Best Screenplay 1984

1927/28 through 1997

What were the best original and adapted screenplays of 1984?

Beverly Hills Cop (Danilo Bach, Daniel Petrie, Jr.)
Broadway Danny Rose (Woody Allen)
El Norte (Gregory Nava, Anna Thomas)
Places in the Heart (Robert Benton)
Splash (Bruce Jay Friedman, Lowell Ganz, Brian Grazer, Babaloo Mandel)
Amadeus (Peter Schaffer)
Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (Robert Towne, Michael Austin)
No votes
The Killing Fields (Bruce Robinson)
A Passage to India (David Lean)
A Soldier's Story (Charles Fuller)
Total votes: 36

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Re: Best Screenplay 1984

Postby Heksagon » Wed Apr 08, 2015 1:42 am

I haven't seen El Norte, so I will have to stick to the Adapted category here. And it’s a tough choice between Amadeus and A Passage to India, both of which are excellent films. Incidentally, I just read E.M. Forsters's novel on which the latter is based on, and it only increased my respect for the screenplay. I went with David Lean's effort in the Picture and Director categories, and I'm doing the same thing here.

I stated earlier how I felt that India's themes were outdated. This is partly true; but the film and the novel also deal with conflict between different cultures, not just colonial exploitation, and in this sense I feel that it is still relevant. Lean maybe tried to help this by toning down the anti-colonialist approach, which is much more bitter in the original novel. At the end of the original novel, Aziz remains bitter and distrustful of Fielding. This underscores the vital point that colonialism had eaten away the credibility of even the more liberal and sympathetic Englishmen, and is perhaps unfortunately watered down in the film.

Of the other nominees, The Killing Fields is a respectable nominee while A Soldier's Story has its merits but is far from having the quality I'd like to see here. I have no idea why anyone voted for the astonishingly boring Greystoke.

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Re: Best Screenplay 1984

Postby The Original BJ » Sun Jan 11, 2015 4:01 am

Despite having seen all of the Adapted nominees, this is a field where I feel somewhat unqualified to vote, for reasons that are completely unique to the Adapted Screenplay category.

I'll start, though, by eliminating the nominees I definitely wouldn't vote for, and at the bottom of the list is Greystoke. It's clearly an attempt to make a "serious" version of Tarzan, after a truckload of flimsy adventure epics, but I'm not sure this is really what the material needed. Or rather, the filmmakers took things too far in the other direction -- its ponderousness, for me, felt like its own form of silliness, and I just kept wondering why none of this was any fun.

A Soldier's Story has some interesting ideas in it, and does a good job exploring themes of both inter-racial AND intra-racial conflict. But a lot of it was pitched at a fairly cloying level, and I wished for something that had a little bit more bite to it. And, of course, there's my usual difficulty with choosing play adaptations.

The remaining three nominees would all have been decent enough choices -- they aren't a groundbreaking lot, but I rate them the best scripts of the year, in either category. The Killing Fields deserves consideration for the entire sequence depicting the takeover of and escape from the embassy -- I was completely held during this portion of the movie, and found it to be full of rich journalistic detail as well as classic movie-movie suspense. But I think the second half of the movie wobbles a bit -- it sort of just goes on and on, with the Sam Waterston portion of the narrative really feeling like it's treading water (at least until it rallies toward its killer ending). There's still a lot of strong, emotional writing in the movie, but it feels a bit more ragged a work than the remaining nominees.

I quite like David Lean's adaptation of A Passage to India, and I think it illustrates a lot of what made him special as a filmmaker. He was attracted to big epic stories, but more than many who created these types of films, he typically brought out the literate quality of his source material, and remained as focused on the smaller details of human drama as he did grand images. His script here preserves the novel's strong narrative spine, and does an impressive job keeping the moral quandaries related to its central situation at a fairly complex level. It's not a bold adaptation, but a very compelling portrait of colonial conflict, and I'd rank it far closer to something more nuanced like The English Patient than much of the epic bloat that was routinely winning Oscars this decade.

Okay, here's my big problem: I have never read Peter Shaffer's play of Amadeus, nor seen a stage production. Obviously, I don't think one has to be familiar with a film's source material to vote in this category -- otherwise, most of us would never be able to make an honest choice. However, I typically find it difficult to vote for even the most impressive adaptations of my favorite plays, simply because I don't feel the evidence of much screenwriting. And so, there's a part of me that wants to choose A Passage to India simply because I KNOW the level of work Lean put into his script. But my understanding is that Shaffer took the central conceit of his play and essentially reworked it entirely for the screen. Even without any familiarity with the source, it's pretty hard to find much in the way of stage trappings in the film -- it feels conceived in far more cinematic a manner than something like A Soldier's Story. And I do think Amadeus is the best film of the bunch -- once you accept that it's pure fantasy, it's a fascinating exploration of personal and professional jealousy in the arts, full of clever, often biting dialogue. So I gave it my vote anyway, with the caveat that if I ever cross paths with the source material, and find that the movie actually didn't do much in the way of adaptation, I'm recanting my choice.

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Re: Best Screenplay 1984

Postby The Original BJ » Sat Jan 03, 2015 9:20 pm

Indeed, the nomination for Beverly Hills Cop does seem unfathomable out of context. I will say this of the movie -- I thought it had some laughs, which is a lot more than I can say for 'Crocodile' Dundee. But of course, there are plenty of movies I have found funny over the years that I would never argue merited awards consideration, and I need my comedies to have a lot more wit, narrative invention, and depth than this one does to endorse a nomination here.

I see that Splash won the National Society Screenplay prize, and I don't much know what to say about that. Like Beverly Hills Cop, it has an extremely high concept-y premise, but that's about the peak of the imagination on display. Along the way, I kept wanting it to be funnier, or to go in any kind of surprising direction plot-wise. There's not even that much conflict, given how quickly Hanks and Hannah fall for each other, and the ending is pretty wan even from an audience-pleasing standpoint. I, too, think Moscow on the Hudson is a far richer comedy than these two that were cited.

It's nice that the writers were able to get an interesting little effort like El Norte on the ballot -- it's a very compelling modern-day American immigrant story, with a sense of detail that feels realistic, and a storyline that builds to a deeply moving conclusion. But as a script, I admit I find it more well-intentioned than polished -- the movie's raw urgency is appealing, but it isn't always the most graceful piece of writing. I don't think its achievement in this area is so striking as to push it into win territory.

I agree with the opinion that the overall plot line of Places in the Heart isn't much, but that it has surprising details along the way that elevate it. Sometimes these come in the form of dialogue (usually in the way Field's character expresses a deep sense of kindness), in other cases it's interesting character beats (like Malkovich skimming the surface of the bath water and realizing he's been talking to Field in the tub). And the ending, especially, wasn't what I expected, and managed to end the storyline on a very humane moment of power. Given the options, I don't think it's a terrible choice, but I still think the overall story is just too thin to be any major writing achievement.

So I picked Broadway Danny Rose, even though I don't think it's one of Woody Allen's greatest achievements or anything. But I chose it for two reasons. First, I think it's the nominee here that best displays the singular voice of a writer -- there are a lot of funny lines, singular characters, and compellingly imagined vignettes, in a way that makes the script feel like far more of a verbal achievement than any of the other nominees. And second, I've passed on Woody Allen many times when he came close to winning because I knew I'd pick him elsewhere. So here, I'm going to turn the tables and essentially grant Woody a freebie, given that there's nothing else indelible on the ballot that must be honored.

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Re: Best Screenplay 1984

Postby Mister Tee » Wed Dec 31, 2014 1:59 am

At last, a few moments present themselves, for me to take on another year from the desultory mid-80s.

There were a number of alternatives I could have offered, on either side, but none about which I was so enthusiastic I view the omission as outrageous. Entre Nous was an interesting study of female friendship; Mrs. Soffel a surprisingly vivid tragic love story; and Moscow on the Hudson perhaps second best among Mazursky’s films (behind Enemies).

Under adaptation, two films united by a common word: a solid transfer-from-theatre --Another Country – about Guy Burgess in his student years, which gave us an early look at Rupert Everett and Colin Firth; and Tavernier’s A Sunday in the Country, which I’d have put in all the major categories.

The Beverly Hills Cop nomination was a stunner even at the time, and, like the Crocodile Dundee citation two years later, it must look incomprehensible out of context. The context is simply that Cop was an unbelievably big hit: the absolute smash of the Christmas season, one of the biggest hits any leading comic actor had had in years without special effects supporting (as in Ghostbusters). Such star vehicles later became drearily commonplace (even unto this day), but at the time it was startling, enough that even the writers’ branch opted to honor the money.

Splash was a better, certainly more critically-praised effort. At the time, for a lot of us, it was John Candy’s coming-out party – we’d loved him on SCTV, and this was his jump to the mainstream. But of course the film also marked the emergence of two guys, Tom Hanks and director Ron Howard, who were soon to make a ton of cash for the studios, and even win Oscars (something that seemed a wild long shot in 1984). Splash isn’t a great nominee, but it’s a whole lot closer to worthy than Beverly Hills Cop.

I never got around to seeing El Norte in 1984, and didn’t yet have a VCR when it hit video (how primitive a time that must seem), so I only got around to renting it a few months back, in preparation for this round. I find it a decent enough work, certainly after something genuine, but it’s not a polished work: I can appreciate its efforts at honesty, but also have to note the rather awkward ways it executes those efforts. (I’m also no doubt handicapped by having seen stronger efforts in the same vein during the intervening years) A respectable nominee, but not in contention for my win.

I think I must have had Broadway Danny Rose penciled in for a nomination, though not fully expecting it to turn up, since it had opened literally in January of the preceding year, and of course Woody had seemed to be out of favor with the Academy with his preceding several films. This, though (along with the startling best director nomination) marked the true beginning of Oscar’s love affair with Woody, one that continues into the present. Broadway Danny Rose was a likable, sweet story with enough genuinely funny sequences to have made it feel like a comeback after the middling Stardust Memories and A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy. It wouldn’t be an awful winner

But I have to by a small margin opt instead for the Academy’s choice, Places in the Heart – this despite not seeing the film as any kind of major work. As I said when discussing the film under film/director, I find the plotline on the edge of ridiculous – bringing in a cotton crop to save the farm seemed a topic out of the silent era. But Robert Benton’s script (as well as direction) is full of graceful small moments that make the material play better than it ought to. In the dreary year that was 1984, that was enough for a win.

I can barely muster the energy to discuss the adapted group, since it mostly replicates the best picture discussion. The only addition was Greystoke, which manages to be just as musty a nominee as most of the others. It was obviously a serious attempt to honor Burroughs, but the idea that, in 1984, anyone needed a new rendition of Tarzan could only have arisen in a Hollywood story conference.

A Soldier’s Story was a decent play, and Fuller’s adaptation provides what value the film has. But Jewison’s failure to make the story cinematic, and his grossly sentimental touches, fatally sabotage the material.

I’m surprised, given the film’s showing in best picture, that Amadeus hasn’t run away with this. AS I said under best picture, I commend Shaffer/Forman for reconceiving the story for screen – it doesn’t feel stage-bound in any way. But I still find the central premise silly and shallow.

A Passage to India has a retro feel about it – it seems considerably more remote a story than the Jhbvala Forsters that came along later. But it’s intelligent and impressive in an old-fashioned way. I can see it’s getting votes.

But I went with my favorite film of the year, The Killing Fields, which had at least a contemporary pulse, even if it faltered occasionally on the narrative level. Because the best scenes displayed way more vitality than anything else on offer here, I give it my easy vote to close out a forgettable year.

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Re: Best Screenplay 1984

Postby ITALIANO » Sun Dec 07, 2014 4:00 pm

Ah, the 80s! A decade where movies like Beverly Hills Cop and Splash could be nominated in Best Original Screenplay! (Today it's cartoons - in 30 years, THIS will sound as absurd, I hope). I have seen Splash, but I dont think I' ve ever seen Beverly Hills Cop (I must have seen a sequel on tv), so of course I won't vote here. Still... I will never know but... have all those who are (predictably) voting for Places in the Heart here seen El Norte? Because honestly - I wouldn't vote if I hadn't. But then, of course, I am not American. I do have seen El Norte though - not a perfect movie maybe, but as far as I remember a perceptive, deeply felt tale of central-american immigrants to the US. The first part especially, set in Guatemala, shows an unusual empathy for those people and their culture. It's a "raw" movie, but made - and written - with passion and sincerity. By comparison, Places in the Heart - which has its good, honest moments (it's after all written by Robert Benton) - seems hopelessy artificial, and, to use a favorite American word, condescending. It's between El Norte and - yes, Allen again - the very good Broadway Danny Rose, but as I said, I won't have to choose.

Generally, the nominees in Adapted are better - even the weakest, that 80s relic, Greystoke, is still (slightly) better-written than, say, Splash. The other four aren't bad. I usually don't vote for adaptations of plays, but Amadeus seems to be a rather "filmic" one, and A Soldier's Story - while certainly more "stagey" - has something interesting, and for those times not predictable, to say about racism, and especially about a subtle variation of it, internalized racism. James Ivory famously hated A Passage to India, but while it's true that it's probably closer to the surface than to the spirit of Forster's novel (and that unnecessary coda worked in the book but much less in the movie), it's a traditionally well-written screenplay, with good roles for its actors (the female characters especially). I picked The Killing Fields though - which combines an interesting, absoring true story with more eternal themes like survival and friendship.

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Best Screenplay 1984

Postby Big Magilla » Sun Dec 07, 2014 9:27 am

1984 was a strong year for adaptations and a weak one for original screenplays, but there were substitutions that could have been made in both categories.

In Original, the winner, Places in the Heart, was clearly the best of nominees as well as the best of the farm women movies that dominated the Best Actress category. The immigration drama, El Norte, was a close second in my estimation. Beyond that it gets very iffy.

I would have preferred Ron Nyswaner's script for Mrs. Soffel, Diane Thomas' WGA nominated Romancing the Stone and Brian De Palma and Robert J. Avrech's script for Body Double over Beverly Hills Cop, Broadway Danny Rose and Splash, all of which left me cold.

In Adapted, I preferred David Lean's treatment of E.M. Forster's A Passage to India to Peter Shaffer's winning adaptation of his own Amadeus, which along with The Killing Fields and A Soldier's Story were strong contenders. I would, however, thrown out Greystoke and replaced it with Bill C. Davis' adaptation of his own Mass Appeal. Other strong contenders included A Sunday in the County, Birdy, Cal and Paris, Texas. Once Upon a Time in America would have been a contender if the U.S. release version hadn't been cut to ribbons. If they wanted to honor a reimagining of a 1930s classic, The Bounty would have been a better choice than the new wave Tarzan movie.
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