On Thursday, January 3rd, the Producers Guild, Art Directors Guild and Writers Guild all announce their nominees. It is he same day as Oscar ballots are due.  The Writers Guild is a fairly good indicator of Best Picture at the Oscars usually.  This is a year where a lot of the best screenplays, Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Ava DuVernay’s Middle of Nowhere are all ineligible. That means we could see something similar to last year’s Original Screenplay category where only two made it through to the Oscars.  Everything is ass-backwards this year because usually these nominations are released before the Academy’s ballot deadline, thus, the WGA, DGA, PGA will not be the guidepost for Oscar voters.

That means you can’t get a bump from a screenplay that might have been snubbed by the WGA.  As you can see by the charts below, the WGA and Oscars match quite often for wins, particularly in the original screenplay category.  As the date for Oscar has been pushed back (circa 2003), those matches were somewhat more rare.  After that, you can see how closely they matched.  That’s because there is simply less time for contemplation. Everyone votes roughly at the same time, so what wins one place tends to win another.

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There isn’t anything better than a great director working with a great screenwriter. Despite how many screenwriters there are in Los Angeles (rumor has it, there are more screenwriters here than people), there are precious few of them who can lay it down in any meaningful way. If the director picks a good writer and a solid script there is less distance to bridge between the written word and great cinema. The truth about the Oscars is that the screenplay categories, like most categories, tell us more about the best films of the year than they do the best screenplays. The doubling the number of nominees into dual categories of adapted and original also makes room for winners who couldn’t win in Picture or Director as a way of honoring the film, like Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation. The categories also make room for up and comers to shine even if their films have no prayer of entering any of the other major categories. JC Chandor getting a surprise nomination for Margin Call last year is a fine example of that. The Oscars take a lot of heat for “ruining movies” and being a “popularity contest,” but there is nothing like them for boosting the career of a virtual unknown. An Oscar nomination alone can change the lives of obscure, struggling writers who are lit up for that brief moment of time.

Best Picture heat is almost always the driving force behind winners in either category, original or adapted. Last year, The Descendants and Midnight in Paris were both formidable Best Picture contenders with nominations across the board. Maybe they had no chance to win the top prize, or even director, but they took the screenplay prizes as lasting acknowledgement of the overall work. Rarely is the screenplay win just about the writing.

What can boost a winner is the prestige the writer in the literary or screenwriting world. There was no way Aaron Sorkin or Larry McMurtry were going to lose the Oscar for writing; that would be like Bob Dylan losing the Best Original Song category. It just ain’t gonna happen. In McMurtry’s case, of course, the Best Picture winner, Crash, came from an original screenplay so they weren’t competing against each other. Something tells me if the categories had been combined, McMurtry — due to his own notoriety — would have come up the winner, but one never knows when it comes to that mysterious Crash win.

Many of the writing winners have also been the directors of their films but not always. It is probably roughly 50/50. Recent adapted winners who were also directors include The Descendants, No Country for Old Men, Sideways. Recent winners in original who were also directors include Almost Famous, Talk to Her, Lost in Translation, and Crash. It hardly ever happens that the writers of an original screenplay wins the category, director and picture. I think the last time it happened was Annie Hall.

Working back from the strongest Best Picture contenders, there are the collaborators and the auteurs. Different writers and directors versus the same writer and director. Let’s take a quick look at the strongest so far.

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If you care to watch.  There are a few notable writers who are glaringly missing from this.

Recently, I was lucky enough to be invited on NPR to talk about the adapted screenplay race. It surprised host Rachel Martin that the screenplay race, it turned out, wasn’t so much about the individual screenplays as it was about the Best Picture category. This is probably the hardest thing to grasp about the way Oscars vote. Everybody votes for everything when it comes to picking the winners in the various categories. So you have actors voting for cinematography, editors voting for screenplay, costumers voting for animation, publicists voting for actors — and everyone votes for Best Picture. The truly best indicator of what the professional industry thinks are really the guild awards.

She was also surprised to hear that those voting for adapted screenplay don’t have to have seen all of the films nominated. Heck, the year Brokeback lost to Crash many Academy members came out and admitted they didn’t see the movie. This year, if you polled Academy members I bet you’d find that there are those voting members who still have to have seen all nine of the nominees. Voting is buzz and perception. When you fall in love with a pretty girl across the room not only do you not see anyone else but you don’t even want to look at anyone else. Such is the conundrum of choosing “best.”

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We have a master list of 265 screenplays eligible for Oscar consideration.  We need to separate the Adapted from the Originals so that Rob can finish constructing the simulated Oscar ballot .  It’s a monster project, so can I enlist your help?  I’ve made a really rough stab at dividing them up, but I’m sure the two lists I’ve drafted are riddled with mistakes.  Please take a look after the cut and tell me what I’ve got wrong. Thanks!

