The nominations: Original Screenplay
The film: In 1965 on a small New England island called New Penzance, twelve year-old orphan khaki scout Sam Shakusky sees Suzy Bishop for the first time at a church production of Benjamin Britten’s Noye’s Fludde while staying for summer camp. Both taken with the other’s spirit and oddball tendencies, they become fast pen pals and make a secret pact to run away together. The morning the children are discovered gone both Sam’s khaki scout leader Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) and Suzy’s lawyer parents Walt (Bill Murray) and Laura (Frances McDormand) are completely baffled. The adults find notes left behind and call Police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) to help find the runaways who deputizes the khaki scouts and sets out on a search party.
Sam having brought the camping equipment and Suzy having brought her cat, her record player, and a suitcase full of books, the two hike around to the opposite side of the island where they hope to take a boat to the neighboring island to make their getaway. They are briefly are attacked by the overzealous khaki scouts, but the pair fend them off when Suzy fights back with her lefty scissors. They reach a beach cove and set up camp for the night where they dance on the sand in their underwear and share their first kiss. They awake in their tent the next morning to find they’ve been caught with Suzy’s parents, Scout Master Ward, Police Captain Sharp, and the rest of the khaki scouts all there. Suzy is swiftly taken home and arrangements are made by Social Services (Tilda Swinton) to find a new situation at a juvenile refuge for orphan Sam while he stays with Captain Sharp. Meanwhile the khaki scouts begin to feel remorse over betraying Sam and decide on a mission to reunite the young lovers. They rescue Suzy and Sam and take them to the big khaki scout camp Fort Lebanon to enlist help from Cousin Ben (Jason Schwartzman), an older relative of one of the khaki scouts. As a terrible storm approaches Suzy and Sam are unofficially married by Cousin Ben and are about to make good their escape but are discovered once again. They make a run for it despite the growing danger of the rain and lightning. They are pursued to the church and are cornered when they escape out to the roof on the church steeple. As the adults realize their own hypocrisy and guilt over their actions, they try to talk the children of the ledge before they are struck by lightning or jump to their doom.
The odds: If Wes Anderson had one great shortcoming as a filmmaker it would be his stubbornness, or perhaps his inability, toward letting his personal style evolve out of the oddly specific, sixties-era-color-palate anomalous microcosm he is so loyal to like it were some endowed, sacrosanct church of quirkiness…but that’s only an “if.” It’s true it’s easy to pigeonhole Anderson’s style; his films are all weirdly alike and are unarguably not for everyone, but it’s still unfair to reserve admiration and respect out of stubbornness especially when faced with this precious and ingeniously narrated story of puppy love. I personally find Anderson’s part-goofy, part-sardonic visions to be a light in a dark room, as he is a notable and talented director not driven by the same hell-bent need for realism as his contemporaries but rather delighting in fancifully channeling life as if through a kaleidoscope. The film contains one of my favorite photographic moments of the year (though not nominated for Best Cinematography) as the film opens with a lovely and lovingly choreographed long single shot that explores the Bishop household room by room, pulling apart and molding back together like a magical diorama set to the adorable “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.” Anderson has used this dissected dollhouse effect in most of his other movies, notably in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Darjeeling Limited, though this is the first time it doesn’t feel like a curious gimmick. His greatest hour though, as in all of his movies, is the clever wordplay of the script. A love story of two preteens that feels neither maudlin or childish is pretty remarkable. It may not be a daring in subject as its fellow nominees, but when it comes to screenplay categories AMPAS has always shown a soft spot for all things pleasant and endearing. Wes Anderson is a smart screenwriter and he deserves his due for this winsome masterpiece if not for the genuine showmanship and proof of tradecraft than in atonement for passing over his entire gentle-natured, erudite-freckled, and horribly-unappreciated filmography.