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Oscars: Are Paul Thomas Anderson & David O. Russell Frontrunners For Original & Adapted Screenplay?

by Oliver Lyttelton
October 25, 2012 12:07 PM
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Paul Thomas Anderson David O Russell

Earlier in the week, Universal got their Academy Awards campaign moving by launching their For Your Consideration site, which included uploading a selection of screenplays for their major movies online. Some feel optimistic at best ("The Lorax," "Snow White and the Huntsman," "Ted"), some are a little more viable ("This Is 40," "Les Misérables"). But fresh off reading the Judd Apatow script (which is kind of terrific, and has the potential to be the director's best film yet), and having covered the acting categories in previous weeks, we thought we'd turn our eye to the screenplay races.

As ever, the potentials in two categories: Original Screenplay (usually a thinner field, thanks to the relative dearth of movies that are just movies, rather than based on board games or whatever), and Adapted Screenplay, which doesn't just encompass literary work, but plays, magazine articles, comic books, and even sequels and spin-offs of other movies (yes, that counts as an adaptation -- it's why "Toy Story" was an original screenplay, and "Toy Story 3" was an adaptation).

Given that it's likely a smaller batch (though not as bad as previous years), it probably makes more sense to start with the original category. Relatively few of the serious Best Picture contenders qualify, but it does open the way, potentially, to the kind of film that's unlikely to get Academy recognition elsewhere -- see recent nods for "Bridesmaids," "The Messenger," "In Bruges," "The Savages," "Lars and the Real Girl" and "The Squid and the Whale," among others. It's a somewhat more open-minded category than others.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master

Of the Best Picture hopefuls, Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" is looking good, even as its chances at the big prize fade somewhat. After all, even those who don't think the film works as a whole must acknowledge that it features some of the most memorable scenes of the year -- the early questioning sequence between Lancaster and Freddie is the kind of moment that should get taught in screenwriting classes for years to come. Indeed, there's a good chance that we could see Anderson winning his first gong here, even if it turns out to be a consolation prize for not doing so well elsewhere.

Otherwise, the category's always been a little more open to foreign language nominees than some, ("Y Tu Mamá También," "Pan's Labyrinth" and "The Barbarian Invasions" were all nominees in the last decade or so), and as such, Michael Haneke's script for "Amour" is in with a good shout. His films have been threatening to crack the mainstream Oscar categories for a while (see a cinematography nod for "The White Ribbon"), and while we're not 100% convinced that "Amour" will be all over the top ones, the film, like "A Separation" like last year, should make the final five for its script. Also looking very good, regardless of how it does with Best Picture, is Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom," the kind of movie that always does well in this category (and arguably the other Anderson's biggest threat for the win).

So that's three that are essentially locked up at this stage. Who else could sneak in? Top of the list are three big Oscar contenders that will remain under wraps until December -- Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained," Mark Boal's script for "Zero Dark Thirty" and the screenplay for Gus Van Sant's "Promised Land," by stars Matt Damon and John Krasinski. All have screenwriting Oscars already, bar Krasinski, and all could well end up in the final five, but all have strikes against them too. Tarantino's only actually been nominated twice, and will "Django Unchained" be more "Inglourious Basterds" or more "Kill Bill?" Boal won his first time around for "The Hurt Locker," but will some of the controversies about the research process on the film undo him? And while the Academy loves seeing movie stars show their typewriter skills, they're less keen on polemic, which the fracking-themed "Promised Land" seems to be, at least from a distance.


"Flight" and "The Impossible," penned by John Gatins and Sergio G. Sanchez, respectively, are both in the mix, but the former may be undone by its starry studio heritage in a category that doesn't always reward that, and the latter doesn't particularly feel like a writer's film, although if it picks up momentum, it might yet happen. Harvey Weinstein still has high hopes for "The Intouchables" (from writer/directors Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano) but it doesn't seem like it's going to fly to us, particularly given that "Amour" is already looking good for a nomination.

Hovering around the unlikely fringes of the category are films like "Safety Not Guaranteed," "Ruby Sparks," "Smashed," "Take This Waltz" and "Hope Springs," though probably the film with the best chance at a surprise "Margin Call"-style nod is "Arbitrage," which has a steadily growing buzz. But there are two commercial pictures that might have a better shot: surprise hit "Magic Mike" from Reid Carolin, and Rian Johnson's "Looper." The latter in particular has the makings of attracting votes from fans of smart genre fare (don't forget Pixar has had multiple nominations in the last few years, and "District 9" and "Inception" both made it in), and is a definite dark horse to watch in the category, particularly if the WGA come through for it.

Our five picks for Original Screenplay at this stage of the race are below. Head to page two for the Adapted Screenplay category.

Paul Thomas Anderson - "The Master"
Wes Anderson - "Moonrise Kingdom"
Michael Haneke - "Amour"
Rian Johnson - "Looper"
Quentin Tarantino - "Django Unchained"

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  • Dean Treadway | November 9, 2012 3:24 AMReply

    I wish that Craig Zobel's original screenplay for COMPLIANCE was in the discussion more. I haven't been more riveted in a movie all year long, and this is due partly to the construction of the thrills and the accuracy of the dialogue. The film deserves that MARGIN CALL slot.

