Category Archives: Best Original Screenplay

The Piano (1993)

Jane Campion’s The Piano is one of my favorite movies of all time. I regretted not having reviewed this for the LAMBs in the Director’s Chair with her and Kathryn Bigelow a couple of months ago. The movie won Oscars for Best Actress, Supporting Actress and Original Screenplay. Watching the film again made me marvel at the subtle poetry displayed onscreen.

Ada McGrath (Hunter) is a mute that has not spoken since she was six years old. She is set to be married to Alisdair Stewart (Sam Neill) who she had never seen. She has to move across the sea to New Zealand with her daughter, Flora (Anna Paquin) in tow. The boat she is traveling in is packed with crates of clothes, household items and her cherished piano.

When the ladies arrive on the beach, they have to wait for Mr. Stewart to come and take them to their new home. They had to camp out on the beach overnight until Stewart came with a party of Māori tribe members with his guide, George Baines (Harvey Keitel). Stewart learns right then and there that Ada is mute and only her daughter could interpret the words that she says in sign language.

Stewart wants to take everything on the beach, except for the piano because it would have been too much of a burden to carry. Ada insists on taking the piano with them. It is her only prized possession. It is her way of communicating what she is feeling to the world. Eventually, she realizes that she has to leave the piano behind for the time being.

The marriage is not joyous. There is not love there at all. Ada does not show any affection to Stewart. It really bothers him. When Stewart leaves for a quick trip, Ada and Flora come knocking on the door of Baines to ask to go get the piano. In exchange for getting her piano back into her possession, Baines asks her to teach him how to play. The catch is that he doesn’t want to play, he wants to see Ada plays. Their lessons become increasingly awkward as Baines slowly seduces her.

This movie is beautiful to watch. It’s very moody with the blue wash, the torrential rain and the wonderful score by Michael Nyman. The acting in this movie make it what it is. You think that you are not going to like the love story that is happening, but you are strangely drawn to it. The piano plays a major part of why I love this movie. I have this theory that when a person plays a piano, they win an Oscar. Think about it. Adrien Brody is The Pianist, Jaime Foxx in Ray, Ellen Bustryn in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Geoffrey Rush in Shine, the list goes on.

The one thing that bothers me about this movie is the Sam Neill character. I know that he is supposed to be the other guy, but I wish I could have how did he fall in love with Ada to make him do some of the things he did in the movie.

Judgment: A beautiful movie to watch and marvel.

Rating: 8.5/10

Chinatown (1974)

Let me explain something to you, Walsh. This business requires a certain amount of finesse.

— JJ Gittes

Roman Polanki’s Chinatown is currently #68 Film of All-Time on IMDb. It is one of the those films that everyone in the entire world has seen except for yours truly. It was nominated for eleven Oscars and only won for Original Screenplay. I knew very little about the movie when I started watching it. I don’t know if it was a good thing or bad that I went in blind, because I felt little cheated with the movie.

A cocky private detective, JJ Gittes (Jack Nicholson) looks into the lives of unfaithful spouses when the wife (Diane Ladd) of the Chief Engineer of the LA Water Company, Hollis Mulwray (Darrell Zwerling) wants to hire him to see if her husband is cheating on her.

Gittes takes the case and follows Mulwray throughout his day which included a city council meeting to approve a proposed dam  to help with the drought the city is currently in. Following Mulwray, Gittes sees a man going to different waterways to see if he makes the right direction opposing the measure.

Gittes is about the give up on the case when one of his associates, Duffy (Bruce Glover) tells him that Mulwray is in Echo Park with a young blonde, Katherine (Brenda Palmer). News of the affair is front page news across the city. The trouble is the real Mrs. Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) comes to Gittes office to serve him papers.

Gittes believes that he was setup to expose Mulwray indiscretion to make him look like a fool. Mulrray suddenly disappeared and winds washed up in a riverbed. While looking over the body in the morgue, Gittes picks up a pattern of high-powered people at the water company are being drowned. He wanted to get to the bottom of the mystery before he could be the next victim.

