Best Original Screenplay
In 2005 there was a tight Best Picture contest between the favorite Brokeback Mountain and the eventual winner Crash. Many cited Crash‘s win as one of the biggest upsets in recent Oscar history, but there was an indication earlier in the night that Paul Haggis’s film might be victorious – it took home the prize for Best Original Screenplay. Ever since that fateful night in 2005 we have seen the Best Picture award go to a film that also received a Best Screenplay award.
In most years it seems like the Best Adapted Screenplay and the Best Original Screenplay winners were also the two frontrunners for the night’s biggest prize. Look at 2006 when The Departed won for Adapted while Little Miss Sunshine won for Original. Or last year when The Social Network took home the Adapted prize and The King’s Speech won for Original. Whenever the Best Picture race is a close one, the screenplay awards are always a good indicator as to the mindset of the Academy.
However, this year could be the first since 2005 to break the trend and give the Best Picture prize to a film that does not win a screenplay award. The heavy favorite for Best Picture, The Artist, is nominated for Best Original Screenplay, but since it is a silent film and obviously has no dialogue, it may not be the choice for the Academy. That instantly makes this race more exciting. Let’s break it down, shall we?
This is Michel Hazanavicius’ first nomination in this category. It is not unfair to wonder how a film that is completely silent and has no dialogue save for some sporadically used intertitles gets nominated for a Screenplay award. There have been numerous films that are not heavy in dialogue that were nominated for their screenplays in the past. Recent examples include the Pixar film Wall-E or the fantasy film Pan’s Labyrinth (the latter has more dialogue, but doesn’t rely on lengthy speeches). The reason such films are recognized is because they still tell a magnificent story, which was the creation of the writer. In the case of The Artist, it is a story we have seen before in films like A Star is Born and Singin’ in the Rain, but it has some creative elements in the script as well.
This is the first Oscar nomination for both Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo. Comedies are generally under-appreciated by the Academy as they only have room for 1 or 2 in their Best Picture slate per year, but the screenplay categories are usually where comedies succeed. Films like Juno, Sideways, and Little Miss Sunshine have all won the award in the last year. Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo’s brilliant script is well-deserving of recognition by the Academy. Wiig and Mumolo not only put together a story that is wildly unpredictable and hilarious, but they also accomplish the rare feat of writing dialogue for women that actually sounds like how women speak. A perfect example is the dialogue given to Melissa McCarthy that is absurd, but real, elevating that character to much more than the butt of a few jokes.
This is J.C. Chandor’s first Oscar nomination. Margin Call is another recent example of Sundance darlings turning into Oscar screenplay nominees. It seems like newcomer writer/directors have to prove themselves with a screenplay nomination before they get a director nomination. Margin Call was an incredibly well-paced film with some of the most memorable monologues of the year. Chandor certainly had an advantage with a remarkable cast of veteran actors speaking his dialogue, but the script itself certainly deserves recognition for its ability to flesh out a whole ensemble of characters while adequately explaining one of the biggest economic crises in history. Things never get overcomplicated as Chandor nicely balances the various plot threads to raise the stakes to enormous heights.
This is Woody Allen’s 15th Oscar nomination in this category. Midnight in Paris took home the Writers Guild of America award for Best Original Screenplay last weekend, which actually does not tell us much. The Artist, Margin Call, and A Separation were either ineligible or not nominated so the only other Oscar nominee that Allen beat out was Bridesmaids. However, it has been 25 years since Woody Allen last won an Oscar and he is certainly due. Certain members of the Academy may hold the fact that Woody never shows up for the Oscars against him, but his respect within the film industry is still strong. The dialogue in Midnight in Paris is so stylistic that it is hard not to notice, between the Hemmingway dialogues and Fitzgerald interjections (“old sport”).
This is Asghar Farhadi’s first Oscar nomination. It is not uncommon for Foreign Films to earn Screenplay nominations. At least 10 films that are in a language other than English have received screenplay nominations since the year 2000 and this branch often rights the wrongs of the Spanish film industry by recognizing Pedro Almodovar. Almodovar did not get in this year, but Iranian writer/director Asghar Farhadi did. I have still not had the chance to catch up with this highly acclaimed foreign film, but Film Misery writer Justin Jagoe called it the year’s “most uncannily constructed screenplay by far.” It may not be the favorite in this category, but with its strong lead in the Foreign Film race, it will likely not be going home empty handed.
