Friday, February 24, 2017

One Category at a Time: Best Original Screenplay

Just like in Best Adapted Screenplay, this race feels like a tight one, except that it comes down to two scripts instead of all five nominees. I gotta tell ya, as much fun as true suspense on Oscar night can be, I'm having a rough go of predicting Best Original Screenplay lately, batting less than 0.500 over the last seven years.

Part of it is that the two main industry precursors are doing just as poorly when it comes to prefacing the Academy (which isn't their job, of course, and thank God for that). The WGA and the BAFTA have each anticipated the eventual winner only half the time in this decade, so maybe I'm looking at the wrong precursors.
Even though they share zero membership overlap with AMPAS, it turns out that both the Critics Choice and the Golden Globes have been much more informative in this category of late. For as long as the Critics Choice have been honouring screenwriters, only two of the original screenplays they've chosen have lost the Oscar (Memento and Inglourious Basterds). The Globes are even more accurate, with only one of their Original selections this century (The Queen) failing to convert on Hollywood's holy night.

So that effectively narrows this down to Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester by the Sea vs. Damien Chazelle's La La Land. They tied for the Critics Choice, so no hints there, but it was Chazelle's effortless rom-com styled prose that took the Globe in a historic clean sweep. Also worth mentioning is that Best Picture winners rarely lose for their screenplay, which should give La La Land a decided edge, although it's even rarer for musicals to win for their screenplay, so I'm not sure where we stand. Lonergan's indie-spirited Sundance sensation has all the surface appearance of a "screenplay winner", and its BAFTA triumph over La La Land makes it clear that he is the alternative choice should the Academy feel like spreading the wealth.

Not to speak pejoratively of either of these movies -- both of which made my top twenty of the year -- but they're the only two in the field I would not have nominated myself. The other three nominees are far more deserving if you ask me.
Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou's bleakly comic vision of dystopia in The Lobster deserves credit for originality is nothing else. And even if you have a hard time actively enjoying Lanthimos' deadpan direction in real time, the conceptual humour far outlasts it. Mike Mills managed to rescue his wonderful 20th Century Women from becoming the best film of 2016 to get shut out completely (instead that unenviable distinction now goes to The Handmaiden) by snagging a well deserved mention from his peers in the writing branch.
And Taylor Sheridan evolved from the well executed pulp of last year's Sicario to the layered -- and yet tremendously entertaining -- allegorical ensemble drama that is Hell or High Water.

Any of these would make a welcome shock winner, but that ain't gonna happen.

Will win: La La Land
Could win: Manchester by the Sea

Should win: Hell or High Water
Should be nominated: Jackie

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