If I knew that this movie was be about water conservation, I would have laughed in your face. That is the mystery. who would kill the chief engineer of a water company. I thought that I was going to hate this movie, but there was something with chemistry between Nicholson and Dunaway that made hold on.

Judgment: I thought the mystery itself was ridiculous and too much soap opera plots for me. 

Rating: 7/10

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Can you hear me? I don’t want this any more! I want to call it off!

— Joel

Everybody had been talking about how great the #61 Film of All-Time on IMDb, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is. I have only seen bits and pieces of the movie through the years of its release back in 2004. My greatest fear was that the movie was not gonna live up to the hype. The movie won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and it should have won a couple of more. I wish I could own this movie and watch it repeatedly.

A social awkward man, Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) is reeling over the break up with his tangerine-tinted girlfriend, Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet). When he is venting his frustration over Clementine seemingly ignoring him to Rob and Carrie (David Cross, Jane Adams) when Rob hands Joel a card from a company called Lacuna. The card says that Clementine has had a procedure to erase Joel from her mind.

Joel is heartbroken and intrigued to see what this procedure is all about. He finds the office of Lacuna where Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wikinson) is performing the procedure of the heartbroken patients. He wants to have the procedure done as a way of getting back at Clementine for being so heartless to erase him from her mind.

The process of mind erasure is to gather all the items that remind you of the person that you are trying to have wiped from your memory so it could build a road map to which sections of the brain to target the memories. Mierzwiak’s associates from the clinic, Stan (Mark Ruffalo) and Partrick (Elijah Wood) arrive at Joel’s apartment while he sleeps to begin the erasure process.

As the erasure happens, Joel is fine having the end of their relationship cleaned off. When the erasure starts going into the happiest moments of their relationship, Joel want to be able to keep the memories, because she still holds a torch for Clementine. He tries to find clever ways to hide the good Clementine inside the inner workings of his brain.

This movie is visceral and devastating to watch. Everyone knows the feeling of heartbreak and wish that there was a procedure to help erasure the bad memories out. Those bad memories are a life lessons to find out what you don’t want in the next relationship so you won’t repeat the same dating pattern. Those bad times shape you into who you are as a person and what you can give to a relationship.

People call this one of the greatest love stories of all-time. I wouldn’t go that far, but identity to the plight these characters are in. My life was on-screen. The movie was off-kilter, surreal and mind fuck. This is Charlie Kaufman we are talking about. This is his M.O.

There is one thing about this movie that I didn’t get or maybe I am reading too much into it. What happened with the relationship with Patrick? If you know what I mean, then you’ll understand. Was that a dropped plot line?

Judgment: This is a raw, beautiful, self-destructive story about love.

Rating: 9.5/10

Sunset Boulevard (1950)

I have always wanted to see #31 Movie of All Time on IMDb, Sunset Blvd. The dialogue from the movie has been in the American lexicon ever since it premiered in 1950. It is the seminal movie that every gay man should see before they die. It has Gloria Swanson and fabulous Edith Head costumes. The movie won three Oscars including Best Original Screenplay. What more could you ever want? Apparently, this gay man needed a lot more from this movie.

 A screenwriter, Joe Gillis (William Holden) is in dire straits when he cannot afford the lifestyle that he is accustomed to. He is three months behind in his rent and the repo men are knocking on his door to take his car away. desperate to find a way out of his situation, Joe goes to Paramount Studios to talk to Sheldrake (Fred Clark) about an idea that he wants greenlit.

A plucky upstart reader, Betty Schaefer (Nancy Olson) takes that his idea “Bases Loaded” is not good. They want to change the idea to make it unique. Joe is in need of a job when he is dropped by his agent.

Driving down the boulevard in his car, Joe notices the repo men in the intersection. They give chase. During the pursuit, Joe blows out one of his back tires and he has to pull off the road. He finds the driveway to a delapdated mansion belonging to a has-been silent film star named Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). When Joe is ushered in by her butler, Max Von Mayerling (Erich von Stroheim), Norma thought that he was a funeral director to help her bury a pet chimp.

