Gurus of Gold: What Does Best Original Screenplay Really Mean?

When I was asked by Gurus of Gold to submit my predictions for Adapted and Original Screenplay I had to stop and think about it.  I’ve worn a groove over the years knowing how to predict in these categories.  Best Screenplay almost always means a second prize to a Best Picture/Best Director nomination.  It is usually the dumping ground for brilliant films that can’t get traction in the Best Picture/Best Director categories at best.  But most of the time, when you think of the major categories you start with Best Picture and Best Director. If it gets those two, chances are (unless its name is James Cameron) it will also get a screenplay nomination.  This year, like every other year, the Best Picture race is dominated by adaptations.  Adaptations of tested stories that have been brought to the big screen by great filmmakers.  But the story itself isn’t an original one.

The choosing of these possible contenders is tricky business.  You have to force yourself to think like an Oscar pundit, which means you say: it’s not what I WANT to get nominated, but what WILL get nominated.  To do that one must always second guess the writers branch at the Academy.

In trying to guess original screenplay I realized I was greatly underprepared.  What WERE the best original scripts brought to the big screen so far this year?  The first one that came to my mind was The Artist.  Written and directed by the brilliant Michel Hazanivicius, The Artist is deceptively simple until you realize what a layered and dense tribute it is to American film (through a Frenchman’s eyes, of course).   That is a no-brainer.  Woody Allen‘s Midnight in Paris is one I forgot to include on my Guru’s list for some bizarre reason, but of course, it is one of the best original stories this year — Woody Allen is one of the most valuable contributors to original stories at all, in any year, but this is one of his best.  Chalk two up to being locks in the category.

But what beyond that?

It seemed to me that the simple fact of having written and original screenplay and brought that story to screen in a wonderfully original, brilliant even perhaps, way was enough to be taken seriously for an Oscar nomination, certainly a Writers Guild nomination for Original Screenplay.   But the pesky WGA means you have to already be in their guild in order to qualify.  No such restriction is placed on the Academy.  At any rate, I began to run through the original scripts.

One of the more interesting films, and interesting stories, has to be Steve McQueen and Abi Morgan‘s Shame, which ought to be considered in the Best Director category but, given its NC-17 rating, and it’s kind of graphic nature, probably it won’t be (goes without saying that Oscars in the 1970s would have had no problem with it but this ain’t the 70s).  But McQueen takes my third spot.

The next two that seemed too good to ignore were JC Chandor’s Margin Call and Jeff Nichols for Take Shelter.   Both of these films, like Shame, Midnight in Paris and The Artist, are scripts written and directed by the same person.  It is quite remarkable, truly, to have so many successful auteurs in the race this year, even if the chances for Best Picture nominations for all but two of them feel slim to none.  But the chilling Take Shelter, which examines what is either a potential apocalypse or else a man slowly going insane, seems to capture our current mood like no other film does this year.  Likewise, Margin Call is so dense, so complex, with so much to say about not only the Wall Street bail-outs but human nature was tinkered with for over a decade.  Both of these carefully written, carefully conceived scripts deserve Oscar and WGA attention – and here I am, predicting what I WANT to get nominated instead of what WILL get nominated.

The other original screenplay possibility is completely on the other end of the spectrum but one that requires attention and that’s Kristen Wiig and Anne Mumolo‘s Bridesmaids, one of the most successful films of the year, written by women.  Bridesmaids is so the kind of script that that would get WGA attention but not Oscar attention.  Women and comedy writers are notoriously and continuously screwed.  I am not sure if Bridesmaids will get any sort of recognition, nor am I sure about its wonderful co-star, Melissa McCarthy.  But here I am, advocating nonetheless.

