Where The Academy plans to give Spike his long overdue non-honorary Oscar is a big story this year. Best Adapted Screenplay would be a bit of cosmic payback for Do The Right Thing losing its bid in 1990 to Dead Poets Society. We’ll break it down below as we explore the two writing categories — best screenplays, adapted and original.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Megan Sergison: We’ve got a solid stack of writing this year in contention for the Best Adapted Screenplay award. Nearly all of the five nominees have a few precursor awards under their belt; the melancholy Can You Ever Forgive Me? won big with the Writers’ Guild of America, and the tender If Beale Street Could Talk has a veritable collection of critics’ awards. But this year, ultimately, belongs to BlacKkKlansman. Scathing, provocative, and the category’s strongest film as a whole, it has snapped up its fair of small wins alongside a BAFTA. The factor most likely to tip the scales in its favor is co-writer/director/legend Spike Lee. Voters will — and ought to be — chomping at the bit to award Lee his first competitive Oscar. He’ll share his award with three other writers (Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, and Kevin Willmott), but we’re looking forward to hearing the acceptance speech he’s been sitting on for the last 25 years.
BlacKkKlansman is a worthy choice, but I would love to see a win for If Beale Street Could Talk. Barry Jenkins’ adaptation feels true to the core of the groundbreaking 1974 novel, honoring James Baldwin’s story while filling in the lines of his loosely sketched prose. Jenkins has described his take on Beale Street as a passion project, and it shows. The lovesick aches of his Fonny and Tish radiate off the screen, and the supporting cast is drawn so richly that we can’t help but fall in love with them a little, too. But in (moon)light of Jenkins’ win just two years ago, who are we to keep Lee from finally getting his hands on some Oscar gold?
What should win: If Beale Street Could Talk
What will win: BlacKkKlansman
Best Original Screenplay
Rob Hunter: As with many of the contests this year, the Best Original Screenplay category is one that seems more up in the air than usual. There are arguments for and against each of the nominees, but at the end of it all, there remains one clear favorite.
You have to go back 14 years to find a winner for Best Screenplay that wasn’t also nominated for Best Picture, and that seems like a pretty good argument against the odds of Paul Schrader’s First Reformed taking home the prize as it’s the only one lacking that greater accolade. Counterpoint? Schrader has never been nominated before despite authoring the likes of Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Affliction. Might voters reward him this year with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” in the guise of a Best Original Screenplay Oscar? Stranger things have happened.
Green Book, written by Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie, and Peter Farrelly, is currently riding the thin line between acclaim and derision, and while you need only watch it to realize it shouldn’t win this category (or any of the four others it’s nominated in) it’s also impossible to dismiss as a contender. It won the screenplay category at the Golden Globes, and older white voters — still a considerable percentage of the Academy — love this kind of feel-good malarkey, and if they can’t convince themselves to carry it all the way to Best Picture they may settle for Best Screenplay.
Adam McKay’s Vice has seen a similar split between affection and dislike but for different reasons. The politics of it all have been enough to turn off some, while others have reacted poorly to McKay’s fast-moving blend of somber topics and wacky tones, but it has its fans as evidenced by its eight nominations. It won’t win this category, but don’t expect the film to leave empty handed, as Best Achievements in Makeup and Editing seem like sure things for the angry and motivated comedy.
Best Picture winners often take home the Best Original Screenplay award as well, so there’s a good chance that Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma might win this category. (Yes, Roma is winning the top prize.) That’s the best argument for a win here, though, as the film’s broad praise since its premiere hasn’t typically featured much in the way of call outs for its script. It’s obviously the base on which the film is built, but its acclaim has been understandably focused on Cuaron’s direction and cinematography as well as Yalitza Aparicio’s naturally affecting lead performance. Scripts are typically praised for story and dialogue, and neither are the real strong suits here.
Last, but clearly not least, we have Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara’s smart, brutal, and witty script for Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite. His films (Dogtooth, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) aren’t typically what appeal to Academy voters, but his latest is his first not to credit him as a writer. The result is a film that’s every bit as cruel and blackly comic but without the surreal and stylized pacing and tone his films usually deliver. Writers love sharp, intricately structured dialogue that lands like a blistering series of verbal punches, and the film’s rapid-fire brilliance is undeniable in that regard. There’s a small chance it will take Best Picture and better odds that Olivia Colman will (deservedly) go home with a statue for Best Actress, but the award for Best Original Screenplay is as close to a lock as you’ll find this year.
What should win: Blindspotting (Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs) deserved a nomination and a win here, but alas, the Academy isn’t an institution built strictly on quality.
What will win: The Favourite (Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara)
To read our breakdowns and analysis of every one of this year’s categories, follow the links below:
- Skip to The Final Ballot
- Best Picture and Best Director
- The Other Best Pictures
- The Acting Awards
- The Writing Awards
- The Sound and Song Awards
- The Technical Awards