2019 Calvin Awards: Best Screenplay

By David Mumpower

February 24, 2019

That right there is the part where my character is appalling.

Actors can only do so much with a role. We know this from the fact that everyone’s got a clunker or two on their resume. Sandra Bullock once accepted a Razzie and an Academy Award the same week. Yes, she willingly accepted both. The point is that a terrible screenplay named All About Steve led her down the wrong path.

On the other hand, a great script can make even someone like Nicolas Cage seem talented. Seriously, that dude’s got an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and a SAG, plus a piece of the Declaration of Independence. What’s the difference between Cage in Leaving Las Vegas versus Cage in National Treasure or The Wicker Man? The answer is a quality screenplay vs. a patently absurd one. Let’s take a look at the finest of the past year. Note: no Sandra Bullock or Nic Cage movies appear on this list. I just felt like picking on them for some reason…but The Blind Side is still spectacular.

Truth is stranger than fiction. For fiction writers, this is a challenging aspect of the job. Crafting something artificial that accurately represents what happened is problematic. When you stray too far away from the truth, you get eviscerated online for taking too much artistic license. When you follow actual events too narrowly, you run the risk of boring the audience.

The winner this year somehow honored a police investigation while lampooning many of the people involved AND tying it to another real-life event a generation later. Our choice for Best Screenplay is BlacKkKlansman, which dominated the competition. Our staff delighted in the absurdity of an African-American man pretending to be white over a series of phone calls in order to infiltrate the KKK. Then, we marveled as a Jewish man started attending Klan meetings and eventually earned a spot in the group! The impossibility of this story is what we adore about it, and we admire the measured approach in retelling the saga of Ron Stallworth.

The twisty nature of The Favourite should feel impenetrable to American viewers. It’s about British taxation policy from centuries ago. A Queen’s advisors manipulate one another to gain her ear and thereby implement their own laws. Technically, it’s a war film, but it’s lacking all of those cool Michael Bay explosions that Americans apparently need to get through the day. The struggle for power between lesbian cousins seems very Michael Bay, though. The point is that The Favourite sounds like a PBS drama that nobody watches, but it plays like a next-generation Elizabeth: The Golden Age, which I guess it technically is.

Our third selection this year is truly out there. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse isn’t like the many, many, MANY Spider-Man films that have come before it. Since this title is animated, it’s not tethered to what’s physically possible in the universe. Instead, Miles Morales, his friends, and family have free reign to go anywhere and do anything. The story told is so dense and populated that you would have to spend a week watching it in frame-by-frame slow motion to appreciate it. But we know that there’s the promise of a Clone High sequel in there. That’s good enough for BOP’s staff.

The other selections in our top five are Black Panther and Roma. The former film was once a doomed project starring a middling (at best) Marvel superhero. Then, word leaked that Disney had complete confidence in the script, and the rest was history. It’s arguably the biggest box office success story of the 2000s due in large part to the brilliance of the story. As for Roma, the shock here is that it isn’t ranked any higher. This film has been ubiquitous during this year’s version of The Calvins. It’s a visually stimulating, engrossing production, but I feel like our staff undersold the dialogue a bit.


After the top three, only a fraction of a vote separated the next seven films. So, when I talk about the following five titles, they're almost exactly the same in the eyes of our staff as Roma and Black Panther. Which is strong. Sixth place goes to If Beale Street Could Talk, the lovely examination of a minority family’s everyday struggles with financial and legal matters. At its core, it’s a touching love story that celebrates the power of determination.

Seventh goes to Blindspotting, a more aggressive take on similar subject matter. It tells the story of two lifelong friends, one Caucasian and one African-American. They watch in quiet fury/horror as their neighborhood gets gentrified. The social commentary in the script is brilliant, of course, but what I admire the most is how many laughs that the writers mine from commonly accepted aspects of modern society. It's one of the brightest films in recent memory.

Our final three selections easily could have been top five selections. I say this to express how much we adored many of the screenplays over the past year. In fact, no film received multiple first-place votes this year, which is a true rarity in the history of The Calvins. Everyone favored something different, a surefire sign of depth in the category.

Eighth Grade fittingly finishes in eighth place thanks to its tender tribute to the painful awkwardness of middle school. A Quiet Place finishes in ninth place due to its spectacular job in telling a story almost without words, one of the most challenging tricks for a writer. And our final nominee is Crazy Rich Asians, a charming romantic comedy that simultaneously praises and damns the wealthy ruling class of southern Asia.

Other screenplays that we treasured this year are Avengers: Infinity War, Isle of Dogs, Shoplifters, Annihilation, First Man, Vice, Sorry to Bother You, Ready Player One, A Simple Favor, and Thoroughbreds.

2019 Calvin Awards
Calvins Intro
Best Actor
Best Actress
Best Cast
Best Character
Best Director
Best Overlooked Film
Best Picture
Best Scene
Best Screenplay
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best TV Show
Best Use of Music
Breakthrough Performance
Worst Performance
Worst Picture

Top 10
Position Film Total Points
1 BlacKkKlansman 72
2 Favourite, The 40
3 Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse 33
4 Black Panther 26
5 Roma 25
6 If Beale Street Could Talk 24
7 Quiet Place, A 23
8 Blindspotting 22
9 Eighth Grade 21
10 Crazy Rich Asians 20



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