Who Will Win?
Despite the fact that he won’t be there to receive the award, I’m going to predict Woody Allen takes the prize for Midnight in Paris. The Artist is the alternate, but I only could see that winning if the Academy goes for a full-on silent sweep.
Best Adapted Screenplay
There was only a slightly bigger overlap in the Adapted Screenplay category between the WGA award nominations and the Academy Award nominations. The Help and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo both failed to receive Oscar nominations in favor of The Ides of March and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. For a while the precursors were all over the place in this category with individual awards going to The Descendants, Moneyball, The Help, and even one or two for Hugo. It’s hard to say exactly where the Academy’s mindset is, but we can certainly make some guesses.
This is third Oscar nomination for Alexander Payne and the first for both Nate Faxon and Jim Rash. Payne won this award in 2005 for his last film Sideways and he is certainly the favorite to repeat at this point in the race. His film won the Writers Guild of America award for Best Adapted Screenplay last weekend and it also took home more precursor awards than any other film in the category. From what I gather, The Descendants has a lot of fans and this category is probably the only place it has a shot to win (Clooney’s hopes are fading). With his writing and his direction Payne has always done a remarkable job of capturing a sense of place and in The Descendants he does that better than any of his previous films. Clooney’s performance would not be as honest without the realistic and detailed dialogue he is given and the structure of the story works very well.
This is John Logan’s third Oscar nomination. Hugo has been nominated for 11 Academy Awards this year and in my mind it has a legitimate shot to win in just about every category except for this one. I was mixed overall on Hugo, but I had some pretty big issues with the screenplay. I thought there was some great opportunity missed in some of the minor characters and the smaller parts played by Emily Mortimer and Christopher Lee, for instance, were pointless. Hugo and The Artist, the two films that might have the best shot at Best Picture, are both more easily recognizable for their technical achievement than in their writing.
This is the second nomination for both George Clooney and Grant Heslov in this category. This is technically only the second screenplay Clooney has helped write, and that makes him two for two. Who knows if his success is legitimately because of the quality of writing, or because everybody loves Clooney. In the case of Ides of March, I think it is a little bit of both. There are some excellent monologues delivered by characters in Clooney’s film, most of which do not take place from behind a lectern. The script also gave us some of the more memorable lines of the year, such as Gosling’s “you don’t f*** the interns” cry. Add those elements with the Clooney factor and it’s no wonder the film got noticed.
This is the 4th Oscar nomination for Steve Zaillian, the 2nd for Aaron Sorkin, and the first for Stan Chervin. It is no wonder that the screenwriting superduo of Sorkin and Zaillian merited some attention from Awards voters. The film magnificently combines the precise structure characteristic of Zaillian with the whip smart dialogue characteristic of Sorkin. Luckily the film highlights the skills of each writer, rather than the flaws to create a truly enjoyable experience. With Moneyball a nominee for Best Picture, there could be growing support for the film, which means it could make a play in categories like this.
This is the first Oscar nomination for both Bridget O’Conner and Peter Straughan. The story behind the writers of this film is almost as dramatic as the tense spy thriller brought to the screen. Straughan and O’Connor were married writers who collaborated on projects in film and on stage until O’Connor tragically died after a battle with cancer in September of 2010. The whirling spy drama that the pair created is certainly one of my favorite scripts of the year as it was constantly unpredictable, even having read John Le Carre’s source novel. The writing is tense, paranoid and fully dramatic and definitely deserving of this nomination.
Who Will Win?
As much as I would love to see a surprise winner like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, I think this one has to go to Alexander Payne and team for The Descendants. Moneyball is the alternate, although I doubt Sorkin can win two years in a row.
Stay tuned for more technical category predictions next.
What do you think of the films nominated for Best Screenplay? Who do you think will win?