Writing (Original Screenplay):
- Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, and Joel Coen for Bridge of Spies
- Alex Garland for Ex Machina
- Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley, and Ronnie del Carmen for Inside Out
- Josh Singer and Tim McCarthy for Spotlight
- Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff, S. Leigh Savidge, and Alan Wenkus for Straight Outta Compton
Bridge of Spies was a plodding, boorish film which is about as far from a spy movie as one might expect. There are witticisms throughout as is typical Coen brothers fare, but the matchup with Steven Spielberg didn't help anyone. One has to assume there is something there with the Coen brother's history of nominations and wins in the writing categories, but it's sunk in so much murky water, it just feels like mud.
I refuse to dignify with consideration for a writing award a fiction whose plot I gathered in the first twelve minutes. Two years ago when Her won, it was for a novel portrayal of artificial intelligence and a deeply realized near-future. Ex Machina, though, would have been derivative garbage two decades ago.
How many major films do you know that feature mental health? No. Stop. Mental health. Not characters with mental disorders. Not mental illnesses. Mental health. Inside Out is that movie as it lives mostly inside the head of Riley from birth right up to adolescence. The deftness with which the writers navigate around their perceptions of how the mind works is fascinating. Employing five emotions (Anger, Disgust, Fear, Joy, and Sadness), those writers create a cooperative of characters all invested in their healthy adult. Most importantly, perhaps, doesn't stand to denigrate any of the emotions as being inherently unhealthy. They are all necessary in their right circumstances and deleterious in the wrong ones. In the culture that I see around me, too often all of those emotions other than joy are disparaged, perhaps especially sadness. Sadness is a thing to be avoided, and so, too, early in the film, she is shooed and restricted from being an inherent and functional part of her human's emotional ecosystem. Through the course of the film we realize just how necessary it is to let our sadness exist, and that sometimes we must let it have control. The thoroughness with which Inside Out is realized is its own joy to experience as old memories fade and are discarded, core memories help define us, and numerous other insightfully inventive touches. Inside Out features most strongly two emotions, joy and sadness, and it's no coincidence that those two reverberate most with its audience. If anything, bittersweet is a feeling that Inside Out teaches is at least as necessary as all the others.
Spotlight's ability to portray an ensemble cast and still give the film an emotional arc is what lands it here. There is a lot of geographic and tonal setting early in the film with references to The Curse of the Bambino, Catholic families, and relation to the New York Times. There's some rich double-speaking between the new Globe editor and a Cardinal who used to edit a small Mississippi paper. The Cardinal likened Boston to that Mississippi town where he felt like a "meddling outsider" for taking a stance on civil rights but that the right thing must be done, a situation similar to that the man across from the cardinal now finds himself in. Spotlight's success lies in tying so many threads together uniformly while maintaining a brisk pace without sacrificing coherency.
Straight Out of Compton admirably took the muddled politics of a decade of hip-hop and created a fluid, dynamic script. The breadth of people and stories to cover is massive, and knowing what to use and what to pass on is a gargantuan responsibility. The writers artfully wove the menagerie of characters together, keeping them all in mind while differentiating them solidly. I can't begin to speak for the authenticity, but the distillation of so much material into a concise and enjoyable script puts Compton on the map.
I will feel every emotion except joy if Inside Out does not win. It is the ninth animated feature to be nominated for a writing award, all but one of which coming from Pixar and none of which have gone on to win. I really, really hope its time has come, but I have serious doubts that it will be taken seriously. Who, then? Is it the white crew behind Straight Outta Compton? Is it the perpetually nominated Coen Brothers? Or is it the Spotlight team? Your guess is as good as mine.
Should win: Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley, and Ronnie del Carmen for Inside Out
Will win: Josh Singer and Tim McCarthy for Spotlight