Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Addicts 2007: The Screenplays

Original Screenplay

4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days
Christian Mungiu

Mungiu's script is one that doesn't really need to go all-out to sell its story, because he seems to know his characters inside-out. On the face of it, each may slip into an available stereotype (the foolish pregnant teenager, the brash intimidating hard-man, the wronged partner etc.) but it teaches us so much about these people through their reaction to a compressing environment, and throughout the constant starkness and severity it's perhaps most interesting to note that I didn't really feel deliberately provoked (or even tested) as a member of the audience, but rather an enlightened voyeur looking in on the reality of a desperate mess of a situation.

I'm Not There
Todd Haynes & Oren Moverman

Of all the nominees listed here this is probably the screenplay I'd most like to hold in my hand. I'm Not There is really such a creative vision that it's difficult to sense how much detail its script afforded, and how much of the final cut came about from the natural flow of filmmaking. Regardless, it's mighty ambitious, dissecting one man and implanting into six bodies a piece of him that can stand alone and relate back to the principle biographical whole. How Haynes and Moverman can integrate such a profound musical and cultural journey into as unorthodox a structure as this is anyone's guess.

Diablo Cody

A major criticism of Juno is that it's over-written: these characters wouldn't say these elaborate comic lines of dialogue, would anyone say these elaborate comic lines of dialogue? Blah. Blah. Blah. The top and bottom of it is that Cody's characters don't really need to. Juno MacGuff is someone who doesn't seem to want to let anyone in, but because we see every other character (particularly Mark and Vanessa) transform through her eyes, it gives us a knowledge and connection to her emotional journey that makes the film work so wonderfully, and absoloutely encouraged me to reflect on the reasons we judged these people so rashly in the first place.

Knocked Up
Judd Apatow

I have to admit that when I came out of the cinema having seen Knocked Up I had a few niggling thoughts about it. Some of its knowledge of relationships and originality is eroded by a finale that, let's just say, isn't cliche-free. But when I discussed the film with an American friend the lightbulb in my mind suddenly switched on. I found myself arguing with her about Paul Rudd's fantasy baseball secrets (I on the side of the guy, of course), which really strengthened in my mind my feelings about how much the film gets right about gender politics. Apatow may have a fixed and faithful target audience, but curiously his films are as insightful as they are familiar.

John Carney

I must say, I probably give musicals a hard time in the screenplay category. Logic suggests to me that already some of the work has been done for the writers. Not so with this little gem of a production. Of all the musicals I have ever seen, none have been able to get across the core of why people want to write music and sing songs in the first place, as well as Once manages it. The two leads have such a tentative connection, but a believeable one, and overall they feel so adaptive to their surroundings and the changing nature of their relationship that in the end you know what they've written and why they've written it.

Winner: Juno
Runner Up: Once

Sad to exclude:
2 Days In Paris gets the American/European cultural divide just right, and politically scythes through everything I hate. Black Snake Moan belongs in an originality contest but sadly couldn't make my final five, and We Own The Night really skates so confidently over what could have been such a routine setup.

Adapted Screenplay

Hallam Foe
David Mackenzie & Ed Whitmore

For a story that, on the bare bones of things, is a familiar evolution of a lost boy and his search for closure, Hallam Foe sails past any ocular buoys with fresh characterisation and interesting ideas about relationships. David Mackenzie and Ed Whitmore's thoughtfully-written screenplay constructs a character with richness, and curiously one that hardly realises he is grieving.
(Taken from

Into The Wild
Sean Penn

Penn's clever adaptation of Krakauer's book disguises any chapters or 'stepping stones' that may have more traditionally been used to chronicle the type of journey, both physical and intellectual, that McCandless endures. His journey isn't just one road laden with interesting characters along the way; it's a cultural network that one probably will encounter in the course of a lifetime. So it's amazing then that the script can condense all of this into 140 minutes, make you his featherbed follower, and carry off its experimental style with epic ease.

A Mighty Heart
John Orloff

I'd like to think that John Orloff got someone to roleplay with him while he wrote this. When you consider that there are police chases and investigations on television every day, it must be difficult to try and give your words some kind of original slant. He is of course lucky to have a subject as engrossing and complex as he does, as is everyone involved, yet while the script is littered with questions, questions and more questions, the emotional elements of the story always linger at just the right intervals for you to take a quick couple breaths before another inevitable onslaught of probing commences.

No Country for Old Men

Joel & Ethan Coen

A film with a perfect title, No Country is so successful as a screenplay because it manages to capture the pointlessness of crime and a shifting civilisation. These moments are best conveyed in Sheriff Ed Tom Bell's monologues, which frequently offer meditation on the films growing breed. The black comedy elements, toned down a little since Fargo, work because the characters (bar the Sheriff) aren't really treated as stupid, but culturally alien; a group more than willing to participate in this new game of life.

Harold Pinter

'Twisted' is a word I associate with Sleuth, or at least I did before I saw this version. It's essentially a very stagy set of mind games, but 'twisted' simply does not begin to cover this remake, which seems to take more from Shaffer's play than the original even could. Pinter forces Caine and Law to push themselves to the limit, giving their relationship a fascinating (and not unbelievable) subtext that turns the story on its head. He also plays on the artificial setup of the entire situation, creating a blackly comic yet thunderously laugh-out-loud exchange that's so perverse it's almost as if the guys are screaming to themselves inside, "Why am I here? I don't know! But I like it". They aren't the only ones.

Winner: Into The Wild
Runner Up: Sleuth

Sad To Exclude: If The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is anything to go by Andrew Dominik is much more capable at writing than directing. The Hottest State, Ethan Hawke's pet project, understands the tempestuous nature of young love. And Lust, Caution is, as expected, both lustful and cautious, and often at the same time.

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