ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

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While cracking the acting categories is tough, there is some wiggle room in the screenplay category. The publicity team behind Bridesmaids helped secure that nomination for Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, even if seeing any female writers in the Oscar conversation is still far too rare. All you have to do is remember back a year when Gillian Flynn was honored with more precursor nominations than any writer in history, and to then NOT get an Oscar nomination. BAFTA, WGA, even the Globes. But the Academy? Whiplash was supposed to have gone in the original screenplay category. The Academy changed the rule and it had to then vie for adapted. There was no way they were going to bump THAT movie so of course Gone Girl got the ax. How do we know this? We follow patterns that are rarely broken, especially when it comes to nominations. Sure, it happens sometimes but has never happened in the adapted screenplay category, to get that many nominations and miss out on an Oscar nod.

But Amy Schumer has an advantage heading into this race — she doesn’t make men feel like their balls are curling back up. She actually makes them feel kind of good. More than that, though, her script is FUNNY. It’s well written. Add to that her success with the viral videos of late puts her in strong contention for a nomination at least.

Comedy, though, is traditionally left out of the Oscars — they can barely handle satire, especially black satire. We will be beating the Amy Schumer drum throughout the year and given the lack of women writers in the race overall, she should fare well.

Abi Morgan will be on the contenders for Suffragette. Early favorite in the adapted category is Phyllis Nagy for Carol. Marielle Heller could get a nod for adapting Diary of a Teenage Girl. Lucinda Coxon for The Danish Girl. Angelina Jolie for By the Sea. Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley, Pete Docter for Inside Out. Mistress America by Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig. Ricki & The Flash by Diablo Cody.

 Other than that, though? To find the early contenders you might have to look at the films that could be headed for Best Picture. Of course, we’ve a long way to go on that score but last year seven out of ten of the screenplay nominees were also Best Picture nominees and ALL those were written by men.

Strong Best Picture contenders on paper

Youth – Paolo Sorrentino*
Silence – Jay Cocks*
Steve Jobs – Aaron Sorkin*
The Revenant – Alejandro G. Inarritu, Mark L. Smith
Trumbo (November) – John McNamara
Crimson Peak -Guillermo Del Toro, Matthew Robbins
Bridge of Spies (October) Joel and Ethan Coen, Matt Charman
Joy – (December) David O. Russell*
Snowden (December) – Kieran Fitzgerald, Oliver Stone*
Black Mass – Mark Mallouk, Jez Butterworth
The Walk (October) – Robert Zemeckis, Christopher Browne
The Force Awakens (December) – JJ Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, George Lucas*
Brooklyn 
– Nick Hornby*

Also to be considered: 

Love & Mercy – Oren Moverman, Michael A. Lerner
Pawn Sacrifice – Steven Knight*
Legend – Brian Helgeland*
Sicario – Taylor Sheridan 
Midnight Special (November) – Jeff Nichols*
Regression – Alejandro Amenábar*
The Martian (November) – Drew Goddard
In the Heart of the Sea (December) – Charles Leavitt
Concussion  (December) – Peter Landesman
Spotlight – Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer

Outside the Best Picture category but might be considered for screenplay:

The End of the Tour – Donald Margulies
Dope – Rick Famuyiwa
The Lady in the Van – Alan Bennett

*potentially nominated on name recognition alone. 

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It was almost a Fincher/Sorkin/Rudin joint with a different actor (Leo, Christian) but now it’s here – Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs with Michael Fassbender as the man who invented then reinvented Apple. Kate Winslet looks to be supporting. Here is a trailer and our first glimpse of Fassbender as Jobs, who enters the Oscar race against the Weinstein Co’s MacBeth. May the best Fassy win.

mistress america

Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig co-wrote Mistress America, and from the looks of this darkly sparkling trailer it’s got WGA and other screenwriter love written all over it. Opens August 14 under the attentive care of Fox Searchlight.

In MISTRESS AMERICA, Tracy (Lola Kirke) is a lonely college freshman in New York, having neither the exciting university experience nor the glamorous metropolitan lifestyle she envisioned. But when she is taken in by her soon-to-be stepsister, Brooke (Greta Gerwig) – a resident of Times Square and adventurous gal about town – she is rescued from her disappointment and seduced by Brooke’s alluringly mad schemes.

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With the Writers Guild the last of the major awards to announce, just a few days before the final Oscar ballots are due — though how many voters will have already cast their ballots? Either way, both categories remain wide open.

