The screenplay race is always the most fun to speculate upon. Mostly because it is the one category where one of your favorite films of the year has a real shot at getting its single nomination; a little toss off to the year's best comedy, indie or twisty genre entity. It is where Pixar has proven time and time again that animated screenplays can be well-thought out and respected rather than forming the trace of an idea through a bunch of poop culture jokes. (Yes, I meant to say "poop.")
Depending on what the Writer's Guild might disavow in their preemptive awards because the writer of one of the year's best doesn't pay membership dues, we see hope for films like Garden State, Mean Girls and both Judd Apatow's The 40 Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up. So which films have a shot of sneaking into the race this year? Will it be the standard respect for also being a Best Picture nominee or a little thanks-for-playing recognition while being passed over everywhere else?
Who doesn't love an original screenplay? Other than Hollywood, of course? Christopher Nolan's Inception was as much about the concept of getting a fresh idea greenlit in that town as it was about dreams and guilt. The Nolan apology tour for the '08 The Dark Knight snubbing will make a stop right here if nowhere else and likely hand him the Oscar for that script. Whether the nominations come out tomorrow or next year, anyone questioning a nomination here needs to have their head examined. Another widely praised screenplay from the summer that by year's end could be on the fringes of a larger nomination, is Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg's The Kids Are All Right. If there was a category for Best Film to unnecessarily throw a character under the bus in the final act, this script would walk away with the trophy. Voters will likely be remembering this one and will probably factor as a real contender even as the field begins expanding after Toronto fest in a few weeks.
The response to my championing of Aaron Schneider's Get Low in these columns have led a number of commenters and commentators to suggest that response to the film has been lukewarm at best. You must remember, as I often have to remind myself, that awards do not hinge on our personal feelings towards a film. Disagreement is fine, but playing revisionist history is entirely another. Get Low is currently registering an 85% at Rotten Tomatoes with an average rating of 7.4 out of 10. It hasn't exactly lit up the box office with only $3.6 million in the tank, but for films that have grossed at least that much Get Low ranks 8th with that percentage on the year behind the following films:
Toy Story 3, How To Train Your Dragon, Winter's Bone, The Secret In Their Eyes (last year's Foreign Language Oscar winner), Please Give, Inception and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
That is hardly lukewarm territory as far as critical response is concerned. From 2004-07 only one Original Screenplay nominee came from August or earlier. The past two years though there have been six including Frozen River, The Hurt Locker, In Bruges, Inglourious Basterds and Pixar's WALL-E and Up. The screenplays for Fish Tank, Greenberg, Please Give and animated hits, How To Train Your Dragon and Despicable Me are likely to fall by the wayside. Those on the Animal Kingdom bandwagon are likely to be disappointed as well. But Inception, The Kids Are All Right and maybe even Get Low could still be in the race by the holidays.
That leaves room for roughly another dozen original screenplays to come along and take a whack at the field. We haven't heard boo yet on Country Strong, The Fighter, The King's Speech, The Tourist or Peter Morgan's Hereafter. The latter two we'll know more about in Toronto by next weekend. Everyone keeps telling me that my rankings will change once I get a look at Blue Valentine, but like Black Swan and Alejandro González Iñárritu's recently added Biutiful, will it be a little too dark and depressing for voters to fully get behind? We have true stories of injustice led by women (Conviction & Made in Dagenham), possibly more uplifting and intimate tales of family (Mike Leigh's Another Year & Sofia Coppola's Somewhere) and then three-time writing nominee James L. Brooks waiting in the wings with How Do You Know hoping to get back into the good graces of the Academy.
Then we move over to the adaptation side (or: based on material previously published) where animation is going to get its recognition. Michael Arndt's script for Toy Story 3 will be bandied about as the first animated screenplay to ever win an Oscar. The Pixar track record speaks for itself with six writing nominations over ten films, including the last three. Bank on it securing a nomination.
After that the competition is going to get fierce with possibly another 19 films vying for a shot, including four that have already been released. The Ghost Writer, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Shutter Island may be out of the discussion by the time Venice, Toronto and Chicago are done with their festivals. Only Winter's Bone could continue to show up on some late prediction lists.
Rowan Joffe's The American opening this week is a great example of not over-writing and thus will probably be viewed as more a director and actor's showcase. Plus, if the buzz on The Town lives up IT might be the "last job" crime thriller that generates the necessary heat. (Affleck already has one writing nod under his belt.) Will the wealth be spread amongst genres and subgenres though? Can we only have one true story with The Social Network over Fair Game, Secretariat and 127 Hours? Will it be freedom fighter Miral or the crew of The Debt? Will the writers embrace a remake (Let Me In) or another sequel (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps)? Could the category be overstuffed with odd romances and coming-of-age films like It's Kind of a Funny Story, Love and Other Drugs, Never Let Me Go and Tamara Drewe? Oh yeah, and the Coens have this little True Grit thing coming out that we won't speculate on until a trailer presents itself.
To follow up on those earlier statistics, in the past ten years only ten adaptations were nominated when opening prior to September and no more than two in a year. Good news maybe for Toy Story 3 and Winter's Bone. Better news for everything opening the rest of the year.
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: IF THE NOMINATIONS CAME OUT TODAY (IT MIGHT LOOK LIKE)
1. Inception (Christopher Nolan)
2. The Kids are All Right (Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg)
3. Get Low (Chris Provenzano & C. Gaby Mitchell)
4. Please Give (Nicole Holofcener)
How to Train Your Dragon (Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders)
5. Despicable Me (Ken Daurio & Cinco Paul)
(NOTE: How To Train Your Dragon should actually be amongst the adapted screenplays as it is based on a book by Cressida Cowell. Unfortunately that probably gives it even less of a chance for a nomination.)
THEIR TOP COMPETITORS (BASED ON TRAILERS ONLY)
1. Another Year (Mike Leigh)
2. How Do You Know (James L. Brooks)
3. Somewhere (Sofia Coppola)
4. Conviction (Pamela Gray)
5. Made in Dagenham (Billy Ivory)
ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: IF THE NOMINATIONS CAME OUT TODAY (IT MIGHT LOOK LIKE)
1. Toy Story 3 (Michael Arndt)
2. Winter's Bone (Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini)
3. Shutter Island (Laeta Kalogridis)
4. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (Nikolaj Arcel & Rasmus Heisterberg)
5. The Ghost Writer (Robert Harris & Roman Polanski)
THEIR TOP COMPETITORS (BASED ON TRAILERS ONLY)
1. The Social Network (Aaron Sorkin)
2. Never Let Me Go (Alex Garland)
3. It's Kind of a Funny Story (Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck)
4. Love and Other Drugs (Charles Randolph, Marshall Herskovitz & Edward Zwick)
5. The Town (Ben Affleck, Peter Craig & Aaron Stockard)
Next week we will look at the recent history of the Toronto Film Festival and their Oscar classes. In the meantime check out the soon-to-be-old rankings for the races of Picture, Actors, and Actresses