Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Long Shot Week: Best Adapted Screenplay - "Logan"

Scene from Logan
Welcome to the first Long Shot Week, where I will attempt to persuade you to think outside of the Oscar box. While it's too late to change voters' minds, I believe that audiences need to take a moment to look at the other contenders in any category and give them a chance. Long Shot Week is designed as a way to highlight these talents that likely don't stand a chance of winning, but more than deserve a chance to be appreciated for what they bring to the game. In a way, this is my list of "Films that should've won," though it's not always indicative of my favorite. Join me all week as I look at different categories and pose the question "Why not?" in hopes that The Oscars still have a few surprises up their sleeve.

Long Shot: Logan
Category: Best Adapted Screenplay Screenplay
Other Nominees:
-Call Me By Your Name
-The Disaster Artist
-Molly's Game
Likely Winner: Call Me By Your Name

The Case for Logan

In spite of superhero cinema being a genre that's readily prevalent in pop culture (if a film isn't topping the box office, then it's only weeks away), there's something curious to its lack of presence in The Academy Awards. Sure, many would guess that Wonder Woman was the better, more deserving film. It even had a strong Oscar push behind it. However, these are films that people are going out to see, creating box office grosses often exceeding hundreds of millions of dollars. Why is The Academy so unsure of nominating the films as readily when the Best Picture field is meant to represent a spectrum of the cultural zeitgeist in any given year? To its credit, 2017 brought along two horror films in the Best Picture category, but how does a superhero film get more love than technical fields? In some ways, the few that have gotten qualitatively above screenplay (Skippy, Ghost World, The Dark Knight, and Logan) have something more universal to say beyond comic book panels and wacky action scenes. 

Take for instance this year's Best Adapted Screenplay outlier in Logan. It's not entirely odd that the film got nominated. Since its release, there has been a push to get Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart into serious acting nominations. It's for good measure, too. These two have been playing these iconic roles for over almost two decades at this point that they can bring a vulnerability to what's essentially their swan songs. This is where the series ends for them, creating a cultural shift for pop culture icons in general. Jackman was always the cinematic version of Wolverine, even in a time where most of his X-Men co-stars have been recast by younger, sexier kids who just don't have the same charisma. Jackman's career was made by this role, so of course he's going to put his heart and soul into making the farewell as powerful as possible.

In terms of long shot winners, Logan is that in all 10 of the screenplay nominees. Superhero movies don't win anything above technical, if that. However, director James Mangold has ingeniously reinvented the comic book mythology into a film not out of line with a Sergio Leone mentality. Sure Jackman is no Clint Eastwood staring into the desert, but he does have that gruff, aged quality to him. Stewart has that crippled and tragic vibe to him as well, creating a world where the heroes that protect others are in desperate need of self-preservation. The only issue is that there's little to stop them from noticing their mortality. Jackman has become a cowboy in a film like The Wild Bunch where men are forced to "ride off into the sunset" metaphorically, saying goodbye to an era of film making that can't exist anymore, or is in need of fresh blood. 

Logan is quintessentially a neo-western in every sense of the word. He is a man who has to fend for himself and question just how much violence actually protects those around him. He is a target for chaos, and it becomes a problem as he has to rely on paternal instinct with his daughter Laura: a clone wishing to travel to the Canadian border for safety. It's enough to make this film a self-reflection on Jackman's placement in the hero mythology, but it's another to show that even as his generation dies there's another to come. The world doesn't stop because he has worn out his usefulness. Even as he falls under his own exhaustion, there's something that suggests that this man forced to be violent is doing it for the protection of those he loves. Speaking as how long he spends alone, it's the cathartic arc of the entire story to see him finally give in to love and accept that he is wanted. He isn't just the cowboy, he's a protector.

The one detriment of the script is that a lot of the plot is more centered around what Jackman, Stewart, and Dafne Keen (Laura) bring to their respective roles. The story is rich with a subtext the deconstructs heroes and lone gunmen mentalities, but it's also in how they physically convey the decaying past and the hostile future that doesn't welcome them. It's a superhero movie that wants to be a drama, or a western where the horse is a car and the shootouts happen everywhere from Las Vegas casinos to someone's farm. The shocking moments come often, but pack an emotional punch at the same time. This is a film without convenient answers, and in the process shows that superhero cinema can be dangerous and capable of a sadness only dramas get credit for. It's hard to know how much credit should be given to the other few X-Men movies that came before, but Logan does a good job of standing alone as a film with a coherent, complete story that transcends comic books. It's about the humanity in people.

On one hand, Logan is an anomaly. In an era where franchises intersect or plan 10 year models, Jackman's departure is bold not only because he's lasted this long, but also because he's one of the few icons who has been that role exclusively for almost two decades. Even the Marvel Cinematic Universe's Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark) has only been going at it for 10 years, and with far less physical requirements. It helps that Mangold and Jackman have worked together before on The Wolverine, but it helps even more that they understand what makes the character so compelling and cinematic, even managing to make an inherently depressing story into something powerful and even bold. In general the X-Men culture is getting into an interesting phase with comedy (Deadpool) and horror (New Mutants), which makes Logan seem more novelty as a neo-western. Beyond that however, it holds up as its own story of saying goodbye to someone who we thought would always be there. Thankfully, it's the best way to go out with dignity, grace, and an Oscar nomination.

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