The eccentric Norma Desmond intrigues Joe. During their conversation, she catches wind that he is a screenwriter. She wants to hire him to transform her magnum opus into a screenplay. This is the opportunity that Joe needs to get away from his financial problems and possibly have a way to get back on his feet. He takes the job, but he realizes that Ms. Desmond is craving a lot more than limelight.

 I was fully expecting to love this movie from beginning to end, but I might have had high expectations for it. There is something about the movie that is uncomfortable to watch. It might be because it paints the dark side of Hollywood, the price of fame and any means to get it back. The obsession, the affluence, the sheer loneliness of being famous. Parts of movie had me bored out of my mind.

Looking at the extras on the DVD made me appreciate the film more when I got finished looking at the last frame. Gloria Swanson mirrored her life with the over-the-top, theatrical Norma Desmond. She was a forgotten silent film star that got her chance again. William Holden’s fame was all but extinguished when he was cast. He was washed up at that point. His last big hit was Golden Boy over a decade earlier. Erich von Stroheim directed Gloria is the maligned movie, Queen Kelly that ruined both of their careers. It was fascinating to watch art imitating life.

Judgment: Who knew that a movie about obsession, madness and fame would bore you.

Rating: 6.5/10

Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Ya know it could be like this, just like this always.

— Jack Twist

Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain was the seminal movie that ignited my passion for the cinemas. I was obsessed with this movie when it came out. I didn’t see most of the Best Picture nominees that year for that reason. It was the be all, end all for me. It went on to when three Oscars including Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Original Score. The Oscars were on my “shit list” for a long time that it did not win Best Picture, instead of giving it to Crash.

Summer 1963. Wyoming. A gruff rancher named Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and brooding Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) help out sheep herder Joe Aguirre (Randy Quaid) move his flock on Brokeback Mountain without the park rangers smelling him out. It seems like everyday is the same with eating beans, watching the sheep; Ang Lee brilliant direction makes it fascinating to watch their relationship unfolded. Jack’s innocence softens Ennis’s tough exterior. He begins to express himself more.

One night, their friendship is changed forever after a night of drinking they have sex. Multiple questions arise: did Jack forced himself Ennis? Did they come together because they were the only humans around? Afterwards, they try to shake it off as a one time only occurrence. They can’t because they are beginning to fall in love with each other.

They thought that they could keep their relationship secret, but it is the worst kept secret. The work they are sent to do suffers as Aguirre’s flock is confused with another sheep herder and a massive snow storm cut their time short. Jack and Ennis have to go their separate. They don’t work to leave each other’s side, but it was a different time in 1963. They can’t run away together and go to Greenwich Village or San Francisco.

Ennis marries his longtime girlfriend, Alma (Michelle Williams) and quickly starts a family with her. Jack tries to get back into the rodeo circuit, but he  meets the forward, Lureen Newsome (Anne Hathaway). I never realized that each guy married a female version of each other. Alma is passive like Jack and Lureen is more take charge like Ennis. They try to lead “regular” lives as fate steps in to turn their worlds upside down.

I remember the first time that I saw the film at the Landmark Theater back in Houston. It was a couple of days after it opened in limited release that December. The line for the movie was around the corner. It was amazing to see straight and gay couples wanting to see this movie. The movie was packed. It sat on the very back of the theater. I wanted to soak the experience in. I’m glad I did. I laughed. I cried. I went on a journey with these characters.

Oh, how I love this movie. Let me count the ways. The beautiful, breathtaking mountain peaks captured on video by Rodrigo Pietro, the haunting score by Gustavo Santaolalla, the excellent acting by Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Williams. I was surprised that the movie only won three Oscars. It boggles the mind.

The movie is not perfect. I did have some troubles with Anne Hathaway towards the end of the movie and some of the small female roles were throw aways like Anna Faris and Linda Cardellini. There was also the conclusion of the relationship. It was a little cliché.

Judgment: This is a prime example of why the Oscars don’t know what the fuck qualifies as the Best Picture of the year.

