OSCARS 2012: SCREENPLAY CATEGORY



<!–[if !mso]>st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } <![endif]–>

For my next essay on the upcoming Oscar race, I shall deal with the Best Screenplay categories.  This is often the most difficult category to predict because, first, one has to go to all the trouble of figuring out whether a screenplay is adapted or original, which is really kind of annoying, believe it or not.
The second difficulty is that, of all the categories, the Best Screenplay is the one that will have the most monkey wrenches thrown into it.  Screenwriters, who vote for the nominations, can be a non-conformist  sort of lot and it is not unusual for them to recognize unusual, edgy, foreign, indie screenplays that will often not get a nomination in any other category.   The directors are second to the writers when it comes to this, but the screenwriters’ branch edges them out a bit.  And since there are ten slots to fill, that only allows for a few more idiosyncratic choices to sneak their gremlin way in.
But there is also one overriding issue that has to also be considered here.   This category is often called the consolation prize.  Since there are two awards every year, one of the categories usually goes to the best picture win.   The other is often used to give an award to a smaller or more (altogether now) idiosyncratic picture or a favorite that just got overshadowed by another film and often doesn’t do well in any other major category (Good Will Hunting, Sling Blade, The Social Network, Precious, etc.).
I will begin with the Best Original Screenplay category:
Mark Boal for Zero Dark Thirty to win.  Zero Dark Thirty has really broken out after doing well at a couple of critical award competitions.  Boal won for The Hurt Locker.  Everything seems to now be going ZDT’s (as it’s being called) way.   At the same time, it hasn’t opened, but that may not matter.
Michael  Hanake for Amour.  He also directed.  Amour has also been breaking out in the critics’ competitions.  The movie hasn’t opened yet, like ZDT, but the buzz is strong.  It’s supposed to win best foreign language film.  It’ll be the A Separation of this year, one of those idiosyncratic (oops, I said it again) screenplays that screenwriters like.
Beyond this?  I really am not sure yet.   But this is what is being talked about:
Paul Thomas Anderson for The Master.  The critics loved it, but the public (which includes Oscar voters) stayed away.  But Paul Thomas Anderson is well respected.  With ten categories to fill and a lot of uncertainty, this could get in.  But I’m still having a little problem accepting this because I just didn’t like it (perhaps I’m just being a bit too Republican here, though, and refusing to accept reality).
Romain Coppola and Wes Anderson for Moonrise Kingdom.  I really feel that this movie has almost been forgotten.  It was not the break out independent movie that Beasts of the Southern Wild was which played in the theaters far longer.  If the producers, et al., can make the screenwriting branch remember that the movie came out this year, it could have a chance.
Quintin Tarantino for Django Unchained.   A bit too unknown a quantity.  In addition, unlike ZDT and Amour, the buzz hasn’t really started yet, so it’s hard to say.  But it has a very good chance.
Martin McDonagh for Seven Psychopaths.  It deserves to be up there.  I haven’t seen all the above movies yet, but it’s my favorite original screenplay of the year so far.  But no one seems to think it has much of a chance and it may not have made enough of an impression on the public when it opened (maybe even less than Moonrise Kingdom).
