Category Check 2014: 2 down, 6 to go

All right! Some computer problems have finally been put to bed and I’m happy to return for an update on the overall progress of the Oscar Quest.

Having now completed the Best Actress and Best Actor categories, I find that I still have a long way to go. Updating each of the six remaining checklists, I’ve realized that the Big Eight categories are far less interconnected than I originally thought. I’d anticipated that most of the Best Director nominees would be multi-category juggernauts, and indeed many were, especially when one factors in the craft categories. However, true across-the-board nominees tend to be the ones I had seen already, and my recent conquests barely made a dent in most of the remaining fields: I’ve only checked off 21 of the 123 remaining Best Actor nominees and a mere 10 of the remaining 127 Original Screenplays. To be sure, by finishing Best Director I made much more overall progress than I did by finishing Best Actress, but the fact remains that I’ve now seen over one thousand movies with major Oscar nominations, and I still have several hundred to go.

This prospect is daunting and exhilarating at the same time. With six diverse and extensive categories remaining, it’s clear that unless I should wind up in traction or under house arrest in the near future, finishing the Oscar Quest will mean five more summers of heavy film viewing. Frankly, though, I’m glad to have so much still ahead of me! I don’t doubt for a second that each of these categories has brilliant, fascinating, and downright perplexing nominations in store, just like those I discovered on the Best Actress and Best Director Quests.

Last year, I posted individual profiles of all seven remaining categories. I doubt there’s any need to replicate such detail, so I’ll confine myself to a link to last year’s overview, a quick update, and a few sundry thoughts.

Best Picture – 27 down, 43 left

Here, of course, we do see a lot of Best Director overlap. I won’t conceal that I am saving this category for last, and that I’ll probably tackle it right after I finish the penultimate category. I’ll be curious to see the different facets of this category that are revealed as I peel of each screenwriting and acting category. This is the only category left in which I’ve seen all the winners, but I do still expect some remarkable filmmaking from among the remaining contenders! I’m particularly looking forward to two longtime holes in the DVD universe (Ruggles of Red Gap and The Magnificent Ambersons) and two disaster spectaculars (Airport and The Towering Inferno), all of which I hope to catch on the big screen!


Best Actor – 21 down, 102 (including 10 winners) left

Though I typically think of Best Actress as the real “one-shot” performance category, Best Actor also has its fair share of films nominated exclusively in that category. Given that many of my favorite Best Actress performances (Testament, Séance on a Wet Afternoon) came from such low-profile films, I’ll eventually take on this category with an open mind and high hopes! Sight unseen, I’m particularly anxious to see the non-winning work by several of the category’s winners, such as Rod Steiger in The Pawnbroker, Jeff Bridges in Starman, and Denzel Washington in The Hurricane (1999).

Best Supporting Actress – 10 down, 82 (including 9 winners) left

Supporting Actor and Actress are a fascinating mixture of moonlighting stars, rising or fading legends, true character actors, and complete outsiders. As I’ve said before, I often know so little about the nominated performance that I’m looking forward to the film first and foremost. However, I’m especially keen to see the Oscar-nominated work of actresses I know for completely different reasons: Billie Burke in Merrily We Live, Paulette Goddard in So Proudly We Hail, and yes, Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted.

Best Supporting Actor – 13 down, 104 (including 12 winners) left

With a total of 305 separate nominees, Supporting Actor represents more separate individuals than any other acting category. Again, it’s a spendid mix of the famous, the familiar, and the unknown, with several of my all-time favorite performances included among the ones I’ve already checked off. I hardly know how to start narrowing it down, but I’d say I’m most excited by the truly great character actors, like Thomas Mitchell in The Hurricane (1937), John Lithgow in The World According to Garp, and Arthur Kennedy in The Trial.

Best Original Screenplay – 10 down, 117 (including 9 winners) left

Original Screenplay is the youngest and thus the smallest category among the Big Eight, and yet it still has the most left for me to see.  That just shows how exceptionally idiosyncratic the category is. As with Best Actress, the category defines a minority of commercial films (around the world as well as in Hollywood), and the best work often comes from the most marginal movies. I have a huge array of anticipated and totally unknown titles before me, but I’m especially looking forward to the robust contingent of international films, including Rossellini et al’s Paisan, Duras’ Hiroshima, mon amour, and Jackson & Walsh’s Heavenly Creatures.

Best Adapted Screenplay – 18 down, 78 (including 1 winner) left

As this is also something of a shadow Best Picture/Director category, I have fewer remaining in this category than any other and it will likely be my next target. Many of the titles still outstanding come from those pesky 2nd Academy Awards, in which multiple works were under consideration for each individual. I don’t know if I can expect to find all of them, but I’ll do my darnedest! Meanwhile, as with Original Screenplay, I look forward to catching up with many of the foreign offerings: Amedei & Fellini’s Rome, Open City, Bertolucci’s The Conformist, and Hodge’s Trainspotting.

That should do it for now!  I’ll post sporadically in the coming weeks and months, including comments on the 2013 Oscar race and the season that will intervene between now and the start of the next category.  And if all goes according to the current plan, I’ll be back next spring for Best Adapted Screenplay!


Category Check: Best Adapted Screenplay

Best Adapted Screenplay


First off is one of the four ancestral categories, tracing back to the first Academy Awards for 1927-1928.  Best Screenplay as it originally was known, underwent several reinventions in its early years, featuring as few as 3 or as many as 11 nominees and twice award works that cite no prior source material (in 1929-1930 and 1936).  In 1940, it settled into its five-nominee dualistic relationship with Best Original Screenplay, a collective ten-film spread that has yielded some truly diverse slates of nominees in both categories.

