In 1945 Raymond Chandler wrote a screed against Hollywood, and Hollywood screenwriting, for the Atlantic Monthly. "An industry with such vast resources and such magic techniques should not become dull so soon," said the man who later characterized his adopted residence to the south, La Jolla, Calif., as "nothing but a climate." In the Atlantic he vented: "An art which is capable of making all but the very best plays look trivial and contrived, all but the very best novels verbose and imitative, should not so quickly become wearisome to those who attempt to practice it with something else in mind than the cash drawer."
Writers have the first word in the movies, by definition. And then typically they are told to go enjoy that climate while their blueprint is turned over to the contractors whose minds, again by definition, are very much on the cash drawer. It's different, or can be, when the writer directs his own work, as did
This piece first ran in Printers Row Journal, delivered to Printers Row members with the Sunday
Tarantino is a strong bet to win his latest Oscar for his "Django Unchained" screenplay, which accomplishes everything Old Hollywood, New Hollywood and Off-Hollywood admires: It's a little bit off-center and personal (in that it's mostly about Tarantino's favorite movies) and it has made nearly $350 million worldwide. I'd rather see the original screenplay award go to
This year's Academy Award for adapted screenplay is either heading toward
And the scripts that should've been nominated?
Each year, the overlooked un-nominees in the screenwriting categories have little in common except this: They tend to care a little less about rooting interests and audience identification. They're more like a stimulating novel or a play, even if they're not based on either a book or a stage script, than a highly processed slice of Hollywood cheese.
I keep coming back to
A poetic master of the dying fall, Anderson never was a probable candidate to land one of the five original script nominations. "The Master" misbehaves too flagrantly (it's like protagonist Freddie Quell) to fit in, the way Tarantino's act manages to fit in and play to any room, anywhere.
My other favorite un-nominee,
Davies served the source material while going his own way with it, reordering the action, inventing new scenes, distilling others. He managed to make a Terence Rattigan film inside a Terence Davies film, the same way — and this was an extraordinarily unlikely success story —
Anderson and Davies never had a shot this year. But they're getting better all the time at directing themselves without indulging themselves, without making things easy or aggressively palatable for the audience.