The Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay honors the screenwriters who develop the best story, best dialogue, best concept without adapting it from another medium.  This staple of the Oscars is present at nearly every awards show, from critics prizes (often just “Best Screenplay” versus dividing it up like Oscars do), to the Golden Globes, to BAFTA, to WGA, and finally to the Dolby Theatre.  Often, prizes for screenplays are decided early on and tend to stay put, rarely producing a genuine “upset” (indeed, one has to look all the way back to 2009 when “Precious” unseated “Up in the Air” for a true shocker from the scripts). The films of 2017 produced, without question, one of the strongest and most competitive year for Original Screenplays in the history of the Oscars (so strong, in fact, the Writing Branch favorite son, Paul Thomas Anderson, missed here while his film landed in Best Picture, Directing, Actor, and Supporting Actress while Christopher Nolan missed here on his first Best Director nomination).

This year, Jordan Peele paved the way with wins for his directorial debut “Get Out”, while Martin McDonagh has received the lion’s share of Phase 2 attention.  Could an upset be lurking in Greta Gerwig?–after all, every female Best Director nominee since 1976 has walked out of the Oscar with a statue.

And the Nominees Are:

  • The Big Sick (Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani)
  • Get Out (Jordan Peele)
  • Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig)
  • The Shape of Water (Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor)
  • Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh)

:: FADE IN ::

This seems to be a tale of two films.  McDonagh has won the Golden Globe Best Screenplay and the BAFTA for Best Original Screenplay, at two award ceremonies where his film has performed inordinately well.  Notably, both those voting bodies are predominately international.   Meanwhile, Peele lit the critics prizes ablaze, winning 26 (!!) writing prizes throughout the season, including WGA and Critics Choice prizes for Original Screenplay.  Both frontrunners bear two critical precursors as they head into Oscar night and honestly, this race might not only be too close to call, but a bellwether of the Best Picture race itself.

Once upon a time, predicting Greta Gerwig to win this prize would have made a lot of sense: critical darling, acting heat, the film everyone seems to love, and an easy way to reward the writer-director.  But, the season is long and grueling.  Where “Lady Bird” was once perhaps the films to beat in many races, it looks to be a bridesmaid in all five of its categories.

For those who think “The Shape of Water” will win Best Picture, it is curious to see them dismiss its screenplay from a possible win.  After all, a Screenplay prize is the most correlative category for matching with Best Picture (no longer Best Director) as only one film since 2005 (“The Artist”) has failed to also take home a Screenplay trophy at the Oscars.  Therefore, if we’re looking down the barrel of an amphibious Best Picture winner, we ought to look to Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor to perhaps upset here, “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” style.

Last but not least is “The Big Sick,” written by wife and husband team Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani about the illness suffered by Gordon around their real-life courtship. While the film played well at Critics Choice (upsetting “Lady Bird” and “I, Tonya” in Best Comedy), SAG (landing nominations for Holly Hunter and Best Ensemble), and PGA, the film, unfortunately, limped into Oscar morning with only this category to show for its effort.  A stellar nomination to be sure, but certainly a circumstance where the nomination itself is the prize.

As for a winner, I believe all but “The Big Sick” are in play.  “The Shape of Water” has Best Picture heat, while “Lady Bird” has the cultural impact factor and the ability to reward Gerwig for her outstanding achievement in creative one of the most beloved films of the year, as she likely will not win Best Director.

However, I think the race will ultimately come down to “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri” and its antidote, “Get Out.”  Both have typical elements of an Original Screenplay winner: good dialogue, clever concepts, fully realized worlds, and (most importantly nowadays) Best Picture heat.

At the end of the day, I think Oscar will follow the path of the Golden Globes, BAFTA, and SAG, heaping a ton of praise onto “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri.”  Thus, I’m picking McDonagh, the only white male in the category, to beat the rest of the bunch.

:: FADE OUT ::

Will Win: “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri” by Martin McDonagh
Should Win: “Lady Bird” by Greta Gerwig or “Get Out” by Jordan Peele
Could Win: “Get Out” by Jordan Peele
No Really Watch Out For This To Win: “The Shape of Water” by Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor
Should Have Been Nominated“The Florida Project” by Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch

CLICK THE CATEGORY TO SEE THE OSCAR PREDICTIONS:

MOTION PICTURE | DIRECTOR |
LEAD ACTOR | LEAD ACTRESS | SUPPORTING ACTOR | SUPPORTING ACTRESS | 
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY | ADAPTED SCREENPLAY | ANIMATED FEATURE |
PRODUCTION DESIGN | CINEMATOGRAPHY | COSTUME DESIGN | FILM EDITING | MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING | SOUND MIXING | SOUND EDITING | VISUAL EFFECTS |
ORIGINAL SCORE | ORIGINAL SONG |
FOREIGN LANGUAGE | DOCUMENTARY FEATURE |

ANIMATED SHORT | DOCUMENTARY SHORT | LIVE ACTION SHORT |