Terrence Malick for Tree of Life, Lars Von Trier for Melancholia, Diablo Cody for Young Adult, Sean Durkin for Martha Marcy May Marlene, Tom McCarthy for Win Win, Dustin Lance Black for J. Edgar, Drake Doremus for Like Crazy and John Logan for Rango are all also in the running, according to the Gurus of the Gold.   Contagion by Scott Burns, In the Land of Blood and Honey by Angelina Jolie, and Beginners by Mike Mills are also not out of the race yet, not by any means.

According to the Gurus, though, Best Original Screenplay is down to Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris vs. Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist.  I can tell you with a fair amount of certainty that, though it could go either way, if The Artist doesn’t win Best Picture it will most likely win Original Screenplay, at the very least, even though there are no words of dialogue in the movie.  Writing is not only dialogue.

But the Best Picture race, as always, will draw its fire usually from the adapted screenplay race.  And this year, Moneyball, The Descendants, War Horse, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Help, Tinker Tailor, Dragon Tattoo and the Ides of March are all in the hunt for Adapted Screenplay.  Again, it means that it’s tied to the strong Best Picture contenders, not so much for the screenplays themselves.

Tintin, A Dangerous Method, and Carnage got just one vote a piece. My vote went to Rampart because, honestly people, you’re not going to pass up a chance to honor James Ellroy who wrote the original script for Rampart, which was then rewritten by Oren Movermen.  It’s an original screenplay, though I mistakenly put it in Adapted at the Gurus of Gold.

If you have James Ellroy in the race you can’t ignore the prestige of the name.  It’s like when Bob Dylan was nominated for Best Song, Larry McMurtry for Brokeback Mountain — some names are just too big to ignore.  And James Ellroy’s is one of the those. I suppose I’m the only Guru on the block who feels that way. I know that those five slots are meant for Best Picture contenders but surely someone is going to catch on that there is a legend in our midst.

So, in closing, my screenplay predictions would look like this:

Original
1. The Artist
2. Shame
3.  Midnight in Paris
4. Margin Call
5. Rampart
6. Take Shelter
7. Bridesmaids
8. Young Adult
9. J Edgar
10. Tree of Life

Adapted:
1. The Descendants
2. Moneyball
3. War Horse
4. Extremely Loud/Incredibly Close
5. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
6. The Help
7. Tinker Tailor
8. Hugo
9. The Ides of March
10. Drive
 

The Gurus of Gold Pre-Toronto Check

Next Story »

Gurus of Gold — So That Happened

24 Comments

  1. Paddy M
    November 15, 2011

    Sasha, I do admire your passion for the films you love, but I can’t help but feel that it’s clouding your vision with your original screenplay choices. You have Margin Call, Shame, Bridesmaids, Take Shelter and Rampart all remarkably high on your list. I’m not sure all four of these have such potential. I have Shame on my list, although it’s my wild card.

    I think there are two screenplays which you haven’t mentioned and which I am currently predicting: The Iron Lady for Original and Harry Potter for Adapted.

  2. Paddy M
    November 15, 2011

    Sasha, I do admire your passion for the films you love, but I can’t help but feel that it’s clouding your vision with your original screenplay choices. You have Margin Call, Shame, Bridesmaids, Take Shelter and Rampart all remarkably high on your list. I’m not sure all four of these have such potential. I have Shame on my list, although it’s my wild card.

    I think there are two screenplays which you haven’t mentioned and which I am currently predicting: The Iron Lady for Original and Harry Potter for Adapted.

  3. Jason
    November 15, 2011

    I second Paddy M. Bridesmaids will inevitably get a Golden Globe nomination, but not Oscars.

    Take Shelter and Margin Call’s screenplays could have been a lot stronger. They were 70% there. Whereas Tree of Life was 150% hahaha, it was a little too developed.

  4. Jason
    November 15, 2011

    I second Paddy M. Bridesmaids will inevitably get a Golden Globe nomination, but not Oscars.

    Take Shelter and Margin Call’s screenplays could have been a lot stronger. They were 70% there. Whereas Tree of Life was 150% hahaha, it was a little too developed.

  5. tombeet
    November 15, 2011

    I don’t know how they will consider The tree of Life screenplay. It’s quite different with the film version. It has more plot and character development.

    You forgot 50/50 for original and We Need to Talk about Kevin for adapted.

    I personally think Young Adult has a high chance of nominating original screenplay. But we’ll see when it comes out.

  6. tombeet
    November 15, 2011

    I don’t know how they will consider The tree of Life screenplay. It’s quite different with the film version. It has more plot and character development.

    You forgot 50/50 for original and We Need to Talk about Kevin for adapted.

    I personally think Young Adult has a high chance of nominating original screenplay. But we’ll see when it comes out.

  7. BoulderKid
    November 15, 2011

    Just watched Margin Call. Decent flick but I think the online swell for it has been a bit misplaced. It plays like a middle of the road HBO movie. It doesn’t really want to delve in to the specifics of what made firms like Lehman go down. It pays lip service to the crisis by throwing around acronyms like MBS but its really just a character piece amidst a tough day at the office. Glengary Glen Ross lite.

  8. BoulderKid
    November 15, 2011

    Just watched Margin Call. Decent flick but I think the online swell for it has been a bit misplaced. It plays like a middle of the road HBO movie. It doesn’t really want to delve in to the specifics of what made firms like Lehman go down. It pays lip service to the crisis by throwing around acronyms like MBS but its really just a character piece amidst a tough day at the office. Glengary Glen Ross lite.

  9. November 15, 2011

    I’d like to see Higher Ground nominated in this category. It’s an excellent adaptation of Briggs’ memoir.

  10. November 15, 2011

    I’d like to see Higher Ground nominated in this category. It’s an excellent adaptation of Briggs’ memoir.

  11. Xavier
    November 16, 2011

    Your choices in Original Screenplay are horrible.

    (1) Indie film ‘Shame’ is not more likely than Woody Allen’s ‘Midnight in Paris’
    (2) Where on earth are ‘Margin Call’ and ‘Rampart’ coming from? Those films are not going to make a dent in the awards season
    (3) Where is ‘Martha Marcy May Marlene’? It boasts a strong contender in Lead Actress, has an 88% on Rotten Tomatoes, and yet you think ‘Margin Call’ is a more likely screenplay nominee? Your prognostication skills are horrendous, frankly.

  12. Xavier
    November 16, 2011

    Your choices in Original Screenplay are horrible.

    (1) Indie film ‘Shame’ is not more likely than Woody Allen’s ‘Midnight in Paris’
    (2) Where on earth are ‘Margin Call’ and ‘Rampart’ coming from? Those films are not going to make a dent in the awards season
    (3) Where is ‘Martha Marcy May Marlene’? It boasts a strong contender in Lead Actress, has an 88% on Rotten Tomatoes, and yet you think ‘Margin Call’ is a more likely screenplay nominee? Your prognostication skills are horrendous, frankly.

  13. mail
    November 16, 2011

    Agreed on MC & Midnight

  14. mail
    November 16, 2011

    Agreed on MC & Midnight

  15. The Great Dane
    November 16, 2011

    Relax, Xavier. :)

    It’s still mid november, so there’s still time (and room) to consider EVERYTHING. EVERYTHING is still open, and there’s always a surprise in Original Screenplay. Just in the last number of years:

    Dirty Pretty Things
    Lars and the Real Girl
    The Savages
    In Bruges
    Frozen River
    The Messenger

    Neither of these films were anywhere NEAR a Best Picture nomination. There’s always a surprise or two, and if Sasha wants to consider everyting, let her. :)
    This is also still the time to try and advocate your favorites, so if Sasha WANTS something to be considered, she can do so by mentioning them as real contenders. This is not Sasha’s FINAL predictions – and when the critics start announcing, everyone’s predictions (including Sasha’s, I would guess) will start altering.

    Let’s just be happy, shall we? :)

  16. The Great Dane
    November 16, 2011

    Relax, Xavier. :)

    It’s still mid november, so there’s still time (and room) to consider EVERYTHING. EVERYTHING is still open, and there’s always a surprise in Original Screenplay. Just in the last number of years:

    Dirty Pretty Things
    Lars and the Real Girl
    The Savages
    In Bruges
    Frozen River
    The Messenger

    Neither of these films were anywhere NEAR a Best Picture nomination. There’s always a surprise or two, and if Sasha wants to consider everyting, let her. :)
    This is also still the time to try and advocate your favorites, so if Sasha WANTS something to be considered, she can do so by mentioning them as real contenders. This is not Sasha’s FINAL predictions – and when the critics start announcing, everyone’s predictions (including Sasha’s, I would guess) will start altering.

    Let’s just be happy, shall we? :)

  17. Joan
    November 16, 2011

    A Separation is the type of film that will almost certainly be studied and examined thoroughly in screenwriting classes for many years to come in the future, and it’s precisely the kind of idiosyncratic choice that could do very well in this category (especially among other writers) in such an open field for Original assuming Sony Pictures Classics get enough of those in the writing branch to see it (judging from all the screenings they’re holding for it in New York I imagine they’re at least gunning for it).

    I have it well in my top 5 of predictions but I’d at least consider it for your top ten. My other predictions are The Artist, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Midnight in Paris and The Tree of Life (Bridesmaids and Take Shelter right outside).

  18. Joan
    November 16, 2011

    A Separation is the type of film that will almost certainly be studied and examined thoroughly in screenwriting classes for many years to come in the future, and it’s precisely the kind of idiosyncratic choice that could do very well in this category (especially among other writers) in such an open field for Original assuming Sony Pictures Classics get enough of those in the writing branch to see it (judging from all the screenings they’re holding for it in New York I imagine they’re at least gunning for it).

    I have it well in my top 5 of predictions but I’d at least consider it for your top ten. My other predictions are The Artist, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Midnight in Paris and The Tree of Life (Bridesmaids and Take Shelter right outside).

  19. Zooey
    November 16, 2011

    If critics actually go for Michael Fassbender in a big way (and they could) and there is enough talk about his performance, the film could very well land a writing nod. And yes, I believe A Separaton has a shot. It needs critics, but the fan base is growing. This is a real gem. I hope the Academy recognizes that.

  20. Zooey
    November 16, 2011

    If critics actually go for Michael Fassbender in a big way (and they could) and there is enough talk about his performance, the film could very well land a writing nod. And yes, I believe A Separaton has a shot. It needs critics, but the fan base is growing. This is a real gem. I hope the Academy recognizes that.

  21. The Great Dane
    November 16, 2011

    Yes, this is the category where left-field surprise nominations happen. But it can also go the other way around.

    Remember when “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” was the hot favorite to win this category? The critics were behind it. Then it won the Globe for Best Picture… And then – IT WASN’T EVEN NOMINATED!

    So for all those “they just LOVE Woody” sayers: Well, not always, not even when they’re most likely to. :)

  22. The Great Dane
    November 16, 2011

    Yes, this is the category where left-field surprise nominations happen. But it can also go the other way around.

    Remember when “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” was the hot favorite to win this category? The critics were behind it. Then it won the Globe for Best Picture… And then – IT WASN’T EVEN NOMINATED!

    So for all those “they just LOVE Woody” sayers: Well, not always, not even when they’re most likely to. :)

  23. November 16, 2011

    Young Adult is a LOCK for Original Screenplay. It might have trouble with competition in other categories, but there is NO WAY it gets snubbed here. If you saw the movie you couldn’t possibly disagree.

  24. November 16, 2011

    Young Adult is a LOCK for Original Screenplay. It might have trouble with competition in other categories, but there is NO WAY it gets snubbed here. If you saw the movie you couldn’t possibly disagree.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *