Best Original Screenplay

The very foundation of any film is its screenplay. It presents the story that inspires the director’s overarching vision, and ideally it gives him or her a road map to follow on a creative journey. It creates human beings out of thin air, and it steers actors toward the motivations that will allow them to bring said human beings to life with an authenticity that makes them resonate. Adapted screenplays are often great, but there’s always an inherent compromise that comes with them. You’re taking material that worked in a different medium and trying to shoehorn it into film, even though it might have strengths or weaknesses that don’t translate to motion picture well.

Thus, the award for Best Original Screenplay may be the most pure award when it comes to recognizing artists for their ability to create within the realm of cinema. Here are the original screenplays that the Academy feels best represent the potential of what film can be from this past year (with my predicted winner in red):

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Amour (2013)Amour, Michael Haneke

Why It Was Nominated:

Amour was nominated because it’s such an honest look at such a tough subject. It makes you linger in all of the moments involving old age and death that most mainstream movies cut away from, it doesn’t take the easy way out on anything, and consequently it feels very fresh.  Plus, you know, with all the jokes that go around about how the Academy is mostly made up of crusty old white people, this one had to have resonated pretty profoundly with most of their voters.

Why It Might Win:

Haneke’s The White Ribbon scored a couple of nominations back in 2009, so Haneke seems to be a director the Academy likes. It’s likely only a matter of time before they find an excuse to give him a statue, so why not for his excellent work here? The timing seems especially appropriate seeing as Amour is considered to be less bleak and to contain more compassion than the work Haneke has made in the past. It’s hard to imagine him making a movie more palatable to the mainstream sensibility that the Oscars are always seeking than this. Amour is simply a great script too. It’s a meditation on two characters that goes so deep, you feel like you know them completely by the time the end credits roll.

Why It Might Not Win:

Most obviously, it might not win because it’s a foreign language film, and most times the voters like to give great films that aren’t in English the Best Foreign Language Film award and then be done with it. But, more specifically to this project, Amour might not win because it’s much more obviously an actor’s and director’s movie than it is a screenwriter’s. Much of what the film accomplishes comes from where Haneke points his camera and what the actors do while said camera’s gaze is sitting rock still on them for long stretches of time. Sure, some of that direction has to be coming from the script, but it’s hard to imagine a film with dialogue as periodically sparse as this one’s winning an award for writing.

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Django Unchained Don JohnsonDjango Unchained, Quentin Tarantino

Why It Was Nominated:

Of all the well-reviewed movies that came out in 2012, Django Unchained was probably the most original. Its script is full of memorable characters and quotable dialogue, it successfully mashes together genres that don’t look like they should blend very well at first glance, and it manages to thoughtfully address some fairly challenging race issues, all while being over the top violent and exploitative. Seems like the sort of thing that should be nominated for Best Original Screenplay.

Why It Might Win:

While Tarantino’s stuff might seem like it would be too off the wall for the Academy to really get behind, they did already give him this award for his Pulp Fiction script, so there’s precedent. And, if anything, Tarantino is a filmmaker who’s grown in recognition since he took his first award back in 1994, so the timing for him to be given another platform to pat himself on the back might be right; especially considering the fact that Django Unchained is the best-written thing he’s done in quite a while.

Why It Might Not Win:

Django Unchained is an exploitation film, plain and simple. It’s violent and gross and it occasionally makes light of human suffering. Even given the fact that Tarantino is already an Oscar winner, you still have to see a ridiculous movie like this as being an underdog on an awards show that’s best known for being stuffy and proper. Plus, Tarantino’s movies are about music, performances, and visuals just as much as they are about their screenwriting, so giving Django Unchained an award for its writing doesn’t instantly spring to mind as being the most effective way to honor it.

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Flight MovieFlight, John Gatins

Why It Was Nominated:

Because it’s a super dramatic movie about addiction that allows the people putting the awards show together to play clips of Denzel Washington crying and shouting. That sort of stuff right there is basically the Oscars’ bread and butter.

Why It Might Win:

Honestly, I can’t imagine Flight has any chance of winning. Even people who really like this movie praised it for reasons other than its writing. As a matter of fact, if the movie has any glaring flaws, the clunkiness of its storytelling is definitely one of them. If it has any chance at all, that chance stems from the fact that periodically the Academy makes decisions that really make you scratch your head.

Why It Might Not Win:

It might not win because it’s clearly the weakest of all the picks here. You’ve got to think that’s going to work against it once it becomes time to vote.

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Moonrise KingdomMoonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola

Why It Was Nominated:

Anderson is a unique voice who’s been putting out good movies and building an ever-growing fanbase for years, and the Academy has yet to show him any love. He was due for another nomination, and is probably overdue for a win. Plus, he’s got Roman Coppola as a co-author. I hear that guy’s family has connections.

Why It Might Win:

Moonrise Kingdom is another script full of memorable characters and quotable dialogue, and it’s also a piece of writing that builds an effective love story that wraps itself up with big emotional payoffs.Plus, Anderson is often a love him or hate him filmmaker, but with this project—for whatever reason—he was able to extend his reach out beyond his usual fans and convert some of the haters to his side. Moonrise Kingdom is kind of like a great big hug, and it’s hard not to love. If any Anderson film has looked like it might be able to earn the consensus necessary for a win, it’s probably this one.

Why It Might Not Win:

The fact that Anderson has been putting out great movies without winning any Oscars for years might be precisely the reason he doesn’t win here either. It might be possible that there’s a large enough segment of the voting population that just doesn’t like him and is never going to vote for anything that reflects his style. There’s just so much whimsy in his films. Traditionally the Academy doesn’t respond to whimsy nearly as strongly as they respond to straight drama, which probably disqualifies anything that puts Edward Norton in Khaki shorts.

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Zero Dark ThirtyZero Dark Thirty, Mark Boal

Why It Was Nominated:

The subject matter that Zero Dark Thirty is wrestling with is just too important and was handled too effectively for the film to have been ignored come awards season. It managed to snag five nominations, but honestly, it’s kind of surprising that it didn’t pick up more. This is the sort of movie that would make an awards show lose credibility if they didn’t acknowledge it.

Why It Might Win:

As naive as this sounds, Zero Dark Thirty is likely to win based on actual merit. Boal’s script is just such an impressive piece of screenwriting. It’s almost strictly procedural and is necessarily heavy on exposition, but it somehow manages to keep you engaged all the way through. Despite being fairly long, it’s paced expertly enough that it propels you through its story without the process ever feeling protracted. It somehow pulls off a third act that completely shoves its protagonist to the side, and still maintains your emotional involvement. Zero Dark Thirty is at the same time a script that succeeds due to by-the-book storytelling techniques as well as one that pulls off a huge risk. And it’s hard not to be impressed by how meticulously researched it was.

Why It Might Not Win:

Well, there is all of that pesky torture debate that has followed this movie around. There are a group of people out there who don’t like this movie for political reasons, and you can never tell which way things are going to go in Hollywood. One day the people in charge are doing whatever they can to avoid controversy, and the next they’re doing anything they can to court it and drum up some publicity. How will the heated political debate that—right or wrong—Zero Dark Thirty has started affect its chances for winning a writing Oscar? You got me.

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Read more about The Oscars


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