This year there are more writer/directors than there have been in a long while.   Scripts, original and adapted, usually power the engine that makes a great movie great.  All of the wonderful writing in the world, however, can’t save a film that a director, producer or studio has strangled within an inch of its life.  One decision can completely derail the best screenplays, just as a minor change can sometimes mean the difference between a good movie and a great one; we tend to think always of Roman Polanski and Robert Towne on Chinatown, still one of the best films ever made and much of that is due to Polanski’s singular decision to change the ending, to not give it a happy one.  Chinatown would probably not be considered the masterpiece it is today without that significant change.  It’s hard to imagine a studio taking such a gamble now, as films cost too much money to take such a risk.  At that time, though, it seemed that they were more concerned about making a great film than they were about how much money that film would make.  Priorities have shifted as the cost to make big Hollywood movies has soared.  Making something more palatable for audiences, though, can often detroy the film’s intent.  Witness the end of Charlie Wilson’s War as written by Aaron Sorkin versus the glossed over, neutered ending that the Mike Nichols film ultimately delivered.  The whole point of the film was lost with that one decision.  But it’s like William Goldman wrote, nobody knows anything, and in truth, you make your best call and let the chips fall where they may.

It’s not so big a gamble when the script you’re writing is a joyful crowdpleaser, or a weepy with a happy ending.  It’s also not so big a gamble when you write a script or make a movie that is deliberately obtuse so that it invites many different interpretations.  In such a situation, a writer is never really held accountable because he or she offers up no map for deeper meaning to be found: you see what you want to see.  It is so much harder to write a story that makes sense and has a point.  So often, such stories fall into cliches, offer up bad dialogue, and follow a predictable trajectory.   If 256 movies were eligible for Oscar this year and yet only a maximum of about 20 are being considered, you have to wonder what the problem is with the other 230.  Is it the script? The direction? The timing? The subject matter? How can there be so many films that Oscar won’t consider?  What was that? Oh, right, most of them aren’t “oscar movies.”

A screenwriting teacher at UCLA once told me that there are no such things as genre movies. There are only two kinds of movies. Good movies and bad movies. It would be almost twenty years later that I’d have to come to terms with the notion that there are three kinds of movies.  Good movies, bad movies and Oscar movies.  I used to believe that if the movie is good enough Oscar would pay attention.  But we know this isn’t true.  It isn’t about whether the movie is good or not. It is about what kinds of people it appeals to.  If it appeals to the kinds of people who write film reviews for elite readers, chances are it will be too high brow for Oscar.  If it appeals to teenagers, fanboys and general audiences, makes a pile of cash, wins an MTV movie award or two, it won’t be the kind of film that Oscar voters will take seriously.  Goldilocks likes her porridge not too hot, not too cold, but just right.  Good reviews but not necessarily great reviews.  Good movie, but not so great it can’t appeal to the masses.  Please let it be a drama, with a smidge of (straight) sex here or there, Nazis and Jews preferable, but any old war time will do.  British people, a plus.  International directors who are afforded the freedom of making better films than directors here in America? A major bonus.

These days movies made on the cheap are far more valuable Oscar players than those made for upwards of a hundred mil.  The Departed was the last Best Picture winner that cost more than $15 million to make.  That’s a fairly significant figure, especially when you think about what The King’s Speech was up against last year and how much those movies cost by comparison.

