Writer vs. Critic 2010-2011

Patrick Goldstein, who might be the single best blogger at the LA Times, covers Hollywood, and in his case, that means interviewing influential people in Hollywood. Most of them, because they're in the Industry, cannot stand — for professional reasons — to be disliked, and will not be quoted by name.

But Goldstein knows how to work with that, and when he does have a chance to put someone on the record, he almost always shines. In a column last week, he interviewed the seventy-three-year-old writer David Seidler who is — to his own surprise and delight — the front-runner in the competition for best screenplay, for The King's Speech.

After years — decades even — spent grinding out forgettable fodder for television, little-known Seidler is on top of the world, and deservedly so.

But there's a fly in the ointment. A number of commentators, including Richard Corliss at Time, have pointed out that The King's Speech is a virtual grab-bag of Oscar bait: 

"The King's Speech" adheres to every rule in the Oscar playbook. It's a fact-based drama about a British monarch with a crippling vocal handicap, set in the years 1925 to '39 and climaxing with Britain declaring war against Nazi Germany. It's also a very effective example of the noble weepie…. It should play well among the real target audience–Academy members."

Corliss has a point. In fact, he even compiles some statistics to prove it. (For instance, he says that 60% of Best Picture winners in the last fifty years were set in the past, despite the indisputable fact that Hollywood much much prefers to make movies set in the present day.) 

But Goldstein interviews the writer, who fires back with a point of his own. Goldstein writes:

At any rate, when I asked Seidler whether he thought you could really write an Oscar-bait movie, he let out a raucous peal of laughter. "If I could've done that so easily, do you really think I would've waited this long?" he said. "If screenwriters could just put all those things into an simple equation, everyone would have had a shelf full of Oscars a long time ago. Trust me, it ain't that easy."

And therein lies a wonderful tale, of a writer earning his way to being able to tell a great story. It's a story Goldstein (and many others) have told well. 

But the funny thing is, in this conflict between the critic and the writer, in a sense both are right.

Yes, there is such a thing as a movie likely to appeal to the Academy, and yes, The King's Speech fits the mold.

Yet with that said, it's also true that there's infinitely more to writing a good screenplay than choosing a topic, a setting, and a conflict.

If you don't believe it, as Seidler said, just try it.


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