The remainder:  Woody Allen for To Rome With Love (some people loved it, but so many people hated it, I mean hated, it I don’t think it will make it; but it is Woody);  John Gatins for Flight (probably only a best actor nom, but it’s possible, even though the it’s not that strong a screenplay); Rian Johnson for Looper (very popular and people thought it was a clever screenplay—it wasn’t; but it has a chance);  Jacques Audiar, Thomas Bidegain and Craig Davidson for Rust and Bone (mainly included because it opened to excellent reviews and Marion Cotillard is expected to get a nomination, and it could be another of those damn idiosyncratic choices the screenplay branch likes, but I’m not convinced, yet).
If I had to make a prediction now, I would go with Zero Dark Thirty, Armour, Django Unchained, Moonrise Kingdom and Seven Psychopaths. 
Adapted screenplay:
This is actually a much easier category only because the most likely candidates have sort of risen to the top, like cream, I suppose, I mean, if you have to use a simile, it’ll do, I guess.
But what may make this a bit more difficult is that if ZDT is going to win best picture and then wins screenplay, this is the consolation prize category. 
David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook to win.  People love the film. It’s going to get a number of other nominations.  It has some good writing (though the second half is a little weak).   It’s the sort of thing that could just win the consolation prize.
Tony Kushner for Lincoln.  SLP’s biggest competitor and it could win.  But I’m getting the feeling that Lincoln may be a movie that everybody loves, but somehow is going to get shut out more than one might expect (except for best actor which still seems a shoo-in for Daniel Day-Lewis).   But since it’s such a big movie and isn’t going to win Best Picture (which right now, is going to ZDT), it may lose out to a consolation prize award (which could go to SLP).
Chris Terrio for Argo.  The definite winner until Silver Linings Playbook and Lincoln opened.  It’s great Hollywood studio writing (which is also its drawback).  But the movie may have peaked too soon and it may have trouble doing as well as originally thought.
Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar for Beasts of the Southern Wild.  In another year, this would have automatically won the consolation prize award.  But it doesn’t look good this year with fierce competition and a more solid set of nominations.  It feels more like this film is going to be one of those, it’s just an honor to be nominated movie. 
William Nicholson for Les Miserables.  This seems a certainty, though strangely enough, the fact that it’s more an opera than a musical I suppose could hurt it (isn’t the real writing the lyrics and the music and just how much of an adaptation could Nicholson have done when it came to that; at the same time, Kenneth Branagh got a nomination for adapting Hamlet, so this is probably a silly objection, at least when it comes to a nom).  
Other possibilities:  Stephen Chobosky for The Perks of Being a Wallflower (should be included, but Beasts… may be the only really non-big, more independent film to get a nom; screenwriters are idiosyncratic, but only up to a point—they ultimately know who signs their paychecks); David Magee for Life of Pi (perhaps the screenplay with the best chance to unseat one of the above, but people may feel it’s more a director’s movie than a writer’s); Ben Lewin for The Sessions (a well liked movie, but may have to settle for a couple of acting awards); Tim Burton and Leonard Ripps for Frankenweenie (it’s doing well in winning animation awards with the critics, but hard to see what it could upset above); John J. McLaughlin for Hitchcock (a clever script, but that may be it’s problem—viewers thought that was all it was and have been disappointed it wasn’t a more serious look at the great filmmaker).
After this, basically what I will be doing is updating each category.  At this point, the basic nominees have been set.  When deciding if someone new is going to be included (Bradley Cooper, Hugh Jackman, etc.), you will have to make the choice of who will he replaced, i.e. who will not be nominated who was thought a shoo in before.  This is where the guessing becomes really difficult.

