Best Screenplay 1970

1927/28 through 1997

What were the best original and adapted screenplays of 1970?

Five Easy Pieces (Bob Rafelson)
9
25%
Joe (Norman Wexler)
0
No votes
Love Story (Erich Segal)
1
3%
My Night at Maud's (Eric Rohmer)
8
22%
Patton (Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund H. North)
0
No votes
Airport (George Seaton)
1
3%
I Never Sang for My Father (Robert Woodruff Anderson)
1
3%
Lovers and Other Strangers (Joseph Bologna and David Zelag Goodman)
2
6%
M*A*S*H (Ring Lardner Jr.)
6
17%
Women in Love (Larry Kramer)
8
22%
 
Total votes: 36

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Re: Best Screenplay 1970

Postby The Original BJ » Fri Jul 03, 2015 1:05 am

Beyond the top two, I don’t find the Adapted Screenplay roster this year very special. Certainly Little Big Man, of what little else I've seen, would have been more deserving than most of what was cited.

Airplane! had been a staple of my childhood, so by the time I got around to seeing Airport as a grown-up, I basically had a reaction on par with My Cousin Vinny’s “You were SERIOUS about that?” It’s an outrageously stupid movie, not even much fun as popcorn entertainment, and by the time it gets to Maureen Stapleton’s “He was SICK!” the writing just goes into ludicrous land. A truly dreadful screenplay nominee.

I Never Sang for My Father of course falls into “filmed play” territory, which makes it tough to consider. But even beyond that, I found it an incredibly generic piece of work. I’ve seen countless stories of grown children struggling to connect with their aging parents, and there was nothing about this one by virtue of detail or narrative invention that set it apart in any way. When the story ended, all I could think was that the narrative hadn’t gone very far by the last scene from where it had started in the first. Overall, way too half-hearted a script for me to choose.

I don’t think time has been kind to Lovers and Other Strangers. When it started, I had hopes I’d be in for a Woody Allen-esque ensemble comedy about relationships in seventies-era New York. But I thought it lacked quite a bit of the zing that makes so many of Allen’s movies feel fresh even today. I agree that the Bea Arthur/Richard Castellano scenes were the highlight -- both the funniest and most insightful portions of the movie. But too many of the other storylines just sat there for me, with a lot of the early women’s lib humor feeling so creaky forty-five years later. And this was another movie that felt like it just sort of stopped, without really bothering to find an ending. Who knows if I’d have liked the movie more in its time, but I highly doubt I’d have ever voted for it given the alternate options.

The remaining two nominees are the clear highlights of the field, and I see that I broke a tie casting my vote. I certainly understand all the votes for Women in Love -- it's that rare classic literature/period piece adaptation that feels like an urgent and modern work rather than something stuffy and old-fashioned. I agree that a lot of this is due to the edgy sensibility of Ken Russell (and the images of his cinematographer), but Larry Kramer nonetheless provides a very intelligent and literate screenplay for them to work from, and some of the movie's most striking moments (the nude wrestling match, the discovery of the dead lovers), are pretty perfectly scripted in terms of tone/dialogue. And truly, much of the film's exploration of the relationships between men and women felt realized with far more contemporary insight than anything in Lovers and Other Strangers.

But I went with M*A*S*H, which balances the humorous and the horrific with razor-sharp clarity, in a manner that's absurdly funny while somehow remaining grounded in the very serious world it depicts. There's so much wonderful dialogue throughout -- "I wish they wouldn't land those things here while we're playing golf," "You mind if we get out of this guy's brain first?" and one of my favorite laughs, "This isn't a hospital, it's an insane asylum! And it's YOUR fault!" The plot certainly has the free-wheeling, invented-on-the-spot vibe of much of Altman's work. But its scenes and episodes coalesce to form a daring, subversive portrait of the U.S. military, all while keeping a sense of humor that's almost vaudevillian in spirit. For me, this is both the best film on the ballot and the one most significantly shaped by a writer's sensibility -- I vote to keep the Oscar with M*A*S*H.

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Re: Best Screenplay 1970

Postby The Original BJ » Sat Jun 27, 2015 10:20 pm

I haven't seen a ton of movies from this year beyond the big candidates. I see that Au Hasard Balthazar had its US release this year, so that certainly could be an Original Screenplay alt, but even that's more of a directorial achievement than a screenwriting one (not that it would ever have come within a mile of Oscar in either category.)