Rating: 9.5/10

Annie Hall (1977)

Don’t you see the rest of the country looks upon New York like we’re left-wing, communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers? I think of us that way sometimes and I live here.

— Alvy Singer

I was psyched Woody Allen’s movie, Annie Hall was coming IFC that I set a reminder to watch it. Being familiar with Allen’s movies, I would have expected some random dialogue and meandering situations. That’s correct for the most part, but this film is so much more. This #132 Movie of All-Time on IMDb was nominated for five Oscars and it won four including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Original Screenplay.

This movie is about a pessimistic comic, Alvy Singer (Allen) recounting the relationship he had between himself and an aspiring singer, Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). Alvy’s problem is that his paranoid man that has delusions of grandeur. He treats the people around him like shit, because he is the only sane person, even though he has been seeing an analyst for most of his life.

Alvy and Annie meet when Alvy’s actor friend from Hollywood, Rob (Tony Roberts) introduces them during a spirited match of tennis. They bond over their eccentricities, the mundane of life and seeing analysts.

Whenever there is a conflict with Annie or their families, Alvy turns to the camera to offer his commentary about the situations. He deconstructs every flaw about a person and blows it out of proposition.

As they go deeper into their relationship, Annie feels that Alvy tries to mold her into something that she is not like forcing adult education courses upon her, taking her to an obscure foreign language movie or the condescending tone in his voice whenever they are waxing philosophic.

The relationship starts to wane that they are not having sex. They are going into a funk and they have to decide if they should stay together or break apart.

This movie was charming from start to finish. I love it when Alvy and Annie were having drinks on the roof of her building. They pontificate about some random topic and a bunch of subtitles pop showing the audience what they are really thinking. It reminded me of a particular scene in (500) Days of Summer.

The only flaw about the movie was the sequences in Los Angeles. It rang false to me. It was like a stereotypical take on Los Angeles that you have seen repeatedly. The hippies eating alfalfa spouts and drinking wheat grass or whatever.

Judgment: This is a great ode to relationships.

Rating: ****1/2

1001 Movie Club Catch Up: The Apartment (1960)

Stephen Jay Schneider chose this movie as one of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.” He compiled a massive list from the classic to the obscure for his anthology. The most worthy movies are chosen to be on this list. Every year, there is a revision to include the most essential movies to be on the minds of film buffs everywhere.

When Billy Wilder was spotlighted in a recent LAMB in the Director’s Chair, I didn’t even bother to visit more of his back catalog. Shame on me for not fulfilling my film snob credentials. It should have been suspended. Thanks to 1001 Movie Club, I would have never got the chance to see the #99 Movie of All-Time on IMDb, The Apartment or get the movie in past the post date.

Jack Lemmon plays an insurance agent, C.C. Baxter at Consolidate Life New York who on the outside seems like an overly ambitious worker bee that wants to move up with the company. Some of that is true. In actually, he is working the extra hours so the top officials of the company could have a safe place to carry on their affairs before eight o’clock. They compensate C.C. whatever they do in his apartment in exchange to getting a leg up on the corporate ladder.

The neighbors are growing more suspicious about the numerous activities that are happening at C.C.’s apartment every day, especially Mr. and Mrs. Dreyfuss (Jack Kruschen, Naomi Stevens). They think that he is living the high life with the drunken sex marathons, but he is just the schlubby guy left out in the cold. His bosses’ late night escapades are affecting his work.

When one of his bosses unexpectedly needs his apartment, he forced out in the cold, rainy night. He develops a cold with put his little side job into turmoil when he has to reschedule other encounters so he could recover.

Every day, C.C. passes by a bubbly elevator girl, Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), but he notices her when he is sent to personnel department to let him know if he is being promoted or fired. Mr. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), the head of personnel hears word that C.C. rented out his apartment to top officials at he wants in on the action. In exchange, he gives C.C. to tickets to a Broadway show. He want to ask out Miss Kubelik, but she is spoken by someone C.C. knows.

