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Gravity's screenplay: to nominate or not to nominate?

Have you seen this "From Script to Screen" video for Gravity? It's basically a very concise and very watchable "Making of" documentary for the YouTube generation. That generation is basically all of us now, whenever we were born. "You've only got 5 minutes? Here you go!"

Was I supposed to know that Sandra Bullock was a dancer? Is this common knowledge I'd forgotten over the years of her stardom?

Frankly, as an Oscar FYC commercial, I enjoyed it so much that I'd rather watch a 91 minute version of it than the movie for a third time.  The behind the scenes stuff on hi-tech movies is always so interesting. It doesn't so much kill the magic for me in a "so that's how they did that!" way as it makes me marvel at the still-secret magic of how creative people come up with their ideas in the first place and then find new intensely creative ways to execute them. Filming actors inside cubes of light? Sure. Of course.

Given the screenplay's point of placement in the video, this is a smart ploy for the one key nomination it seems in danger of missing: Best Original Screenplay. Gravity might still pull this off - Best Picture heat goes a long way in every branch of the Academy - but there are so many fine screenplays this year (just look at that chart) that a nomination feels too generous to me at the expense of some rich accomplishments that won't be able to be awarded elsewhere. Kris Tapley not-so delicately suggests that people like me are 'of course dead wrong' when we call the screenplay a little "thin". The words "metaphor" and "adversity" are uttered three and five times respectively within the first 90 seconds of this video which only proves my point, or Kris's depending on where you fall on Obvious Metaphors and how much goodwill they buy you.  

I don't mean to be snarky. I think Gravity will wholeheartedly deserve two of the Oscars it's going to win, but the script is not the MVP. I appreciate its brevity, don't get me wrong, and there's more to screenwriting than plot but even if your plot is essentially multiple riffs on a singular scene, or metaphor if you will, my stance is that it could have stood a little more meat on its checklist skeleton [insert Paint By Numbers Grief Backstory here] or, the inverse, embrace its skeletal nature altogether like All is Lost did. Gravity is so amazing visually and aurally that it probably could have gotten away with something like Robert Redford's mysterious but moving opening letter/monologue and left it at that.

Where do you fall on the Gravity screenplay divide and what are your favorite original screenplays of the year? 

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Reader Comments (23)

Gravity's screenplay is pretty horrible. Like a 12 year old wrote it.

December 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSad man

You're so right.

December 24, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

I'm on Team Nathaniel.

Tapley tends to be both arrogant and humorless, which is an off-putting combination. I only visit In Contention because of Guy, who's a much better writer. He, too, loves Gravity, but has expressed it in a way that isn't plain disrespectful of those who disagree with him.

December 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJan

Gravity's screenplay was perhaps better than it needed to be, but not as good as it could have been. I don't see the need to nominate it. Especially not with this year's original screenplays.

December 24, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

Gravity was an enthralling cinematic thrill ride with the clunkiest screenplay in the world. I feel I got everything I was ever gonna get out of it the first time I saw it, and didn't need to sully it with repeat viewings. Best screenplay? Not hardly, but that's the Academy these days. I watched American Hustle and half the scenes I thought "Does this movie even have a screenplay? Or a plot? Or anything solid on a character level?" The answer is of course no, but it doesn't matter, because its "funny" and there are a lot of funny words and Jennifer Lawrence says them with a terrible Jersey accent, so its nominated.

December 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohnny

I like denny's assessment above. In general I think that the screenplay is pretty solid, in that the film manages to move me in spite of some of its clunky dialogue. I know that this sounds a little paradoxical ("the screenplay was so good that it overcame the movie's terrible screenwriting!!!"), but I have to think that the film's ultimate success (for me) had *something* to do with the narrative that the Cuarons created.

That said, it makes me sad to think that this screenplay might be the reason that "Enough Said" or "Fruitvale Station" or "Frances Ha" (etc.) doesn't make it into the lineup.

December 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterWill

I loved Gravity, it's among my top 5 of the year for sure. But it definitely doesn't deserve a Best Original Screenplay nod, not with the strong contenders in that category this year. (And you're right that All is Lost was a much better screenplay, but of course it doesn't have a prayer of a nomination because there was minimal yakety-yak.)

December 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Yes, it's thin. It's one of my favorite films of the year, and I disagree with you on many points on the film, but it doesn't deserve a screenplay mention, despite being deeper than you suggest.