None of the nominees jump out at me as the obvious winner, though one certainly sticks out as the clear loser. Obviously, that's Love Story, a romance as banal as its title, filled with painfully trite dialogue (anyone who thinks love means never having to say you're sorry has never had a relationship with another human before), and plot elements so melodramatic they could have been lifted from a silent era two-reeler. I just about groaned through the whole thing, and would be happy to strike nearly all of its Oscar nominations from the books. (Side note: Love Story's script has an interesting parallel to Whiplash's, in that the screenplay inspired another creative work BEFORE the release of the feature, only in this case, Love Story was still deemed an Original.)

There's definitely a crudeness to Joe in terms of writing craft -- some of the dialogue is certainly blunt, and structurally it's shaggy in terms of letting the audience know whose story this really is. (At the beginning, it seems like we're following Sarandon and her boyfriend, but then it shifts gears to her parents, and then, as late as half an hour into the film, the titular character arrives and nearly takes over, until it's revealed near the end to be the dad's story all along.) But, to respond directly to Mister Tee's question, I think the movie has one grabber of an idea that gives it a lot of urgency even after all of these decades: I don't know that I've ever seen a movie before that so perfectly reflected the simultaneously symbiotic and destructive relationship between wealthy establishment conservatives and what today we'd refer to as blue collar tea partiers. They both detest liberals, so much so that Sarandon's father comes to need Joe to survive, only to be eventually undone by him in the end. Although the counterculture of the milieu is certainly a product of its time, I thought the politics were still extremely relevant to contemporary culture, and in fact, watching the film after last week's events gave frightening resonance to the sight of a gun-worshiping vigilante trying to "take back" his country. And I agree with flipp -- the last few seconds of the movie were really startling. I'm not voting for this script, but I think there's a lot here that's compelling.

Patton is definitely a middle-of-the-road choice -- here and in Best Picture/Director -- because, as others have said, it's a fairly impersonal biography, without much in the way of filmmaking innovation. But I agree that the writers (presumably due to Coppola's influence) manage to give their script a bit more complexity than other films of this type. The terrific opening speech of course doesn't count as screenwriting, but I felt the writers lent much of the later dialogue they did invent the same kind of maniacal ferocity, and as a result, the title character emerges as a striking and complex creation throughout. None of the writing is inventive enough to get my vote, but unlike something like Gandhi, it at least feels like the movie was in fact guided by a writer's hand.

There are a lot of elements of Five Easy Pieces I like. The characters portrayed by Nicholson, Black, and Smith are refreshingly complicated, doing their best to muddle through lives that are, at heart, disappointments. There are plenty of well-written scenes, from the infamous "Hold the chicken" diner scene, to Nicholson trying to talk with his father, to numerous compelling moments between Nicholson and the main women in the film. And the ending, ambiguous yet also making perfect sense for Nicholson's character, really lands with some emotional impact. But...I just don't think the screenplay ever really kicks into high gear for me. Even though individual moments are memorable, they're strung together in such a listless fashion, I just kept wishing the writers had come up with a more engaging story on which to hang these beats. I admire many things about the film, but just not enough happens in it for it to really be my kind of movie.

I guess one could make the argument that not really that much happens in My Night at Maud's either. But in this case, I feel like the quality of the dialogue is so high that it stands out a bit more as a writing achievement. I agree with what Mister Tee wrote -- the film's characters discuss a lot of intellectual subjects (religion, sex, fate vs. choice), but their opinions on these topics reveal a lot of personal details about their own lives in the process. I'm not necessarily one who thinks dialogue is ALWAYS the most significant aspect of screenwriting, but it's hard to watch a film like this and not admire just how exquisitely written the language is, how the characters talk in such smart and funny and rueful ways. And I like what Italiano says about the ending -- nothing momentous happens, but you still feel a significant emotional catharsis anyway because of all that has come before. (Similarly, the reveal at the end is based on a surprise coincidence, but feels completely organic because it's been right in front of us the entire time.) Eric Rohmer, for his sole nomination in this category, gets my vote as career tribute for a very specific kind of screenwriting he came to be known for throughout his long career.