Original Screenplay is a three-way race between The Grand Budapest Hotel, Birdman and Boyhood. The BAFTA chose Budapest over Birdman, which was surprising. In fact, both scripts that were disallowed by the WGA (King’s Speech and The Artist) both won the BAFTA for screenplay. Will the Academy, with all of its actors dominating final voting, go for Birdman instead? If Birdman is to win Best Picture, as all of the major guilds have dictated, will it also have to win writing?

The predictions at Gold Derby are all over the place, truth be told, with 7 predicting Birdman and 12 predicting Grand Budapest Hotel.

The Globes gave their screenplay award to Birdman because Budapest took the top prize. The BAFTA gave Birdman just one award for cinematography, a highly unusual move for a Best Picture frontrunner. In fact, it’s never happened that a film won the PGA/DGA/SAG and only won a single Bafta in the techs.

All of the films that won those three, since BAFTA shifted their date, also won a significant award at BAFTA.

That already makes Birdman breaking with precedent in a third significant way. One thing we’ve learned from our past, though, is that when they want to pick a movie they like all stats and history go out the window.

But just in terms of Best Picture we now have to add, for a Birdman win, to overcome:

Not winning the Golden Globe for comedy (it went to Budapest)
Not having an editing nomination
Not winning screenplay or actor or any major award beyond cinematography at BAFTA

All three of these things make Birdman’s potential win a long shot, even with the big three. Remember, the big three have always resulted in a major award at BAFTA, if not Best Picture. How do films with the big three stack up with the WGA?

UPDATE: Birdman is not eligible for the WGA – for some reason I forgot this when I first wrote this piece — that puts it in the King’s Speech/The Artist territory. BOTH won the BAFTA for Screenplay but Birdman did not. One won the Oscar, the other didn’t. Both in original.

2012 – Argo: PGA/DGA/BAFTA/SAG/Oscar – WGA/Oscar
2011 – The Artist: PGA/DGA/SAG/BAFTA/Oscar – was not eligible for WGA, won Oscar SILENT FILM
2010 – The King’s Speech: PGA/DGA/SAG/BAFTA/Oscar – not eligible for WGA/won Oscar
2009 – The Hurt Locker: PGA/DGA/BAFTA/Oscar – WGA/Oscar
2008 – Slumdog Millionaire (PGA/DGA/SAG/BAFTA) – WGA/Oscar
2003 – Return of the King (PGA/DGA/SAG/BAFTAs) – WGA/Oscar
1999 – American Beauty  (PGA/DGA/SAG) – WGA/Oscar
1995 – Apollo 13 – (PGA/DGA/SAG) – did not win WGA

Therefore, if you’re predicting Birdman to win Best Picture you should predict it to win the WGA.

We can’t really count BAFTA much in terms of history because of their date change (2000) and their changes in voting procedure (2012) but since 2012, the Best Picture winner has won the BAFTA for Best Picture, Argo and 12 Years a Slave.

Adapted Screenplay is also quite a toss-up. Since the Best Picture heat is in the original category, adapted is kind of up in the air.  Gillian Flynn and Gone Girl would have won this prize, I think, had Whiplash not knocked it out of the category.  The reason being the buzz would have grown every time Flynn hit the mic. She’s funny and she would have made Academy history. What a shame to see these opportunities vanish like that.

The Imitation Game has the overwhelming support over at Gold Derby. That is primarily because it won the Scripter and the predictions took place before the BAFTAS.  Clearly, the brits did not much care for the film since it didn’t even get a directing nominations. The Oscar voters and the industry DO care for the film because they have Morten Tyldum nominated both at the DGA and a the Oscars.

But now you have to factor in Whiplash, which was put in the adapted category and is very much loved by both BAFTA and Oscar.  Now we have three films to choose from and we have no precursor to go off of, not until the WGA and even then it’s a toss-up.

Other than Argo, you have to go back to 1998 to find a year when the Adapted Screenplay Oscar went to a film without a directing nomination. The BAFTA picked The Theory of Everything, which did have a directing nomination.  But the Oscars did not give James Marsh a nomination for directing, which means that The Imitation Game is the stronger of two.

Finally, Anne Thompson is predicting American Sniper to win the Oscar for Adapted. I think that’s a very strong prediction – and thus, Sniper would be a great prediction for both the WGA and the Oscar.

The bottom line: both screenplay categories are wide open and unpredictable.