At present, I’ve seen 326 of 422 nominated films, leaving a considerable 96 films to be seen, including 3 of the winners: The Story of Louis Pasteur (Pierre Collings and Sheridan Gibney), Midnight Express (Oliver Stone), and Traffic (Stephen Gaghan).  Among the ones I’ve yet to see, a number are embarrassing omissions.  In addition to major Oscar winners like Traffic and Captains Courageous are spirited films like Trainspotting (John Hodge) and Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov) that I know ought to be part of any decent film education.  There are movies by favorite directors Sidney Lumet’s Serpico (Waldo Salt) and Prince of the City (Jay Presson Allen, Sidney Lumet), as well as favorite writers: Ronald Harwood’s adaptation of his own play The Dresser.  There are films that intrigue me solely based on what little I know of their premise–The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (Nicholas Meyer) as the seminal Sherlock Holmes update, Ulysses (Joseph Strick, Fred Haines) as the doomed-to-fail adaptation of James Joyce’s magnum opus–and ones that are a blank slate to me apart from their title and the impressive pedigree of the authors: I love Graham Greene, but couldn’t tell you the first thing about his pre-Third Man partnership with Carol Reed on The Fallen Idol.  I’m perhaps most looking forward to the handful of art films that were swept up alongside Original Screenplay’s foreign language renaissance from the mid-1940s to the early 1980s.  Movies like The Conformist (Bernardo Bertolucci) and Rome, Open City (Sergio Amidei, Federico Fellini) have been awaiting my patronage for a long time, and I cannot wait to oblige them.

Along with Best Director, I tend to regard Adapted Screenplay as a shadow Best Picture category: of the 422 nominated films in this category, 247 are Best Picture nominees, including all but 3 of the winners and 27 of my remaining 96.  Consequently, I tend to split consideration of my favorites into Best Picture and non-Best Picture piles, with the former including classics like Casablanca (the Epstein Twins and Howard Koch) and Apocalypse Now (John Milius, Francis Ford Coppola) as well as unsung or undersung gems like Here Comes Mr. Jordan (Sidney Buchman, Seton I. Miller) and Moneyball (superteam Aaron Sorkin and Stephen Zaillian), and the latter including writing feats as eclectic as Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Timothy J. Sexton and David Arata), Laura (Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein, Betty Reinhardt), and The Talented Mr. Ripley (Anthony Minghella).

Indeed, for as much of a Best Picture clone as it sometimes seems, the real takeaway from this category for me is its profound eclecticism.  An entire essay could surely be devoted to the rich interplay of authors among both nominees and source materials, from the ubiquity of Tennessee Williams and Neil Simon to the surprising appearances of Alec Guinness and Jean-Paul Sartre.  What fascinates me most, though, is the array of sources: in addition to the traditional novels, short stories, and stage plays, the source material mandated by the category has taken the form of:

  • comics (Skippy, American Splendor)
  • graphic novels (Ghost World and A History of Violence)
  • genre fiction (Children of Men, Murder on the Orient Express)
  • television (Pennies from Heaven, Borat)
  • short films (Sling Blade, District 9)
  • prior feature films (Before Sunset as a sequel to Before Sunrise, The Departed as a remake of Infernal Affairs)
  • even a couple of Adapted Screenplay nominees inspired by Original Screenplay nominees (Toy Story and Toy Story 3; Profumo di Donna and Scent of a Woman).

Quite a range, and quite a vibrant category.  I plan to hold off on this category for at least a little while, given that a good deal of the work can be done in pursuit of other categories, but I look forward to the chance to revisit this group soon!

Category Check: Miles to Go


Lest anyone think that my recent completion of the Best Actress category is the rule and not the exception, I’m starting a survey of my progress in the other seven categories as of the day that I watched the last Best Actress nominee. Among the overabundance of reasons that led me to begin the Best Actress Quest was that it was my weakest category, and would remain so unless I took deliberate action.  It’s funny now to see where the other categories lie relative to one another, and how the completion of the Best Actress quest has affected their trajectories.

These lists remain essentially accurate as of the time of writing–as an intentional change of pace, I’ve spent the last three weeks sampling films well outside of the Best Actress wheelhouse.  Between cult films (Primer, Point Break), documentaries (Stories We Tell, The Yes Men Fix the World), and new movies (Star Trek into Darkness, 42, Before Midnight), not to mention gobs and gobs of TV from To Play the King to Redwall, I’ve had a nice refreshing break from the typical range of the Best Actress film.  Only 1 of 19 features I’ve seen since The African Queen boasts any major Oscar nomination, the exception being Mildred Natwick’s Supporting Actress nomination for her delightfully haphazard mother-in-law in Barefoot in the Park–though I’ll be appalled if the number doesn’t retroactively rise to 2 in January with Julie Delpy’s nomination for her magnificent work in Before Midnight.

Anyhow, the next three days will see me post overviews of the Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Picture, along with a few comments on the best of what I’ve seen and the work cut out for me.  And last but not least, it’s hard to ignore the fact that it’s now the beginning of summer, leaving me just under three months in which to polish off a second category!  Which one ought to become clear soon enough.  In the meantime, let’s take a look at the mountains yet to be scaled.