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The Oscar for best original screenplay is a measure of pure creativity. Ideally, the director's vision, the special effects, or whether the actors can elevate the material has nothing to do with the award. Or, sometimes, politics.
This brings me to a particular Academy Award choice I feel like nitpicking on today.
Milk won an Oscar for best original screenplay in 2009. It was written by Dustin Lance Black. Black, a former Mormon, has become a well-respected artistic figure and activist in the gay and lesbian community since his win.
I wondered out loud the last time I saw Milk if there was anything particularly notable about Milk's screenplay that endeared it towards a best screenplay win. It seems equally as likely to me that the screenplay win for Milk was just a reaction to proposition 8 (controvoursey took place earlier that year) and a way for the Academy to voice their support of gay rights.
I like to think of the screenplay winners as something that film students would be assigned to read in class as examples of great running. I see that with most of the other recent winners. Almost Famous is a humorous story with such a strong personal touch that it doesn't feel like it could be written by anyone but its author (Cameron Crowe). Gosford Park demonstrates intricacy in tying together the arcs of various characters and veers away from cheap imitation. Lost in Translation has a very strong grasp of mundane human behavior. A meaningful relationship is weaved together from suddle moments and silences. Eternal Sunshine , like Kaufman's other films, navigates narrative in a new mobius loop of a story. Little Miss Sunshine creates a very quirky atmosphere for its main troupe of six characters while providing a contrast to a world that's unforgiving of tardiness or other forms of eccentricity.
I'm not sure where Milk falls into anything notable. It just seems like a run-of-the-mill biopic elevated by good performances. It also came along at the right place and time to be notable.
There's hardly anything in the story that isn't predictable. The fact that he fails in his personal relationships as he becomes famous is pretty much what you'd expect of nearly every movie character or famous person who simply has larger and larger chunks of his time being taken by the masses he serves.
Just ask yourself: If you could only get your hands on one original screenplay, would it be? I think there's little doubt in my mind that Wall-E
is the remarkable feat in creativity. To be able to convey romance in the bleeps and bloops of robots in a post-apocolyptic landscape and to write a first act almost entirely devoid of dialogue, that's something. The debate over the best Pixar film is usually a long one, but consider that Wall-E was the Pixar film that made fans call for an end to ghettoization of animated films at the Oscars. It is also the primary reason (along with Dark Knight) that we have 10 films for Best Picture (a number that has since been reduced).
I also think In Bruges had a stylized language and a strong sense of identity that would have also made it a worthy choice.
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