When AMPAS made its ruling to move Moonlight to Best Adapted Screenplay from its Original designation, it looked as though the way was paved for Barry Jenkins to claim at least one Oscar of his own for one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year. But the situation is not so cut and dry...
The early confusion resulted in Moonlight competing and winning as an original screenplay at the WGA. It lost the Critics Choice to Arrival before its December buzz had a chance to influence that highly susceptible group, and recently gave up the BAFTA to Lion, arguably its stiffest competition. Not a good omen, but are the others in any better position?
Lion is surging after the aforementioned BAFTA win, but having been ineligible for the WGA meant Luke Davies couldn't pick up any additional momentum in the final voting stretch. Still, he feels like the real deal as far as challengers to Moonlight go. People love this movie, and his thoughtful script makes a strong case for this being the category where fans can rally to give it a consolatory win.
Of course, a similar argument could be made for Hidden Figures, whose SAG triumph and impressive box office leaves a lasting impression of its popularity. Theodore Melfi and Allison Schroeder have penned a crowd-pleaser that can't possibly win its other two nominations, but if it has a fighting chance here (which it does) that may embolden its devotees.
The dark horse of the bunch, oddly enough, has more critics prizes for Adapted Screenplay than even Moonlight (since most of its critical kudos were for Original Screenplay). Eric Heisserer's terrific interpretation of the short story that became Arrival took the Critics Choice Award and repeated with the guild. Mind you, Academy members have more categories in which to speak up for it, and may reserve their vote here for something else.
Will win: Moonlight
Could win: Lion
Should win: Arrival
Should be nominated: Love & Friendship