In the lead-up to the 86th annual Academy Awards on March 2, HitFix will be bringing you the lowdown on all 24 Oscar categories with multiple entries each day. Take a few notes and bone up on the competition as we give you the edge in your office Oscar pool!
The Best Original Screenplay category is often something of a refuge from the Best Picture race — a place where the Academy can show their appreciation for a smaller, hipper or more challenging contender that isn’t likely to take the night’s top prize. That’s more or less the case this year, particularly with the otherwise formidable “Gravity” pointedly ignored here. As it is, four less imposing Best Picture nominees are in the running, with two in particular duking it out for the win, while the fifth is a category perennial (and the only former champ in the race) with no chance whatsoever of victory this time round.
The nominees are…
“American Hustle” (David O. Russell and Eric Warren Singer)
Earlier in the season, this was looking like an easy win for Singer and Russell — who, after racking up five nods in the last four years, must be getting antsy for his first Oscar win. The pair kicked off the season with a New York Film Critics’ Circle win for their freewheeling comic screenplay, and it seemed its shaggily expansive structure and parade of colorfully defined characters would appeal to the Academy too, particularly when the film amassed a co-leading total of 10 nominations. But for whatever reason, the air has been escaping from the “Hustle” balloon a bit, while “Her” beat it to this prize at both the Golden Globes and WGA Awards. BAFTA, however, revived its fortunes with a win (Russell’s second consecutive writing award from the Brits), and the film’s many admirers within the Academy may still see this category as the most convenient place to reward it. (Check out our interview with David O. Russell here.)
“Blue Jasmine” (Woody Allen)
Two years ago, Allen rode the “Woody’s best in X years” narrative all the way to a third win in this category — and his first in 25 years — for his lightweight comedy “Midnight in Paris,” beating even the Best Picture winner in the process. I wonder if many voters felt they should have waited after seeing his thorny tragicomic work on “Blue Jasmine,” an arguably more substantial writer’s piece for which the critical reception was, if anything, even warmer. Then again, even if the film had amassed equivalent comeback momentum to “Paris” (and even if it had scored a Best Picture nod), his chances would likely have been scuppered by the currently raging Dylan Farrow scandal — it won’t hurt Cate Blanchett’s Best Actress chances any, but many voters won’t feel comfortable checking off his name right now. Still, you can bet he’ll be back soon enough for a record-extending 17th nomination in this category.
“Dallas Buyers Club” (Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack)
Borten and Wallack’s nomination wasn’t as surprising as it would have been before the WGA foreshadowed it, but it was still indicative of the unexpected depth of support within the Academy for Focus Features’ modest AIDS drama. Though the film didn’t get much attention for its writing earlier in the season, it’s a solidly structured screenplay in the traditionally redemptive mold, with flavorful dialogue and a lovingly defined trio of characters. Some have taken issue with its factually fast-and-loose treatment of Ron Woodroof’s life, and even accused it of giving a heteronormative makeover to a significant period of LGBT history — which seems to demand it tell a different story to the one it tells rather well. Either way, the nomination is far as it goes here.
“Her” (Spike Jonze)
Spike Jonze’s first two films, “Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation,” were both eccentric visions that picked up nominations for their screenplays — though in both cases, it was Charlie Kaufman at the keyboard. “Her” is a product entirely on Jonze’s imagination, though there’s more than a hint of Kaufman’s off-kilter worldview and low-fi surrealism to this unique romantic fantasy, which picks up on any number of contemporary social mores and neuroses — relating to intimacy, communication and technology — in a way that has really struck a chord with viewers and media commentators alike. That combination of liberal, capital-O Originality and zeitgeist engagement has helped to triumph both at the Globes and WGAs, and will surely win over many Academy voters. It’s worth noting, too, that the Guild award and the Oscar haven’t been split between two mutually eligible contenders in this category since 2000.
“Nebraska” (Bob Nelson)
Three of Alexander Payne’s previous films have been nominated by the writers’ branch, while two of them actually took the Oscar, so it was no surprise to see this one included — the key differences, of course, being that “Nebraska” is a) an original screenplay and b) not written by Payne himself. On the latter point, many uninformed voters will doubtless assume otherwise, given that Nelson’s first feature screenplay strikes a similarly mordant comic tone to Payne’s self-written work, and similarly scrutinizes the sometimes farcical foibles of weary American everymen. (It even attracted similar charges of condescension from Payne’s detractors.) One thing it will not share with the director’s last two films, however, is a writing Oscar; the competition from buzzier Best Picture players is simply too strong.
Will win: “Her”
Could win: “American Hustle”
Should win: “Her”
Should have been here: “Frances Ha”
This was a competitive field at the nominations stage, with a number of prestige titles jostling for inclusion — many have already decried the omission of BAFTA nominee “Inside Llewyn Davis” from the list, and the Coens’ film joins “Gravity” as the category’s most conspicuous absentee. Still, my fantasy vote would have gone elsewhere: to Sebstian Lelio for the compassionate human comedy of “Gloria,” or Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach for the loose-limbed, verbally rich authenticity of Llewyn Davis’s little sister, “Frances Ha.”
What do you think deserves to win Best Original Screenplay this year? Vote in our poll below.
How do you think this race will pan out, and what do wish were nominated? Share your thoughts in the comments.