For those who’ve seen Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter, its terrifying opening scene of a tsunami rising up and decimating a seaside resort seemed to play out all over again in news footage from Japan. Warner Bros is releasing the Matt Damon-starrer on DVD tomorrow, but the Associated Press reports from Tokyo that the film is being pulled from the rest of its theatrical run in Japan. It opened last month on 180 screens. The AP quotes Warner Entertainment Japan official Satoru Otani saying that showing the film at this point was “not appropriate.” The move seems wise, as Hereafter would certainly be the last thing a traumatized country would want to see at this point in time.
It’s amazing that any good script ever gets made anymore. If there is one common thread running through most of the contenders for screenplay honors this year, it is what a long, looooong journey it is from page to screen. And another fairly obvious truth: the road to Best Picture starts on the page. In fact, since 1933, only 3 movies have managed to win the Best Picture Oscar without at least having their screenplay nominated and, in the majority of cases, actually winning. One of those movies was Hamlet in 1948 but its credited writer, William Shakespeare, wasn’t around for the rewrites. The other two were The Sound Of Music (1965) and Titanic (1997).
The writers strike in 2007 proved not much gets done without scribes and the effects of that strike, particularly in terms of quality screenplays, is still being felt. Nevertheless 2010 is a rich feast as far as the writers are concerned but none of it was easy. Among the screenplay contenders, Black Swan, Blue Valentine, Get Low, and Inception were each percolating in the minds of their writers for more than a decade. In the case of The King’s Speech, it was more than 3 decades. The Kids Are All Right and Hereafter were thrown into drawers, unfinished, only to be rescued years later. And to demonstrate just how important the right words and concept are, it was 11 years between Toy Story 2 and 3. Of course the wait for just the right concept and script paid off when Toy Story 3 not only became the highest grossing film of the year, but also the number one animated film of all time and the best reviewed movie of the year on Rotten Tomatoes.
On the other hand, it doesn’t always have to take years to see a script turned into a movie. Another of 2010’s most critically acclaimed hits, The Social Network, was fast-tracked. The events it depicts happened just six years ago and were still unfolding when Aaron Sorkin wrote his screenplay even as the book it is partially based on was still being written itself. That seems to be an exception as most Oscar caliber scripts languish in development hell, most of them “too good” to get made until fate – and a reasonable budget — intervenes. Of all the branches in the Academy, the writers have been the ones to go off the page as it were and select offbeat and sometimes unexpected and unheralded nominees.
Here is a rundown of the screenplays that completed Hollywood’s obstacle course and now have a shot at the industry’s highest award:
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Animal Kingdom – David Michod: This tight Australian crime thriller about a 17-year-old trying to survive in a fearsome crime family has so far won lots of notice this awards season for co-star Jacki Weaver but could be recognized by writers for writer/director Michod’s powerfully effective and almost Shakespearean-like tale.
Another Year – Mike Leigh: Leigh’s uniquely original scripts borne out of a long and involved rehearsal period in which his actors all contribute to the final product have won him four previous nominations here (Secrets And Lies, Topsy Turvy, Vera Drake, Happy Go Lucky) and this slice-of-British-life drama could make it five.
Biutiful – Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu: After directing such critically acclaimed films as Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Babel all written by Guillermo Arriaga, Inarritu strikes out on his own to write this very personal, dark, and moving journey about a man whose life is in freefall. He’s been previously Oscar nominated as a director, producer, and for Foreign Language Film. But this could be the first time he is recognized for his writing talents.
Black Swan – Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, John J McLaughlin: This script started out as sort of an All About Eve set in the world of ballet but it morphed into much more than that once it finally got into the hands of Heyman, director Darren Aronofsky’s director of development. After 10 years and almost being permanently shelved just a month before production was to begin, it’s turned into a hit movie and major awards magnet.
Blue Valentine - Derek Cianfrance, Joey Curtis, Cami Delavigne: First written in 1998 and then rewritten more than 60 times, Cianfrance, who also directed, took 12 years to finally see his very personal story of a failing marriage hit the screen. The rawness of the dialogue and intensity of the scenes nearly landed this with an NC-17 until distributor Harvey Weinstein convinced the MPAA to change course and award an “R”.
City Island – Raymond De Felitta: This spring crowd-pleaser about a loud but loving and highly dysfunctional New York family was one of the first to get its screeners out, a good thing since many Academy members missed it and now seem to have a sense of discovery as they have been catching up with it. Whether that translates into a long shot surprise nomination in the writing category is anyone’s guess. But this movie has been full of surprises since winning the audience award at Tribeca two years ago.
Company Men – John Wells: The timeliness of WGA president John Wells’ story of corporate executives being downsized and thrown out of a job could be the thing that gets his fellow writers to give this a whirl in the DVD player. But the Weinstein Company seems to be pushing other higher profile movies in this category like The King’s Speech and Blue Valentine a little more forcefully. Its 76% fresh ranking at Rotten Tomatoes suggests that critics at least have liked what they’ve seen.
Conviction – Pamela Gray: She wrote two films, A Walk On The Moon and Music of the Heart, both released in 1999. But it would be another decade before she earned another big screen credit for this remarkable true story of Betty Anne Waters who spent 18 years putting herself through school in order to become a lawyer and get her wrongly convicted brother out of prison. Still this might be as much of a long shot as that triumph was.
The Fighter – Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, Keith Dorrington (co-story): Another long in development dream project, this true story of boxer Mickey Ward and his relationship with his crack-addicted brother Dicky was another case of ‘never say never’, thanks in large part to the perseverance of star/co-producer Mark Wahlberg who didn’t stop training even when the Paramount movie looked dead until further rewrites and budget cuts got it a greenlight from Ryan Kavanaugh/Relativity Media. With strong Best Picture prospects, this would seem a shoo-in for a nomination.
Get Low – C. Gaby Mitchell, Chris Provenzano: Mad Men writer Provenzano dreamed up the story of a hermit wanting to throw his own funeral in 2001 but then saw it reworked five years later by Mitchell. The result of this shotgun writers’ marriage was this long-in-development film finally got made and gave Robert Duvall another major starring role and shot at a second Oscar at age 80.
Hereafter – Peter Morgan: As a writer Morgan tended to do real life stories like The Last King Of Scotland, The Queen and Frost/Nixon, the latter two both winning him Oscar nominations. But the death of a friend led him into very different territory with this very spiritual tale on the tenuous connections between living and dying. With director Clint Eastwood insisting on not changing a word, Morgan got to live the writers dream and could land his third nomination although the film seems to be fading in memory this awards season.
Inception - Christopher Nolan: Shortly after winning his only Oscar nomination to date with his original screenplay Memento 10 years ago, Nolan came up with the concept for this startling and emotional story about dream invaders. It took a couple of enormously successful Batman films but Nolan finally got it made, winning that “dream” combination of rave reviews and blockbuster boxoffice. This would seem a certainty to earn him his next dance with Oscar.
The Kids Are All Right – Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg: Indie filmmaker Cholodenko wanted to go a little more commercial. And commercial filmmaker Blumberg wanted to go a little more indie. So the perfect combination was formed to write this family dramedy about a Lesbian couple with two teen kids whose relationship hits the rocks when their sperm donor suddenly flies in from the past. Winner of a NY Film Critics screenplay award and nominated for Golden Globes and CCMA honors, this is a rare comedy that could break through against its super serious competition.
The King’s Speech – David Seidler: Seidler, who had stuttering problems of his own as a kid, has been waiting 35 years to tell the story of the friendship between King George VI of England and his Australian speech coach, Lionel Logue. It’s been the longest journey of any screenwriter this year, but this WGA nominated writing veteran (Tucker: The Man and His Dream) is suddenly an “overnight” success and an Oscar frontrunner.
Made In Dagenham - William Ivory: A feel-good period piece about a group of feisty female factory workers fighting for equal pay in late 1960s England, Ivory’s deft combination of pathos, humor, and determination would make this an instant contender. But box office has been spotty, and its main chance at Oscar recognition would appear to be in the hands of the writers branch who are often known for championing the little guy – or in this case gal.
Please Give – Nicole Holofcener: This spring comedy was one of the first 2010 films to elicit any awards talk when it was released in April but its memory has faded a bit and another offbeat family comedy The Kids Are All Right may have stolen its thunder. Still, Holofcener’s quirky dialogue and amusing and flawed characters are highly entertaining and could pull a (major) surprise.
Somewhere – Sofia Coppola: This European-style minimalist exercise may be an acquired taste but don’t count out Coppola who won here for her only other original screenplay, Lost In Translation, in 2003. The Grand Prize winner at the Venice Film Festival, this story of a LA actor adrift and trying to forge a relationship with his young daughter actually could strike a few chords and win a few votes from other writers who may see someone they know in this.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
127 Hours – Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy: Adapting Aron Ralston’s book about his 5-day ordeal trapped “between a rock and a hard place” in a canyon he only escaped by cutting off his own arm, would seem to be impossible. Director Boyle had a vision and conquered 2 drafts before bringing in his Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire writer Beaufoy to do clean up. Somehow, they managed to turn this one-man show into a compelling movie and so far have landed Golden Globe and CCMA nominations for this ‘farewell to arm’ tale of man vs. nature with Oscar recognition a good bet at this point.
Fair Game – Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth: This riveting political thriller won top reviews in Cannes but failed to ignite the box office in its November opening stateside. Still, the screenplay crackles as the Butterworth brothers took both books by Valerie Plame and husband Joe Wilson to tell the tale of Plame’s massive CIA identity leak and the ensuing nightmare it caused. Longshot.
The Ghost Writer – Robert Harris, Roman Polanski: With Polanski’s aid, novelist Harris took a crack at his own book about a hired writer helping to craft the memoirs of a shady former British Prime Minister. With Hitchcockian twists and turns, the pair wrote a screenplay dealing with the craft of writing among many other things that should have great appeal in this category and may well win a nomination despite the threat of being forgotten due to its early 2010 release date.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – Nikolaj Arcel, Rasmus Heisterberg: Despite its Foreign Language and Swedish origins, this first of Stieg Larsson book adaptations (followed by The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest) represent perhaps one of the highest profile and most prodigious contenders in the category this year. Writers branch members in their Oscar voting are often receptive to foreign films so this one has a genuine shot of making the grade.
How To Train Your Dragon – William Davies, Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders: Taking Cressida Cowell’s stirring kids book and giving it heart, humor, and action, this writing team could find themselves competing against another toon, Toy Story 3. Writers have never been shy about acknowledging the scribe talents behind animated features in recent years and this one should be no exception. But it would mean seeing two toons going head to head here for the first time.
Love And Other Drugs – Ed Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz, Charles Randolph: Jamie Reidy’s book Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman proved to be perfect source material to get Zwick off the historical epic beat and back to romantic comedy basics. An underperformer at the box office, this sexy romp is a long shot but showed there’s still life in the genre.
The answer is yes — and no. Hereafter screenwriter Peter Morgan told Deadline that he took a meeting with Steven Spielberg “and went to the Universal lot for a meeting at 1 o’clock, and I went into the boardroom, and then an assistant came in and drew the curtains and said Mr. Spielberg is taken to have his meetings in the dark and she turned all the lights off.” Before a lot of crazy rumors start flying, let me clear up any confusion: ”It’s a slightly embellished tale,” an insider tells me. “The conference room has a huge window. Sometimes we close the drapes when the sun streams in. The meeting did not take place in the dark.”
In a career now spanning over 20 years Peter Morgan has become one of the film industry’s most prolific writers, best known for crafting screenplays based on real life people and events. He won an Oscar nomination for adapting Frost/Nixon (2008) based on his own play. In 2006 his original screenplay for The Queen was also Oscar nominated, winning numerous other awards including a Golden Globe. The same year he won a BAFTA award for The Last King Of Scotland about the notorious dictator Idi Amin. (Both Helen Mirren and Forest Whitaker won Oscars for their work in those two films.) His other credits include the sports biography The Damned United, and The Deal, and a lot of television work including his Emmy nominated effort this year on HBO’s The Special Relationship. He is both writer and executive producer of his latest film Hereafter with director Clint Eastwood. It opened well in limited release last weekend in LA and NY and goes wide Friday in 2,181 locations. A complete departure from his previous scripts, it’s a multi-character piece telling three distinct stories about people affected by death or near death in one way or another. It’s also the most personal of all Morgan’s work and he wrote it on spec not knowing if it would ever be made. How it wound up in the hands of some of the film industry’s most powerful figures is a story in itself, a turn of events even Morgan couldn’t quite believe as he explained to me when he was in LA for screenings and interviews recently:
Deadline’s Pete Hammond: What was your reaction when you saw the movie?
Peter Morgan: I spent most of the time when I watched for the first time loathing my work, wishing I had done more here or there. And then the second time, at the New York Film Festival, I really enjoyed it — not my work but the pace, of being allowed in. There’s extremely honest things about it. I can assure you this is the most honest piece of writing I have ever done. I wrote it in a hut on a mountain for nobody because I wanted to. I don’t know, it just came to me.
PH: What drew you to this material?
Morgan: The stuff that I have perhaps become known for that’s based on fact, and English statesmen shouting at each other all the time, doesn’t entirely represent who I am.
Warner Bros will be sneaking Life As We Know It on October 2nd in approximately 800 locations. The studio will platform Clint Eastwood’s latest Hereafter on October 15th in NYC and LA and Toronto and then go wide on October 22nd.
Warner Bros has released a new trailer for the Clint Eastwood-directed Matt Damon-starrer Hereafter, which comes to Toronto early next week.
The Toronto International Film Festival has announced the rest of its galas and premieres, and set a program of midnight screenings. The festival has added a diverse roster of films ranging from the Clint Eastwood-directed Hereafter to the Casey Affleck-directed Joaquin Phoenix documentary I’m Not Here to Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire followup 127 Hours, to the Will Ferrell-starrer Everything Must Go. Here are the additions to the program:
* Last Night, Massy Tadjedin, USA/France World Premiere. The festival’s closing night film. A married couple are apart for a night when the husband takes a business trip with a colleague to whom he’s attracted. While he’s away, his wife encounters her past love. The film stars Keira Knightley, Eva Mendes, Sam Worthington and Guillaume Canet.
*Sarah’s Key Gilles Paquet Brenner, France World Premiere. Based on Tatiana de Rosnay’s best-selling novel, Sarah’s Key tells the story of an American journalist on the brink of making big life decisions regarding her marriage and her unborn child. What starts off as research for an article about the Vel’d’Hiv Roundup in 1942 in France ends up as a journey towards self discovery as she stumbles upon a terrible secret. The film stars Kristin Scott Thomas, Mélusine Mayance, Niels Arestrup, Frédéric Pierrot, Michel Duchaussoy and Aidan Quinn.
*127 Hours Danny Boyle, USA World Premiere. The true story of mountain climber Aron Ralston’s (James Franco) remarkable adventure to save himself after a fallen boulder crashes on his arm …