Oscar Guide 2013: Best Writing - Original Screenplay
(Welcome to the Oscar Guide, your chaperone through the Academy’s 24 categories awarding excellence in film. A new installment will hit every weekday in the run-up to the Oscars on February 24, with the Best Picture finale on Friday, February 22.)
Best Original Screenplay is perhaps my favorite of all Oscar categories, and I know I'm not alone in that. So often it has been a sanctuary for adventurous, important and, yes, original films that are just a little too fresh to triumph in the top categories: it's thanks to this award, after all, that the likes of "Pulp Fiction," "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," "Chinatown," "Talk to Her," "The Red Balloon" and, of course, "Citizen Kane" all get to call themselves Oscar winners.
While for the last three years, the category has housed the eventual Best PIcture winner, Best Original Screenplay is back on outsider duty this year. While the adapted category will be breathlessly scrutinized for Best Picture signals, none of the frontrunners here are likely to triumph in the top race. It's still an equally competitive category -- and, despite many pundits' odd assertions that it was a "thin" field, was far more contested than its counterpart at the nominations stage, where at least two slots remained consistently in flux between an array of mainstream and independent outliers.
The nominees are...
Running the gamut from slick studio drama to handmade indie quirk to an intimate, international auteur piece, this is the kind of thoughtfully diverse field we can usually count on the writers' branch to assemble, though I'm sure everyone has a film or two they'd like to swap out for another. For fans of Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master," the WGA-nominated film's omission came as a brisk slap in the face, especially considering PTA's three previous nods from this branch. Others, meanwhile, had hoped the WGA's other divergent pick, Rian Johnson's "Looper," would represent for genre cinema here. Meanwhile, my own favorite original screenplay of the year, from a former Oscar nominee in this category, never gained any ground in the season.
The last time a foreign-language script won in this category, when Pedro Almodovar and “Talk to Her” mercifully saw off Nia Vardalos a full decade ago, it was at least partly compensation for his ineligibility in the Best Foreign Language Film race. You have to go all the way back to “A Man and a Woman” in 1966 to find a film that took both prizes, yet I like Michael Haneke’s chances of repeating that trick for “Amour.” The only writing award he’s taken all season has been from the London critics, but the script’s combination of gravitas, writerly precision and emotional pull should impress many voters, particularly those who find the Best Picture-nominated alternatives too remote or too undisciplined. With Emmanuelle Riva also gaining in Best Actress, the film is on an upward trajectory in the final stages of voting.
On paper, the leader in this race appears to be “Django Unchained,” for which Quentin Tarantino has scooped wins at the BAFTAs, the BFCA Critics’ Choice Awards and the Golden Globes – though, like Haneke, he’s ineligible for the WGA. It’s easy to see why he keeps winning, given the strength of the film’s authorial voice, most obviously in its reams of singularly flavorful dialogue – it couldn’t have been written by anyone else, and it was that recognition factor among voters that won Woody Allen a third award in this category last year. Whether or not voters feel Tarantino, who was likely the runner-up in this category three years ago, is “due” a second win 18 years after “Pulp Fiction,” the script itself – despite its divisively haphazard structure and controversial historical revisionism – will win plenty of votes on its own merits.
He may have received a WGA nomination, but it was still a surprise to see John Gatins – whose previous credits include “Real Steel” and “Coach Carter” – pop up here for “Flight.” When in doubt, this branch has recently had a tendency to fill out the category with independent fare, but Gatins has received much credit (and much press) over the season for reviving the kind of high-concept but character-based storytelling that hasn’t recently been fashionable in studio cinema; “Flight” has been widely pegged as a throwback, and the writers’ branch was clearly in the right kind of nostalgic mood. I personally found the script, problematic in many areas, with a number of characterizations abruptly curtailed, but it’s nonetheless full of commendably testy moral angles for a Hollywood drama. Still, Gatins is surely in fifth place here.
Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola (joining his family’s long line of Oscar nominees) pretty much nailed down this nomination when their wistful, whimsical, woozy teen romance "Moonrise Kingdom" charmed the pants off most critics on the first night of the Cannes Film Festival. While there seemed a possibility, later in the season, that the film could even crack the bigger races, this is ultimately where it remained – though I’d venture that the screenplay itself isn’t as literate or as formally complex as, say, “The Royal Tenenbaums,” which earned Anderson his only previous nomination in this category. Just as “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” managed to triumph without a Best Picture nomination, there’s a slim chance that the widespread affection for the film could concentrate itself into a win here, but it really needed the heat to cool on its more-nominated rivals for that to happen.
When “Zero Dark Thirty” came strongly out the gate at the beginning of precursor season, it looked like Mark Boal could gallop to a second Oscar just three years after triumphing for “The Hurt Locker” (and again beating Tarantino in the process). It’d certainly be easy to vote for the script based on the density of its research, and the “Zodiac”-style exhaustiveness of its procedural structure. But Boal’s momentum, like that of ultimately un-nominated director Kathryn Bigelow, took a severe hit when the controversy over the film’s depiction of torture clouded its other achievements for a few crucial weeks in the first stage of voting. It seems the film has ultimately come out on the other side, and with substantial box office to boot, but I’m not sure Boal can recover the distance – though he may well win the WGA prize.
Will win: "Amour" (Michael Haneke)
Could win: "Django Unchained" (Quentin Tarantino)
Should win: "Amour" (Michael Haneke)
Should have been here: "Damsels in Distress" (Whit Stillman)
Do you think Tarantino or Boal can win a second statuette? Will Michael Haneke trip them up, or does a non-Best Picture nominee stand a chance? Tell us in the comments section!
1997 | Crime | RSummary: Quentin Tarantino adaptats an Elmore Leonard novel into this story of a few increasingly desperate people scraping to get by. It has deep soul, a wicked sense of humor, and Samuel L. Jackson, Robert De Niro, Pam Grier, and Robert Forster.Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster
2013 | Drama | RSummary: Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill have boundless energy in the story of a real-life commodities crook who earned millions through scummy small-time stock trades.Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie
1995 | Mystery | NRSummary: Denzel Washington plays an out of work WWII vet who takes the wrong job and is soon neck-deep in a mess of politics, murder, and jazz in '40s Los Angeles.Director: Carl Franklin
Cast: Denzel Washington, Tom Sizemore, Jennifer Beals
1996 | Crime | RSummary: Jerry, a small-town Minnesota car salesman is bursting at the seams with debt... but he's got a plan. He's going to hire two thugs to kidnap his wife in a scheme to collect a hefty ransom from his wealthy father-in-law. It's going to be a snap and nobody's going to get hurt... until people start ...Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Cast: William H. Macy, Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare
2013 | Comedy | NRSummary: Insanely funny comedy show created by Amy Schumer, who stars in brilliantly funny sketches about sex, city living, dating, and friendship.Director: Daniel Powell, Amy Schumer (creators)
Cast: Amy Schumer, Kevin Kane, Mike Houston
1993 | Sports | PGSummary: Emotionally powerful sports classic featuring Sean Astin as a skinny high school kid with big football dreams and the determination to make his way towards his dream team at Notre Dame.Director: David Anspaugh
Cast: Sean Astin, Jon Favreau, Ned Beatty
2013 | Thriller | RSummary: Based on the true story of Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) a Miami bodybuilder who wants to live the American dream. He would like to have the money that other people have. So he enlists the help of fellow bodybuilder Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and ex-convict, Christian bodybuilder Paul Doyle (D...Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub
2008 | Science Fiction | PGSummary: Animated series continues the story of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker as they battle the Emperor Palpatine, Count Dooku and General Grievous, but also takes time to explore other smaller characters in the Star Wars universe.Director: George Lucas (creator)
Cast: Tom Kane, Dee Bradley Baker, Matt Lanter
2007 | Comedy | PGSummary: Newlyweds Nick (Ice Cube) and Suzanne (Long) decide to move to the suburbs to provide a better life for their two kids. But their idea of a dream home is disturbed by a contractor (McGinley) with a bizarre approach to business.Director: Steve Carr
Cast: John C. McGinley, Ice Cube, Nia Long, Aleisha Allen
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