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Re: Best Screenplay 1970

Postby ITALIANO » Tue Jun 16, 2015 1:11 pm

The winner in Original, Patton, is an acceptable piece of screenwriting - its approach to the title character may be ambiguous, but that makes it also a bit more complex than one could expect from what is, let's face it, just a "big" Hollywood production. It would get my bronze medal in this race. Silver would go to Five Easy Pieces - "structure" didn't matter much in the 70s, and this is a pleasantly loose script, typical of its time, with some individual VERY good scenes and a memorable main character. It's not a convenionally "solid" screenplay, but it has so many good things that it really doesn't matter too much. I could easily vote for it - except that My Night at Maud's is here, and My Night at Maud's is one of my favorite screenplays ever. It has such an unusual grace, and is SO intelligent - yet not ostentatiously so. Everything is just so... natural. Even the way the characters talk about such profound subjects as philosophy and Blaise Pascal - it's as if those words really belong to them, rather than sounding like actors playing intellectuals as it often happens. It's an elusive movie - nothing much seems to actually happen, yet the subtext is so strong that, when two characters meet again after a few years in the last scene, it's an emotionally charged moment. A beautiful script, definitely.

I will be honest - I haven't abstained from voting in Adapted only because I do it already (and often) when I haven't seen even just one nominee, even when I perfectly know that I wouldn't vote for it even if I had seen it - and this time I have seen all five (some, like Women in Love, I have seen again quite recently). But I have no favorite in this race, really. With the exception of Airport, none is bad of course - but they are all more or less flawed. In the end I have voted for MASH, but only because I haven't seen it in decades, so it's possible that time makes it seem a bit less flawed than the others.

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Re: Best Screenplay 1970

Postby Kellens101 » Tue Jun 16, 2015 7:26 am

Thanks Big Magilla. I changed it. :)

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Re: Best Screenplay 1970

Postby Big Magilla » Tue Jun 16, 2015 12:45 am

Kellens101 wrote:Adapted would go to Mash, a brilliantly hilarious black comedy satire full of razor sharp wit and observations. .


Cool, but it's MASH or M*A*S*H, the letters standing for Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, not "Mash" as in mashed potatoes! :)

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Re: Best Screenplay 1970

Postby Kellens101 » Mon Jun 15, 2015 9:24 pm

1970 was such a weak year, that crap like Airport and Love Story could get nominated for more Oscars than Women in Love and MASH. Two of the worst Screenplay nominees ever. One is a clichéd, corny popcorn disaster flick with a soapy plot line, cheap "suspense", clunky dialogue and ridiculously one-dimensional characters. The other was also a clichéd, corny soap-feat love story with even worse dialogue. My votes would go to Five Easy Pieces, a small character drama with incredible characterizations, a low key story but a powerful one, and wonderful insightful dialogue on class and the rebellion of the '60s and '70s. Adapted would go to MASH, a brilliantly hilarious black comedy satire full of razor sharp wit and observations. Though, my close runner-ups would be the wonderful My Night at Maud's and the haunting modern adaptation of Women in Love.
Last edited by Kellens101 on Tue Jun 16, 2015 7:26 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Best Screenplay 1970

Postby Mister Tee » Mon Jun 15, 2015 7:36 pm

flipp525 wrote:[Feature film debut of Susan Sarandon, I think?

Yes -- and no one would have guessed her longevity.

Thanks for the response. We're in a period now where some of the non-top category films have drifted to at least semi-obscurity, and I'm very interested in hearing how people react to things in the distance of time.

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Re: Best Screenplay 1970

Postby flipp525 » Mon Jun 15, 2015 1:03 pm

Mister Tee wrote:Joe is another movie I wish more people would comment on even while not voting for it. Because, if ever a movie felt a product of its time, it’s Joe. Easy Rider a year earlier had shown us Southern rednecks hating long-haired hippies, but Joe tipped us to the soon-universally-known fact there were plenty such rednecks up north, as well. (The film in fact opened only a few weeks after the infamous hard-hat rally on Wall Street, where construction workers beat young crowds protesting Cambodia and Kent State, and preceded by a few months Nixon’s “silent majority” speech.) The Joe character, fiercely embodied by Peter Boyle, was the first such characterization we’d seen in mass media (Archie Bunker was still six months away). I have no idea how the film sounds today, but, at the time, Norman Wexler’s crude dialogue (especially in Joe’s introductory monologue) had a kick. The story got a bit predictable – you can sense Joe’s going to end up doing a bunch of the things he’s complained about the kids doing – and the ending is classic 60s/70s doomy nihilism. I’m not voting for the film. But I have to admit I sort of went with it at the time, and I’m curious if it just comes off as terrible today.

It actually doesn't. I watched Joe maybe two years ago and the entire thing had quite a punch to it. Peter Boyle's character's dialogue seemed to ring true to the time period, but the rage at its core felt timeless. And I didn't see that ending coming at all and was quite shocked by it. Feature film debut of Susan Sarandon, I think?
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Re: Best Screenplay 1970

Postby Mister Tee » Sun Jun 14, 2015 11:05 pm

The original slate, rare for the era, boasted three best picture nominees (compared to zero in 1966, ’68, ’71 and ’72). The remaining nominees fell to the offbeat side, as would my suggested alternates – Putney Swope or Where’s Poppa?

We can start right away eliminating Love Story – which actually seemed a threat to win, going into the evening. Segal’s’ “novel” – which read like a screenplay with screen directions turned into brief prose passages – got a ton of attention as counter-programming to the openly sexual/violent work that dominated publishing and film in that barriers-collapsing era (for contrast, two books that had preceded Love Story as long-time number one best-sellers were Portnoy’s Complaint and The Godfather). And, while Segal’s plot would have seemed quaint in silent days, he cannily made his characters mildly rebellious and (by standards of the time) casually foul-mouthed, so young readers could feel hip even while downing the schmaltz. The movie was ridiculed by many in its day, and is close to unwatchable now.

As I’ve said many many times, Five Easy Pieces makes my all-time “I don’t get it” list. All kinds of friends (mostly guys) adore the movie, but I found it (except for the famous “Hold the chicken” scene) relentlessly unengaging, with precious little insight. To me it’s a movie that struts its alienation without having anything particularly profound to say about it. Feel free to disagree; you’ll join a large group.

Joe is another movie I wish more people would comment on even while not voting for it. Because, if ever a movie felt a product of its time, it’s Joe. Easy Rider a year earlier had shown us Southern rednecks hating long-haired hippies, but Joe tipped us to the soon-universally-known fact there were plenty such rednecks up north, as well. (The film in fact opened only a few weeks after the infamous hard-hat rally on Wall Street, where construction workers beat young crowds protesting Cambodia and Kent State, and preceded by a few months Nixon’s “silent majority” speech.) The Joe character, fiercely embodied by Peter Boyle, was the first such characterization we’d seen in mass media (Archie Bunker was still six months away). I have no idea how the film sounds today, but, at the time, Norman Wexler’s crude dialogue (especially in Joe’s introductory monologue) had a kick. The story got a bit predictable – you can sense Joe’s going to end up doing a bunch of the things he’s complained about the kids doing – and the ending is classic 60s/70s doomy nihilism. I’m not voting for the film. But I have to admit I sort of went with it at the time, and I’m curious if it just comes off as terrible today.

I watched Patton for only the second time a few months back, and was surprised at how thoroughly decent it was. It’s not a kind of movie I ever particularly need to see, and there’s a general stodginess about the filmmaking – nothing in it could be described as directorial flourish. But, if such things are going to be mounted (and, in that era, they definitely were), I’d prefer they be done as leanly, crisply and intelligently as they are here. Seeing the Coppola name on the credits, one can’t help but assume he played some significant part in the achievement – maybe supplying the gusto to the main character (not unlike what he later brought to Col. Kilgore in Apocalypse Now), and simply providing a governing intelligence that raises the film above the wartime biopic genre. I always felt, given the field, Patton was a perfectly acceptable choice for best picture that year, and its screenplay win is likewise defensible.

It’s not, however, my choice; I go with My Night at Maud’s. The complaint about Rohmer, among his non-fans, was always that his characters did nothing but talk. And the answer to that was, if the talk is this fascinating (as it is both here and in Claire’s Knee), many of us are delighted to give it our time. It’s been a while since I saw the film, so specific memories of it are a bit hazy. But I recall meeting characters who bandy about intellectual concepts and in the process reveal much about themselves. As a piece of writing, this is the clear standout of the group.

The writers nominated Airport for best adapted screenplay. Just let that marinate a moment. This branch that so often makes wonderful choices – including in this year – decided this piece of rank cheese deserved a spot among the five best of the year. You can’t chalk it up to, Well, a best picture nominee, it had to get writing or directing – Hello, Dolly! the year prior and Nicholas & Alexandra the year after managed without. And you can’t say the writers had no other options. I understand Catch 22, a favorite of mine, was too divisive to score. But Little Big Man was a well-regarded, financially lucrative effort – only its lack of a major distributor could account for its omission. There was also The Virgin and the Gypsy: while I don’t agree with Magilla that it surpasses Women in Love, I do think it’s a solid, lyrical adaptation of Lawrence, and more deserving than much of the adapted field, Airport without question. And Bunuel’s Tristana was one of his best – though I guess it was a bit early for even the writers’ branch to go to bat for the iconoclastic Spaniard. Airport instead? This ranks with Voyage of the Damned as Worst. Writing Nod. Ever.

I Never Sang for My Father is a pretty wan little play, and, directed lifelessly by Gil Cates, it passes by without making much impression. The actors are solid, and there are moments – like the father giving driving directions on every single visit -- that evoke one’s own family memories. But the script just doesn’t add up to much.

Lovers and Other Strangers was a movie I (and most people I knew) enjoyed quite a bit in 1970, but it looks less appealing/funny watched 40 years on. The Richard Castellano/Bea Arthur scenes were always thought of as the film’s highlight, and they still work pretty well. But a lot of the rest – like most of Gig Young’s stuff -- made me laugh back then but seems bland now. Of course, there’s always the factor with comedies, that, once you’ve seen them, the surprise is gone – only truly exceptional ones can make me laugh over and over. So I just don’t know how to rate this film any more. It’s not like I’d be voting for it in any case, but I’d be interested in the reactions of younger folk with recent exposure, to hear if they find it funny at all.

MASH is probably the best of these films, a funny and melancholy take on Vietnam by way of Korea. It’s certainly the most contemporary work on the ballot, and a major achievement. But, as always with Altman films, there’s a question of how much credit to give the screenwriter -- a question underlined by Ring Lardner Jr.’s own comments in his autobiography. While Lardner (somewhat defensively) says the skeleton of every scene is true to his blueprint, even he allows there was a fair amount of improvisation. He also credits Altman with the idea of the PA announcements and the explicit operating room scenes, and even some key dialogue – notably, “He was drafted”: the biggest laugh in the film, and the most trenchant for those of us who at the time viewed the draft a quite scary boogie man.

All these reasons make me hesitant to vote MASH in this category, particularly since I also have a great deal of regard for Women in Love. Lawrence’s novel was hardly easy material to adapt, but Larry Kramer’s version captured the essence of its action and philosophy even while streamlining it. Much of what’s memorable about the film is, of course, visual, but, as we’re often reminded, screenwriting is more than just dialogue, and Kramer had to select those visual moments (Glenda Jackson toying with the cattle, the drowned lovers in the mud). And there’s plenty of memorable dialogue along the way, as well – 45 years on, I can still recall Alan Bates describing how to eat a fig. There haven’t been that many quality literary works transferred to the screen in a way that honor their sources. Women in Love is unquestionably one, and in this not-so-hot year, that’s plenty to earn it my vote for adapted screenplay.

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Re: Best Screenplay 1970

Postby Precious Doll » Sun Jun 14, 2015 7:28 am

Adapted

Women in Love is easily my favourite here.

Original

A very difficult choice between Five Easy Pieces & My Night at Mauds. The overall quality of both screenplays is exceptional and Five Easy Pieces features one of the era's most iconic scenes: Jack Nicholson placing the order at the diner. However, I voted for My Night at Mauds. Eric Rohmer is one of my all-time favourites and aside from this being his only nomination it's one of he many great screenplays he is one of the very few directors with a career spanning over five decades who has never made a bad film - there are not many film makers one can say that about.
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Re: Best Screenplay 1970

Postby Big Magilla » Sun Jun 14, 2015 12:42 am

Original

The best written American screenplay of 1970, original or adapted, was easily Five Easy Pieces even if Oscar preferred the only other worthy Hollywood entry, Patton. Rohmer's My Night at Maud's was the best written non-English screenplay, although Bresson's non-nominated Au Hasard Balthasar and Bergman's equally ignored The Passion of Anna would have been worthy nominees as well. Nothing else from Hollywood this year merited nominations, certainly not the sappy Love Story or the ponderous Joe. My vote goes to Five Easy Pieces.

Adapted

Here Hollywood fared much better this year with the Oscar-winning M*A*S*H a worthy choice,, but I am equally fond of both Lovers and Other Strangers and I Never Sang for My Father, although I wonder how much work Robert Anderson really had to do on the latter, which was an adaptation of his own 1968 Broadway play. I thought Larry Kramer's adaptation of Women in Love was fine, but I thought at the time that Alan Plater's adaptation of the other D.H. Lawrence work filmed that year, The Virgin and the Gypsy was equally good. Also worthy of consideration were Little Big Man, The Boys in the Band, The Great White Hope and among foreign films, Truffaut's The Wild Child and Bunuel's Tristana. Airport's nomination in this category, like most of the film's ten nominations, was absurd. My vote, likely to be the only one cast in its favor, goes to the delightful Lovers and Other Strangers.

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Best Screenplay 1970

Postby Kellens101 » Fri Jun 12, 2015 12:15 pm

What were the best screenplays of 1970?


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