The King’s Speech budget: $15 million/take $135 million
The Hurt Locker budget: $15 million/take $17 million
Slumdog Millionaire budget: $15 million/take $ 140 million
The Departed budget: $90 million/take $130 million
Crash budget: $6.5 million/$54 million 
Million Dollar Baby budget: $30 million / take $100 million
Return of the King budget $94 million/take $377 million
Chicago budget $45 million/take $140 million
A Beautiful Mind budget $58 million / take  $170 million
Gladiator budget $103 million/take $187 million
American Beauty budget $15 million/take $130 million
Shakespeare in Love budget $25 million/take $100 million
Titanic budget $200 mil/take $600 million
The English Patient $27 million/take $78 million
Braveheart budget $72 mil/take $75 million
Forrest Gump budget $55 million/take $329 million
Schindler’s List budget $22 million/take $96 million
It is through this prism that you have to look at 2011’s Oscar race.  What are the budget costs this year? The film that most closely mirrors the Best Picture winner paradigm in every way is Tate Taylor’s The Help, which was made for a scant $25 million and made around $160 million.  Also doing well is Moneyball, which cost around $50 million and made around $75 million.  I can’t find the budget costs for The Descendants but The Artist was made for that magic number of $15 million.  Oh that Harvey Weinstein. They don’t call him the Oscar whisperer for nothing.

Hugo doesn’t have its own production costs listed, nor can I find War Horse’s.  But we do have something to work with where The Help, Moneyball and The Artist are concerned. In truth, The Help — once again — could ride this whole season out and come on top if only the people handling it could believe that it could win.  It can win, my friends. It really really can.  It’s all about perception.  The Help is Oscar old school.  It is a crowdpleaser ensemble that should have no problem collecting the SAG ensemble win, if it can snatch the prize from The Artist.  The thing is, The Help is the least intimidating of those that are about to take on The Artist.  The power that film has is that it’s the perceived underdog.  It is seen as “the little movie that could,” just like The King’s Speech last year. Giving it some major heat right now is Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, keeps winning the director accolades.  He is beloved, his appreciation of film preservation invaluable.  Hugo is about why we treasure movies at all,  and to see masters at work this year, like Woody Allen, Clint Eastwood, David Fincher and Scorsese is, well, potentially trouble for The Artist in so much as it’s not a homegrown product, but rather a French production.

Despite its low metacritic score, The Help is sitting pretty, even without the heat of a Best Director nod. If the DGA actually nominates Tate Taylor, the movie moves its rook into a very threatening position.  The main reason is that actors rule the house, and actors are kind of ass over elbow for both The Help and The Artist. The movies, not so much.

The two important branches next to the actors are the directors and the writers. Three of the films in contention were directed by writers – The Artist, The Descendants, and The Help, which was adapted and directed by Tate Taylor, the man nobody yet knows.  If you think Michel Hazanavicius is a hard sell, Tate Taylor is an even harder sell.  No one knows him.  If The Help had been directed by a known director there would be no question of its position in the race as a formidable contender.  Sure, it’s the story of women, which isn’t the usual subject matter for the male-dominated Academy, but its likability and its huge success makes it a force to be reckoned with, especially if the Academy is really ready to break ties with the critics.

Moneyball and Hugo are marvelous adaptations by some of the best writers in the business – Aaron Sorkin, Steve Zallion and on Hugo, John Logan, who also wrote the exceedingly clever Rango.  To this end, one has to conclude that the movies heading towards Oscar, those movies that somehow managed to rise to the top out of 256 entries, were driven by great scripts.

So what is an Oscar movie? Yes, it’s palatable, dramatic films aimed at adults, but it also has to be good writing, good acting, good directing.  A film has to have all three or it won’t go all the way.  The word “good” used deliberately, because when greatness comes into play so does divisiveness.  Many would have described, for instance, The Social Network as having great writing, directing and acting (which it did) but once you use the word great it invites people to then say, yeah, it wasn’t that great.

This also means, of course, that the Best Original and Adapted Screenplay races will be dominated by the Best Picture contenders.  In the original category, it already feels like The Artist will do battle with Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, with Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life in the conversation, with other screenplays likely to be nominated that aren’t Best Picture contenders, like perhaps Young Adult, 50/50, Shame or Margin Call. The Adapted Screenplay race, though, will be dominated probably by Best Picture contenders and it’s filling up fast.  It looks like Moneyball and The Descendants are going to go head to head there, with Hugo, The Help, and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, War Horse, Drive, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo all in the game.

Alexander Payne is one of the best unrewarded writer/directors American film has ever produced. And though he is already an Oscar winner for screenplay, I suspect that what is going to propel The Descendants forward is its love for Payne and his impressive body of work.   The Descendants is his most emotionally realized film to date, funny, bittersweet and a quintessentially American story.  This makes it stand in stark contrast to The Artist, which is about American film, perhaps, but is far, far removed from our experience in 2011.  The Descendants, and Moneyball, target and hit the sweet spot.

The outside-the-box screenplays that really are worthy of recognition probably won’t get within fifteen feet of the Kodak – and those would be the clever Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Attack the Block, Bridesmaids, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Drive, and even Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows J. Edgar, and Rampart.

The one screenplay I personally hope isn’t forgotten is JC Chandor’s tightly, expertly written Margin Call, about the financial meltdown from the perspectives of the guys making the deals.  It is deceptively simple but in reality, layered and complex.  Chandor worked on it for many years, and the tinkering shows.  Would that more writers would take such care crafting a story with such fully developed characters — most especially Kevin Spacey’s character.

How about you, Oscar watchers? Which are the scripts that you think ought to get noticed from 2011?


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  • Houstonrufus

    I hope Win Win gets noticed, at least with a screenplay nomination. That felt like a smart, funny but touching creation of a unique American family.

    If the The Help wins Best Picture, it will be the most disappointing win for me since Crash won.

  • jhg

    why no ebert top ten?

  • Rodrigo

    The Descendants cost around $20 million.
    War Horse is around $70 million.
    Hugo is around $150 million — ouch.

  • rufussondheim

    I think Win/Win has a decent shot at a nomination.

    But to go back to an old wound that is still festering. Just because The Academy went with The King’s Speech last year does not mean that they are planning on going back to an era where feel good sentiment won over critical success. Say what you want about The King’s Speech, it was still the #7 film of the year in terms of year end Best Of lists. Not the best reviewed film of the year, but certainly nothing to suggest it’s a break from tradition. In comparison, the worst since 2000 include Crash at #6, Million Dollar Baby at #6, Chicago at #8, Beautiful Mind at #18, and Gladiator at #13. Notice most of these are further away than where we currently stand. But in contrast over the last few years the #1 movie has won quite a bit: The Hurt Locker, No Country for Old Men, The Departed. Slumdog Millionaire was #3, And Return of the King was #2.

    Now look at The Help. It currently stands at #22. That would easily be the worst Best Pic winner in a long time. It would definitely be an aberration of the trend of the Academy picking more critically successful films as the winner in the last few years.

  • Sasha Stone

    It would definitely be an aberration of the trend of the Academy picking more critically successful films as the winner in the last few years.

    True, but I don’t think The Help got bad reviews because it was a bad film. I think it got bad reviews because it wasn’t PC enough. Surely a distinction can be made there.

  • rufussondheim

    I think you are confusing the terms PC and historically accurate.

  • Sasha Stone

    I think you are confusing the terms PC and historically accurate.

    Not sure where “historically accurate” came into play. For what I could tell, critics were bothered by the stereotyping of black maids. And of course, those actresses then have to carry the burden now of our mistakes then. Seems unfair to me, how about you?

  • rufussondheim

    For those not in the know, The Help was written by Kathryn Stockett what was born in 1969 and raised by a black housekeeper. So her formitive years were the late 70’s and early 80’s. She was from a rich household.

    The book took place in the 1960s. Life was very different in tehe 1960s than around 1980. While there were assuredly racial tensions in the immediate years before Reagan took office, one can easily argue that those times were less racially sensitive in the 1960s. The characters in this movie were all quite aware of the integration fights following Brown v. Board of Education which I think was in 1954, they were familiar with the bombings and killings of black children and civil rights leaders. This was going on around them, it was part of their everyday lives. Life and experience was much different in the 1960s than it was in Stockett’s childhood. So when Stockett mentions that her novel was inspired by her childhood, it should be noted that her childhood was very different than the times depicted in this movie.

