2021 Calvins: Best Screenplay

By David Mumpower

April 3, 2021

Best Screenplay: Kemp Powers for One Night in Miami

Grammarly informs me that I’ve written four million words over the past three years. So, I understand all too well the prospect of the blank page.

Whenever a screenwriter crafts a story that moves the audience, that individual has accomplished something rare and profound, something worthy of praise and respect.

Over the past year, stories were all that kept us afloat as a society. Otherwise, we were all left staring at our four walls and reflecting on the unfolding societal nightmare.

As such, BOP is incredibly grateful for all our nominees in the category of Best Screenplay.

In 2013, an unknown playwright named Kemp Powers shocked the industry with his debut, One Night in Miami.

The play presupposed that some of the most impactful African-Americans of the early 1960s would meet on a single night.

Then, these individuals would debate society through the lens of race and celebrity.

Last year, BOP fave Regina King made her directorial debut on this project, asking Powers to adapt his own play into a script.

Within days of production ending, the pandemic struck, causing One Night in Miami to skip its theatrical release.

Instead, we watched it on Amazon Prime Video, where it quickly became one of the best movies overall on the service.

Powers’ tale resonates for its wisdom and savage honesty, showing that even the most famous African-Americans suffer mightily due to innate racism.

Our staff raved about it and listed it in the top five on most of our ballots. That consensus appeal demonstrates why it’s our choice for Best Screenplay.

The second selection on our list proves that BOP made the Nice List this past Christmas. On December 25th, the latest Pixar release debuted on Disney+.

That’s how much the world has changed. Disney+ didn’t even exist two years ago. Now, we’re naming movies released there as among the best across all media.

To wit, Soul's story moved us with its introspective evaluation of what it means to be human.

Is any of us truly alive unless we’re chasing our dreams? Is settling in exchange for creature comfort viable? Smart?

Watching the film doesn’t answer any of these questions. All it does is open the door and encourage us to walk through to find the answers for ourselves.

Our third selection this year comes with the most challenging storytelling. Promising Young Woman tries to get us to like a vengeful woman with substantial bloodlust.

Now, the protagonist has a good reason for wanting to exact revenge. She lost a friend for devastating reasons and wants to prevent it from happening again.

Our staff adored the surprises sprinkled throughout the script and repeatedly debated the third act in recent months. It's a terrific story.

During 2020, we also watched something that Charlie Kaufman wrote, which means that A) we didn’t understand it and B) we liked it anyway.

There’s something about a janitor…and some unlucky pigs…and a young boy who is actually a girl…or vice versa. I dunno. I'm Thinking of Ending Things has a weird script, but we voted it into the top four anyway.

Fifth and sixth place go to a powerful story about the lingering remnants of racism and a fluffy teen comedy about friends in love with the same boy. Yes, our movie tastes have that much range.

The fifth screenplay, Da Five Bloods, examines the return of former soldiers to Vietnam. There, the African-American veterans search for something they left behind.

More importantly, they came to terms with events that transpired a generation ago.

The combination of flashbacks and modern conflicts deftly navigate two stories together, showing how much war has scarred the soldiers.

The sixth entrant, Banana Split, co-stars Hannah Marks as a teenager. Since she’s 27, this bothered me right up until I learned that she co-wrote the script.

The story involves a teenager getting dumped in favor of another girl. Rather than lamenting the situation, she befriends her enemy for her ex’s affections.

The premise works unexpectedly well to the point that the women seem likely to dump the boy for one another.

I won’t spoil you on whether that happens. All I’ll say is that adult romantic comedies are rarely as thoughtful as this one.

Our following two selections explore the lives of wanderers and Golden Age of Hollywood storytelling.

In Nomadland, a woman loses her job after decades of loyal service. Afterward, she chooses to sell her belongings and move into an RV.

She explores the country, taking the occasional job to pay for necessities. Along the way, she befriends other members of the nomad culture. It’s a profound exploration of camaraderie and loss.

Eighth goes to Mank, a movie about Herman Mankiewicz, the co-writer of Citizen Kane, who almost failed to receive a writing credit.

Mank may sound like another version of The Artist, but it’s actually a rather political film about the incestuous nature of early Hollywood.

Also, there’s a story about a monkey and an organ grinder that has stuck with us.

The final entrants in our top ten are The High Note and Emma. The former movie tells a seemingly simple tale about a loyal music assistant who aspires to be a producer.

I’m someone who has watched thousands of movies, and I can honestly say that something happened in The High Note that I never saw coming. Those moments are rare and wonderful for me.

Emma represents the latest retelling of the classic story that’s provided the basis for Clueless and the ascension of Gwyneth Paltrow.

This version doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it’s so spirited that you won’t care. Eleanor Catton unearths the verve of the original work while not forgetting its heart.

As usual, a few titles narrowly missed nominations this year. They include Onward, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Sound of Metal, The Forty-Year-Old Version, The Gentlemen, The Trial of the Chicago Seven, Chemical Hearts, and Judas and the Black Messiah.

Top 10
Position Film Total Points
1 One Night in Miami 126
2 Soul 108
3 Promising Young Woman 105
4 I'm Thinking of Ending Things 90
5 Da 5 Bloods 60
6 Banana Split 57
7 Nomadland 54
8 Mank 48
9 The High Note 45
10 Emma 42



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