When Tiffany Haddish announced the Adapted Screenplay nominees for the 90th Academy Awards alongside Andy Serkis, she spoke one name that sent a ripple through comic enthusiasts everywhere: Logan. Loosely based on a cocktail of original stories, including Old Man Logan by Mark Millar and the X-23 series from Craig Kyle, James Mangold’s Logan is a game-changer for superheroes and comics, becoming the first-ever movie based on a superhero to earn a nomination for screenwriting.
That said, though, in the nominated company of films like Call Me by Your Name and Molly’s Game, the collective anxiety within nerd circles everywhere is palpable and understandable. Does a movie about a guy with metal claws really stand a chance at the Academy Awards?
In short, yes.
Logan’s Oscar Competition: Analyzed
When you stack Logan up against its fellow nominees, it seems like the kid picked last for dodgeball. Molly’s Game was written by Aaron Sorkin, not only an Academy favorite, but an Oscar winner. This is his third nomination in under a decade, having won in 2011 for The Social Network, so to bet against him might seem like a rookie move – until you take into account how overlooked Molly’s Game has been throughout the entirety of awards season. Commercially, it’s underwhelming, with box office numbers currently sitting at a mediocre $24 million; and in terms of resonating with audiences, it feels the least emotionally engaging given the social climate.
Speaking of being in the bag, The Disaster Artist debuted as an early Oscar favorite following its festival run. Between the cult status of The Room, the fact that it’s a backhanded love letter to Hollywood, and James Franco’s transformative double duty as both actor and director, this is the kind of movie that could have swept with nominations. Unfortunately, Franco is the very reason this movie’s chances at winning have dwindled. Earlier in January, just before the final deadline for Oscar nominee submissions, Franco was accused of sexual harassment by various women. The accusations have been neither proven nor disproven, but following the grey cloud still looming over La La Land following the flood of sexual assault accusations between the likes of Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, as well as the #MeToo movement playing a pivotal role as this year’s thematic backbone, it’d be in bad taste to reward a movie like The Disaster Artist, incidentally giving Logan that much more of an upper hand come Oscar night.
Now, we’re down to the two other competitors, and as fate would have it, either could be the adamantium bullet-to-the-head in terms of tripping up Logan’s shot at winning. One is Mudbound, the Netflix Original-turned-multiple-Oscar-nominee, and the other is a movie considered to be frankly unbeatable in this category – Call Me by Your Name. Both are critical darlings with respectable behind-the-scenes narratives (Dee Rees is the first black woman ever to be nominated in the Adapted Screenplay category and James Ivory isn’t just the oldest Oscar nominee, but an Oscar favorite, having been nominated three other times – for directing, but still).
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However, it’s these very strengths that may well be the reason they lose. Assuming Netflix goes all-in on Mudbound promo, these frontrunners run the risk of canceling each other out on votes, splitting them towards a loss, and ultimately handing the win over to Scott Frank, James Mangold, Michael Grey for Logan. It’s a narrow bet, sure, but stranger and more unexpected things have happened (see: Driving Miss Daisy in 1989).
So, Why Does Logan Deserve to Win the Oscar?
So, assuming the cards fall in Logan’s favor, is this actually the kind of movie that even deserves an Oscar for Adapted Screenplay? Brushing the character’s longevity and arguably deserved recognition aside, let’s do the nominees fair justice by evaluating this movie on impressive storytelling merits alone.
Right away, this script is all about subversion. It doesn’t just turn standard superhero movie beats on their head, but sheds them completely, transforming the genre into a kind of nihilistic family drama/road movie hybrid. From the very beginning, the troubled, but ultimately heroic, Logan is drawn as a violent, broken war hero at the end of his ropes. There is still good in him, but in by no means a traditional sense. He’s one of two caretakers for his old mentor, Professor X, and his giving-a-damn stems more out of a life debt than some innate desire to help. It’s not easy watching a character that audiences have come to adore not only defeated, but stripped raw to the point of stonewalling whatever values, decency, or willingness to live he might have had before. What’s more is that this movie doesn’t bother following the mold set in place from previous X-Men movies, shifting the series from a traditional three-act crime-fighting structure to an intimate analysis of addiction, self-worth, and family.
Logan asks the question: What happens when heroes get old? It plays with that longstanding notion that you should never meet your heroes. It has an amusingly meta handle on the past. It elevates the familiar world of superheroes that we’ve all come to know and expect, satisfying Logan’s last and most palpable character arc. Remove the superpowers, and this story about failure and redemption still bites just as hard. It also just so happens that shifting the tone so drastically in such a calculable genre underscores its greatest features.
Related: Why Logan’s Ending Is Perfect
William Faulkner once wrote, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings” and in Logan, that’s precisely what Mangold and his co-writers did (not just in the literal sense with its characters, but in the story structure). For that reason (but not that reason alone), Logan has earned the acknowledgment it’s received and deserves a shot at winning, if only to be a kind of representative for a genre that is finally earning credit where credit has long been due.
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