I thought that this movie would be a straight romantic comedy, but the action takes a dangerous curve to places I never thought it could possibly go. Shirley MacLaine owns this movie. She was given a wide range of emotions from being bubbly and feisty to being morose and heartbroken. Wonderful. There were some people that annoyed with some of the women with their helium-induced voices like Sylvia (Joan Shawlee) or Mrs. MacDougall (Hope Holiday). It’s like nails on a chalkboard.

This movie must have been very controversial at the time of its release. Before the sexual revolution later on that decade, I’m sure that this movie would have raised a few eyebrows. The struggle between male dominance and female empowerment, sexual dynamics, taboo topics that were rarely discussed much less shown.

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

1001 Movie Club Approved

Judgment: This is a testament of how a romantic drama should be handled.

Rating: ****1/2

Shakespeare in Love (1998)

I will have poetry in my life. And adventure. And love. Love above all. No… not the artful postures of love, not playful and poetical games of love for the amusement of an evening, but love that… over-throws life. Unbiddable, ungovernable – like a riot in the heart, and nothing to be done, come ruin or rapture. Love – like there has never been in a play.

— Viola de Lesseps

During my senior year, my high school put on a disastrous modernized retelling on Romeo and Juliet. Around the same time, Shakespeare in Love just opened in theaters and it was an assignment to watch the movie for some extra credit. At first, I didn’t know that it was supposed to be a comedy. That aspect of the film went completely over my head. When I owned the movie on video, I paid attention to the comedy and I loved it. I still do.

This movie fictionally retells the life of William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) when he was exiled from his former life circa 1593. Times in his new home, London, are not faring so well. The plague rages across the land. Any public forums are closed including the theaters, which is not good for writers like Will or actors or the theater owners like Mr. Henslowe (Geoffrey Rush).

Henslowe owes a lot of money to Mr. Fennyman (Tom Wilkinson), who is like an investor for new plays in England. Will has to take small acting jobs when he can and other professional actors have to travel to other lands to perform.

Henslowe wants Will to write a new play that could be successful to pay off his debts. There is a problem. Will has no inspirations, no muse to let the words flow. He thought he had a muse with a loose woman, Rosaline (Sandra Reinton), but not.

With the advice of the country’s number playwright at time, Christopher Marlowe (Rupert Everett) plants the idea of Romeo and Juliet to Will. Henslowe has auditions for the men who will plays all the parts. At the time, women were not allowed by law to be on the stage.

One privileged woman, Viola de Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow) dreamed about being an actor. She is helped by her nurse (Imelda Staunton) to masquerade as a man, Thomas Kent, to audition to be in William Shakespeare’s new play. Will is taken by Thomas Kent that he wants him as his Romeo.

Their love blossoms at a chance encounter at a party at the de Lessep’s, but there is a wrench in the plan with Lord Wessex (Colin Firth) attends to make Viola his bride and bring her to the New World. Having only two weeks together, Viola and William begin a forbidden love affair that mirror the greatest love story ever told.

This is a love letter to the works of Shakespeare. I thought that it was ironic that at the time Marlowe was a bigger “celebrity” that he was. Shakespeare’s works are still revived today, but Marlowe is almost lost in time. The intertwining of our modern day catch phrase and the Elizabethan language is more hilarious every time I see it.

This movie was controversial when it won Best Picture over Saving Private Ryan. Should it have won? In some ways, yes. The problem with Ryan is that there are too many endings. Spielberg tacked on a happy ending that doesn’t need to be there. To me, Shakespeare in Love was more heart wrenching and sweeping that Ryan. That’s just my opinion.

Judgment: Revisit this movie if you haven’t seen this movie since it won the Oscar.

Rating: ****1/2

Juno (2007)

juno_ver2

You should’ve gone to China, you know, ’cause I hear they give away babies like free iPods. You know, they pretty much just put them in those t-shirt guns and shoot them out at sporting events.

— Juno MacGuff

I haven’t seen Juno since it was in theaters during the Oscar hoopla in 2007. There has been considerable backlash with this movie like any other movie that receives a lot of buzz that it could give you a migraine. Re-visting this movie again, I still think it’s a sweet story that has a lot of heart over the off-putting dialogue.

