Adapted screenplay: Make room for ‘Room’

This is new: Adapted screenplay is the first category of nominees checked off in my race to see 37 feature films and 15 shorts before Oscar Night. That hardly ever happens. My score so far: 12/37+0/15, which means I’ve seen 32% of the essential Oscar-nominated films in this year’s first two weeks of marathoning.

But I’ve read only one of the books on the list (Room). So, despite having seen all five nominees, I’m sorely unqualified to judge.

The combination of Jack's knit hat in "Room" and Joy's stolen innocence combines to feel lot like Susie Salmon in "The Lovely Bones."

The combination of Jack’s knit hat in “Room” and Joy’s stolen innocence meshes, for me, into a mirror of Susie Salmon of “The Lovely Bones.”

Let’s begin with Room, then. The book was hauntingly told in the voice of a 5-year-old. It evoked Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, in which horrific events are filtered through a child’s eye. But Bones was a sad screen adaptation, with screenplay by Peter Jackson, lord of the epics. Relief, then, to see that author Emma Donoghue adapted her own book. She deftly sanitized parts, enhanced the dramatic tension where issues were glossed over in print — unsure how much guidance she had, but this was an emotionally wrenching, faithful, fresh adaptation.

Even the blue palette is the same.

Susie Salmon –who happened to be played by Brie Larson’s rival for best actress, Saoirse Ronan!!! I just realized — appears in her handmade knit cap. As if a parent’s love could protect a child from the cold, cruel world. Even the blue palette is the same.

A well-worn crutch in most adapted screenplay nominees (especially those derived from books) is the overuse of narration. Room managed to use this technique sparingly and effectively. The shift from Jack’s separation anxiety in the book to Ma’s on-screen trauma balanced the work, as a whole. Adore this movie, and I want it to succeed in as many categories as possible.

But then there’s The Big Short, a flashy sermon on the housing bubble, which no doubt in book form is about as far as you can get from an “action” movie. Yet, this is one of the buzziest and most kinetic films on the list. Impressively translated, but not a slam-dunk. It relied too much on narration, slide-show effects and the breakdown of the fourth wall. Too cheeky for me.

The Martian? This novel was on most folks’ holiday reading lists, yet maybe the film hewed too closely to the book. Not much adaptation to be had, aside from condensing — and most of the fascinating science got sacrificed, I hear, which made for a confusing movie upon first viewing. What amazes me is many American viewers thought this film was a documentary, that the events actually happened (while possibly the same subsample of folks subscribes to the conspiracy theory that the moon landing was a hoax). When belief is at odds with suspending disbelief, it diminishes  the sci-fi effect. Like the air on Mars, this screenplay proved thin.

Brooklyn and Carol. Both very powerful woman-empowerment flicks. I think Brooklyn outdid Carol as both film and screenplay.

Carol had one foot stuck in a novelesque mental landscape; Exhibit A was its overdone window/mirror imagery. Moving, but the movie tried too hard. I can’t imagine reading through that screenplay, ugh. While it made good use of the “flashback” technique, it was way too self-conscious to earn my vote.

Brooklyn was simply lovely. If the secret to a good adaptation is that the movie makes you want to read the book, it did its job. Brooklyn will be the next one I download.

In short, I fear The Big Short might win the Oscar, but I’m gonna short (bet against) The Big Short. Instead, I’m pulling for Room.

Movie memes: Cross-pollination of mainstream flicks


First things first. I share Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee’s consternation over this year’s #OscarsSoWhite snub. Seems to be a pattern. A baffling black-white one.

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Will Smith in “Concussion,” proof Hollywood is not an even playing field

And I was so looking forward to seeing Concussion, certain that Will Smith would be nominated for his transformation into a serious Nigerian. The trailer alone — that small furrow of his brow — seemed award-winning. Nothing’s stopping me from seeing the movie still … except time. Can’t possibly cram it in this month if I don’t hafta. This controversy puts the “cuss” in Concussion. On MLK Day, no less.

Four days since nominations were announced, my movie-viewing score stands at 8/37+0/15, or 22%. In the past few days, I rewatched Spotlight and Steve Jobs (to share the experience with my parents) and picked up Brooklyn, The Big Short, The Danish Girl and Room.

Besides acting inequities and lily-white actors, other patterns are popping up from film to film.

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Comedian Amy Poehler voices the Joy character, who goes through a roller coaster of emotions, in “Inside Out.”

For instance, the name Joy. Not a common female name, yet three honored movies feature Joy protagonists: Inside Out, Joy, obs, and Room. In the latter two, Joy seems ironically named, as neither character is particularly joyful, though I have yet to experience Joy.

In Inside Out, Sadness plays a vital supporting role to Joy — brings to mind Stevie Wonder’s hit Joy Inside My Tears. The Disney/Pixar animated feature is  a teaching tool to help kids name and access their emotions and realize there is no joy without sadness.

Speaking of kids, another echo is the 5-year-old‘s perspective, from Jack in Room and when we first meet Lisa in Steve Jobs. Also, remember when Lisa weaves through the puffy-cloud racks of tutus backstage at one of her dad’s dog-and-pony shows? That dreamy indoor landscape is echoed by a tutu array at Ulla’s humble theater in The Danish Girl. I’ve looked at tutus from both sides now.

