Six Spot: Which 2003 Best Original Screenplay Contender Had Their Oscar Buzz ‘Lost In Translation’

Join us for the twenty-second entry of our Six Spot series.

Sofia Coppola had quite the year in 2003. Not only did the filmmaker win the Original Screenplay prize, but she also became the third female Best Director nominee in the Academy’s history. Though her win for “Lost in Translation in Original Screenplay was well-deserved, it was not at all surprising. What makes this year interesting to discuss in the context of Six Spot are the four other nominees. Each of them were from very different genres, but none were assured an Original Screenplay nomination. Very easily, any one of them could’ve been a candidate for Six Spot. Before we get into who missed on Oscar nomination morning, let’s see whose names were called for Original Screenplay at the 2003 Oscars.

THE NOMINEES WERE:

  • “The Barbarian Invasions” – Written by Denys Arcand
  • “Dirty Pretty Things” – Written by Steven Knight
  • “Finding Nemo” – Screenplay by Andrew Stanton, Bob Peterson and David Reynolds; Original Story by Andrew Stanton
  • “In America” – Written by Jim Sheridan & Naomi Sheridan & Kirsten Sheridan
  • “Lost in Translation” – Written by Sofia Coppola – WINNER

OVERALL SUMMARY

The Original Screenplay category was one of the easiest to call during the 2003 Oscars. “Lost in Translation” was the lone Best Picture nominee in the category and Sofia Coppola earned nominations in both directing and writing for the film. Voters were not going to let her, or the film, go home empty handed. At the end of the day, Original Screenplay became the sole Oscar that “Lost in Translation” won.

Surprise Oscar hit “In America” seems like the runner up, almost by default. The crowd-pleasing, emotional independent feature also received Best Actress (Samantha Morton) and Best Supporting Actor (Djimon Hounsou) nominations. Director Jim Sheridan wrote the script alongside his daughters, Naomi and Kirsten Sheridan, whom the main children were based on. This narrative goes a long way in establishing the film as a spoiler candidate. “Finding Nemo” was also beloved by many. It showed up in a number of categories, including Best Animated Feature (Winner), Original Score and Sound Editing. Unfortunately, it seems the Oscars are still not ready to give the writing prize to an animated feature, even though many have been nominated in the past.

Finally, “The Barbarian Invasions” and “Dirty Pretty Things stand out as the out-of-left-field choices. “The Barbarian Invasions,” Canada’s Oscar submission, wound up winning the Foreign Language Feature category. Often, runaway hits in the foreign language category can pick up a screenplay nomination. “Dirty Pretty Things” sticks out even more. Original Screenplay was the British thriller’s lone Oscar nomination. Few precursors had predicted its inclusion in the category. This speaks to how wide open the race was. This leads us to the ultimate question. What movie came in sixth place behind “Dirty Pretty Things?”

THE SIX SPOT CONTENDERS ARE:

  • “21 Grams” – Screenplay by Guillermo Arriaga
    • Precursors – BAFTA Awards Nominee, Online Film Critics Awards Nominee, Satellite Award Nominee
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Actress (Naomi Watts), Supporting Actor (Benicio Del Toro)
  • “Bend it Like Beckham” – Screenplay by Guljit Bindra, Gurinder Chadha and Paul Mayeda Berges
    • Precursors – WGA Awards Nominee
    • Oscar Nominations – None
  • “The Cooler” – Screenplay by Frank Hannah and Wayne Kramer
    • Precursors – Satellite Nominee
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Supporting Actor (Alec Baldwin)
  • “The Last Samurai” – Screenplay by Screenplay by John Logan, Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz
    • Precursors – None
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Supporting Actor (Ken Watanabe), Art Direction, Costume Design, Sound Mixing
  • “Love Actually” – Screenplay by Richard Curtis
    • Precursors – Golden Globes Nominee
    • Oscar Nominations – None
  • “Pieces of April” – Screenplay by Peter Hedges
    • Precursors – Independent Spirit Awards Nominee
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Supporting Actress (Patricia Clarkson)
  • “Something’s Gotta Give” – Screenplay by Nancy Meyers
    • Precursors – None
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Actress (Diane Keaton)
  • “The Station Agent” – Screenplay by Tom McCarthy
    • Precursors – BAFTA Awards (WINNER), WGA Awards Nominee, Independent Spirit Awards Nominee (First Feature)
    • Oscar Nominations – None
  • “Thirteen” – Screenplay by Catherine Hardwicke, Nikki Reed
    • Precursors – Satellite Nominee, Independent Spirit Awards Nominee (First Feature)
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Supporting Actress (Holly Hunter)

BAFTA SCREENPLAYS

The BAFTA Awards deviated from the Oscars somewhat significantly in the Original Screenplay category. One of the two scripts that did not repeat at the Academy Awards was “21 Grams,” which did receive two nominations (Actress – Naomi Watts, Supporting Actor – Benicio Del Toro). Guillermo Arriaga’s script also showed up at the Online Film Critics Awards and Satellite Awards. Given the film showed up in two major nominations, a screenplay nomination seems plausible. “In America” accomplished the same feat this year. Yet, “21 Grams” was a more divisive film, which could have hurt it in this category specifically.

Unlike “21 Grams,” “The Station Agent” did not receive any Oscar nominations. Also unlike “21 Grams,” “The Station Agent” won Original Screenplay at the BAFTA Awards and was nominated by the WGA Awards. This was just one of the guilds that honored “The Station Agent” this awards season. It also was up for the SAG Ensemble award, one of the biggest precursors to receive. The best shot at an Oscar nomination seemingly was Patricia Clarkson. However, “Pieces of April” had taken the lion’s share of her buzz in the Supporting Actress category. Those who loved the film surely voted for it in screenplay as well. It seems that wasn’t enough in the end to get it that Original Screenplay nomination.

ACTING NOMINATION COATTAILS

The 2003 Oscars were filled with surprises. Three of the Best Picture nominees featured no acting nominations among their awards tallies. This left a lot of room for left-field contenders to rally support and break in to vulnerable categories. Could some of this passion for certain performances have translated into a corresponding Original Screenplay nomination?

A trio of independent films found their Oscar hopes in the supporting acting categories. Of the three, only “The Cooler” did not make it into the Independent Spirit Screenplay fields. Most of that film’s buzz was concentrated in the performances from Alec Baldwin (who received the nomination) and Maria Bello (who did not). Granted, “Thirteen’s” Independent Spirit screenplay nomination was in the First Screenplay category. Yet, the film’s script had quite a narrative. Teen star Nikki Reed wrote it alongside director, Catherine Hardwicke, making Reed the youngest screenplay nominee. Likewise, many thought Evan Rachel Wood would make history as the youngest Best Actress nominee. However, they bestowed Keisha Castle-Huges for “Whale Rider” with that honor. Only “Pieces of April” showed up in the Independent Spirit Awards Screenplay category. Yet, the micro-budget film’s campaign was almost completely centered around Patricia Clarkson’s breakout year (which included “The Station Agent”).

The most likely sixth spot contender of the acting nominees may have come from December’s blockbuster offerings. “The Last Samurai” contended in four Oscar categories, including Best Supporting Actor for Ken Watanabe. While it may have gotten those nominations, much of the criticism for the film was directed at the script’s handling of the “white savior” narrative.

Instead, the bigger Oscar player turned out to be “Something’s Gotta Give” from Nancy Meyers. Though Diane Keaton’s Lead Actress nomination was the lone nomination for the film, Keaton was the main challenger to Charlize Theron for the win. With a surprise $124 million domestic box office, the film became a hit at the right time for voters to take notice. Meyers was a previous nominee in this category for “Private Benjamin” in 1980, which she shared with her then-husband Charles Shyer and Harvey Miller. Since then, Meyers marked herself as a writer-director-auteur of romantic comedies exclusively featuring million dollar kitchens. “Something’s Gotta Give” was a high point of her career and critics seemed to finally appreciate her status as a solo writer-director. A screenplay nomination for the film would’ve driven that point home.

GOLDEN GLOBE COMEDY CONTENDERS

Two big sleeper hits showed up in one major precursor each this season. This added validity to their claim that their popularity could’ve propelled them into the Oscars. One continues to be a staple of holiday movie nights today. Richard Curtis’ magnum opus to sentimentality, “Love Actually” started in limited release in November. From there it became a runaway success. In the process, the Golden Globes caught notice of the film’s success. The Hollywood Foreign Press nominated the film for both Best Picture and Best Screenplay. Awards support for the ensemble holiday dramedy seemed split in many different places. Some, like the Globes, championed the screenplay. Others, such as the BAFTAs or European Film Awards, rewarded specific performances, such as Bill Nighy, Hugh Grant and Emma Thompson. Support seems too split for it to have made it into this race.

Guild awards usually are the best predictors of Oscar success. The Writers Guild Awards usually comes with a grain of salt, since many potential nominees are disqualified. Still, summer hit “Bend It Like Beckham” managed a surprise WGA Awards nomination in Original Screenplay. This plus the film’s Golden Globes Best Picture nomination shows the strong pockets of support this sports comedy has. Comedy films face an uphill battle with awards. Yet, the screenplay categories are usually where they can pick up their consolation prize.

THE SIX SPOT FOR 2003 BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY WAS:

“THE STATION AGENT” SCREENPLAY BY TOM MCCARTHY

Who do you think came in 6th place in the 2003 Best Original Screenplay race? Share with us in the comments below.

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