 

 

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Pete Hammond reports that there will be a disconnect between Whiplash’s category confusion. The Academy has decided the film’s script should be adapted since a short film existed before the feature film. The film was taken from Damien Chazzelle’s original screenplay as a feature. The short is the adaptation. The Writers Guild has deemed it original. Hammond got this desperate email from the screenwriter of Flight:

“I just tried to vote for Whiplash for a Screenplay Oscar nom and I couldn’t find it as a selection on my ‘help list’—I searched and searched—I finally switched to the ADAPTED CATEGORY and I found it there. The Academy has made a HUGE mistake!!! They are gonna have to ask the writers’ branch members to re-vote….and it makes this whole voting process off kilter. HELP!!!…Unless Whiplash is NOT an original–am I crazy? Haven’t I read 100 articles about Damien wherein he tells the story of his life being the inspiration for the flick?”

The question then becomes whether voters will vote for something else in original and then see Whiplash in adapted and NOT vote for it there because it isn’t in original. Yeah, I don’t get it. I think Whiplash’s chances of a nomination are WAY higher in adapted. Here’s why.

Here are the original frontrunners:
Original Screenplay
Wes Anderson, Grand Budapest Hotel (LOCKED)
Alejandro Inarritu et al, Birdman (LOCKED)
Richard Linklater, Boyhood (LOCKED)
E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman, Foxcatcher
Paul Webb, Selma (NOT WGA eligible)
JC Chandor, A Most Violent Year
Mike Leigh, Mr. Turner (NOT WGA eligible)
Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, Interstellar
Phil Lord & Christopher Miller (The LEGO Movie)
Ira Sachs, Mauricio Zacharias, Love is Strange
Gina Pryce Bythwood, Beyond, the Lights
Dear White People, Justin Simien (NOT WGA eligible)

Compare that to Adapted:

Adapted Screenplay

Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl (LOCKED, hopefully)
Graham Moore, The Imitation Game (LOCKED)
Paul Thoman Anderson, Inherent Vice+*
Anthony McCarten, The Thoery of Everything* (NOT WGA eligible)
Nick Hornby, Wild*

You can see that adapted is much more wide open than original, and with Selma out of the original for the WGA Damien Chazelle and Whiplash should have no problem getting in, no matter what category it’s in.

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Two more films by women filmmakers have broken through this year. Their best hope for Oscar nods would be the screenplay categories. It is near impossible to crack any major category with good intentions. The buzz machine starts early and snowballs – or perhaps more appropriately, it’s like the Titanic, gaining speed and momentum as it barrels towards the iceberg and by the time you want to turn it around it is already too late.

Still, with a little push there could be SOME movement in these categories. Let it be known that both Gugu Mbatha-Raw in Beyond the Lights and Jenny Slate in Obvious Child delivered strong leading performances this year. With a little help from the crisis, ANY CRITIC, they could have been launched into the race – though even then, Best Actress is already too full, with most slots reserved early by high-profile roles and veteran performers.

Not saying it’s impossible – it’s just unlikely, as these contenders are being pushed hardcore early in year by powerful publicity companies that know how to get nominations. That’s WHY they get the big bucks. I’m not going to address whether they are deserving or not – Mark Harris already plugged them in his column a while back. My own feeling that is actresses get the short shrift in Hollywood after the age of 30. When Julia Roberts came along in the 1980s, that became the model for a successful actress in Hollywood: versatile, breathlessly beautiful, charismatic. We wouldn’t really see another Julia Roberts until Jennifer Lawrence. But aiming at someone that young and fresh-faced resulted in older actresses being sidelined, continually and tragically, resulting in one of the worst years for actresses since I’ve been blogging. Do I think these vets should be sidelined for the youngers? No, I don’t. Does that mean we’re talking about better performances? I’m talking about how hard it is to find good roles if you’re over the age of 35. They just aren’t offered up in mainstream film. Getting awards for them backs the notion that women don’t expire after the age of 35. All of them will get there – all of the young ones will be used up and spit out by the time they get there – wouldn’t they rather empower career success later rather than earlier?

It’s up for debate, I know. I’m not saying definitely one way or the other – I’m just examining the tragic state of how women are treated in Hollywood, black women especially.

The original screenplay category is once again packed with men. If Gillian Flynn represents the sole female in either of the writing categories, original looks to be 5/5 men. Flynn might be joined in Adapted by Gillian Robespierre, Elisabeth Holm, Karen Maine for Obvious Child. It isn’t as packed as Original and there could be some wiggle room there.

