Oscars 2011: Best Screenplay Predictions

It all starts with the word on the page, and this year’s screenplays in both the original and adapted categories are more impressive than usual. We have an other-worldly imaginative script in “Inception” and a gritty real-life portrayal of rural Missouri in “Winter’s Bone.” The coolest part is that without the original/adapted distinction, you might not be able to tell which films belong in which category, which speaks volumes to the kind of work done in 2010.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

  • Christopher Nolan – “Inception”
  • David Seidler – “The King’s Speech”
  • Lisa Cholodenko, Stuart Blumberg – “The Kids Are All Right”
  • Mike Leigh – “Another Year”
  • Eric Johnson, Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy – “The Fighter”

Assembling a film based on actual people and/or events constitutes a challenge as no source material could capture the nuance of non-fiction events that is required for their adaptation to the big screen. Screenwriters have to constantly connect true timeline events with fake lines, yet two films in this category did this without any source material. The research done for “The King’s Speech” and “The Fighter” had to be astounding and both films are exceptional, though no doubt aided by actors who did their own character research.

But what about something completely unique that’s never been done before? If the word of emphasis is Best Original Screenplay, then you’d have to tip the cap to one of the most originals in ages — maybe ever — in Christopher Nolan’s “Inception.” The only knock on it is it’s so excitingly original that some of the dialogue is reduced to pure explanation.

That’s at least what the Writers Guild of America thought. “The King’s Speech” was not even nominated, but there could have been a qualification issue. Of course, to know for sure that Nolan has the Oscar edge over David Seidler, he would’ve had to beat him there.

Academy favorite Mike Leigh will likely continue his streak of being nominated but never receiving the big cheese. Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg, however, represent an intriguing dark horse. In the last decade we’ve seen two Original Screenplay winners for family-centered non-traditional indie comedies: Diablo Cody for “Juno” and Michael Arndt for “Little Miss Sunshine.” The competition is thicker this year, but we’ve nonetheless seen that trend. Earlier in the year, this was a big favorite to win as well, so you can be surprised if it wins, but you heard it here if it does.

We have not, however, seen a trend of awarding sci-fi movies — ever. Nolan’s fighting history here.

One of the big factors for me in predicting this award is another historical precedent: Two years ago, Dustin Lance Black won an Oscar for “Milk.” This was a historical fiction film based on real San Francisco city supervisor candidate Harvey Milk and real events in his life, but not on any previous material. Its biggest Oscar competition came from “WALL*E,” which many considered the favorite.

So while I’d vote for “Inception,” I’m not in the Academy, and I’d rather predict against it and be proven wrong.

Prediction: “The King’s Speech” – David Seidler

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

  • Aaron Sorkin – “The Social Network”
  • Michael Arndt – “Toy Story 3″
  • Danny Boyle, Simon Beaufoy – “127 Hours”
  • Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini – “Winter’s Bone”
  • Joel and Ethan Coen – “True Grit”

Loaded with three former Oscar winners, this category constitutes a heavyweight bought (and I say that without “The Fighter” being in this category). The Coens (“No Country for Old Men”), Boyle and Beaufoy (“Slumdog Millionaire”) and Arndt (“Little Miss Sunshine”) have all won Oscars in this category. And although it’s Sorkin’s first nomination, his award-winning work on “The West Wing” has done a number on his reputation too.

Granik and Rosellini have got to be wondering what they’re doing in that company and so I erase them from the board with ease. “Winter’s Bone” succeeds on a combination of things as you can tell by its two Oscar-nominated actors. Granik as a director would’ve made more sense, but that competition was too thick, so at least she gets the honor here.

The Coens are mainstays in this department so no surprise in their nomination, but knowing that they’re mainstays, a win for “True Grit” would be shocking here. I feel similarly but with less confidence about “127 Hours.” Boyle and Franco really deserve the credit for making the film as entertaining as it is, but the foundation here is solid; Boyle and Beaufoy clearly had a vision for what experiencing the film would be like and they executed it with great skill.

Arndt’s nomination for “Toy Story 3” comes as no surprise as Pixar seems to get a screenplay nomination every year, but the film had a lot of nostalgia and tradition behind it to support Arndt’s work. Sure, the film could’ve sucked without a great story, but it’s hard to imagine it beating Aaron Sorkin. If “The King’s Speech” runs the table on “The Social Network,” here’s at least the one piece of hardware the film can count on. Sorkin’s dialogue is razor-sharp, the ideas are communicated with brilliance and the intelligence is off the charts. A much-deserved win here.

Prediction: “The Social Network” – Aaron Sorkin


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