2020 Calvin Awards: Best Screenplay
By David Mumpower
February 16, 2020
This year’s Best Screenplay vote was one of the easiest in the history of the category. Most of our staff agreed on the top three scripts of the year. The only question involved ordering the trio. These titles earned half of all first-place votes, although a pair of less popular nominees also had some pull. Overall, the choice for the winner in the category wasn’t difficult.
Yes, Parasite is our choice as the Best Screenplay of the year because, well, it is. The movie tells the story of an impoverished family trying to survive. They start the film by trying to work an angle with a pizza delivery service, only to stumble on the holy grail of con jobs.
The family's son bags an easy tutoring gig that pays exceptionally well. Not content to stop there, he angles to get his sister a job. Let's just say that the situation devolves from there as every member of the clan manipulates their way into working for a wealthy couple. By the end, almost everyone has regrets, although I couldn't possibly explain why.
Even if I did spoil you on the details of the film, the events are so convoluted that it would take too long. Suffice to say that Bong Joon-ho and his writing partner, Han Jin-woo, have written one of the most gripping stories about the class struggle ever. Parasite didn't just win the category but also received the largest number of first-place votes, too. So, this outcome is a crowd-pleaser.
The closest contender to Parasite winds up being Knives Out, which came from outside the top five thanks to a last-minute push. I always describe Knives Out as a murder mystery, but that almost does the story a disservice. In truth, it’s character dramedy of the highest caliber.
The one conceit of the film is that the kindest and most talented mystery novelist in the world is already a candidate for Worst Father Ever. How else could we explain that his kids and grandkids are universally horrible people?
As long as you go with this one trivial complaint, Knives Out becomes a hysterical examination of entitlement. And it also insightfully evaluates class politics and snobbery. I guess that's what our voters were into this year.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood ran neck and neck with Parasite for a while before it collapsed at the end. For quite a while, I believed that Quentin Tarantino had a chance at another The Calvins victory. Instead, he has to settle for third, as the sloppy nature of the third act alienated some of our voters.
Still, our staff adored this sweeping tale of a bygone era in the industry. Tarantino invents a couple of characters who are already relics by the 1960s, talented performers no longer able to sell their wares in an industry that overvalues youth. If anything, the auteur overreaches a bit here in trying to tell too much story and thereby being forced to gloss over significant events. Even so, the triumph of a buddy comedy involving the Manson Family is something that only QT could accomplish.
Two different kinds of horror movies complete our top five. Us reflects on the dark side of humanity, that piece of ourselves that remains hidden but always lurks just below the surface. BOP fave Jordan Peele really threads the needle with this unsettling tale of puppet mastery.
Marriage Story is more of a social commentary on the madness of the divorce process these days. Two people simply want to separate, yet they must spend tens of thousands of dollars and prove their parental ability to total strangers to do so.
Two of the most pleasant surprises of the year earn our sixth and seventh nominations this year. The Farewell joined Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Parasite as our only multi-award winners this year. So, we’re obviously in love with everything about its story. Given the film’s coda, it’s also the latest proof that truth is stranger than fiction. If you take nothing else away from The Calvins this year, you should know by now that you must watch The Farewell.
Our seventh selection is The Two Popes, and I’m going to sound biased here as this film received my first-place vote. The movie tells a critical story about ideology, as theological extremist becomes Pope, only to lose his ability to hear the voice of God. Then, he encounters someone on the other end of the political spectrum and suddenly knows what he must do.
The Two Popes is a powerful religious treatise on the ethics of responsibility and personal choice, as both men have skeletons in the closet. However, the film does a marvelous job of explaining why the world needs Pope Francis. I'm a deeply religious person, and this film helped me make peace with some of the most challenging aspects of organized religion.
Our final three nominees in Best Screenplay involve women, books, and rabbits. Little Women, our eighth selection, actually earned multiple first-place votes, but it fell behind other candidates in cross-ballot support. Booksmart is the rare raunchy teen comedy that tells a mature, engaging story. And Jojo Rabbit provides a timely criticism of the madness of totalitarianism and hate speech. BOP has lauded all three of these films in several categories this year, demonstrating our deep admiration for each one.
The past year was an excellent one for scripts, as writers pushed boundaries more than ever. While we didn’t nominate them, we also adored the screenplays for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Toy Story 4, Avengers: Endgame, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Deadwood, Pain and Glory, The Irishman, Ready Or Not, Late Night, Ad Astra, and Ford v Ferrari.
2020 Calvin Awards
Best Overlooked Film
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best TV Show
Best Use of Music
||Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood
||Two Popes, The