    That difference rubs a lot of people the wrong way. I wouldn’t call that a matter of political correctness, I would call it a matter of historical accuracy.

  • Sasha Stone

    But you’re still not telling me how The Help is historically inaccurate. All you are saying is that things were different in Mississippi in 1970s from the 1960s. I’m not sure, really, what your point is.

  • rufussondheim

    Sasha, while I have come accross that criticism of the stereotyping, the more powerful criticisms I came accross was that the movie (and the book) were an overly nostalgiac view of a time that deserves to be treated with more sensitivity.

    This quote from Melissa Harris-Lacewell, a professor from Princeton and Tulane that has studied this era of our history is illutrative:

    “This is not a movie about the lives of black women,” she clarified, as their lives were not, she argued, “Real Housewives of Jackson, Mississippi… it was rape, it was lynching, it was the burning of communities.” She then explained that it was, to her, completing the work started by the Daughters of the American Confederacy when they “found money in the federal budget to erect a granite statue of Mammy in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial,” which happened while the same Senate contingency failed to pass the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill. “It is the same notion that the fidelity of black women domestics is more important than the realities of the lives, the pain, the anguish, the rape that they experienced.”

    Now I doubt that a significant percentage of black maids in the south were raped and most, certainly, did not have relatives killed in high profile fashions. But to think that the events that surrounded these women didn’t have a severe effect on their psychological health is naive at best.

    The Help, to many, is as much a fantasy as Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings.

  • rufussondheim

    Sorry about the Cross-posting.

    My point is that many find The Help to be offensive. Whether it’s a good movie is beside the point. I think dismissing the lack of critical mentions in Best Of lists is not a matter of Political Correctness. I think many people, rightly so, find this movie to be a misrepresentation of the time period it portrays. In other words, these critics are not excluding this film because of bad stereotyping, they are excluding it because of its inaccuracate, even ignorant, portrayal of this time period in our history.

  • Houstonrufus

    Quite frankly, The Help strikes me as a depiction of black maids in the 1960s made comfortable for white audiences. I haven’t read the book. I can only go by what I saw in the movie, for the first time this past weekend. I fully expected to like the movie. And I liked the performances. The actresses deserve any praise they get. But the film overall left a very bad taste in my mouth. Yes, this is clearly a nostalgic lookback from a white perspective that uses the black maids as devices, if you ask me.

    Others will disagree. But I couldn’t stomach it. To have Davis’ character recount what happened to her son, but that’s all I get of her, really? Except that she’s been a maid all her life? In a two hour movie about black maids where she is the central black character? Does the movie do what does well? I guess. But it’s bar is set so low that that is hardly a compliment, in my opinion.

  • wisconsinkel

    Isn’t it a bit pretentious that a white guy adapts a novel by a white chick and then does video interviews stating how important the film is to black rights and to the country? He also likes to emphasize how this film changed Mississippi’s film tax laws. Well, lad-ee-dah!

  • JP

    Woody Allen will get his so much deserving thir script Oscar and either Payne or Sorkin will get their second one.

  • I’m not sure The Tree of Life is such a formidable contender for Original Screenplay. I’d say Beginners stands a great chance at being nominated in that category.

  • …The Help strikes me as a depiction of black maids in the 1960s made comfortable for white audiences.

    …and that’s exactly why the ‘click’ we hear is the sound of a BP nomination being locked down.

  • Houstonrufus

    That’s fine, Ryan. But I don’t have to like it. 😉

  • Kevin Klawitter

    This remindsme of when chose to do a project based round the budgets of the Best Picture-winning films at the Oscars in my high school statistics class, both with and without inflation. With a few outliers (Titanic, for example, with its uber-huge budget) I found that with or without inflation, the budget for the Best Picture Winner gradually increased over time since 1927.

