Rewriting History: The 81st Academy Awards

As an exercise, I thought it would be fun to rewrite some film history; what should’ve won and why. After an intense debate amongst the screenwriters, it seemed like a good idea.

So, here goes.

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Reality: Slumdog Millionaire – Simon Beaufoy
What Should’ve Won: Doubt – John Patrick Shanley
Why: I love Slumdog Millionaire. It’s an excellent, uplifting film with a great twist; the plants work to perfection. However, the film’s  structure cannot compare to Shanley’s masterwork of reparteé, intricate emotions and layers weaved in–all through dialogue. Beaufoy shows, Shanley shows through telling. It’s a masterwork of moments; little things that become bigger, and the ending leaves room for complexity, something to digest as you leave the theater. Slumdog, while uplifting, inspires little debate.

Best Original Screenplay:
Reality: Milk – Dustin Lance Black
What Should’ve Won: Vicky Cristina Barcelona – Woody Allen
Why: Milk is hands-down solid. The moments were good, the dialogue was good, and the structure was good. Most of all, though, it was timely, and it laid down the gauntlet for a new generation. Its message made it better, something that can rarely be said. However, the winner easily should’ve been something not even nominated (it won the WGA)–Allen’s modern opus on art, love and sex in Europe. Every line was brilliant, and Maria Elena was a brilliant character (see below). We feel for characters because we empathize with them, and Allen somehow makes that possible with two spoiled rich girls. It’s fantastic, through and through.

Best Supporting Actress:
Reality and What Should’ve Won: Vicky Cristina Barcelona – Penelope Cruz
Why: She blew the roof off of that movie. Before she enters, it’s a typical Woody Allen film. After, it becomes so much greater. She plays crazy, a crazy that works; it’s a self-aware crazy that only Woody Allen could write and only she could play. It’s the perfect combo. While Viola Davis and Amy Adams delivered stunning performances in Doubt, and any other year the Oscar would be a race between them, Cruz made that role what it could be; reaching to the top of the mountain that is Allen’s writing and surpassing it, adding her own signature verve and flair.

Best Supporting Actor:
Reality and What Should’ve Won: The Dark Knight – Heath Ledger
Why: Do I really have to say why?

Best Actress:
Reality: The Reader – Kate Winslet
What Should’ve Won: Doubt – Meryl Streep
Why: We analyzed Meryl Streep’s performance in Intro to Cinema last week as an exercise into the study of how to put on a brilliant performance. That shows you how good this performance is. I haven’t seen The Reader, I will admit this, but I know Meryl Streep beat her. When I first saw the movie with my grandmother, being from the area of New York in which Doubt is set, I remarked to her how much Meryl Streep had nailed her accent. My grandmother said: “No, Meryl Streep nailed my Aunt’s accent”. It was stunning how perfect she was as Sister Aloysius. She inhabited the role, and she did it with no fanfare. It was absolute genius. Brilliance. She took Shanley’s words and made them mean so much more. It was no contest. She owned this award.

Best Actor:
Reality and What Should’ve Won: Sean Penn – Milk
Why: Like Streep, Penn inhabited his role fully, and was absolutely brilliant. His acceptance speech was also excellent. So there you have it. However, I would like to give a shout out to Frank Langella’s performance in Frost/Nixon. Drunk dialing Michael Sheen’s character the night before the big interview, Langella shows off a full range of talent. It’s astounding. While not entirely convincing as Nixon, due to vastly different appearance, he manages to convey Nixon with a level of gravitas unseen in other works, which is highly impressive to me.

Best Director:
Reality and What Should’ve Been: Danny Boyle – Slumdog Millionaire
Why: The way the film is written and structured, Boyle faced an incredible challenge. All the plants, all the details, all the locations, all the Bollywood glory, and hell, even all the shit, had to fit together and work as part of a larger puzzle with a deeper meaning and relate back to an emotional center. Tough work for anyone, especially a seasoned pro known for dark fare like 28 Days Later and Trainspotting. To see him succeed here is awesome. And he really did succeed.

Best Picture:
Reality: Slumdog Millionaire
What Should’ve Won: The Dark Knight OR Doubt
Why: Neither was nominated, in a what-the-hell kind of lapse in judgment (which led to the 10-nominee format, recently scrapped in favor of a flex system that allows between 5-10). Both films were incredibly impressive; The Dark Knight was and is compelling upon every single watch, as is Doubt. The Dark Knight reinvented the superhero genre and owned one of the most brilliant performances of all time; Doubt was a top-notch morality play disguised as a beautifully shot, perfectly acted film. The Dark Knight mastered the three-act-structure, as did Doubt. Most of all, though, both films inspired debate and discussion as you left the theater. It’s really something to leave an impact on a causal moviegoer. That’s the goal. And these films reached that with stunning brilliance.

AND (because this is a music blog, after all):

Best Original Song:
Reality and What Should’ve Won: “Jai Ho” – A.R. Rahman – Slumdog Millionaire
Why: Bollywood/Hollywood joy, pure and simple. Catchy and bright and a perfect combination of acceptable mainstream American pop and the distinctive Indian Bollywood style.

A.R. Rahman – “Jai Ho” [MP3]

About Dylan Visvikis

Dylan Visvikis is a working screenwriter and director in Los Angeles. View all posts by Dylan Visvikis

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