Gina Prince Bythewood’s Beyond the Lights is original and that category is already too crowded. Sure, Beyond the Lights and Obvious Child are filled with woman-y stuff, icky love story stuff, not taken seriously stuff – usually that isn’t sexy enough, or enough at all, to get Oscar attention. As we know from the treatment of Gone Girl by both genders in the media, it’s a tall order to satisfy the requirements of male audiences and critics, female audiences and critics. The list is too long, the requirements too hard to fill. Or to put it another way, not even Mean Girls, arguably one of the best screenplays of the last two decades, couldn’t even manage an Oscar nod and it wasn’t even about romance, as Beyond the Lights and Obvious Child kind of are, with other important elements threaded throughout.

The synopsis for Beyond the Lights is, as follows:

The pressures of fame have superstar singer Noni on the edge, until she meets Kaz, a young cop who works to help her find the courage to develop her own voice and break free to become the artist she was meant to be.

I have not yet seen the film but I am going to seek it out in the coming days on the recommendation of Dargis and Kris Tapley and others. I’m sure it’s a lot better than that synopsis suggests. But I’m also sure that “relationship movies” can’t build the same kind of steam or gravitas than “important” stories, usually about Great Men. If the gender balance in the guilds ever equalizes, there might be some wiggle room in that area. But mostly “relationship movies” suffer, unless they’re made by men, about men, like Silver Linings Playbook (another Dargis favorite, where the female lead is really just there to enforce the male protagonist). The more critics talk about Beyond the Lights, the better.

In taking another swipe at Gone Girl, the NY Times’ Manohla Dargis made a big thing about Beyond the Lights in her Best of list:

The movie’s writer and director, Gina Prince-Bythewood, is defiantly sincere about its romantic tropes, a rarity in American mainstream cinema. That sincerity may be too alien for audiences or perhaps years of Katherine Heigl flicks have made them skittish about heterosexual romance. That’s too bad, because watching people fall in love is surely as interesting as watching them kill one another. As of early December, though, the only title in the Top 20 grossing movies featuring a straight couple is “Gone Girl,” a nihilistic cartoon in which a woman gets away with murder by crying rape. As edgy metaphors for modern relationships go, I prefer “Edge of Tomorrow,” in which Emily Blunt’s character keeps killing Tom Cruise’s, à la “Groundhog Day,” as he struggles to become the hero he’s meant to be.

I’m not sure why “Beyond the Lights” hasn’t found its audience. I like to think it isn’t racism. In typical fashion, the trailers reduce the movie to its most obvious terms, including a frolic on a beach and images of a male torso so sculptured it would make Michelangelo sigh. Yet that body and beach are crucial to the movie’s method and meaning, and its exploration of a woman’s right to pleasure and self-determination. It doesn’t broadcast those ideas, but folds them into a story that’s also a maternal melodrama about a poor white mother (Minnie Driver) and a black daughter (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who’s as talented as she is haunted by her place in the world. It squeezes tears as cannily as that old Hollywood weepie “Stella Dallas,” except that here Mommy Dearest exploits her daughter.

So, Dargis likes Edge of Tomorrow where Tom Cruise is the lead and Blunt, while great, is yet again sidelined. She also likes Beyond the Lights because it offers traditional romance. But can’t bring herself to support, and feels the need to again criticize, the one movie that lets women out of those traditional cages of “backseat babe” and someone to whom love matters more than anything. I think there is room for all of these kinds of stories, not just the ones that paint women in a positive light. It’s important to allow for us to continue to be dark and dirty, to explore the myths about women, to upend stereotypes.Sadly, because Dargis can’t see past her own inherent bias about what women should be, she’s unable to celebrate Gillian Flynn’s success. The more freedom women have as writers and storytellers the more stories there will be about women, not just ONE KIND of woman. This is not criticize Beyond the Lights in any way – it ought to be championed as hard. I just don’t get why, to do that, Dargis felt the need to harpoon – yet again – Gone Girl.

I’m not thinking Beyond the Lights has a shot at screenplay, not with a 73 over at Metacritic. Then again, Theory of Everything also has that a score just as low and it is “in the conversation.” But that’s because it’s “important” as it’s about Stephen Hawking. Still, why shouldn’t Beyond the Lights be considered a contender? At least for writing. Gina Prince-Bythewood has been an established filmmaker for years now. What she needs, what all women in the field need, are strong advocates.

