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.
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"