One of the few categories that can truly celebrate originality and the creative juices that go into a project is Best Original Screenplay. It’s the category that has been known to reward many different genres including comedies like Juno (2007), films about sexuality like The Crying Game (1991), even some science fiction if you consider films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) or Ghost (1990) in those camps.
Two years ago, Woody Allen became the most rewarded writer, winning his third Oscar for Midnight in Paris (2010). This year, he returns to the race for his latest Blue Jasmine with Cate Blanchett and Sally Hawkins, a film that looks promising for Woody enthusiasts. Will he return to the ceremony so soon?
The writer’s branch also isn’t afraid to reward the first time filmmakers that can’t find room in a Director’s lineup. Names like JC Chandor for Margin Call (2010) and Courtney Hunt for Frozen River (2008) come to mind as nominees. Ryan Coogler will be looking for that type of slot for Fruitvale Station, a film that critics have said is a lock in Original Screenplay at the very least. With the Weinstein Company pulling strong, and a very well placed summer release date, Coogler may become one of the indie darlings of the year. Speaking of Chandor, he enters the race once more as the Robert Redford solo film All is Lost was beloved by many at Cannes.
Joel Coen & Ethan Coen continue to impress critics and audiences alike. Cannes went crazy for Inside Llewyn Davis citing not only the direction and turn by Oscar Isaac, but the compelling story that Coens constructed. With CBS films poised to make a strong push awards wise this year, Inside Llewyn Davis could be the studio’s first Oscar winner.
One genre that hasn’t been embraced fully is true science fiction. While films like Star Wars (1977) have made their appearance in a final five accompanied by a Best Picture nomination, we haven’t had one represented. Snubs like Alien (1979), The Matrix (1999), and Blade Runner (1982) come to mind. But for every snub there’s an inclusion like 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), and most recently Inception (2010). This year, Alfonso Cuaron along with his son Jonas will be looking to break the trend with Gravity. Not only will they be highlighting science fiction, there has only been one Hispanic in Oscar history nominated for Original Screenplay (No Pedro Almodóvar doesn’t count).
Watch out for the prestige films or the pocket of the Academy that loves their British royalty to make their play. Grace of Monaco by Arash Amel, Diana by Stephen Jeffreys, and you can probably throw Saving Mr. Banks by Sue Smith and Kelly Marcel in the same boat. It’s also widely believed by bloggers and critics that these three could have the most potential for disappointing. Comparisons to The Iron Lady (2011) have come up many times.
The writers can also reward the popular, cool choices that audiences can get behind as we’ve seen with nominees like Bridesmaids (2011). There are many that can capture the cultural zeitgeist and become the “it” film of the year. This year, John Carney (Can a Song Save Your Life?), Spike Jonze (Her), Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha), and possibly Nicolas Winding Refn (Only God Forgives) if the Cannes crew got it wrong, are all looking to fill that slot.
Where you’ll see much of the faith placed is in the top two contenders in the form of Ridley Scott’s The Counselor and Inside Llewyn Davis. Cormac McCarthy’s first screenplay has been read by many and there have been vocal few that believe I’m placing too much stock in something that the Oscars don’t typically reward. The great thing about the Oscars is as much as we think we “know them”, they’ve been known to throw curveballs and deliver something surprising. Would you ever think something like No Country for Old Men (2007) would win Best Picture? Some will lie and say yes but I very much think not. Look at films like The Silence of the Lambs (1991) that swoop in and take every major category on the night, being labeled a horror film with a February release date. That’s unlike the Academy if you ask me. The Counselor can be that film with Cormac McCarthy reaping the benefits.