The brilliant writing by Gillian Robespierre, Elisabeth Holm, Karen Maine for Obvious Child, if nominated in the less-crowded adapted category, would put two Gillians in the adapted screenplay race, for a total of FOUR women writers. That, along with the addition of history-making Ava DuVernay, potentially in the Best Picture/Best Director race? Now you’re talking about “movement.”

Obvious Child is really funny throughout – with vulgarity woven through likable and admirable young women who face wrenching dilemmas like having an abortion. It is handled very well, and indeed, the lead character Jenny Slate does not find her strength through a male character but rather with women like her mother and her best friend. The women I know out there in the world who aren’t plugged into the 90% male-driven Oscar narrative would find enriching value in both Beyond the Lights and Obvious Child. They would see themselves in their stories. Still, how many men can relate?

When you’re talking Oscar that’s what you’re talking about. The sad evolution of film critics has resulted in a similar dynamic. Movies that get into the race have to have the male stamp of approval. Where women are concerned, if the story is more about men then women they can roll with it. But if it’s about women, written by women, driven by what women care about? Forget it. We see in film a reflection of ourselves. And in this case “ourselves” is majority male, majority straight white male.

I’m going to put both of these on the contender tracker with my fingers crossed. After 16 years of this, though, I know that rave reviews drive these awards. Neither of these films got the kind of raves a contender really needs, despite Dargis’ push. As an Oscar blogger, I know what can and can’t be done. I know that sometimes no amount of advocacy can push a contender in. At best, you can put them in front of the thing to watch it. That doesn’t mean it will get their vote when they’re deciding what is best.

They’re on the radar. They’re definitely on the radar.

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On MotherJones.com, Shane Bauer writes up his experience watching Rosewater, the new film directed by Jon Stewart, starring Gael Garcia Bernal. Bauer says Stewart gets so much of what Ben Affleck’s Argo got wrong about Iranians and that Stewart’s film eerily mirrored reality:

There is something incredible about watching someone on screen go through the precise moments that you, too, have experienced, like the transcendental feeling of reaching your hand into a beam of sunlight coming over the wall the first time you go outside. When Bahari was allowed to call his wife, I teared up, knowing the rare mixture of relief and freedom he felt when he heard the voice of his beloved, who was doing everything she could to get him out. (Sarah was released a year before I was.) I laughed with Bahari as he danced in his cell after the phone call—far and away the most powerful scene of the film—oblivious to his interrogator’s fury. As the months went by, Bahari combed through his memories like old books. He found what songs he knew and listened to them in his head. Family members imprisoned by the current and former regimes became his imaginary company.

New Jersey is “a godless place, like the one you were trying to create in this country,” the interrogator says. “With naked women and Michael Jackson music!”
Unlike me, Bahari was beaten by his interrogator. I would expect an American film about Iranian imprisonment to exaggerate such violence, but Rosewater actually downplays it. “Beatings were the exception,” Stewart told an interviewer at the screening. “Solitary confinement was the rule.” He also wanted to help people understand what it’s like to be placed in isolation. “We do this in this country.” Stewart said. “We keep people in solitary, and it’s insanity!”

The film expertly captures the banality—and absurdity—of the interrogations—perfect fodder for Stewart’s sense of dark comedy. Bahari’s interrogator is obsessed with porn, and he views New Jersey (Stewart’s home state) as a den of iniquity. “All I know is it’s a godless place, like the one you were trying to create in this country,” he said. “With naked women and Michael Jackson music!”

The interrogator is sure he has cracked his case when he comes across a Daily Show clip in which “senior foreign correspondent” Jason Jones, clad in a chafiye scarf and sunglasses, interviews Bahari in a Tehran café. In the clip, Jones plays the aggro American journalist trying to expose what makes Iranians “evil.” “Iranians and Americans have much more in common than difference,” Bahari replies. The clueless interrogator takes the whole thing literally, accusing Bahari of meeting with an American spy: “Why did you tell this man Iran and America have something in common? Khomeini said America was the Great Satan. We threw them out the door and you bring them back through the window.”

What sets Rosewater apart is that it depicts most Iranians as people we can relate to—something American films, as a rule, fail to do. Ben Afleck’s Academy Award winning Argo has exactly one likeable Iranian character; the rest are menacing and often appear in mobs. Rosewater’s depiction of Iran is closer to reality: a complex society divided between socially conservative and liberal. People have parties. Some drink. They dream about a better future rather than an idealized past.

