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Six Spot: Which 2016 Best Original Screenplay Hopeful Got Lost At ‘Sea’

Kenneth Lonergan accepts the award for best original screenplay for "Manchester by the Sea" at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

It’s time for episode number fifteen in our Six Spot series!

The year is 2016. “La La Land” fever has swept the Academy on Oscar nomination morning, with the film earning a record tying fourteen nominations. However, by the ceremony, the film was on the losing end of one of the greatest Oscar surprises. “Moonlight” (which won Best Adapted Screenplay) won Best Picture and was presented the award by the “La La Land” crowd, who were incorrectly announced as winners. Perhaps the writing was on the walls when “La La Land” lost Best Original Screenplay to “Manchester by the Sea.” Before we look into who was snubbed from the category, let’s first look at the race as it stood.


  • “Hell or High Water” – Screenplay by Taylor Sheridan
  • “La La Land” – Screenplay by Damien Chazelle
  • “The Lobster” – Screenplay by Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou
  • “Manchester by the Sea” – Screenplay by Kenneth Lonergan – WINNER
  • “20th Century Woman” – Screenplay by Mike Mills


The 2016 Best Original Screenplay race was a duel between Best Picture nominees. “La La Land” was the front runner in Best Picture. Leading up to the ceremony, people were asking “how many awards would ‘La La Land’ win,” not “who will win Best Picture?” The Original Screenplay category was one of the most dubious of its fourteen nominations. The script had been cited as one of the weak points of the movie. In contrast, “Manchester by the Sea” was unlikely to win Best Picture. However, many believed this would be where voters would want to honor Kenneth Lonergan’s film. Those pundits were correct, as Lonergan won one of “Manchester’s” two wins of the night. The second went to Casey Affleck in the lead actor category.

Third place most likely would be “Hell or High Water,” the third Best Picture nominee of the group. The movie earned four Oscar nominations. However, this makes it less of a juggernaut than “La La Land” or “Manchester by the Sea.” Of the remaining two nominations, many had predicted “The Lobster” would make the lineup since its debut in May. This nomination was the first sign that Yorgos Lanthimos was breaking in with the Oscar crowd. That same sentiment would be confirmed two years later when “The Favourite” reaped ten nominations. The big surprise of the category was “20th Century Women” by Mike Mills. The well-reviewed film opened only in a few theaters at the very last second of 2016. The strategy left the film under-seen and thwarted Annette Bening’s Oscar campaign in Best Actress. However, the few that did see it must have loved it, helping it break through here.


  • “Captain Fantastic”
    • Precursors – Satellite Awards Nominee
    • Oscar nominations – Best Actor (Viggo Mortensen)
  • “I, Daniel Blake”
    • Precursors – BAFTA Nominee
    • Oscar nominations – None
  • “Jackie”
    • Precursors – Online Film Critics Society Nominee, Online Film and Television Award Nominee
    • Oscar nominations – Best Actress (Natalie Portman), Best Costume Design, Best Original Score
  • “Loving”
    • Precursors – WGA Nominee
    • Oscar nominations – Best Actress (Ruth Negga)
  • “The Salesman”
    • Precursors – Cannes Film Festival Screenplay Winner
    • Oscar nominations – Best Foreign Language Feature (WINNER)
  • “Toni Erdmann”
    • Precursors – Toronto Film Critics Winner, London Film Critics Circle Nominee
    • Oscar nominations – Best Foreign Language Feature


Foreign Films have often been known to pop up in screenplay categories if they are lauded enough by critics. Asghar Farhadi is no stranger to this, as his 2011 film “A Separation” also contended in Best Original Screenplay. The film went on to win Best Foreign Language Feature and lose Best Original Screenplay to “Midnight in Paris” by Woody Allen. His follow up film, “The Salesman,” also won Best Foreign Language Feature. However, it was not up for Best Original Screenplay, despite winning the category in Cannes. If “20th Century Woman” had not broken in to this category late, would “The Salesman” have benefitted? It’s tough to say because its precursor performance in this category began and ended with Cannes.

In fact, for a while, many thought “Toni Erdmann” was the one to beat in the Foreign Language category. The film had the most heat heading into nominations. Additionally, it had the support of many critics groups, which even nominated it outside of the Foreign Feature category. Toronto Film Critics gave it the win in the screenplay category, while London critics merely nominated it. Since “The Salesman” featured a more prominent writer/former nominee (Farhadi) and ended up winning Foreign Language Feature, I’d give the edge to “The Salesman.”

While not a foreign language feature, the British film “I, Daniel Blake” also courted some awards buzz. The film was a major player at BAFTA, including getting into the Original Screenplay category. It also won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. However, the film seemed to only play in the UK, as it made barely a blip on the U.S. awards radar. This made it quite a long shot in this category, despite having some passionate fans.


“20th Century Women” got in to Best Original Screenplay, despite Annette Bening getting snubbed in Best Actress. On the opposite end of the spectrum, these three films got their actors into the lead acting categories, only to fail at getting a corresponding Screenplay nomination.

The film that did the best, in terms of nominations, was arguably “Jackie” by Pablo Larrain. On top of Natalie Portman’s nomination for playing Jackie Kennedy, the film also received Costume Design and Original Score nominations. When it first played at the Venice Film Festival, many thought the film could run the gauntlet in terms of nominations. Once it opened, the dark film proved to be a bit more divisive. Would Larrain’s film, which concentrates more on mood and atmosphere than plot, be the next in line for the writing award? With only a few critics awards under its belt in this category, that seems improbable.

A similarly quiet film, “Loving” by Jeff Nichols, was also once thought to be more of an Oscars contender. The film chronicles a landmark miscegenation case “Loving v. Virginia,” which struck down the state’s laws against interracial marriage. Ruth Negga received a surprise nomination in Best Actress for her role as Mildred Loving. In terms of guild nominations, “Loving” was the only WGA nominee that did not repeat at the Oscars. With the film loved by enough to get Negga in, was this the contender that likely came in sixth place?

If we’re mentioning guild support, one must also call out “Captain Fantastic.” The summer indie hit managed a nomination for Viggo Mortensen in Best Actor. The most high profile precursor the film got was a surprise SAG Ensemble nomination. Once this happened, many thought the film could factor into more categories, including Picture and Screenplay. The movie had very little precursor support in Original Screenplay. However, could residual love have catapulted the film to a nomination?



Who do you think came in 6th place in the 2016 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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