This past Sunday night the Writers Guild of America Awards were held, so I waited a bit longer on this category to give a better prediction. A lot of terrific screenplays are in the hunt this year.
Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
- “Amour” – Michael Haneke
- “Django Unchained” – Quentin Tarantino
- “Flight” – John Gatins
- “Moonrise Kingdom” – Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola
- “Zero Dark Thirty” – Mark Boal
There are a lot of great names in the running this year and it’s a tight race. Then there’s John Gatins for Flight. I haven’t seen the film, but if any screenplay will finish last in the voting, it’s “Flight,” especially against names like Tarantino, Anderson, Boal and Haneke.
Let’s start with one of the favorites/where a lot of people have a soft spot, and that’s for Tarantino’s Django Unchained. QT won the Golden Globe early in January and a lot of people have him pegged for a second Oscar. “Django” isn’t his best work (even after “Pulp Fiction,” the Oscar winenr), so a win here suggests voters are making up for “Inglourious Basterds” in some way. Then again, tough to get upset if Tarantino wins an Oscar.
What would be more fitting is to give Moonrise Kingdom writer Wes Anderson his first Oscar instead. “Moonrise” was this year’s “Midnight in Paris,” the indie that won the summer with magic and romance. Anderson is a unique voice in Hollywood and this film was some of his best writing.
It hasn’t happened often, but the Academy has awarded this statuette to foreign films before and it’s clearly smitten with Amour. “Habla Con Ella” was the last film to win this prize in 2002. The only question is whether voters will feel as though winning Best Foreign Language Film will be plenty for “Amour,” even though Michael Haneke would not be its recipient.
Recent Oscar winner Mark Boal (“The Hurt Locker”) could still manage to steal away another Oscar for Zero Dark Thirty. In fact, if that film had never lost its sheen after the Senate attacks, you’d have to consider him the frontrunner. The information he manage to acquire and how it was spun into an arresting story has to be taken seriously, especially after its win at the Writers Guild Awards.
In the last 10 years, the Academy and WGA have only disagreed twice, when “The King’s Speech” beat “Inception” and when the WGA awarded “Bowling for Columbine” for some reason. At the same time, Tarantino has never been a WGA member, so he’s never been eligible. Similarly, “Amour” didn’t meet the WGA Award qualifications, so it makes the win for “Zero Dark Thirty” a little less impressive.
Prognosticators have been afraid to choose “Zero Dark Thirty,” but does the WGA Award win change their minds? This is a tight, three-headed race. Could Boal rob Tarantino again like in 2010? Will the Academy love for “Amour” see it victorious in this category?
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
- “Argo” – Chris Terrio
- “Beasts of the Southern Wild” – Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin
- “Life of Pi” – David Magee
- “Lincoln” – Tony Kushner
- “Silver Linings Playbook” – David O. Russell
In my opinion, this category houses the stronger nominees this year, on the whole. If Silver Linings Playbook were in the Original Screenplay category, it would probably be a heavy favorite as that film’s stock continues to rise, especially after the BAFTA win. It still has a really good shot here, but it hasn’t been considered the favorite.
The weakest of the contenders is certainly Life of Pi. The film was a triumph of technical merit and the screenplay strong enough to give the film the emotional impact it needed. The quality of the present day scenes as Pi tells his story stick out for me as a reason not to award this film the win.
Beasts of the Southern Wild has an awful long way to climb and not enough buzz/momentum on its side. If it were me, this would be my pick, but so it goes. The nomination is more than deserved, but Benh Zeitlin’s surprise nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director will have him just ecstatic to be there.
The top contenders are the two real events-based screenplays. Tony Kushner’s Lincoln had most of the buzz when the awards season started after winning many critics awards, so he’s relying on the Academy to pick “Lincoln” as its film to back. The more likely choice would be Chris Terrio for Argo, however, winner of the WGA Award.
Without a nomination for Ben Affleck and no major acting nominees, this is the only chance for “Argo” to receive a major award outside of “Best Picture.” The last film to win Best Picture without a win for writing or directing was “Chicago,” but without even a nomination for Affleck, I envision voters targeting this category as a way to justify choosing “Argo” for Best Picture.