Juno MacGruff (Ellen Page) is sixteen-year-old pseudo-intellectual hipster Minnesota girl that finds out that she is pregnant with her Tic-Tac popping best friend, Paulie Bleecker’s (Michael Cera) baby. Freaked out by the news, she wants to have a quick abortion, but she decides to have the baby.

She tells her synergistic cheerleader best girl friend, Leah (Olivia Thirlby) who thinks that she has a food baby. (A Diablo Cody-ism). When she tells Paulie, he was surprised that she was preggers, since they had sex when they were bored.

Deciding to give the baby away, Leah and Juno look for prospective adoptive parents in the local “Penny Saver”. They come across an ad with a huge picture of the perfect married couple, Vanessa and Mark Loring (Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman). Juno thinks that they could be the ones to take care of her baby.

Before meeting the adoptive parents, Juno has to drop the news to her father, Mac (J.K. Simmons) and stepmother, Bren (Allison Janney). When she does, they thought that she was drug addict or a big sloppy drunk. The news was worse then they imagined.

Mac and Juno drive up to St. Cloud where the Lorings live. Juno gathers that Vanessa is a prim and proper, uptight woman who just wants to be a mother. Other the other hand, Mark is a laidback jingle writer that is more of man-child, someone that she could vibe with about retro slasher films, Les Paul guitars and vintage rock ‘n roll.

Should the film been nominated for Best Picture? Of course not. The only reason that the movie was, because of the buzz that surrounded the movie; Fox Searchlight can put on an Oscar campaign like Harvey Weinstein. It was easily accessible.

Universally the dialogue has been a problem for people. Sometimes it could be too right on the nose or you wonder the fuck did they just say. I think the performances saved the movie for sucking big time. As much as I don’t like Michael Cera, he was less Cera-like, because he had a supporting role in this film.

Judgment: If you could get past the first third of this film, then you will enjoy this film.

Rating: ****

Fargo (1996)

fargo

I’m not sure I agree with you a hundred percent on your police work, there, Lou.

— Marge Gunderson

Fargo is considered the greatest film that the Coen Brothers have ever made. I was ashamed that I have never seen this #124 movie of All Time on IMDb. All I knew about this movie is a pregnant sheriff, a car salesman and the wood chipper. This movie was nominated for seven Academy Awards. It won Best Actress for Frances McDormand and the brothers for Best Original Screenplay.

This movie is apparently based on true events that happened in Minnesota in 1987. The names have been changed to protect the real life families from the prying eyes of the public.

A frazzled car salesman, Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) hires a pair of thugs, Carl and Gaear (Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare) with a new car and forty thousand dollars to kidnap his wife, Jean (Kristin Rudrüd), because he has outstanding debt to pay off. That was his Plan B.

In a last ditch effort to avoid that is to convince his father-in-law, Wade (Harve Presnell) to purchase some land for a parking lot to get a huge finder’s fee for his efforts.

Things start to get out of the control when Carl and Gaear follow through with the kidnapping that leads to a triple homicide on highway.

Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) is the pregnant Brainerd police chief that investigates the highway murders. She expertly retraces what happens and bring whoever is responsible to justice.

This movie reminded me very much of No Country for Old Men, dealing with a small town living with a silent killer trying to get money back. I know that this movie was made-up and the latter was based on Cormac Macarthy’s book.

I enjoyed the monochromatic imagery of the snow blanketing the entire landscape. The story has you spinning in circles about what will happen next. It could dramatic, comedic, heartfelt and borderline creepy at times. That’s not to say that this is a masterpiece.

The accents on some of the actors slipped in and out. More of the Minnesotans with the “ya” and “you knows” were getting on my nerves. After watching that movie, I don’t understand why Frances won the Oscar. She was okay. She wasn’t spectacular in the movie to deserve the accolade. I also had problems with some plot holes. I will discuss those in the spoiler section.

Judgment: Not the Coens best movie, but it does have good things going for it.

Rating: ****

Read the rest of this entry

%d bloggers like this: