In the era of the expanded ballot, screenplay honors have been tied more closely to Best Picture than even a director’s recognition. That is really one of the biggest ways, other than apparently preventing one single Best Picture winner from sweeping, that the expanded ballot has impacted the race.
The only clue that Moonlight night possibly upset in Best Picture was that it won the WGA the week before the Oscars. That was its only major guild win, but it was enough to seal the deal and push it to the top of the pile. This, because it went into the adapted category at the Oscars, leaving Manchester by the Sea to win the Oscar for original. That it beat La La Land at the WGA was a hint that Moonlight might do some damage at the Oscars.
Last year, The Shape of Water did not win the screenplay Oscar. That made it the first Best Picture winner since The Artist not to win for its writing, but that was because all of the Best Picture heat was in original screenplay, where Get Out and Lady Bird were doing battle with The Shape of Water. Get Out of course prevailed. Get Out had also won the WGA, which was another pretty big hint that it was about to win the Oscar in the category.
This year, Green Book and Roma are in the original screenplay category, but they’re going to go up against The Favourite as an esteemed rival at the Oscars. The Favourite is not eligible with the Writers Guild, and thus, the race has become even more unpredictable.
A quick look at recent Best Screenplay/Picture pairings:
2009: The Hurt Locker —BP/DIR/Screenplay
2010: The King’s Speech — BP/DIR/Screenplay
2011: The Artist — BP/DIR
2012: Argo — BP/Screenplay
2013: 12 Years a Slave — BP/Screenplay
2014: Birdman — BP/DIR/Screenplay
2015: Spotlight — BP/Screenplay
2016: Moonlight — BP/Screenplay
2017: The Shape of Water — BP/DIR
Pundits are banking on Roma winning Best Picture and Best Director like The Shape of Water did last year. That’s certainly possible: not many expect Roma to win Screenplay. But if it does win screenplay at the WGA? Then you know that thousands of people in the industry prefer that film, which makes it more of a shoo-in for the Best Picture win.
If Green Book wins the WGA, it will also show that a large number of people simply love the movie still, despite all the controversies that have sprung up. A Green Book win at the WGA would give the film both the PGA and WGA heading into the Oscars, making it a formidable potential Best Picture winner in a split.
If neither Roma nor Green Book wins a WGA award, then that tells us we’re in for an unpredictable night at the Oscars, but that Roma remains the safest bet. Vice, laden with punch-lines, could easily win, advancing its position to take the original screenplay Oscar in the nose-to-nose final stretch, unless The Favourite pulls ahead (which it might). Eighth Grade could win in a total stunner, though it isn’t up for the Oscar so that would make it a truly unusual winner in that category, but this year has seemed to be comprised of nothing but unusual winners. Ditto A Quiet Place.
Predicting original screenplay would ordinarily be a no-brainer, but since the awards community rose up to kill Green Book dead, it’s hard to know how that will all play out. Did it work? Who knows. Otherwise, an upbeat, witty, quotable script like Green Book would be the easy win in this category.
As far as adapted screenplay goes, that’s another contest altogether. The BAFTA went for BlacKkKlansman, which makes it more likely to be our slam dunk winner. It would be kind of funny if the two screenplay winners were Green Book and BlacKkKlansman, wouldn’t it? Imagine the laughs we’ll have! Can anyone or anything beat Spike Lee’s ice-pick stab at the zeitgeist? Not sure. Can A Star Is Born or Beale Street or Black Panther surprise us? Can You Ever Forgive Me? It’s hard to say, but if anything does beat BlacKkKlansman, that will make predicting the category going forward nearly impossible, as the BAFTA voters have proven Oscar crossover but not necessarily with the WGA.
Either way, I’ll be watching the original screenplay category where, once again, that’s where all of the Best Picture heat seems to reside.
Here is our contest! The WGA awards will be held on Sunday night, a week before the Oscars and a day before final ballots are cast.