Those Oscar Missed: Best Original Screenplay

groundhog-day-bill-murray

CONTRIBUTED BY JAKE THOMPSON

Best Original Screenplay refers to a screenplay in which the material is not based on another medium.  Even if the screenplay is about someone or something that was real, it would still count as an original screenplay as long as it wasn’t based or inspired by any published or soon-to-be published materials.  There have been less and less original screenplays being produced in the last decade by Hollywood, especially for blockbusters (Christopher Nolan’s 2010 film Inception being a shining example, but even that didn’t get made until 2008’s The Dark Knight proved to be a huge hit).  Original screenplays don’t get as much recognition as they should, and even when they do, there are still other original screenplays that go unrecognized.  The Academy has been guilty of this, especially just recently with last year’s Oscars (2011’s Win Win and 50/50 were absent from the Original Screenplay nominees).  Unfortunately, the major snubs in this category go much farther than that.

One major snub is 1976’s Taxi Driver.  Written by Paul Schrader, the script was inspired by the diaries of Arthur Bremer (the man who shot George Wallace in 1972) as well as Schrader himself (Schrader had been lonely for a period of time after a divorce and a break-up, living in his car).  A lonely taxi driver named Travis Bickle tries to cope with insomnia and becomes infatuated with a woman named Betsy.  When the relationship fails, Travis (who’s also fed up with the crime and prostitution he sees daily) resolves to assassinate a presidential candidate and rescue an underage prostitute.  Schrader’s script was so powerful that it helped launch his directing career.  It’s such a shame that he wasn’t nominated for his work here, for he has yet to receive a single Oscar nod.

The actual nominees at the 49th Academy Awards were:
Network – Paddy Chayefsky (*Winner)
Cousin Cousine – Jean-Charles Tacchella & Daniele Thompson
The Front – Walter Bernstein
Rocky – Sylvester Stallone
Seven Beauties – Lena Wertmuller

Another major snub is 1983’s The King of Comedy.  Written by Paul D. Zimmerman, the script examines celebrity culture, commenting on the desperation of disturbed people who can’t get positive responses or recognition for their efforts.  An obsessive fan named Rupert Pupkin stalks a celebrity late night talk show host, trying to get him to hear his material, and when that fails, Pupkin kidnaps him with the help of another obsessed fan.  The terrific script deals with the overzealousness of instant fame and celebrity status in a way that is both scary and remains relevant to this day.  It’s too bad Zimmerman wasn’t nominated for this film, for he never received a single Oscar nod.

The actual nominees at the 56th Academy Awards were:
Tender Mercies – Horton Foote (*Winner)
The Big Chill – Lawrence Kasdan & Barbara Benedek
Fanny and Alexander – Ingmar Bergman
Silkwood – Nora Ephron & Alice Arlen
WarGames – Lawrence Lasker & Walter F. Parkes

One major snub that definitely comes to mind is 1993’s Groundhog Day.  Written by Harold Ramis and Danny Rubin, the script examines the existential questions posed by having a character who’s selfish and rude relive the same day numerous times.  A Pittsburgh weatherman (who only cares about himself) is reluctantly sent to Punxsutawney to cover Groundhog Day.  When he wakes up the next day, he slowly discovers that he is reliving February 2nd and continues to do so numerous times.  The result of Ramis and Rubin’s work was a fascinating character journey toward self-redemption and one of the most unexpected spiritual films ever.  The Academy should be ashamed for not nominating this film here.  Ramis and Rubin have yet to be nominated for any Oscars.

The actual nominees at the 66th Academy Awards were:
The Piano – Jane Campion (*Winner)
Dave – Gary Ross
In the Line of Fire – Jeff Maguire
Philadelphia – Ron Nyswaner
Sleepless In Seattle – Nora Ephron (screenplay), David S. Ward (screenplay), & Jeff Arch (story & screenplay)

Another major snub would be 2004’s I Heart Huckabees.  Written by David O. Russell and Jeff Baena, the script examines existentialism and looking for connections among coincidences.  An environmental activist hires a pair of existential detectives after encountering the same tall African man three different times.  Russell and Baena craft this philosophical comedy in a way that shows the confusion of the world post 9/11, debating whether or not we’re interconnected or all alone.  The result of their work was one of the year’s (and decade’s) most overlooked films.  It’s a shame Russell and Baena weren’t nominated for their work here.  Russell is a one-time nominee (1 Director nod for 2010’s The Fighter).  Baena has yet to be nominated for an Oscar.

The actual nominees at the 77th Academy Awards were:
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – Charlie Kaufman (story & screenplay), Michel Gondry (story), & Pierre Bismuth (story) (*Winner)
The Aviator – John Logan
Hotel Rwanda – Terry George & Keir Pearson
The Incredibles – Brad Bird
Vera Drake – Mike Leigh

One final major snub would be 2009’s (500) Days of Summer.  Written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, the script was inspired by Neustadter’s own broken heart and channeled into a boy-meets-girl story that occurs in non-chronological order.  A young man named Tom tries to not fall in love with Summer, a young woman who isn’t looking for a serious relationship, but fails.  Neustadter and Weber creatively use the non-chronological format, going from good times to bad times (either from the past to the future or from the future to the past).  The result of their work is probably the best romantic comedy in the last decade.  It’s too bad the Academy didn’t nominate this terrific work, for Neustadter and Weber have yet to receive a single Oscar nod.

The actual nominees at the 82nd Academy Awards were:
The Hurt Locker – Mark Boal (*Winner)
Up – Pete Docter (story & screenplay), Bob Peterson (story & screenplay), & Thomas McCarthy (story)
The Messenger – Oren Moverman & Alessandro Camon
A Serious Man – Ethan & Joel Coen
Inglourious Basterds – Quentin Tarantino

Other films that were considered include 1972’s Hickey and Boggs, 2009’s Moon, and 2011’s Win Win.

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3 Responses to Those Oscar Missed: Best Original Screenplay

  1. To this day I’m still surprised that (500) Days of Summer didn’t garner more nominations. I thought it was deserving of at least a few Oscar nods.

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