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@CineVue and @Raindance tweet links to a great resource at where you can read and download 8 scripts by Christopher Nolan — Following, Memento, The Prestige, Insomnia, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Inception and The Keys to the Street (unproduced).   Production notes and screenplay analysis on selected titles are also available.

The site hosts pages where you can find suites of scripts by Tim Burton and The Coen Brothers, too.  But you’ll have to pay for a premium membership,  £50 a year.  Links after the cut.

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Adapted for Scorsese’s film version by Oscar nominee John August (Gladiator, The Aviator, Coriolanus).

Since much of a best screenplay nomination hangs on the past pedigrees of the writers, directors and cast, it’s never too soon to begin groping in the dark to wonder which films might emerge as this year’s frontrunners for best screenplay. A message from phantom this weekend suggested it might be fun to venture some blind predictions. At this stage we can already begin to see important puzzle pieces fall into place, yet it’s early enough in the process so that we can later claim plausible deniability if some of our premature expectations are horribly off-base. I’ll kick things off by naming 21 titles in each category — Original and Adapted — roughly arranged according to idle speculation and wishful thinking. You’ll let me know what I’m leaving out, which scripts you expect to shine brightest, and which ones are pipe-dreams.

Best Original Screenplay

The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick
Win Win, Thomas McCarthy & Joe Tibani
Meek’s Cutoff, Jonathan Raymond
Rampart, James Ellroy & Oren Moverman
Iron Lady, Abi Morgan & Michael Hirst
Take This Waltz, Sarah Polley
Shame, Abi Morgan & Steve McQueen

Alternates and Best Adapted, after the cut.

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Charles Brackett, Gloria Swanson, and Billy Wilder

This list has been around sine 2005, but I had forgotten about it. Worth another look? Nothing since Eternal Sunshine in 2004? What screenplays from the past 7 years would you add? Several directors have very good taste and/or clout in aquiring the best scripts. Are there 4 Hitchcock films represented? And would Rear Window or North by Northwest have made the list if a lesser director had not brought them to life with the same flair?

Screenplay by Julius J. & Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch. Based on the play “Everybody Comes to Rick’s” by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison
Screenplay by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola. Based on the novel by Mario Puzo
Written by Robert Towne
Written by Herman Mankiewicz and Orson Welles
Screenplay by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Based on “The Wisdom of Eve,” a short story and radio play by Mary Orr
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The 2011 finalists for the USC Scripter awards:

  • Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy for 127 Hours, adapted from mountain climber Aron Ralston’s autobiography Between a Rock and a Hard Place
  • Roman Polanski for The Ghost Writer, adapted from journalist Robert Harris’ novel The Ghost
  • Aaron Sorkin for The Social Network, adapted from Ben Mezrich’s The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal
  • Joel and Ethan Coen for True Grit, based upon Charles Portis’ classic Western novel
  • Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini and Daniel Woodrell for Winter’s Bone adapted from Woodrall’s rural noir novel.

The Scripters honor the authors of what the 58-member selection committee deems as the “most accomplished cinematic adaptation.”(THR)

(thanks Marshall!)

screenplay poll sample

Choose the 10 screenplays you think the Academy will nominate (not your own personal favorites). Cast your votes after the cut.

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2010 can only be called the Year of the Director where the Oscar race is concerned. I wouldn’t presume to say anything deeper than that. Sometimes talking about the Oscar race feels like other contests that are judged superficially – political campaigns and horse races. In truth, we are talking about subjectivity. We are talking about art. We are talking about those things because good ideas still drive great movies. But we must also confront what drives Hollywood — money and power. The Oscar race is, therefore, squarely in the middle of those two dynamics; it has never been art for art’s sake.

“He’s nobody. He’s the author,” says Geoffrey Rush in Shakespeare in Love. And that’s mostly true. But the Oscar race lifts up a few names in celebration, which can completely alter a career. You have to admit that having an Oscar for writing a screenplay would be a spectacular thing, particularly if you didn’t ever see that in the plan – someone like Diablo Cody, or even last year’s Geoffrey Fletcher, who beat Jason Reitman to become the first ever black screenplay winner in their 83-year history. Way to go, Academy. You might all call foul and say it shouldn’t matter what color of skin they have. And you would be mostly right except for one thing: it DOES matter, Blanche. It DOES.

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social network 11

We’re born alone. We die alone. But in between, we are connected to people.