OSCARS 2012


It’s getting to be that time of the year, so I’m going to start my annual blogs on the Oscars.  I know, I know.  It’s the one baited breath thing you’ve been waiting all year to hear about.  Well, you can finally stop thinking about the election and really grapple with something important now.  No need to thank me.  It’s just what I do. 

These entries will be quick and off the top of my head, so my thoughts will change as time goes on.  This entry will deal with best picture.

By now, I usually know what’s going to win top dog.  But this year, I was really stymied for a long time and even now I’m not totally sure.  I’m not certain why things are so up in the air this year.  Maybe it’s because it’s been one of the worst years for movies in the U.S. and it’s been hard for anything to really galvanize people.   But it does look like things are starting to gel. 

Argo:   The Mitt Romney of the noms.  As of right now, this is the lead to win best picture (though I think the Presidential election will come out differently).  It has all the right qualifications.  It’s perfectly middle brow, i.e., it makes the audience think it’s edgy, takes chances, is very serious, really grapples with important subject matter, when in reality, it’s a safe, above average action/thriller.  Very retro, but gets the job done.  It also is a box office hit, but not such a hit that people think it’s a studio time waster like The Avengers or The Amazing Spider-Man.  It also has some nice selling points from a marketing standpoint.  First, it’s based on a true story and a true story that most people are unaware of; and it’s a great story, one of those, if it hadn’t really happened, no one would ever believe it had (even if it didn’t really, exactly happen the way it happened in the movie).  Second, Ben Affleck’s acting career had seriously stalled, then he became a director, and is now finally getting new respect, so it’s something of a come back story.  Third, it’s topical—well, topical for a Hollywood story; it takes place in the Middle East, though as was mentioned above, it doesn’t really tell us that much or give us any serious insight into what’s going on over there.  The writer and director are having too good a time entertaining us to do something like that.

Beasts of the Southern Wild:  The Barack Obama of the noms (though, again, I personally think the election will go a different way than the Oscars).  The indie darling of the year.  It probably should win best picture, but will have to settle for a best picture, actress (the youngest ever), screenplay and maybe supporting actor and director nom.  This is the movie that does something and takes the art of filmmaking forward, unlike Argo that is very old school, very George Bush.   It has a great grass roots organization behind it; after all this time, it’s like the Energizer Bunny: it just keeps going and going and going.  It came from nowhere and worked its way up to the top on sheer quality alone.

The Master: a tough call.  The critics love it, but not many others seem to, and it’s the others that vote for the nominations.  In a year of only five noms, I would say this wouldn’t have a chance, but it’s the sort of love it or hate it that the new rules of possibly up to ten noms is made for and it may slip in.  Whether it will get a directing nod is much more difficult to say.  Should get a best actor nom no matter what (Joachim Phoenix) and possibly supporting actor and actress (Hoffman and Adams).

Les Miserables: There is a certain set of films that is impossible to make a guess on until they open.  These are movies that are so big, have such high expectations, have so much “talent” associated with them, that everyone thinks they are a sure thing until they open when most of them crash and burn.  This is especially true of musicals.  I refuse to make any sort of guess until people who have seen it (regular people, not critics) start reacting to it.  Remember Nine?  I’m not making that mistake again.

Lincoln:  See above for Les Miserables.  The previews make it look ponderous, overstuff and self-important.  But it’s Steven Spielberg, so who knows, it might also be entertaining.  It’s suppose to win a best actor for Daniel Day Lewis (beginning to look like one of the few sure things right now), and some possible supporting noms.  Expect to see it in the top ten even if it’s awful simply because it’s Spielberg.

Django Unchained:  In a year of five, probably no way, but in a year of up to ten?  Maybe.  The problem is that it’s by Tarantino.  Tarantino is one of our greatest filmmakers, but he’s a very serious filmmaker who doesn’t makes serious films.  They do nothing, but do it absolutely brilliantly.  This, I think, makes it difficult for the Academy to actually nominate him.  The exceptions were Inglorious Basterds which was about the heavy subject of WWII, Nazism and the Holocaust, and Pulp Fiction which was something people hadn’t really seen before and made people see movies in a different way (and was a film noir, which helped).  Django is basically a Spaghetti Western, so there you have it.  Also, people seem a little uneasy right now whether it’s going to work.

Silver Linings Playbook: It’s been getting a lot of good buzz, but the previews make it look incredibly formulaic and sentimental, so until it opens, it’s an unknown quantity.

Arbitrage:  Not on anybody’s radar right now, but don’t count it out.  It’s the sort of well made, unambitious, entertaining movie that wins voters over.  It’s just fun and there’s often a movie on the list that is just fun.

Moonrise Kingdom:  The, “Oh, yeah, right, I remember that movie, I loved it, but whatever happened to it” film of the year.  People have even forgotten it opened this year and it’s been overshadowed by Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Amour:  A shoe-in for awhile, but it’s also the Austrian entry in the Foreign Language Film category so that may cut against it.  I still think it might have a chance since we have up to ten movies to nom.  It’s very different from Haneke’s other films, so the voters may feel safe in voting for it.  It also may get a best actor and actress nom, as well as screenplay.

Life of Pi, Flight, Zero Dark Thirty, The Hobbit are all too unknown quantities right now.