Themes That Resonate… with Oscar Nominees
The nominations for this year’s Academy Awards for screenwriting have been announced and it’s an encouraging list.
Well, sure. Several of the nominations are for writers I am really rooting for, including Diablo Cody, the creative force behind Juno, and Lars and the Real Girl writer, Nancy Oliver. These two scripts are exactly the types we can be writing. Both are clever ideas, smartly conceived and well executed — and each a spot-on example of how the BS2 works every time.
But these two films also show how it’s not enough to have just an original idea and a well-structured story, it must also, as I say in Save the Cat!, be “about something.”
And that means theme.
The theme of Juno involves the Rites of Passage its heroine undergoes, and the hero’s connection to the B story — the hip Yuppie hubbie, played by Jason Bateman, and his more-than-meets-the-eye wife, Jennifer Garner — is where that character change is discussed. Likewise, the Rites of Passage the titular Lars goes through in Lars and the Real Girl, one of mourning, is seen in his relationship with the “real” girl of that film — but who is that? (Any takers?)
What it’s “about” is what our stories must address, and is seen in each of the honored films this year.
Here is the list of nominees:
Best Original Screenplay:
Diablo Cody, Juno
Nancy Oliver, Lars and the Real Girl
Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton
Brad Bird; Story by Jan Pinkava, Jim Capobianco, Brad Bird, Ratatouille
Tamara Jenkins, The Savages
Best Adapted Screenplay:
Christopher Hampton, Atonement
Sarah Polley, Away from Her
Ronald Harwood, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men
Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood
I have yet to see a few on the list, but the ones I have seen reinforce the importance of theme. Theme is directly tied to the B Story of most films; it is the “helper story” and is the subterranean undercurrent of why we appreciate the movie overall, whether we are consciously aware of it during our first viewing or not.
I would be interested to hear about how these nominated films affected you, and how the theme of the movie, the “moral of the story,” is really what makes story hit home.
By getting at the heart of why these films work, we can find the meaning in our own — no matter what type we are writing.
Congratulations to all the nominees.
And I have a feeling, the show will go on!
I can’t wait to be watching the winners get their well-deserved recognition.
If I read the movie right…
*SPOILERS* – IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE STOP READING MY COMMENT. (Unless you’re like me and knowing what happens at the end doesn’t ruin it for you.)
Lars is mourning his mother. She died during his birth, right? By going through the mourning process with (fake girl) Bianca as a mother substitute, he’s finally able to let go. This prepares him for a real relationship with the real girl, his coworker Margo.
I may be off – I had a screener copy and watched it over two nights, so I didn’t see it continuously with full attention. I loved what I saw of the movie, however. If I were a member of the academy, I would have a really hard time choosing between the five nominated in the Original Screenplay category. The Savages, another script penned by a female, was as excellent as Lars and Juno. (Obviously.) Did you see it?
- Skip Entro
The themes of THERE WILL BE BLOOD seem endless. But how to define this film? Institutionalized? Has to be. But what a complex story. And by complex I don’t mean confusing. People will be talking about this film for years to come.
The last 15 minutes of “There Will Be Blood” is worth the Oscar alone. Great dialogue, and great fireworks. I was blown away. Daniel Day Lewis should also win. He has to be the best actor working in English in the world.
Thanks for this post, Blake.
I have to admit, I am still confused about theme. Especially as it relates to (or is expressed through) the B-story.
I love the BS2. It has definitely improved my comprehension of structure.
But I am having a hard time working my theme through my whole script, especially the B-story (which is in my script, as you’ve described in your books, the love story).
If you get the chance, will you please explain theme in a little more detail, for those of us on the short bus?
What would you say is the theme of THERE WILL BE BLOOD or NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, for instance?
Thanks so much.
My best explanation of Theme Stated as it relates to B Story can be found in an article I wrote for the Writers Store called “The Moment of Clarity.”
Let me know if that helps, Leo!
I printed out the article and stuck it in my copy of SAVE THE CAT!
- Stephen Todoro
Three of my favorites from this year were listed above: “Juno”, “Lars…” and especially “No Country…” In fact, They are probably amongst my favorite movies in years.
After thinking about them in the technical “Cat” way, I sort of sat back and just thought about how, just a couple of years ago, I didn’t think this way; I didn’t take apart movies. I just knew when I fully enjoyed one as the “targeted viewer” that I was.
The one thing that stood out clearly was that I’ve always sort of recognized, on some level, the films that clicked on all cylinders. Maybe I didn’t really know why. I just knew that something about them worked. It was nice to jump back a few years in my head and experience this check-and-balance moment, that affirmed the knowledge I’ve gained from books like “Save The Cat” (both of ’em!).
- Sandra Ahola
I was really moved by Lars and the Real Girl. The best Save the Cat moment I can think of was near the end of the movie when Lars “rescues” Margo’s toy bear by giving it CPR (after it had been “hung” by her coworkers.) That totally got me. About 10 years ago my coworkers played the same trick on my special stuffed friend (a squirrel named Steve.) I was mad. Seeing a character sensitive enough to show he cared about how she felt was touching.
I just finished watching No Country for Old Men. Seems to me it broke all the rules. Who was the hero? Josh Brolin or Tommy Lee Jones? The goal was clear for Brolin (money and staying alive), but not particularly clear for Jones (get the bad guy? Which one, Brolin or Bardem?)
And though I may have drifted off, I don’t recall what happened to the satchel of money that the dang story was about in the first place! Who ended up with it?
I don’t think this can win Best Picture. I’d love to hear some other comments on this rambling but interesting plot.
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I’m a bit behind as well. Lots of movie-going to do!