We are connected to them because we love them. We give birth to them or give birth to us. They call us up to talk on the phone about their problems. They sleep next to us at night. They make us laugh when we buy our coffee from them, or sit next to them on airports.

Some of these connections last a lifetime. Some do not.

Thanks to Facebook, we now have two working definitions of the word “friend” and “like” and “status.” We assign a number to the amount of friends we have gathered like that really means we have more friends. I have something like 720 friends. Does that make me feel less lonely? Does it help me feel like a belong to the human race? Has it changed my life in any significant way?

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The Oscar race is a funny thing. I’m sure you’ll be as surprised as I was to learn that Aaron Sorkin, one of the best writers working in Hollywood, has never been nominated for an Oscar. The Oscar race is about timing, the skill of publicists, and the popularity of the stars involved … but usually it’s about the heat of the moment.

In short, Oscar is a one-night stand.

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Peter Travers, via twitter:

“David Fincher‚Äôs Social Network is the 1st film I’ve given **** in 2010. It‚Äôs the movie of the year that also brilliantly defines the decade.”

(Travers ranks 5th in the unscientific poll we conducted last week, teasing out the top critics to find the “10 Most Influential.”)

*ravelette is to rave as novelette is to novel. I’m claiming coinage rights.

Scott Foundas steps forward with a hugely enthusiastic review for The Social Network in Film Comment.

This is very rich material for a movie on such timeless subjects as power and privilege, and such intrinsically 21st-century ones as the migration of society itself from the real to the virtual sphere—and David Fincher’s The Social Network is big and brash and brilliant enough to encompass them all. It is nominally the story of the founding of Facebook, yes, and how something that began among friends quickly descended into acrimony and litigation once billions of dollars were at stake. But just as All the President’s Men—a seminal film for Fincher and a huge influence on his Zodiac—was less interested by the Watergate case than by its zeitgeist-altering ripples, so too is The Social Network devoted to larger patterns of meaning. It is a movie that sees how any social microcosm, if viewed from the proper angle, is no different from another—thus the seemingly hermetic codes of Harvard University become the foundation for a global online community that is itself but a reflection of the all-encompassing high-school cafeteria from which we can never escape. And it owes something to The Great Gatsby, too, in its portrait of a self-made outsider marking his territory in the WASP jungle.

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The Tourist

This shakes up the holidays with an unexpected jolt of adrenaline, doesn’t it? Reader Sean points out that Sony has upgraded The Tourist to First Class passage with a premiere route through the very heart of Oscar season. (Previously set to embark in February 2011). Several reliable sites confirm, but I’m interested this morning in the slant from box office mojo:

Sony Pictures announced this afternoon that the Johnny Depp-Angelina Jolie romantic thriller The Tourist is now set to open Dec. 10.

A remake of French thriller Anthony Zimmer, The Tourist features Depp as an American vacationing in Venice, Italy, who, while attempting to romance Jolie’s character, becomes embroiled in a web of international intrigue and suspense. This year has already been a good one for Depp and Jolie, as they have each had hits in Alice in Wonderland ($334.2 million) and Salt ($104.2 million and counting), respectively. Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who won the Best Foreign Language Oscar in 2007 for Cold War drama The Lives of Others, The Tourist will debut opposite The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and David O. Russell’s The Fighter.

As if anyone needs to be reminded of Depp and Jolie’s earning power. But it’s fortuitous to have the momentum of two new financial bonanzas associated with their names preceding a more sophisticated effort — especially considering that Wonderland and Salt would have gone nowhere without the star engines driving them.

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(thanks JUN)

Aside from the knockout cast and fascinating dynamics of the premise, there’s another thing that jumps out at me from this trailer for The Town that gives me a tingle of appreciation. The phrase “From the studio that brought you…” is something we don’t see much anymore, and I like the pride inherent in the plug.

Warner Bros does indeed seem to be reestablishing a sterling reputation it once held 60 years ago as the home of urban crime thrillers with a distinctive aura of grit and gloss. In recent years, Warners has been specializing in sophisticated cops-and-robber films again. Not just The Departed association featured here, but I’d say both Nolan’s Batman films have deep roots in noir detective films, and Inception involves a crackerjack heist scheme. Even movies like Michael Clayton, The Brave One and Gran Torino have a high-quality morality-play sheen that sets them a rung or two above most stories of grown-up intrigue. It’s a run of top-notch adult dramas to make other studios envious, and kudos to Warners for being justly proud about it.

Not much needs to be said about the teaser for The Social Network. It serves a dual purpose with simple precision. Realigns any misconception that the focus would be Facebook users. And reinforces anticipation for those of us who already knew that.

(thanks to Evie for the friend request)

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