Best Movie Of All Time, Oscar Edition!

March 8th, 2010

How many of the 10 nominees for Best Picture have you seen this year?

I’ve seen nine out of ten (that’s because I belong to the Screenwriters Guild, so I get sent some of the DVDs for the best original and adapted screenplay category).

Which movies did I vote for? Well…

I can’t tell you!

But I can tell you that there’s another reason I watch so many movies (besides the fact that it’s part of my job):

Movies (and TV shows) tell a story. And obviously, I love stories, and am fascinated by the way other people tell their stories. I feel like novelists can learn a lot about story telling from scriptwriters.

Each of the Best Picture nominees had something cool to teach us about ways to tell a story (at least, in my opinion):

The Blind Side (which is based on an amazing book) begins with Sandra Bullock (as Leigh Anne Tuohy) explaining to us why offensive tackles (a position in football) are important:

They guard the quarterback’s blind side. If the quarterback’s blind side isn’t guarded . . . boom! Something terrible happens.

Even as we’re trying to absorb the horror of what we’ve just seen on screen as Sandra was talking, boom:

Another terrible thing is happening to a teenage boy in a conference room. We don’t know who Michael Oher is, but we can tell that he’s special. And we’re afraid for him.

All of this happens in under a minute or so.

You can’t convey that information in as short a time in a book.

Or can you?

Up In The Air

A story isn’t a story if your hero hasn’t learned something about himself by the end of it, like the character George Clooney plays in this movie based on the book of the same name. “What does my character want?” is the first question you should ask yourself when you start your story. What George Clooney thinks he wants at the beginning of this film and what he ends up wanting at the end are two totally different things. A great lesson in writing.

Up

Even crabby grown-ups who didn’t want to watch a movie for kids enjoyed this movie. Why? Because it worked on multiple levels, combining hilarity with serious themes of love and loss. So it appeals to both children and adults. Only the most sophisticated stories do this. It’s really hard to pull off, and why this film won Best Animated Feature.

A Serious Man

Black comedies are always a tough sell with audiences, and aren’t everyone’s cup of tea because readers want a character they can like and relate to. If you then torture that character relentlessly, it’s tough to keep most readers interested. How do the Coen brothers do it? A good lesson!

Precious

The amazing fantasy sequences and the funny banter of Precious’ school friends made what could have been an unbearably sad film seem much less so. If you’re telling a sorrowful story, sprinkle in a little levity. Your audience will thank you.

An Education

Everyone says this movie was amazing but I’ll be honest: I totally missed it. Which makes me mad because it looks great. It’s on my list!

Inglorious Bastards

When Eli Roth came out of the train tunnel in his role as the terrifying Bear Jew in this movie, I could not stop laughing.

That’s because Eli was an RA at NYU when I worked there! He would make very realistic fake neck wounds on himself and come into my office pretending to be mortally wounded, or do imitations of his mother dropping off all the kids at Hebrew School.

I’m not surprised at Eli’s success. The crazier your ideas are, and the more you believe in them, the more likely someone else is going to believe in them as much as you do (but, you know, hard work has a lot to do with it, too. Eli goofed around a little, but worked hard, too).

Also, if you hated Benjamin Button (which I did), Brad Pitt completely redeems himself here.

The Hurt Locker

Five minutes into the DVD of this movie I was so freaked out I had to turn it off. That’s how much I cared about the characters: I couldn’t stand the thought of them dying (and during this movie they’re in constant peril)!

Now that’s some fine storytelling. . . making us care that much about your characters in such a short time.

We should all aspire to write something that compelling. That’s why this movie won Best Picture.

(PS My friend Beth told me to stop being such a big baby and turn the movie back on, and I did. It was so worth it.)

District 9

How can you take a story that’s been told a million times (aliens from space arrive on earth), but tell it in a different way (documentary style), with a twist that isn’t entirely new (we treat the aliens like dirt), but that still surprises? Well, I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s worth seeing.

Avatar

How can you take a story that’s been told a million times (humans from space arrive on an alien planet), but tell it in a different way (3-D), with a twist that isn’t entirely new (we treat the aliens like dirt), but that still surprises? The special effects were dazzling. I can’t wait until they make the Dragons of Pern books with this technology (please tell me they’re doing this)!


So pretty!

See? Writers can learn a lot from movies.

And popcorn doesn’t make a bad lunch, either.

More later.

Much love,

Meg