If it ain't on the page it ain't in the actors' mouths. Or some applicable rhyme. Of the 20 Lead and Supporting actors on my list, which ones will be told they did it all by themselves and which will see their guidelines in the running. We have 10 open spots and at least 21 scripts with a shot to claim one of them.
With the actors we were following five voting groups. Since the Screen Actors Guild obviously don't have a screenplay category, naturally we will look to the Writers' Guild for support. Not that they did anyone any favors by disqualifying half of the scripts written in 2009, but we will make due with how they lineup anyway with the Broadcast "Film Critics" Association, the Golden Globes, the Chicago Film Critics Association and the BAFTAs. 15 times since 2001 have these five groups all agreed on a nomination, whether it be Original, Adapted or just an overall Best Screenplay or Writer, depending on the year when they did not want to differentiate between a blank page and something that had already been jotted down. And of those 15 times, six were original (Lost In Translation, Good Night and Good Luck, Crash, The Queen, Babel, Juno) and nine were adaptations (A Beautiful Mind, Adaptation, Sideways, Brokeback Mountain, The Departed, No Country For Old Men, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Slumdog Millionaire). Fifteen were nominated. That is great news for Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker) and Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner (Up In The Air). Even better news for them is that since 2001, there has only been one year (2002) when one of these 15 didn't pick up either the Original or Adapted Screenplay Oscar. In 2004 & 2007, both categories won. Could possibly have been a third year to double up if the WGA had not taken Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds) out of contention. We'll just chalk that up to semantics and consider that a lock as well.
Joel & Ethan Coen have received three writing nominations over the years and this year their lucky number could be four. It was four voting bodies (all but the Globes) that nominated A Serious Man for a Screenplay nod. There have been four other instances since 2001 when the Globes dropped the ball only to see it picked up by the BFCA, Chicago, BAFTA and WGA. Those four instances include one each over the past four years - Capote (2005), Little Miss Sunshine (2006), Michael Clayton (2007) and Milk (2008). All were nominated. Two even were victorious. We don't need to counsel Rabbi Marshak on this one.
Next up we have four screenplays that only got three nominations from the five groups. Looking for distinct comparisons is practically a no-no here as only one of them (District 9) matches up to their trifecta in this period (BFCA, Globes, BAFTA). In Neill Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell's favor is that their match was the Oscar-nominated screenplay for Finding Neverland. Two others (Up & An Education) were both disqualified from the WGA along with District 9. The only one of the four to actually qualify for the Writers' Guild is the one that had to remind them that it was an adaptation (Precious: Based On The Novel Push by Sapphire). How is this for a statistic though? Of the last thirteen scripts to get three of these five groups to nominate them, 10 of them got an Oscar nomination. Only Cold Mountain (2003), United 93 (2006) and Into The Wild (2007) failed to make the cut. I like those odds.
THE FINAL TWO
There are still thirteen screenplays to take a look at, with one spot available in each category. We may have to start eliminating from the bottom with the scripts getting shut out from four of the five groups. The Broadcast "Film Critics" Association, never exactly known for going out on a limb with something that might be ignored by the Oscars, in all their years of voting and telling us precisely how accurate they are with their nominations have not once had a screenplay that wasn't backed up by at least one of the four other groups. So what do we think then of Fantastic Mr. Fox and A Single Man?
The Golden Globes have been a bit more adventurous since 2001, nominating Match Point and Munich in 2005 that went onto Oscar nods and then Mulholland Drive (2001) and Love Actually (2003) which did not. Nominating It's Complicated this year will likely fall into that latter category. At least, we hope.
Chicago has gone a step further with eight screenplays that bucked the trends of the others. Five that got shafted (Punch-Drunk Love (2002), A Prairie Home Companion (2004), Before The Devil Knows You're Dead (2007), Rachel Getting Married (2008) and Synecdoche, New York (2008)) and three that contended for the Oscar (Letters From Iwo Jima (2006), Ratatouille (2007) and WALL-E (2008)). For 2009 they had three more off the radar with Away We Go, The Informant and Where The Wild Things Are.
The Writers Guild have had 19 screenplays they went solo on. 7 of them got an Oscar nomination - Monster's Ball (2001), Dirty Pretty Things (2003), Before Sunset (2004), Hotel Rwanda (2004), Million Dollar Baby (2004), Syriana (2005) and Borat (2006). This year with all its disqualifications skewing the race, it was able to sneak in nominations for Avatar, Crazy Heart, Julie & Julia and Star Trek.
So we have worked our way from the ground on up and we are back to three scripts that have been nominated twice by these groups. With the duet of BAFTA and the WGA is The Hangover. 5 of the 9 scripts in this capacity have failed to get a shot at Oscar. Of the four that did, three were adaptations (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Motorcycle Diaries (2004), The Constant Gardener (2005)) and only one was an original (Gangs of New York (2002)). But with a BFCA nod getting backed up by the Writers Guild, you have (500) Days of Summer. While BAFTA/WGA is batting 4-for-9, BFCA/WGA is batting 4-for-6. My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002), Seabiscuit (2003), The Squid and the Whale (2005) and Lars and the Real Girl (2007) all got nominated while only Kinsey (2004) and Stranger Than Fiction (2006) did not. The final contender on the list is over on the adapted side of things and it is the brilliant political satire, In The Loop. The Chicago Film Critics Association nominated its script and then BAFTA just backed it up. With Peter Capaldi a pretty heavy underdog for a nomination, this could be where it gets its (worthy) token nod.
And on top of all that there have been seven scripts in this realm that received not a single nomination from any of these five groups: In The Bedroom (2001), City of God (2002), The Incredibles (2004), Children of Men (2006), Away From Her (2006), Frozen River (2008), Happy-Go-Lucky (2008). Is it possible something else could squirm its way in? Doubtful this year.
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY - PREDICTIONS
(500) Days of Summer (by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber)
The Hurt Locker (by Mark Boal)
Inglourious Basterds (by Quentin Tarantino)
A Serious Man (by Joel & Ethan Coen)
Up (by Bob Peterson & Pete Docter)
ADAPTED SCREENPLAY - PREDICTIONS
District 9 (by Neill Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell)
An Education (by Nick Hornby)
In The Loop (by Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche)
Precious: Based On The Novel Push by Sapphire (by Geoffrey Fletcher)
Up In The Air (by Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner)