of My Voice

Time travel is also the question in Zal Batmanglji and Brit Marling’s screenplay about a young couple out to expose a cult leader (Marling), who claims to come from the future. Marling is an actor who prefers to write her own roles (2011’s less successful Another Earth) and seems heavily influenced by “The Twilight Zone.” Batmanglji attended the American Film Institute, which a friend who’s currently in the MFA program there says is preoccupied with perspective. And perspective is what’s at issue in Sound of My Voice. It’s not just a journalist getting sucked (or suckered) in, it’s the audience. The game is deftly played, the seduction immaculate.

Maggie: Every life is death, and most deaths are suicides. Some are just more gradual than others.

 

Written by Martin McDonagh

Seven Psychopaths

Those unfamiliar with Martin McDonagh’s pungently mordent and increasingly violent plays pegged Seven Psychopaths as a Tarantino wannabe, but they couldn’t be further off. It’s a critique of the genre, and it’s blatantly personal: an Irish writer (Colin Farrell) who no longer wants to be the go-to person for over-the-top violence finds himself struggling with the eponymous screenplay and living down to industry expectations. His ego has a bickering id, a noxious struggling actor (Sam Rockwell), and a superego, a pacifist dog-napper (Christopher Walken), and the three escape to Joshua Tree to battle it out for supremacy. Did I mention that one of the psychopaths is a bunny-cuddling Tom Waits?

Hans: An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.

Billy: No, it doesn’t. There’ll be one guy left with one eye. How’s the last blind guy gonna take out the eye of the last guy left?

 

Written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard

Written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard

Cabin in the Woods

I’ve got a soft spot for Joss Whedon, less so for his minion Drew Goddard, who is responsible for both Cloverfield and much of the terrible last season of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” But who knows who really writes these things? Cabin in the Woods‘ screenplay, credited to both of them, has Whedon’s left-field voice all over it, making what should have been redundant — yet another knowing parody of teen horror films — distinctly eccentric and a real scream. Its kitchen-sink climax is the very definition of “overkill,” but then Whedon can’t go out without a bang. I can’t wait to see how he works an apocalypse into Much Ado About Nothing.

Marty: It was the pioneer days. People had to make their own interrogation rooms.

Like what you see here? Check back tomorrow  for Ann’s 2013 Oscar picks!