Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Couchies Part V

Best Screenplay

Unlike the Oscars, I'm going to lump together adapted and original screenplays. Part of this is just practical, but I also the think the difference between the two talents is negligible. Unless you are adapting something from the theater, the screenplay is really an entirely different product. Looking over my best screenplay nominations next to the best director ones (coming soon), I think I'm in agreement that the auteur theory of movies promoted by the French New Wave and Cahiers du Cinema really undervalues the role of writing. A Film By credit should only be taken seriously when the director was directly involved in the writing. As a whole, I like the group of films here more than those under the Best Director category.

The Nominations

Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman - The Darjeeling Limited

Anderson deserves all the credit he gets for his innovative and signature directing style, but I've always appreciated his writing more. Darjeeling Limited is filled with wonderful non-sequitors ("is that my belt"), odd phrases and repetitive themes ("don't tell him I told you") that drive the movie more than the extended closeups and immaculately designed shots. Watching an Anderson movie a second time is always a requirement in my book, because the visuals are overwhelming in the first viewing; you hardly follow the dialogue while staring at the Louis Vittton designed suitcases and monogrammed pajamas. I don't know anyone who saw Bottle Rocket, Rushmore or Royal Tannenbaums a second time and didn't like them more. The implausibility and seeming randomness of so many lines are, like a good jazz song, always appreciated more when you already know the basics.

James Brooks, Matt Groening, et. al - The Simpsons Movie

Sure there were about a hundred writers on this movie, and it wasn't close to the iconic seasons, but the Simpsons was damn funny, and managed again to present a sappy family-centered story amidst all the mayhem created by Homer. As I wrote in the initial review, I would have liked to see more from the peripheral characters (and President Wolfcastle of course!), but to revive a moribund show that couldn't keep my interest for 22 minutes and make a 90 minute entertaining flick was pretty impressive.

Andrew Bujalski - Funny Ha Ha

While Kate Dollenmayer steals the show, the rest of the movie is held together by Bujalski's "writing." While there is a lot of improvisation and unscripted dialogue, Bujalski gets credit for creating the scenes, the tensions, and the scenarios where poor actors can shine. Any attempt to force profundities into the mouths of these guys would have been disastrous, and all the awkwardness, hesitation, and despondency of the characters comes out because Bujalski allows them to be themselves. And the Marnie-Alex-Mitchell dynamic is perfectly written, as true to live as anything I saw this year.

Andrew Bujalski - Mutual Appreciation

If I had to judge between the two, this would be the better written movie. Moving beyond the the simple "boredom" angle of Funny Ha Ha, Bujalski contrasts the lives of a twenty-something dreamer with the twenty-something "real people." The 20s are a hard time for friendships, as some people, like Bujalski's Lawrence and Rachel Clift's Ellie settle down into a life of contentment while their friends, in this case Alan, continues to pursue his dream of being a musician. Bujalski presents both sides as equal, the jealously of Lawrence but also the struggles faced by Alan. The dichotomy is not as simple as "selling out" or "staying true." In the world of twenty-first century America, where "big dreams" consist of having a band, there is no satisfying choice.

And the winner is...

Bela Tarr, Lazlo Krasznahorkai - Werckmeister harmóniák

That's Werkmeister Harmonies to you. Based on Krasznahorkai's novel "The Melancholy of Resistance," Werkmeister is a classic, full of odd characters, powerful scenes, dramatic tension, and simple beauty. I've seen quite a few early Tarr films, and there can be no question that he has benefited from his recent collaborations with Krasznahorkai on Werkmesiter, Satantango, and Damnation. While the early films still had beautifully crafted long shots, the characters were mostly two dimensional; either bittersweet beauties crushed by the Communist government, or drunken Hungarians who beat and rape their women. While there are historical and political truths contained in Tarr's early films, as art they suffered. Using Krasznahorkai's novels, the realistic dialogue of a married couple struggling to find housing has been replaced by elliptical and obscure monologues and declarations. To borrow Werner Herzog's distinction, the early Tarr films, while powerful, captured only the accountant's truth. With his recent films with Krasznahorkai, especially Werkmeister, Tarr has found his ecstatic, and artistic, truth.

Coming up...Best Director


Sean said...

At this rate we'll get to best picture in what... April? Just give the rest to Werckmeister Harmonies and get it over with.

Teasing. Sort of. But seriously, I do enjoy the separation the Oscars gives to the screenplay category. I fear without it Hollywood may never give two shits about originality without it. Movie's would be kept to adaptations of whatever Oprah approves of, comic book characters and remakes. I agree that a good screenplay is a good screenplay no matter what, but to highlight originality is a rare thing in Hollywood so I'd be sad to see that category go away.

Sean said...

Whew, that was a bad redundant sentence up there that was, apologies. But I can't give up the Anderson debate. I like the guy's movies, I like his themes and his process. But when recently confronted by two people who had just seen Darjeeling and were less than enthused by it, I was at a loss to defend the movie. They were hitting on all the same problems I had with it. The image of Wes in the editing room saying, "Ok -- here lets cue the slo-mo and cue that Kinks song I was listening to last night. Yes!" Any particular reason to do this for the third time in one hour? So in a way, I agree with you -- because I don't think these kinds of things are in his script -- at least I hope not. These are his crutches directorial-wise. And honestly I can't decide how much credit to give him for his screen writing skills since his best movies have been co-written by Owen Wilson. And I'm starting to think that "you have to see it twice" bit is... well, if you're going to hold that standard to Wes Anderson movies then I have a basket full of other movies -- better movies in my opinion that I could hand you.