Toward the end of the film, Stewart captures the twisted game of the forced confession. Under threat, Bahari went on Iranian television and said that Western media, in particular Newsweek, CNN, and the New York Times, had helped create Irans post-election uprising. “Everyone watching these confessions knows they are a show,” Stewart saidin the post-screening chat. “There is a uselessness to them. A daily grind.” To him, the confessions epitomize the “bureaucracy of torture” that perpetuates itself without reason.

Rosewater is a film everyone should see, whether the critics anointed it or not. Full story here.

THRWriters

Rope of Silicon points us to this Oscars Roundtable discussion by writers. One has to marvel that with all of the films headed into the race — there isn’t a single woman writer or even co-writer among them. Except one. Not only did Flynn write the screenplay, she wrote the book upon which the screenplay was based. The last time any single female did that and go into the Oscar race was Lillian Hellman who wrote The Children’s Hour (a play) and then wrote the screenplay in 1941, 73 years ago. 73. Years. Ago. As co-writers, Fannie Flagg and Carol Sobieski did it for Fried Green Tomatoes in 1991, winning the Scripter even. 1991 was an extraordinary year for women as Silence of the Lambs won Best Picture, Prince of Tides and Beauty and the Beast were nominated. Callie Khouri won original screenplay, and four female writers were nominated in adapted.

The Hall of Shame for authors who adapted their own work. A crushingly embarrassing number for women who are dominating the world of fiction – but Hollywood? Move over honey, I’ll drive.

Winners:
John Irving won for Cider House Rules
Michael Blake won for Dances with Wolves
Alfred Uhry won for Driving Miss Daisy
Christopher Hampton won for Dangerous Liaisons
Peter Shaffer for Amadeus
Ernest Thompson for On Golden Pond
Mario Puzo, Francis Coppola for Godfather II
William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist
Mario Puzo, Francis Coppola for The Godfather
Paddy Chayefsky, Marty

Nominees:
Daniel Clowes and Tery Zwigoff for Ghost World
Scott Smith for The Simple Plan
Authur Miller for the Crucible
William Nicholson for Shadowlands
Michael Tolkin for The Player
Ron Kovic for Born on the 4th of July
Mark Medoff and Hesper Anderson for Children of a Lesser God
Horton Foote, Trip to Bountiful
Willy Russell for Educating Rita
Ronald Harwood for The Dresser
Harold Pinter for Betrayal
Bernard Slade for Same Time, Next year
Neil Simon, California Suite
Nicholas Meyer, The Seven Percent Solution
Neil Simon, The Sunshine Boys
Julian Barry, Lenny
Robert Anderson, The Nun’s Story
John Gay, Terence Rattigan, Separate Tables
Reginald Rose, 12 Angry Men
John Dighton, Roger MacDougall, Alexander Mackendrick, The Man in the White Suit
Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire
Graham Greene, The Fallen Idol

Women:
Lillian Hellman, Little Foxes (1941)
Fannie Flagg, Carol Sobieski, Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)

ti8iga9h

Via TIFF: “Written, directed by & starring Chris Rock, Top Five tells the story of New York City comedian-turned-film star Andre Allen, whose unexpected encounter with a journalist forces him to confront both the career that made him famous and the life he left behind. Starring Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, Gabrielle Union, Kevin Hart, Tracy Morgan, Cedric the Entertainer, J.B. Smoove, Sherri Shepherd, Anders Holm, Romany Malco, Leslie Jones, Michael Che and Jay Pharoah. Paramount has debuted the first trailer for Chris Rock’s new movie Top Five, starring, written and directed by Chris Rock, making a comeback after a few years of being out of the spotlight.”

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The writing team behind the Oscar-nominated screenplay for Bridesmaids, Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, have come up with a new project that Wiig will direct. Very exciting news, especially since directing is often entrusted to the male half of our species. The project is described as: “best friends who find themselves in over their heads and out of their depths, which were, perhaps, not too deep to begin with.”

The pitch-perfect Bridesmaids just gets funnier with each viewing, more than deserving of its Oscar nod and for launching Melissa McCarthy as a major film star.

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It seems to me that there are some categories where voters will have likely seen most of the nominees. How hard is it, for example, to see all five of the Best Director contenders? