Best Screenplay 1980

1927/28 through 1997

What were the best original and adapted screenplays of 1980?

Brubaker(W.D. Richter)
0
No votes
Fame(Christopher Gore)
3
9%
Melvin and Howard(Bo Goldman)
6
17%
Mon Oncle D'Amerique(Jean Gruault)
7
20%
Private Benjamin(Nancy Meyers, Charles Shyer and Harvey Miller)
2
6%
Breaker Morant(Jonathan Hardy, David Stevens and Bruce Beresford)
0
No votes
Coal Miner's Daughter(Tom Rickman)
1
3%
Ordinary People(Alvin Sargent)
7
20%
The Elephant Man(Christopher DeVore, Eric Bergren and David Lynch)
6
17%
The Stunt Man(Lawrence B. Marcus)
3
9%
 
Total votes: 35

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Re: Best Screenplay 1980

Postby Mister Tee » Sat Apr 11, 2015 12:12 am

A particularly hellacious flu has kept me silent around these parts of late. I’ll try to do a quick catch-up.

Kind of a weird adapted slate – there didn’t seem any rational reason why Coal Miner’s Daughter from the best picture slate survived the cut, while the literarily-sourced Tess & the more best picture-central Raging Bull were left out. My most missed would be The Tin Drum, my favorite film of the year, and an unexpectedly strong version of a book that was hardly obvious for film success. I’d also advocate for Wise Blood, which was my first encounter with Flannery O’Connor.

I’m glad to see others as baffled as I by the writers’ obeisance to Breaker Morant. I knew people who swore by it, but, for me, it was just a halfway decent courtroom drama. Australian films had become fully the rage over the years just previous, however (The Last Wave, Picnic at Hanging Rock), so it may have been simply a case of right place/right time.

Coal Miner’s Daughter is far better detailed than most musical biopics of the era – it has a sense of reality that transcends the tropes of the genre – but that can only take the film so far.

I like The Stunt Man more than most here, but I always felt the script was a bit pretentious with its metaphysics, and it was primarily the tone director Rush and his cast struck that made the film work.

I saw Ordinary People as quite a comedown even from the previous year’s Kramer vs. Kramer (whose best picture profile it clearly resembled). The dramaturgy felt dated even then – like something that would have run proudly on Playhouse 90 in 1959, with its let’s-talk-our-way-back-to-mental-health-by-reliving-the-trauma. I also thought Redford and company overemphasized the upper-class WASPiness of the milieu, moving the action to the tony Chicago suburbs (the book was set in Evanston, which isn’t quite as leafy an environment). That said, it’s still one of the better films in this year’s crappy competition, and finishes second for me.

But I’ll vote for The Elephant Man, my favorite English-language film of the year, and a real surprise. The story of John Merrick has proven popular in multiple media, but I think I like it best here, as David Lynch, with his writers, captures both the coldness of the era’s England and the sense of mystery and magic that Merrick offered to those close to him. Not a wildly enthusiastic pick, but a clear one.

A largely weak original slate, and I couldn’t improve it much – though I might throw in Dressed to Kill, for fun. I can’t say I find Return of the Secaucus 7 all that special – much of the dialogue feels contrived and posed, to me.

I pretty much couldn’t stand Private Benjamin – because it was a return to “the military’ll make a solid citizen out of you”, a retro view post-Vietnam, and because it just wasn’t very funny.

Fame had a pretty decent reputation among critics, and became a medium-sized hit, but I didn’t think much of it beyond the score. It seemed a fairly diffuse narrative, and I was quite surprised the writers went for it.

Brubaker was something of a sleeper – or as much a sleeper as Redford was capable of generating at that golden period in his career. I’d honestly not even heard of the film till it opened, and the critics’ general praise seemed to arise from that same sense of surprise. The film also did well (opened at no. 1), and, given the year’s general moribund quality, that was enough to get it onto this list. With, of course, no chance of a win, from either the Academy or from me (though it’s a respectable enough movie, if you run into it some night).

Melvin and Howard was the easy critics’ fave in the category -- so much so they were even able to prompt the Academy into choosing it, despite the film’s embarrassing box-office performance. As I’ve said here before, I found it easier to understand that commercial failure than I did the critical hosannahs. At the prompting of Sonic some time back, and, in preparation for this vote, I did take another look at the film. And, while I’d rate one element of the film higher than I did previously – I can now see the Steenburgen win – the film remains for me a concept for a film I might have liked, but only if it had been far better executed. I find the movie very ragtag, B-movie-ish, with bland performances and vague scenes that feel hastily written. (I’d had the same issue with Handle with Care, Demme’s earlier film the critics had equally enthused over) I’ll just never get what people see in this.

So I stick with my original choice, Mon Oncle D’Amerique. For fairness, I also watched this film again, recently, and enjoyed it just as much as I had back in 1980. It’s a fully engrossing, witty comedy of manners, given added flavor by the odd but pleasing decision to frame it as a demonstration of Prof. Henri Laborit’s behavioral science theories. This struck me as the most demonstrably WRITTEN script of the year, and it gets my easy vote.

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Re: Best Screenplay 1980

Postby The Original BJ » Wed Apr 08, 2015 12:05 am

For trivia's sake, it's worth noting that the Original Screenplay race is the last time either of the writing categories has been comprised entirely of films NOT nominated for Best Picture. Perhaps it makes sense, then, that this field features a very wide range of different types of films, given that voters were forced to look well outside the main race for candidates.

I will echo the endorsement for Dressed to Kill among excluded candidates -- this was Brian De Palma's strongest period as a filmmaker, and it's a shame he never got a major citation anywhere.

I think Private Benjamin is the clear worst of the nominees -- it strikes me now as the kind of popular comedy that sometimes gets cited by the WGA, but usually misses out to more serious fare come Oscar time. But without that many options in 1980, it placed. I find it to be pretty broad stuff -- a pretty standard fish-out-of-water comedy without much invention -- and at the most base level, I just don't think it's all that funny.

Brubaker has some nice details along the way -- the movie does feel like a fairly authentic portrait of Southern prison life throughout. But I don't think the main plot line is all that engaging. Most of the narrative is standard governmental corruption movie stuff, and I don't think the majority of characters register as anything other than types. I don't think the movie is offensive or anything, but I rate it fairly mid-level stuff.

I wish I could say I saw the greatness in Melvin and Howard that so many do. There are elements of the writing I definitely admire -- the real-life premise is a terrific jumping off point, the opening scene with Jason Robards is a wonderfully written short film, and along the way the script depicts a rich slice of working-class Americana with humor and humanity. But I don't feel like the movie ever amounts to anything major at any point -- it's a compelling enough anecdote, but for me, not much more than that. Although I liked nuances along the way, I didn't feel like I had been taken enough of anywhere by movie's end. Given the options, I don't rate this an objectionable winner, but I just don't have enough enthusiasm for it to endorse it.

A confession: I really like Fame. I know I'm not supposed to rate it serious moviemaking, but I think it does a ton of things that are really interesting that elevate it beyond a pop confection. For starters, the entire structure is fairly bold for this kind of entertainment -- i.e. not everything in the movie contributes to narrative -- as it focuses on random moments that build almost like a symphony to create a kaleidoscopic portrait of this performing arts school through the years. And while the movie definitely has its fair share of moments that joyously celebrate the act of performing, I think it has a pretty honest point of view about the realities of a career in entertainment, from the story about the older student who comes back after a few years in LA to work at the diner, or the startling scene of Irene Cara with the movie director. There's a roughness to the movie, but I have to admit I find it very affecting. Still, when I think about the things I remember most from Fame, it's those songs, and the exuberant choreography of kids dancing in the streets, not necessarily the dialogue or plot.

Mon Oncle d'Amérique, though, feels like a writer's movie through and through. During the opening sequence that rapidly introduces the three major characters, I was abuzz with pleasure from the witty and insightful details in the voiceover. And once the main narrative kicks into gear, the script explores the human relationships between its protagonists with laughs, poignancy, and intelligence. I could see the criticism that certain portions of the movie feel didactic -- the narrative's parallels to real-life scientific studies aren't exactly subtle -- and yet, how often do we see films that attempt to use devices like this? And use them in such clever, thoughtful ways? For me, this was the script on the ballot that most exemplified the term "original," and I salute it with my vote in this category for taking such an unusual concept for a movie and using it to create something both smart and entertaining.

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Re: Best Screenplay 1980

Postby Kellens101 » Tue Apr 07, 2015 6:28 pm

My votes went to Melvin and Howard, a hilarious and sad underrated gem, but I really liked Mon Oncle D'Amerique. My Adapted vote went to The Elephant Man, a haunting, frightening and heartbreakingly poignant film that is such a different movie compared to Lynch's other more bizarre filmography. I really wish The Shining, Raging Bull and The Tin Drum were nominated as well, three of the other best films of the year.

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Re: Best Screenplay 1980

Postby ITALIANO » Mon Apr 06, 2015 6:50 am

I would love to do like others do - vote for a script even if I haven't seen all the nominees. But I can't. So - even though I do have actually seen all the nominees in this case - I can't vote for Original: I don't remember much about Brubaker, which I only saw once many years ago on tv. I only remember that I liked it, so while I doubt that I would choose it over Mon Oncle d'Amerique, I have to abstain. Which is a pity, of course - Mon Once d'Amerique is a superb, complex, intelligent, multi-layered screenplay, of the kind we very rarely get today even in Europe. It's probably not the best of the late period of Resnais - he had after all just done Providence, and he would soon do La vie est un roman and other brilliant efforts. But it's still Resnais - unmistakably so. I especially liked how such an obvious display of intelligence and philosophy could also be, if not exactly "warm", still strangely affecting. It's not like the other nominees don't have their good aspects - though in Private Benjamin it's just a showy comic role for an actress - but they can't be compared, really. Anyway, there are three other chances where I can vote for a Resnais movie (though, as far as I remember, the competition will be much stronger).

It's less easy in Adapted. Breaker Morant is well intentioned and far from stupid or uninteresting, but a bit on the inert side, and Coal Miner's Daughter is a pleasant but bland music biopic. The other three are good though. The Elephant Man has some very interesting things, but also moments where its admiration for the title character becomes a bit too obvious, too unnecessarily flaunted (for example in all the scenes with Anne Bancroft). I'd say that it's between The Stunt Man - which is very intriguing, and very "original" (I didn't even remember that it's based on a novel) - and Ordinary People. Now, I know that maybe seen today Alvin Sargent's script could seem very traditional, yet I think that ESPECIALLY today its quiet, unsensationalistic study of the pain of growing up and famiy dynamics should be appreciated. I don't feel guilty admitting that I have voted for it.

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Re: Best Screenplay 1980

Postby Kellens101 » Fri Apr 03, 2015 2:09 pm

BJ, what happened to Adapted 1981?

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Re: Best Screenplay 1980

Postby The Original BJ » Fri Apr 03, 2015 1:55 pm

I can't say I'm that thrilled by the list voters came up with in Adapted Screenplay. It's not that it's embarrassing or anything, more that many of my favorites were left on the sidelines. Of course, despite my affection for it, I get why something like The Shining wasn't going to be considered. It's a lot more irksome that Raging Bull missed, given how well it did overall. And was The Tin Drum eligible? Given the subject matter, and the fact that the writers have often thrown in subtitled efforts, it certainly seemed like it would have had a shot.

I know there are some who think highly of Breaker Morant, and it's not something I aggressively dislike or anything -- I think it's tastefully done, with moments of obvious power. But I can't say it really excites me either. For starters, I found a lot of it exceedingly talky, no surprise given its stage origins, but I didn't feel like the flashbacks inserted to open things up were really justified in terms of adding much content. And this seems like a weird complaint for a script that jumps around in time, but I found the whole thing extremely linear -- even without much familiarity with this historical event, pretty much what I thought was going to happen was what did happen. The movie puts most of its ideas in the first twenty minutes, and I didn't think it really deepened them in any way as it went on.

Coal Miner's Daughter is one of the better musical biographies, and even though Spacek is the standout element, it's worth acknowledging some things the screenplay does well: the portrait of the central marriage is quite authentically realized, the depiction of Loretta Lynne's rural upbringing is treated with lived-in authenticity that never condescends, and the writing admirably avoids the histrionics of many films of this type. But, at its core, the film's structure is still pretty traditional -- i.e. it still features many typical elements of a kind of film I rarely find that inventive -- and at the end of the day, the screenplay is not where I'd look to give this film prizes.

The Stunt Man is a pretty fun movie, with a lively central character (and by "central," of course I mean Peter O'Toole's), some very clever dialogue, and a plot that feels inventive in a neat magic trick sort of way. However, I thought the movie started to run out of steam as it went on -- as in Suspicion, there's only so many times I can watch some variation of he's-trying-to-kill-me, just-kidding-no-he's-not before I want a movie to start exploring other territory, and I didn't feel The Stunt Man had all that much more on its mind than that. I'm happy to praise the screenplay for being a morbidly comic gem -- there's nothing wrong with that -- but I just don't think the writing is deep or insightful enough to merit this prize.

Ordinary People is a small movie -- it seems too tiny a thing for me to rate it movie of the year -- but its writing is one of its stronger elements, and I can't say I begrudge it this prize. The characters played by Hutton, Sutherland, Moore, and Hirsch are all quite well-drawn and emotionally complicated, and there are a lot of very powerfully written scenes between them. This isn't to say that even the screenplay is a major work -- it deals with subject matter other films have covered perfectly well, and there's not any especially great inventiveness to the writing -- but I found it admirably executed throughout and fairly rich in specific detail.

When one thinks of David Lynch's singular dream-like funhouses, The Elephant Man probably isn't the first movie that comes to mind. Of course, part of that is because it's based on previous work (and, well, fact) as opposed to being one of his wildly original creations. And yet, I loved what Lynch (and his co-writers) did with the material, taking the elements of biography and infusing them with a very Lynchian sense of macabre. The film is alternately horrifying and poignant, larger-than-life but also very recognizably human (sometimes even in the same scene, as in the moment when the cabal of freaks let John Merrick loose). The Elephant Man is one of the best examples of a play being entirely reconceived for the screen, so that it feels like a totally fresh and singular new achievement. It gets my vote as Best Adapted Screenplay.

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Re: Best Screenplay 1980

Postby Big Magilla » Thu Apr 02, 2015 1:35 am

Thankfully we have the "change your vote" option as I just realized I cast my vote intended for Ordinary People for Coal Miner's Daughter instead so for the moment anyway, Precious Doll's vote is the only one for Coal Miner's Daughter and Ordinary People is tied with The Elephant Man for the lead in Adapted at a mere 3 votes each.

Some will disagree, but in addition to allowing for the correction of errors this option can also be used by anyone who wants to vote without having seen all the nominees or hasn't seen some of them in a long time, then catches up with them and decides he or she now prefers another selection than the one they originally cast their vote for.

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Re: Best Screenplay 1980

Postby Precious Doll » Thu Apr 02, 2015 12:52 am

Good to have a year where I am stuck between two very deserving choices in both categories.

I have opted for Melvin and Howard over Mon Oncle d'Amerique in original and Coal Miner's Daughter over The Elephant Man in adapted.

Aside from the already mentioned Raging Bull and Resurrection omissions was Brian De Palma's screenplay original screenplay for Dressed to Kill.
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Re: Best Screenplay 1980

Postby Big Magilla » Wed Apr 01, 2015 7:46 pm

I love both winners in this category this year.

Original

Bo Goldman's witty script for Melvin and Howard is beautifully written and performed by Paul Le Mat, Mary Steenburgen, Jason Robards and the rest of the cast.

I very much like Christopher Gore's script for Fame although the film's real asset is his brother Michael's score and the enthusiasm that the actors, both young and old, bring to their admittedly clichéd roles.

I enjoyed the ironic wit and banter of Mon Oncle d'Amerique when I saw it many years ago, but don't remember much about it. Nevertheless, it's a worthy nominee.

The other two are OK but nothing special. Private Benjamin has some funny moments but it's little more than a standard service comedy. Brubaker is a standard prison warden drama. Those slots should have gone to John Sayles' The Return of the Secacus 7 which pre-dates The Big Chill by three years and is in many ways better and Lewis John carlino's Resurrection which tells an unusual story and gives Ellen Burstyn and company the breathing room to perform it.

Adapted

Ordinary People was one of two sizzling dysfunctional family dramas the year produced and the deserved winner over the almost-as-good The Great Santini which was robbed of a nomination. The haunting film version of The Elephant Man is the best of the year's three major biographical screenplays, besting Coal Miner's Daughter and the surprisingly overlooked Raging Bull, but all three should have been nominated.

Jonathan Hardy's screenplay for Breaker Morant was fine, but suffers in comparison to Kubrick's once criminally overlooked Paths of Glory. The best thing about The Stunt Man was Peter O'Toole's portrayal of the egomaniacal director based on David Lean, not the somewhat confusing screenplay.

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Re: Best Screenplay 1980

Postby CalWilliam » Wed Apr 01, 2015 4:31 pm

I think it's quite easy to choose here, in both categories, at least for me.

In Original, I'd like to begin saying I didn't see Private Benjamin, and I ASSUME I don't need to see it in order to vote. Actually I don't care because I've already made a decision. Then there's that movie called Fame, a bad film that lands into superficiality throughout 130 minutes! There's no character you may qualify as interesting or real, or honest. Silly, silly movie.
The best thing about Melvin & Howard is what disappears after ten minutes, you all know what I am talking about. Another empty movie for me.
Leastwise Brubaker is competently made, and it bothers in creating characters with some insight, specially Redford's, and structurally achieves in keeping our attention, and provides us something more to reflect on. Not a major work of art, sure, but it's enough for being a runner-up.
Of course Mon Oncle d'Amérique is in another league in this category. You may like it better or worse, but it HAS something relevant to say, and in a very unusual way. I don't quite know how much we should credit to Alain Resnais instead of Jean Gruault as for deciding to tell a story through Henri Laborit's theories with him even appearing in the movie, but it's a great development, and the whole counterpoint between Laborit and the three main characters is perfectly balanced. It's a screenplay and a film that resonates, and it gets my vote.

On the Adapted slate, first to go is Coal Miner's Daughter. My problem with it is the character drawing. After two LONG hours of almost nothing, we don't get to know Loretta Lynn at all, and the treatment of Doolitle's decisions and attitudes towards her is schematic and phony in some way, and it doesn't have anything to do with Tommy Lee Jones' performance. And the portrait of their marriage is not particularly interesting either.
Next it's The Stunt Man, which has some fun, but in the end it's nothing to take that serious anyway. While Peter O'Toole's character is a good creation, the other leading guy is just bland, and again, it's not because of the performance (a mediocre one, by the way).
The Elephant Man has some problems too. The main one: it's far from being subtle. The obvious piteousness that the subject carries along should be treated more profoundly without being that manipulative (Anne Bancroft's character, John Gielgud's obvious lines, or John Merrick's perfect kindness). It's just not believable.
Breaker Morant is cleverly constructed, has good characters, keeps the audience attention and it's not handling. Jack Thompson's final speech is very good too.
But Ordinary People is clearly the best here, a movie I'm truly fond of, which deals with big issues with SUBTLETY, full understanding of its characters, and a pocket of wonderfully written scenes. The acting is great too. I salute Alvin Sargent for a truly beautiful, moving screenplay, and Redford for its sensitivity. It gets my vote.
Last edited by CalWilliam on Thu Apr 02, 2015 5:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Best Screenplay 1980

Postby Kellens101 » Wed Apr 01, 2015 2:41 pm

What were the best screenplays of 1980?


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