    Of course, that was ALL the way back in 2008, so I didn’t have low-budget pictures like “The Hurt Locker”, “Slumdog Millionaire”, and “The King’s Speech” to deal with. I can’t help but wonder if my conclusion would change if I redid the project now…

  • Jamal

    I’m just wondering—why doesn’t Harry Potter ever get adapted screenplay love?

    I know you hit on a lot of reasons of what makes a screenplay contender in your wonderfully written article, but sometimes we see writers considered just because of who they are. And Steve Kloves has been nominated before, hasn’t he? Shouldn’t that automatically merit some consideration?

    I’m new to this stuff, so any input would be great.

  • Sasha Stone

    That’s fine, Ryan. But I don’t have to like it.

    You don’t have to like it but you do have to understand the politics at play in Hollywood and in the Oscar race.

  • Scott

    Saw Midnight in Paris last night…it was a “nice” perfectly fine film but nothing that particularly stood out, elicited strong emotions, etc.

  • Scott

    Jamal says:
    December 20, 2011 at 1:41 pm
    I’m just wondering—why doesn’t Harry Potter ever get adapted screenplay love?

    Probably because the films cater to those who have read the books and leave the others confused…which is fine, I say to those that don’t understand, read the damn books! But if there’s a significant portion of the AMPAS that have only seen the films well…

  • Houstonrufus

    Sasha, I understand that. I’m not a fool. I was simply trying to convey my displeasure with the film and thereby the situation as I see it. Is that ok? I’m not criticizing your predicting The Help being nominated or even awarded, though I’d assume that would could be up for conversation as well. I thought I made it clear this is all my personal reaction to the film. Is that not allowed?

  • CJ Street

    Methinks Sasha wants everyone to agree with her.

  • John-Paul

    I also think The Help could perform very well with the Academy, basically because it feels very “Driving Miss Daisy”-esque. I’d even venture to guess that it could become a threat for the win even without a Director nod for Tate Taylor (DMD famously won without a Director nomination). I think it will win the SAG Ensemble, and I wouldn’t be totally shocked if it wound up winning the PGA as well. Those two wins alone would put it in competition for the win.

    On the other hand, it’s also quite possible that The Artist gets both the SAG Ensemble and the PGA in addition to the DGA, BAFTA, Golden Globe, and BFCA, in which case it’s an awards juggernaut of Slumdog Millionaire proportions.

  • FilmFatale

    Wisconsin, you have no idea what you are taking about. Tate Taylor and Kathryn Stockett were friends since youth. He had a black maid as child and they had shared experiences. He is NOT “a white guy adapting a white woman’s story” as you blindly assert. He, Stockett and Octavia Spencer have been friends FOR YEARS. Spencer herself was the inspirati

  • FilmFatale

    (continued) inspiration for the Minnie character. Stockett was so inspired by Spencer’s spirit that she wrote the character based on Spencer, who wasn’t really an actress. She and Taylor were production assistants way back on Schumacher’s A Time to Kill; they because best friends and he subsequently introduced her to Stockett and the three became very close. It was during this time that Stockett began writing The Help.

    So there’s a lot more to the story than a white guy adapting a white woman’s novel.

  • Stockett was so inspired by Spencer’s spirit that she wrote the character based on Spencer, who wasn’t really an actress

    Have no idea what this is supposed to mean. Octavia Spencer wasn’t really an actress?

    How lucky that she’s stumbled onto the sets of 91 movies and TV series since 1996.

    She and Taylor were production assistants way back on Schumacher’s A Time to Kill

    True. 1996.

    It was during this time that Stockett began writing The Help.

    Not quite entirely true. Stockett says:

    I started writing it the day after Sept. 11. I was living in New York City. We didn’t have any phone service and we didn’t have any mail. Like a lot of writers do, I started to write in a voice that I missed. I was really homesick – I couldn’t even call my family and tell them I was fine. So I started writing in the voice of Demetrie, the maid I had growing up.

