Will Win: For uncovering a piece of dark history that’s still essential for an ever-evolving world, John Ridley’s adaptation of Solomon Northrup’s autobiography should walk away with a win without much fight. His dialogue and scenes are rousing and often unforgettable despite their tough-to-sit-through nature. Moreover, the fact that 12 Years a Slave is being put back in the school curriculum is something we can 100% credit Ridley for. It’s rare that a screenwriter brings about change well beyond the confines of Hollywood.
Should Win: Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke have been on an eighteen-year journey together as creative partners, blazing a trail of both narrative and dialogue innovation. You haven’t experienced epic filmmaking unless you absorb the entirety of the Before Trilogy, each film spaced exactly nine years apart, where we spend a day in the life of two lovers who grow older as their love for one another continues to evolve. While the first two films felt like the honeymoon before the storm – mushy albeit fascinating dialogue aplenty – Before Midnight shows us the inner struggles of a marriage that can’t quite figure out its end game. No longer can Jesse and Celine live “in the moment” – they’re forced to factor in the lives of their children, their careers, and even their own individual changes as middle age quickly approaches. You won’t find more realistic, more thought-provoking dialogue from last year, culminating in a quarrel that goes down in the history books as one of the most well-written fight scenes without any punches being thrown. One more hoorah: Deply and Hawke, so fascinated by each other’s gender quirks, weren’t self-absorbed enough to simply write their own character’s dialogue. The fact that all three shared writing responsibilities for Jesse and Celine demonstrates a will to learn more about the nuances of human behavior via a melding of minds.
Should Have Been Nominated: Writing a single scene is difficult on its own, but writing a lengthy journey of self-discovery from adolescence into adulthood requires a voice that fully understands its subjects of interest. Abdellatif Kechiche and Ghalia Lacroix didn’t try to water down its young Blue is the Warmest Color protagonist, Adele, but instead let her physical and emotional interactions illuminate her agency as a curious young girl coming to terms with the power of choice and experimentation. When we finally reached the climactic moment of fracture, there’s this sense that the fragile girl still has so much growing up to do, that age is merely a number and our numerous life experiences help us mature more than a passing of time. A script this true to life shouldn’t have been passed over in favor of ones that offer little more than an isolated moment in history, whose words are only powerful because of the actors that recite them.
Will Win: Even when Her’s originality fizzles before crossing the finish line, Spike Jonze’s intriguing concept of a future where humans have the option to form a romantic connection with their operating system is so out-there perfect that you simply have to bow to its ingenuity. The WGA win was instrumental in cementing Her’s frontrunner status in the category, especially given the complaints American Hustle has gotten for relying too much on improvisation. Much like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Her’s out-of-the-box take on romance is too excitingly fresh to root against.
Should Win: So far, I probably haven’t pissed most of you off all that much. That’s about to change right now. I’m a man who likes to reward the sum of all parts – I’m not easily swayed by concept or isolated “Oscar scenes.” Personally, everything has to be just about flawless from start to finish. Aside from the hideously cartoony twins and one too many “scene-chewing” rants written for June Squibb’s Kate Grant, Nebraska is one hell of a richly rewarding screenplay. It’s quintessential Payne (despite being written by Bob Nelson) but not aggressively so, meditating when it needs to, savoring the ordinariness of the community it lovingly yet realistically depicts, and churning out the most satisfying ending of all nine “Best Picture” nominees. Nebraska stuns you by its completeness – it never goes to unnecessary storytelling heights, relapses its character arcs or gets sidetracked by sub-plots the bear no meaning on David and Woody’s father-son bonding time. You walk away from Nebraska feeling like you weren’t shortchanged, that all is how it was meant to be and that the characters are right where you left them, plain as day.
Should Have Been Nominated: Inside Llewyn Davis’ lack of recognition proves that telling depressing stories about a relentless cycle of failure is just too much for some…as if reliving the darkest days of being a struggling artist is a memory preferably forgotten than rehashed. Just because you’re well established doesn’t mean you can simply sweep your difficult climb to the top under the rug. The Coens, who always illuminate the extraordinary circumstances of ordinary individuals, succeed in crafting a script that uses music as a crutch instead of an uplifting affirmation. Oscar Isaac’s Llewyn Davis is often greedy, verbally abusive, and downright cruel — a man so judgmental that he doesn’t realize he’s behaving just as condescendingly to others as those who continually reject his own talent. A little humility and kindness would go a long way, but Llewyn, so poor and starving, understandably is concerned about nobody but himself. Inside Llewyn Davis could be considered anti-capitalist because of the way Davis’ drive to succeed molds him into an unlikable man, but I believe the Coens offer more than just this political angle. There’s a depth to Inside Llewyn Davis that is simultaneously accessible and alienating, but one that lingers in the soul long after Isaac’s haunting voice grabs hold of you.