Six Circuit: Which 1987 Original Screenplay Did Not Make It Into the ‘Moonstruck’ Field?

Welcome to the 31st entry in our Six Circuit series.

It took us a while, but we’re finally tackling a category from the ’80s! The 1987 Oscars were dominated by “The Last Emperor,” which swept all nine categories in which it was nominated. This includes Writing, albeit in the Adapted Screenplay category. With the juggernaut out, the Original Screenplay became one of the few areas for another movie to get a win. Before we look at what movie came in sixth place, let’s talk about the movies that got nominated.

THE NOMINEES WERE:

  • “Au Revoir Les Enfants (Goodbye, Children)” — Louis Malle
  • “Broadcast News” — James L. Brooks
  • “Hope and Glory” — John Boorman
  • “Moonstruck” — John Patrick Shanley (WINNER)
  • “Radio Days” — Woody Allen

OVERALL SUMMARY

Best Picture nominees“Broadcast News” and “Moonstruck” were neck and neck for this race. The former had more Oscar nominations (seven vs. six), though the latter was the only one of the two to show up in Best Director. Both films were nominated in similar categories. In the end, “Moonstruck” prevailed. John Patrick Shanley beat James L. Brooks for the Original Screenplay prize. Additionally, Cher won over Holly Hunter in the Lead Actress category. This paints “Moonstruck” as the likely second place film in Best Picture. Perhaps these wins were merely because Brooks already had a runaway Oscar success years earlier for “Terms of Endearment.”

The other Best Picture nominee in the category was “Hope and Glory,” which was nominated for five Oscars. It lost all five, mainly because “The Last Emperor” ran the gauntlet in tech categories. The film’s Best Picture nomination likely places this at number three in this category. Still, one shouldn’t discount Woody Allen in this category. His “Radio Days” nomination was his fourth consecutive in this category and seventh overall writing nomination. Since he won the year prior for “Hannah and Her Sisters,” another win was likely out of the question. Bringing up the rear was “Au Revoir Les Enfants (Goodbye, Children),” Louis Malle’s French film. Though the Academy admired the film, it also lost in the Foreign Language Film category, losing to “Babette’s Feast.” What movie just missed out on this category? Let’s take a look.

THE SIX SPOT CONTENDERS ARE:

  • “Anna”
    • Precursors – Independent Spirit Awards,
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Actress (Sally Kirkland)
  • “Cry Freedom”
    • Precursors – None
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Supporting Actor (Denzel Washington), Original Score, Original Song
  • “Gaby: A True Story”
    • Precursors – None
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Supporting Actress (Norma Aleandro)
  • “Good Morning, Vietnam”
    • Precursors – None
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Actor (Robin Williams)
  • “House of Games”
    • Precursors – Golden Globe Awards, Venice Film Festival (WINNER)
    • Oscar Nominations – None
  • “Personal Services”
    • Precursors – BAFTA Awards
    • Oscar Nominations – None
  • “Raising Arizona”
    • Precursors – National Society of Film Critics (Runner-Up)
    • Oscar Nominations – None
  • “Street Smart”
    • Precursors – None
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Supporting Actor (Morgan Freeman)
  • “Throw Momma From The Train”
    • Precursors – None
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Supporting Actress (Anne Ramsey)
  • “Wall Street”
    • Precursors – None
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Actor (Michael Douglas) (WINNER)
  • “Wish You Were Here”
    • Precursors – BAFTA Awards
    • Oscar Nominations – None

BAFTA DOUBLE-FEATURE

Writer David Leland had quite a year in 1987. He won the BAFTA Award for Original Screenplay for “Wish You Were Here,” a dramedy about a young woman who engages in an affair with her Father’s friend. The movie, which Leland also directed, was loosely based on the early years of Cynthia Payne, a late in life brothel owner. Though it won the BAFTA, the English film didn’t make much of a splash in the States. This likely kept it from having much of a chance at the Oscars.

Not to be undone, Leland got another script of his nominated for Original Screenplay at the BAFTAs that same year. Payne must have been an inspiration for him, as “Personal Service” was based on the later years in her life, when she opens her home as a brothel. The more comedic film had even less of a shot at the Oscars, despite starring Julie Walters, who earned her first Oscar nomination in 1984 for “Educating Rita.”

ACTING COATTAILS

Often times an acting nomination can bring a writing nod as well on its coattails. In 1987, the Oscars cast a wide net, nominating many movies in the acting categories that appeared in no other fields. Films like “Gaby: A True Story,” “Street Smart,” and “Throw Momma From The Train” didn’t receive any precursors outside of their acting nominees. This likely kept them far from the Original Screenplay category. Even though “Cry Freedom” earned Original Score and Song nominations in addition to Denzel Washington’s Supporting Actor nomination, it likely wasn’t much of a factor in Original Screenplay. The one semi-significant writing pre-cursor one of these movies got was Independent Spirit Awards for “Anna,” which starred Best Actress winner Sally Kirkland. The film had a few passionate fans, but apparently not enough to earn it a second nomination in writing.

The Oscars often would nominate both hits and comedies in the writing categories. Both “Back to the Future” and “Crocodile Dundee” broke in to the Original Screenplay categories in the years leading up to 1987. One movie that could have fit this mold was “Good Morning, Vietnam.” which became the fourth highest grossing film of the year, domestically. The film’s success helped Robin Williams to a Best Actor nomination at the Oscars. Still, the film’s buzz never extended anywhere outside Williams’ performance.

The most high profile lone-acting nominee film also took home an acting win. Michael Douglas had quite a year in 1987, with both “Fatal Attraction” and “Wall Street.” While the former film was a Best Picture nominee, Douglas won Best Actor for the latter film. His work as anti-hero Gordon “greed is good” Gekko still stands as a cultural touchstone. Director/co-writer Oliver Stone was coming off a Best Picture and Director win the prior win for “Platoon.” Unfortunately, the movie got mixed reviews (56% on Rotten Metacritic) and also won a Razzie (for Daryl Hannah’s performance). This likely kept it out of the Original Screenplay category, despite an impressive pedigree.

FAMOUS WRITERS

Writer David Mamet had conquered stage and screen by 1987. The Pulitzer and Tony winning author had just wrote “Glengarry Glen Ross” for the stage in 1985 and been nominated for an Oscar for “The Verdict” in 1982. This positioned his next project, “House of Games,” for Oscar success. The neo-noir heist film, starring Lindsey Crouse and Joe Mantegna, received strong reviews upon its release. However, the film may have been too small or too genre to earn a writing nomination for Mamet. The same complaints could be lobbied against “Radio Days.” It must’ve come down to the fact that the Oscars love Woody Allen more than they love David Mamet.

It’s hard to imagine a time when the Coen Brothers (Joel & Ethan Coen) weren’t famous and beloved by Oscar. Their 1987’s “Raising Arizona” ranks today as one of their best. Still, it would be four years before a Coen Brothers film received an Oscar nomination (“Barton Fink” in 1991). It would take even longer for the Coen Brothers to receive writing, directing and Picture nominations (1996 – “Fargo”). Wishfully, it would have been wonderful to see “Raising Arizona” show up in Original Screenplay. Unfortunately, the Coen Brothers were too ahead of their time.

THE SIX SPOT FOR 1987 BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY WAS:

“WALL STREET”

Who do you think came in 6th place in the 1987 Best Original Screenplay race? Share with us in the comments below.

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