    (Between 1996 and 2001, Ocatavia Spencer had appeared in over 25 episodes of various TV series.)

  • tombeet

    I really hope A Separation get nominated for Best Original, as well as Shame.
    For Adapted, I think We Need to Talk about Kevin might have a chance.

  • rufussondheim

    CSI: IMDB!

    Saw Beginners tonight. Enchanting! Ewen MacGregor was one of my favorites back in the 90’s after Shallow Grave and Trainspotting. Then he kind of lost it for me. Now he’s back with Ghost Writer and this film. It’s nice to have him back.

    Christopher Plummer gave a great performance, but not the kind that wins Oscars. Not saying he won’t. But it wasn’t very showy. I hope I am wrong.

  • FilmFatale


    You have “no idea what this is supposed to mean?” That’s a little harsh, isn’t it, when my entire point was that The Help was not merely “a white man adapting a white woman’s work about black people”? I didn’t know my post was so cryptic but thanks for highlighting all of the glaring factual errors.

    You can read the following in the production notes and interviews — Stockett, who was friends with Taylor since they were young, hooked up with him and his close friend, Octavia Spencer, in the late 90s. He introduced the women. The three of them became close friends while living in L.A. By their accounts they were like The Three Musketeers.

    You’re right that Stockett didn’t formally pen the book until 2001, but when she was writing the book, she was inspired to craft Minnie after her friend Octavia – her strength, attitude, sense of humor and persona. Spencer knew Kathryn was writing a novel, but during this time Stockett was private about the story and did not let on to Spencer that she was modeling a character on her, albeit one from a different era. The irony is that Spencer herself ended up playing the very movie role that she helped inspire; Taylor went to bat for her in the role that he knew existed much because of her.

    The point was, and is, that this isn’t some shallow adaptation with a white director for hire, co-opting the story of black women for his own edification.

    As far as Spencer being an actress, while my time line was off, the point stands that she began as a production assistant and this is how she met Taylor.

  • FilmFatale. I had no idea what you meant. I’m still not 100% sure. How about let’s say that’s a reflection of how obtuse I can be. It was unclear enough to baffle me. Because what you said didn’t match up with how I had previously understood it.

    You’ve presented a lot of facts that I had never heard before. Some seemed a little off to me, so I tried to figure out what you were saying. I looked for another source of information.

    I found some clarity for myself and thought it was worth sharing what I found — along with admitting my confusion.

    Octavia Spencer was a production assistant on A Time to Kill. She also had her first role in that film. As an actress.

    this isn’t some shallow adaptation with white director for hire, co-opting the story of black women for his own edification.

    I not trying to say it’s shallow. But it’s hard to understand how your very own facts don’t demonstrate how Stockett and Taylor co-opted the stories of the maids they had as children.

    We have disparate ideas of what “co-opt” means, and I think the maids do too.

    I’m not trying to be harsh, ok? I just have a less than reverent attitude about how this novel and movie came to be.

    Happy to concede that Spencer influenced Stockett as she completed the novel. Please don’t think I’m being an ass, but as far as I can tell, Stockett and Spencer never met until 2003. The book took 5 years to write. So they met when the book was half-finished.

  • Selene

    The Help is total Oscar bait….hook, line, sinker. I have no problem with it getting nominated, it seems deserving. And I agree that the film would definitely have greater buzz if it had a well known, well liked director. J.C. Chandor’s Margin Call has the same issue, he is an unknown commodity. I think people may have been afraid he’d be a one hit wonder, but it helps that the info is out about the movie he’s doing with Robert Redford. Will be interesting to see how these movies do with the screenplay nominations. I’m going to bet on them both being nominated, but we’ll see!

  • Yashar R

    It’s really sad that a relevant and modern film like Margin Call is almost out of the race and has the smallest amount of supporters in places like here while something as exploitative and relatively cheap as The Help is among the frontrunners.
    Heck, even the Art (A truly sweet movie) isn’t too innocent when it comes to exploiting some long lost feelings while films that deal with modern issues and relevant themes like Take Shelter, Margin Call or even Dragon Tatto are mostly ignored by major groups.

    I guess I must be thankful that at least offensive and super “Oscar-bait” stuff like War Horse or Extremely Close aren’t the front runners.

  • TonyR


    Agreed. Sort of annoying when films about bygone eras, about the issues of yesteryear (The King’s Speech, The Artist, War Horse, The Help), are the frontrunners/winners…yet zeitgeisty, relevant powerhouses (Social Network, Margin Call, Dragon Tattoo) either lose or they’re left out entirely. The Academy had a good run there by awarding a string of modern films with modern themes (Million Dollar Baby, No Country, Slumdog, The Hurt Locker, even Crash), but it seems they’re reverting back to their lovefest with the past.

  • rufussondheim

    It’s one year. One year is not a trend.

  • Sam

    I thought The Help was overrated. I don’t have a problem with Octavia Spencer or Viola Davis (criminally robbed for Doubt) getting nominated. But neither should actually win. And that goes for Meryl Streep too. With the latter, my perception is she is taking roles just to get another award. The real BEST ACTRESS should be Tilda Swinton followed by Charlize Theron.

    I put The Help with films like Moneyball, War Horse, The Descendants, The Artist, J. Edgar and Hugo. All good films, but nowhere near the greatness of Shame, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Drive, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Midnight in Paris, and Meek’s Cutoff. I know I forgot a few more. This is the first year in a long while where all the films I really enjoyed this year are getting some crumbs (rewards wise), but the average to good films are reeping all the nominations.

  • Sam

    Dammit, I forgot the one film that should be getting all kinds of attention: Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life.

  • tonytr87


    If The Artist wins, it could be a trend.

  • michelle

    Hey, be sure to check out (and like) an awesome video interview with the talented Tilda Swinton, who currently stars in the movie ” We Need to Talk About Kevin” at:

  • To this whole article I say: amen. The last full paragraph, the one about Margin Call, says it best about the script. This is a “movie” that can be enjoyed (or not) on a superficial level. Some Tweets by people who were bored with the “bad guys of Wall Street” topic did not like the movie. But this fine “film” is nearly literary in its structure and, therefore, is truly a work of art. Out of all of the strong survivors in that horrific work environment, the role played by Kevin Spacey, Sam, is the most multifaceted. The scenes with and alluding to Sam’s dog are not extraneous,mincluding that last scene, which many viewers regard as weird or puzzling. Moreover, the scene where the laid off Eric (?) describes the work he used to do, before he got into manipulating numbers on computers, was real and solid. At least if he dug a hole, there would be a hole to show for it. After the firm help to start a massive whole in the global economy, what is there to show for that? But, in the end, Sam Prepares to bury his dog by digging a real hole for an honorable, loving purpose, a hole he can visit in the future with pride and affection. Spacey’s performance as Sam is superb, vacillating between co-opted stooge for the CEO and a truly avuncular mentor who appears to be somewhat concerned for the human toll occurring around him, and the “collateral damage” (no pun intended) that the margin call is going to cause in the general economy. But “Margin Call” avoids the predictable and trite resolution of having Sam do something heroic like alert the SEC or investors. No, Sam goes along with the boss’s plan with self-loathing and apology. The simple truth is that he needs the money. That’s what compromises most of us. But, in the very end, he buries his dog, the one really true relationship Sam knew was genuine, unlike the insincere camaraderie of the workplace, his delusion of mutual loyalty that he thought he’d had with the CEO, and the failed romance/marriage. The dog’s love was real, his love for the dog was real, and the hole in the ground was real. If I were teaching English lit or writing, “Margin Call” would be in the syllabus. This really deserves a nomination if not a win for Best Original Screenplay.

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