December 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

I'll happily stand up for the script. Take the discussion of spirituality in Gravity and compare it to something like Philomena - talk about lack of subtlety. The story relies on familiar tropes, but the story it's telling - using the journey to symbolize both the physical and spiritual aspects of survival - is really stunning. Little touches like the symbols of Western and Eastern religion, the desperate need to connect to anything (someone who doesn't understand you, an animal, ANYTHING - and I thought that scene was perfect), the discussions of the will to live, the symbolic fetal position/first steps... so many themes handled in such a short space. If these are all seen and the script is still seen as inferior, to each their own, but I was really impressed.

As for All is Lost, the skeletal nature of it (and the movie itself) didn't work for me. It may be because I saw Gravity first, and when Gravity had so much to say, I didn't even find AIL compelling. I get the feeling the Gravity script will continue to be debated for years though, as I expect the appreciation for this film will only grow with time.

December 24, 2013 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

I loved Gravity, but I generally agree with you. The film succeeds for a host of reasons that have virtually nothing to do with the words on the page. Its plot and dialogue could've been pulled from any number of B-movies. Gravity succeeds because of its director's vision and the resources that were brought to bear.

Jan, I agree with you. I don't like to bust out the 'P' word because it's so overused that it's lost any meaning, but many of the writers and commenters at In Contention come across as pretentious asses. Other than Guy, I seldom feel like the folks there love the films they write about. They're too in love with the Oscar game and their own place in that game.

December 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterW.J.

I'm a huge Gravity fan, and the script is totally serviceable, but I'd never go so far as to say that "totally serviceable" means "best of the year." I think it would be nice if critics/end-of-year awards/moviegoers in general would embrace the idea that even the best movies are not the best in every single aspect of production.

December 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoe K

I thought that the screenplay was quite good, maybe not nod worthy, but I won't turn my nose up at it. It's "To be or not to be' as a thrill ride.

December 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterArkaan

What Joe K said -- except for the first five words ;)

December 24, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I hope it gets nominated for Original Screenplay *and* Production Design. Film is highly deserving of both.

I'd go with:

Original Screenplay


December 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBryce Forestieri

As many of you, I liked Gravity fine, but why are we even discussing its screenplay for a nomination? Really, Gravity is gonna get a lot of love, but it doesn't need to get it in every category. The script might be ok, but it's not top 5 of the year material and, frankly, I think it's unfair the way people are dissecting it and critising it just because the film is one of the frontrunners for Best Picture. The movie is good? Ok, let's talk about it for BP. The script is not as strong? Ok, let's not consider it for Best Original Screenplay and move on.

I'd like to see the Academy spread the wealth and movies not getting more than 4 or 5 nomination each. There are hundreds of films released every year, to consider the same bunch for everything is just lazy.

December 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLucky

I really like the screenplay. The visuals are the star, sure, but the screenplay guides the visuals. We wouldn't have those wonderful action scenes (or Bullock's one chance to actually act in this film) without the screenplay's guidance. Screenplay is as much about dialogue as it is about the structure of the story. Just ask Diablo Cody. You might hate the oh so quirky dialogue in Juno, but the bones of the story and character arcs are rock solid.

December 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

^ The Juno screenplay and Gravity screenplay are completely different and on entirely different plains. Juno's screenplay is infinitely better than Gravity's.

I think Gravity does it's job and kind of guides the huge film, but it's definitely a weak script. The script is for sure the weakest aspect of the film; everything else is pretty top notch.

December 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

"Gravity" was a great showcase for direction and it's Oscar caliber effects work- but the best thing I can say about the script is that it was short and to the point.

December 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

Gravity is THE most over-rated film this year. The special effects were good, even great. But the film itself, meh. I know it's not the case, but Sandra Bullock should be the weakest link of the Top 5 current Lead Actress contenders. There, I said it.

December 24, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrandz

Overall it was a fun experience and I'm comfortable with it on the Best Picture list. But that dialogue doesn't warrant any endorsement.

December 25, 2013 | Unregistered Commentergoran

Yeah, totally with you on this one, Nathaniel. There were certain points where I actively cringed, especially the ending. I guess the hamminess could have worked if they ran with it, but it was clearly built to be something simpler and more sparse, which made the Inspirational Lifetime Moments stick out all that more. I guess I was mostly disappointed that Cuarón, who wrote Y Tu Mamá También and adapted Children of Men, wrote this.

December 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPJ

Alfonso Cuarón is always painfully heavy-handed in his metaphors. That was my problem with Children of Men. Gravity is a visual experience, but as a story it is student work.

December 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah Lipp

Thanks for being a voice of reason in this chorus, Nathaniel!

December 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMayukh

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