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The spotlight is on gender-identity and sexual-abuse issues in “The Danish Girl” and “Spotlight,” respectively.

Another theme/meme, this time between The Danish Girl and Brooklyn: Lili (Eddie Redmayne) finally blooms, abandoning the painter she was and finding frilly work as a sales counter girl, gossipy and giggly with the other gals, selling perfume … same as Irish immigrant Ellis (Saoirse Ronan), eventually a no-nonsense accountant who first struggles to fit in through a department store job, selling nylons and such — nylons! Lili’s gateway drug! Eventually both fair-skinned lasses feel comfortable in their own skins, but they’re like sisters on the journey. Ellis hardly speaks and Lili mostly whispers.

Then there’s the iPodThe Big Short opens with narrator Ryan Gosling introducing us to banking ghoul Lewis Ranieri: “You might not know who he is,” he drones, “but he changed your life more than Michael Jordan, the iPod and YouTube put together.” Hey! Point for an African-American icon! A historical montage flashes past, with images of — hello! — the first Macintosh, which is a co-star of Steve Jobs; the first iMac, also making a cameo in Steve Jobs; and a haunting image of the WTC twin towers with a large bird (is it a plane?) dodging past.

No spoilers here, but the dawning of the iPod in Steve Jobs was an emotional peak for me. The device did, in fact, transform my life. Seems poignant, with 2015’s streaming music wars all but killing our beloved iPod. And though the twin towers are but a footnote both in The Big Short and Spotlight, they register melancholy whenever glimpsed.

Visual and thematic cross-references like these, themes and memes, likely jump out only to Oscar marathoners — proof there’s nothing new under the sun, nor the Klieg lights, in the same awards season. It takes cluster viewing to suss out creative parallels.

Can one get a concussion from watching too many movies too fast?

My 2016 Oscar Rustle-Hustle

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Next up: These two, together knocking out eight nominations

Confident this year I can do it: see all of the feature films and shorts nominated for Academy Awards in the top 24 categories within the six-plus weeks between Noms and Statuettes.

For 2016, there are 42 unique films and 15 shorts.

Given Fifty Shades of Grey is nominated for original song, I will change the rules slightly: I can’t bear to look upon that movie and shall eliminate the pressure to see the five song nominees, rather sampling only their songs. (Besides, “The Hunting Ground” will win that category, thanks, Gaga, and I’ve seen that movie — DONE!)

So, I need to tally only 37 feature films plus 15 shorts.
Score so far: 4/37+0 (11%).

Last year I couldn’t participate, due to homeowner’s woes, but in 2014
I finished with 31/42+15 (74%). In 2013, 23/38+15 (61%). Progress, not perfection, is the goal.

If I manage even 28 features plus all of the shorts, I win. Bundling each of the three shorts categories into four “movies,” as they’re presented at the local arts cinema, translates to consuming about five features a week, easy-peasy.

Here is the list, in order of appearance — as stacked at oscars.org — plus number of multiple nominations by my quick count (pardon errors):

FEATURE-LENGTH

Speaking of pressure, here's a little for "Mad Max: Fury Road" ...

Speaking of pressure, here’s a little for “Mad Max: Fury Road” …

  1. The Big Short – 5
  2. Bridge of Spies – 6
  3. Brooklyn – 3
  4. Mad Max: Fury Road – 10
  5. The Martian – 7 (seen it, twice)
  6. The Revenant – 12
  7. Room – 4 (read the book)
  8. Spotlight – 6 (saw it on Thanksgiving)
  9. Trumbo
  10. Steve Jobs – 2 (saw it on Halloween)
  11. The Danish Girl – 3 (reading the book)
  12. Carol – 6
  13. Joy
  14. 45 Years
  15. Creed
  16. The Hateful Eight – 3
  17. Anomalisa
  18. Boy and the World
  19. Inside Out – 2
  20. Shaun the Sheep Movie
  21. When Marnie Was There
  22. Sicario – 3
  23. Cinderella
  24. Amy
  25. Cartel Land
  26. The Look of Silence
  27. What Happened, Miss Simone?
  28. Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom
  29. Star Wars: The Force Awakens – 5 (saw it on Christmas Eve)
  30. Embrace of the Serpent
  31. Mustang
  32. Son of Saul
  33. Theeb
  34. A War
  35. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared
  36. Fifty Shades of Grey (song)
  37. Racing Extinction (song)
  38. Youth (song)
  39. The Hunting Ground (song) (seen it twice)
  40. Spectre (song)
  41. Ex-Machina – 2
  42. Straight Outta Compton
... and a little pressure for Eddie Redmayne

… and a little pressure for Eddie Redmayne

SHORTS

  1. Body Team 12
  2. Chau, Beyond the Lines
  3. Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah
  4. The Girl on the River: The Price of Forgiveness
  5. Last Day of Freedom
  6. Bear Story
  7. Prologue
  8. Sanjay’s Super Team
  9. We Can’t Live Without Cosmos
  10. World of Tomorrow
  11. Ave Maria
  12. Day One
  13. Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut)
  14. Shok
  15. Stutterer

Fun aside: I was reading my 84-year-old mama the list, and she said, “Oh! Fifty Shades of Grey! I loved that one!”

Upon further probing, turns out she meant Grey Gardens. Phew.