Monday, February 16, 2015

One Category at a Time: Original Screenplay

With the writing on the wall for Birdman as Best Picture and with all four acting races more or less calcified, the screenplay contests are now the biggest question marks of the major categories, and Best Original Screenplay may be the most perplexing of them.

Most years, with prestigious adaptations duking it out in their own ring, this award serves as a nifty consolation prize for a film that stands out for its uniqueness of premise or snazziness of dialogue, but is just slightly too left-of-centre to win in the top category. Even Best Picture winners Million Dollar Baby and The Artist were trumped in this arena by decidedly more imaginative efforts.

That may be a bad omen for Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu and his sizable crew of co-writers on Birdman (or at least, their names are sizable); Alexander Dinelaris, Nicolas Giacobone, and Armondo Bo. It bears mentioning, however, that their formally detailed and acidically hilarious script is a far cry from the stodgy conventionality of Million Dollar Baby or the almost purely visual prose of
The Artist. If you like this movie, you like the way it's written, and you'd be foolish to presume that the Best Picture winner is going to lose for its Golden-Globe-honoured screenplay. But in a tight year such as this, with passion split multiple ways in most every category, there could be just enough of a shift to another (arguably more typical) potential winner.

That arguably more typical potential winner is The Grand Budapest Hotel, whose deadpan wit and farcical hijinks are, amongst its competition, the most obvious product of a unique and singular vision behind the typewriter. Wes Anderson has been nominated here twice before, but never stood a chance at the win without a corresponding Best Picture nomination. That's all changed this time, as the industry has fully embraced his verbose period comedy, and how! Already set to be a big winner below the line, this is the natural place for voters to honour the man who orchestrated all the hysteria and nostalgia while reserving their Best Picture vote for loftier fare. The British Academy -- the only key precursor to this category -- corroborated that logic by handing him the BAFTA a week ago.
Hugo Guinness should count himself lucky that his name is attached to Wes' first big awards hit.

But there's another option for members looking to spread the wealth, in the form of Richard Linklater's Boyhood. Not dissimilar to the oft nominated works of Mike Leigh, Linklater's screenplay is less a feat of writerly conception than a slowly harvested collaboration with his actors, workshopping each scene until it achieves a level of naturalism that even the most tuned-in of scribes couldn't lay out on a page. With Birdman a likely bet in Best Picture and Director, anyone who feels Linklater would be cheated if he went home with no gold to show for his 12-year opus may be awfully tempted to make this his silver medal. But will there be enough of those mindsets present to quell the contingent of members who simply don't consider Boyhood to be much of a writer's accomplishment?

Certainly there will be more backers for Boyhood than backers for Nightcrawler, Dan Gilroy's slippery satire of corrupt ethics and media bloodlust. Initially an unsurprising fixture on the critics' circuit, the tragicomic thriller then fooled many a pundit (yours truly included) into believing it had a legitimate shot at major Oscar love when it began lighting up the guilds. Alas, it was a mirage as shady as the film itself, as it landed only a sole nomination in this field, proving once again that some things are still just too cool for the Academy. Even the much praised Jake Gyllenhaal -- who landed every major precursor nomination -- got squeezed out of Best Actor, making it pointedly clear that this isn't the group's flavour.
But rather than lament the general membership's aversion to it, we should cheer for the 55-year-old Gilroy earning a nod for his directorial debut. Let's hope this is just the first of more great things to come down the snaking, neon-lit road.

As though this race weren't stacked enough, the writers branch also had the wherewithal to chalk up the year's toughest-to-love masterwork, Foxcatcher.
This is one of the season's most richly deserved and unimpeachable nominations. Dan Futterman and E. Max Frye's thematically dense, precisely characterized dramatization of the bizarre and tragic true story surrounding John du Pont and the Schultz brothers is indeed chilly... Far too chilly to actually win an award from such a broad, populist organization. But it's also so much more than its depressing synopsis. I get the feeling that decades from now, when the polish on the winner's trophy is long worn away, this is the movie that will be studied in film schools for its unnerving examination of ego, ambition, obsession, and the blood-tainted American Dream. Of course, winning Oscars is all about the here and now,
and right now, Foxcatcher is jogging comfortably at the back of the pack.

Will win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Runner-up: Birdman

Should win: Foxcatcher
Should've been nominated: Whiplash


  1. Whiplash is in the Best Adapted Screenplay category so it can't be in the should of been nominated category here.

    1. Whiplash is an original screenplay. Its categorization in the adapted field is the Academy's mistake. It should be nominated here