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Six Circuit: Which 2014 Original Screenplay Learned the ‘Unexpected Virtue of an Oscar Snub’

Welcome to the thirty-ninth entry in our Six Circuit series.

The screenplay races often hold the key to predicting Best Picture. Of the last ten Best Picture winners, eight have won one of the two screenplay categories. Only “The Artist” and “The Shape of Water” won Best Picture without a corresponding screenplay win. Comparatively, only half of the films that won Best Director in the past ten years also won Best Picture. The 2014 Original Screenplay race was one of the major signals for “Birdman’s eventual Best Picture win. Let’s take a look at the nominees:


  • “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” — Written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo (WINNER)
  • “Boyhood” — Written by Richard Linklater
  • “Foxcatcher” — Written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman
  • “The Grand Budapest Hotel” — Screenplay by Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness
  • “Nightcrawler” — Written by Dan Gilroy


“Birdman,” starring Michael Keaton, won 4 Oscars in 2014 – Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay and Cinematography.

The Best Picture race was always between “Birdman” and “Boyhood.” Of the two, “Boyhood” was the front-runner for Best Picture. Yet, many conceded that the film, which spanned twelve years of film-making, was more of a directing feat. Meanwhile, “Birdman” was gaining steam overall after PGA, DGA and SAG awards. As the film overtook “Boyhood” for Picture, categories like Original Screenplay seemed like additional wins it could easily add to its awards tally.

There was hope that “The Grand Budapest Hotel” could pull off a victory for Wes Anderson. The film had won the BAFTA, WGA Award and many more critics prizes than “Birdman.” Throughout the telecast, it also led with the most wins (4) after dominating the tech categories. A win here could’ve possibly signaled a Best Picture upset. However, it became a tech juggernaut only.

The screenplay categories are often most friendly to indie grassroots campaigns. Though it opened wide, Dan Gilroy’s “Nightcrawler” was always an underdog. The Indie Spirits winner also received awards traction in Actor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Supporting Actress (Rene Russo). While it didn’t make it into those categories, the broader campaign helped ensure the film’s Original Screenplay nomination.

For most of the season, “Whiplash” was considered an Original Screenplay contender. When it switched to Adapted Screenplay late in the race, the fifth slot was wide open. WGA nominee “Foxcatcher” ended up taking the spot, especially as it did better with overall nominations. Still, the fifth spot could have gone to any number of movies. Let’s see what other contenders were out there.


    • “Big Eyes”
      • Precursors – Indie Spirit Awards
      • Oscar Nominations – None
    • “Ida”
      • Precursors – None
      • Oscar Nominations – Best Foreign Language Film (WINNER), Cinematography
    • “Love is Strange”
      • Precursors – Indie Spirit Awards
      • Oscar Nominations – None
    • “A Most Violent Year”
      • Precursors – Indie Spirit Awards, Online Film and Television Awards
      • Oscar Nominations – None
    • “Mr. Turner”
      • Precursors – None
      • Oscar Nominations – Best Cinematography, Costume Design, Original Score, Production Design
    • “Only Lovers Left Alive”
      • Precursors – Indie Spirit Awards
      • Oscar Nominations – None
    • “Selma”
      • Precursors – Online Film Critics Society Awards
      • Oscar Nominations – Best Picture, Original Song (WINNER)


(from left to right) Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain headline “A Most Violent Year,” with Chastain earning the bulk of the film’s Oscar buzz.

As we talked about last week, the Indie Spirit Awards can often point the Academy to off the radar choices. This year, “Nightcrawler” won the Indie Spirit Awards and also showed up as one of the Original Screenplay nominees. However, were there any other scripts at the Indie Spirit Awards contending for the fifth slot?

The four other Indie Spirit screenplay nominees were “Big Eyes,” “Love is Strange,” “A Most Violent Year,” and “Only Lovers Left Alive.” None of these films earned any Oscar nominations. However, “Nightcrawler” also didn’t receive any Oscar nominations outside of Original Screenplay. “Big Eyes” and “Only Lovers Left Alive” were likely furthest away. The former was poorly reviewed, while the latter was a niche genre piece from the first half of the year. Ira Sachs “Love is Strange” got the best reviews of the filmmaker’s career. Unfortunately, the film may have been too small for the category. Of these four nominees, “A Most Violent Year” was the most likely contender. Jessica Chastain had major buzz in the Supporting Actress field, which brought the movie into other conversations. However, its late December release caused the film to get lost in the shuffle. This cost both Chastain and the film Oscar nominations.


Timothy Spall plays the titular character in Mike Leigh’s “Mr. Turner.”

The main barrier towards an Oscar nomination is visibility. Voters have to watch the movie if they are going to vote for it. Thus, many movies pick up screenplay nominations if they are present in other categories.

“Selma” was the lone Best Picture nominee snubbed from both screenplay categories. Prognosticators once thought “Selma” would be a huge Oscar player. Ava DuVernay’s movie drew much praise from critics and audiences alike. While it did earn a Best Picture nomination, its only other nomination was for Best Original Song, which it won. This was the year of #OscarsSoWhite, while DuVernay was also snubbed in Director. Though DuVernay and lead actor David Oyelowo were the big snubs of the day, many thought it also could’ve broken into Original Screenplay.

Mike Leigh has been a frequent nominee in the Original Screenplay race. Since 1996, the filmmaker has racked up seven nominations, five in the Original Screenplay race. His latest feature, “Mr. Turner, showed a strong performance in the technical categories, with four nominations. Still, that craft enthusiasm did not translate into the writing category. Perhaps the protagonist’s grunt-based form of language didn’t go over well with voters. The script also did not receive much precursor support.

Breakout foreign films have often picked up a screenplay nomination (see “Roma,” “A Separation,” “Amour” and more). This year, Pawel Pawlikowski’s “Ida” was the big story in the foreign language race. It managed to extend itself outside of the Foreign Language Feature race into Cinematography as well. Yet, even the precursors that honored it in Directing or Supporting Actress (Agata Kulesza) did not give it a screenplay nomination. Even though it won Foreign Language Feature, that doesn’t necessarily guarantee it was next in line for Original Screenplay.



Who do you think came in 6th place in the 2014 Best Original Screenplay race? Share with us in the comments below.

What do you think?

AC Fan

Written by Christopher James

Christopher James has been an Oscar obsessive ever since watching his first ceremony at age 5 when "Titanic" won Best Picture. He is a recent graduate from Loyola Marymount University with degrees in Screenwriting for Film and Television and Marketing. Christopher currently works in media strategy and planning at Liquid Advertising, based out of Los Angeles, CA. You can find Christopher running on the sunny beach, brunching at trendy restaurants or mostly just sitting in a dark room watching movies and TV in sweatpants. Follow me on Twitter @cwj92movieman


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