Screenwriters never have it easy, do they? They often complain they are seen as second class citizens to the director. Actors often get credit for improvising a line they wrote and, worse, producers will often play games with the media, insisting they came up with a key storyline or the entire project themselves. Things get even more complicated with the sometimes unfair arbitration rules that often find the wrong writer getting final credit for a project (often because of a contract he or she signed). Frankly, all of this adversity might be one reason why winning an Academy Award means so much to a working Hollywood screenwriter.
This year's crop of Original Screenplay nominees are all worthy of taking home Oscar on their previous merits. Without a true “first-timer” in the group*, it goes without saying whoever wins this year might find the spoils that much sweeter. “Boyhood's” Richard Linklater is now a three-time screenplay nominee. “Birdman's” Alejandro González Iñárritu is a previous Oscar nominee for directing and producing “Babel.” Two of his co-writers, Nicolás Giacobone and Armando Bo, have been at it for awhile. “Nightcrawler's” Dan Gilroy has has been writing in Hollywood for over 20 years. “Foxcatcher's” Dan Futterman was nominated for “Capote” in 2005 and E. Max Frye has been in the biz for almost 30 years, an Emmy nominee for “Band of Brothers.” Wes Anderson has been nominated in this exact category two times previously and has a Best Animated Feature Film nod to boot. Are many of the contenders in this category due? You bet they are, and that's one reason why we're going with Mr. Anderson.
*Obviously, “Birdman” and “Budapest” are nominees Alexander Dinelaris and Hugo Guinness' first produced works, but we're leading with Iñárritu and Anderson.
One of the most critically acclaimed films of the year, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” tied for the most nominations this year with “Birdman,” but over the last two weekends it has gone on to win the BAFTA Award and the WGA Award for original screenplay. “Birdman” wasn't eligible for WGA, but won at the Golden Globes. “Budapest” took home Best Picture – Comedy or Musical from the HFPA, but, hey, let's not give them too much credit. Either film could have flipped those wins and everyone would have gone home happy. “Budapest” also took home LAFCA, NYFCC and the National Society of Film Critics' screenplay honors. That is a serious bucket load of kudos to deal with in a race seemingly as tight as this. And, frankly, it may not be that close.
While there have been numerous surprises in this category over the years (although arguably more in Best Adapted Screenplay), let's take a minute to look at the last three winners: Woody Allen (“Midnight in Paris”), Quentin Tarantino (“Django Unchained”) and Spike Jonze (“Her”). All are iconic filmmakers with singular visions. It's one reason why some seem to believe “Birdman” and “Boyhood” have a shot here. Except members may realize they can recognize these two films in bigger categories such as Best Picture and Best Director. Those votes may split or lean one way or another (a conversation for another time), but don't put it past the majority of the Academy to vote this way. And frankly, Anderson, like his contemporary Jonze last year, might just be due.
“Budapest” may be Anderson at the peak of his cinematic powers. The lessons he learned in stop-motion animation on “Fantastic Mr. Fox” helped form his previous work, “Moonrise Kingdom,” and that carefully composed style carried over to “Budapest,” which may be his most entertaining and touching picture to date. Academy members are in the business. They know how hard it is to pull off something as delicate in style and manner as “Budapest.” They realize it's not just storyboards and production design. The plan has to be written and the story must be just as significant as the pizzazz swirling around it. “Budapest” may not be as serious or profound as “Boyood” and “Birdman” are to some, but the intricacies in the writing and the incredibly witty dialogue? Best Original Screenplay is where you reward it if you can.
Biggest campaign moment: Actually, it's the same moment as with the Adapted Screenplay category: “Whiplash's” surprising qualification in the other field. That being said, “Selma's” snub here was huge. If the Academy was going to significantly reward Ava DuVernay's drama anywhere it might have been in Best Original Screenplay.
Should have been here: “Selma” (Paul Webb), “The Skeleton Twins” (Mark Heyman, Craig Johnson), “Top Five” (Chris Rock), “Wild Tales” (Damián Szifrón)
Will win: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Should win: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”