  • Sean C. | November 1, 2012 2:12 PMReply

    I'd be interested to see the two Andersons face off, because those are very different movies with very different sorts of crowd reactions. Paul T. Anderson is a very 'serious' filmmaker, with the work getting a lot of critical praise, while at the same time a lot of people found its purposeful inscrutability off-putting; Wes Anderson is the king of quirk, his movie also got a lot of critical praise, but it has a very warm audience reception since it has very different artistic aims. I suspect "Moonrise Kingdom" would have much broader support, but "The Master"'s fanbase could quite conceivably be sufficiently devoted to get it the win over a more broadly liked film that might not rank quite as highly with its fans.

  • Jay | October 29, 2012 12:15 PMReply

    The greatest irony here is this: Think about what movie won last year, Midnight in Paris. What kind of movie was that? It was a comedy that essentially spoofed period a spoof of a genre a much-lauded filmmaker.

    Then what film should at least be NOMINATED this year that did an incredible job at that too...?

    "Cabin in the Woods" obviously. It certainly has the most similarities to Midnight in Paris, in tone, cleverness and overall intelligence, plus it was a whole lot funnier if you ask most people. It probably won't be nominated at all, but just sayin' it's a dead ringer for last year's winner. And I'm no die-hard Whedon fanperson.

  • eduardo | October 26, 2012 6:44 PMReply

    in adapted screenplay it looks like it will be a three-horse race between Argo, Lincoln and Silver Linings...

    as for the original screenplay race looks more like PTA is the frontrunner. Why? the movie has gotten great reviews and it's surviving the early release issue. Anderson has 5 previous nominations, 3 of them as writer and some people might think he's due and his time as come and not to mention Harvey Weinstein is behind The master. And probably its only real competition is Moonrise Kingdom

  • sidsbowl | October 26, 2012 2:31 PMReply

    Promised Land is impressive. The fracking is a tool used to reach deeper issues.

  • MIKE | October 25, 2012 12:49 PMReply

    The Master for SCREENPLAY? The movie has no direction... You can't call a script great or even good for having a handful of awesome scenes in the first half, then falling off a cliff into nothingness for 80 minutes. The entire (opening weekend in LA) audience I saw it with left the theater totally unsatisfied. Go ahead and praise the performances and cinematography and music and directing... all fantastic. But the movie's overall failure is because of the script, and not the other way around.

  • Another Mike | October 29, 2012 9:26 AM

    I agree with Mike too.

    The movie was a long, slow fuck with no cumshot.

  • Wes | October 26, 2012 2:19 PM

    I liked the movie, but screenplay?

  • Michael | October 26, 2012 10:10 AM

    The movie is a love story between Lancaster Dodd and Freddie. Lancaster is gay. The story is about Dodd's attempt to bring Freddie into his cult, which nicely parallels his attempts to get Freddie to go gay.

    I know you will think this is ridiculous. But watch it again and I swear it's all there under the surface. Completely deepens the story and makes it an amazing movie

  • Emma | October 25, 2012 8:02 PM

    I have to agree with Mike. I left disappointed. However, I had enough courtesy to stay - 5 people just got up and left.

  • Jderio | October 25, 2012 3:09 PM

    @Matt One can tell by observing body language, offhand comments peppered throughout the post-film dispersal, etc. My experience matches Mike's, as I certainly noticed a vibe of disappointment from both audiences I saw the film with. The poor word-of-mouth is also evidenced by the rapidly declining box office earnings after the limited release in NY and LA.

  • Matt | October 25, 2012 2:26 PM

    "The entire audience left the theater totally unsatisfied," eh? Did you speak with each and everyone of them after the movie ended? Did you wait by the door and ask all of them their thoughts? Or are you just projecting your opinion onto a theater full of strangers simply to make your judgment seem relevant?

  • cirkusfolk | October 25, 2012 12:49 PMReply

    Oh and it's just my opinion of course but both of the Anderson's films this year I actual did not enjoy and would easily call them their weakest. In fact, I'd given thumbs up to all their films so far but Moonrise and Master were thumbs down for me. Same with Dark Knight but that's another story. Here's hoping Tarantino comes through. I must say having only seen all the trailers, I've already been quoting the dialogue, so that's good.

  • cirkusfolk | October 25, 2012 12:43 PMReply

    U mentioned In Bruges previously getting a nod, so what about Seven Psychopaths. Though I agree it's basically a Coen Bros/ Tarantino knockoff with a dash of Charlie Kaufman (adaptation) I thoroughly enjoyed it and all three of those influences are Oscar winners themselves, so they can't be bad influences.

  • Niko | October 25, 2012 12:36 PMReply

    No mention of Seven Psychopaths? It's probably a longshot, but considering In Bruges got nominated I won't be entirely surprised if it gets in.

  • Wes | October 25, 2012 12:35 PMReply

    I thought Premium Rush had a nice tight screenplay.

  • Wes | October 26, 2012 2:17 PM

    The dialogue wasn't that great, but the unfolding of the story was well put together. I compare it to Looper in that sense. Srsly. :)

  • Craven & Anderson | October 25, 2012 2:28 PM

    Wes knows best.

  • Christian | October 25, 2012 12:58 PM


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