Every year, the Academy Awards and its voters honor screenwriters old and new by handing out the statue for the Best Original Screenplay, often while employing a lackluster script of its own. While it remains to be seen what kind of material host Ellen DeGeneres will be given, you can bet than the stage direction "This is the part where you dance" will show up more than a few times. Probably in between jokes about Christian Bale’s gut, or his beard, or his hair.
There are a few dancing scenes scattered throughout this year’s Original Screenplay nominees, sometimes with a phone and sometimes with a bull, but these films are much more memorable for their portrayals of love, aging, survival, family and – in American Hustle’s case – pulling the ultimate con. I can’t promise that my own writing about these films will be worthy of awards and praise, but I think I can safely say my prediction will hold true by the time the ceremony airs on March 2.
And I didn’t even need an artificially intelligent OS to help me, though she was pretty good at giving me moral support as I wrote.
DARK HORSES: Dallas Buyers Club and NebraskaSometimes the most meaningful stories are in the most obvious of places, such as the history books. Other times, they come from a much more personal place. The back end of this year’s nominees exercises those points of view to tell hard-hitting emotional tales, but not necessarily the ones that the Academy will douse with honors.
Jean-Marc Vallée’s Dallas Buyers Club is definitely one of 2013’s most memorable films, but that is in large part due to the gobstopping performances of leading actors Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, both of whom took on physical transformations to truly become the real-life characters they were portraying. And while there is an undeniable power to the story of Texas bigot-turned-savior Ron Woodroof and his behind-the-scenes battle for proper HIV medical treatment, screenwriters Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack carved a fairly rote path to take viewers from emotionally challenging point A to point B, adapting history in as simple a manner as possible.
Meanwhile, Bob Nelson’s script for Alexander Payne’s Nebraska is anything but intuitive, taking viewers on a road trip both literally (across the Cornhusker State) and figuratively (through one’s mortality), with stars Bruce Dern and Will Forte proving that sometimes the hardest relationships to be a part of are the ones that we are born into. With its ensemble cast and introspective themes, Nebraska could easily take this prize in a different year, but the competition this year is just a little too stiff, much like my back after a long car ride through the country.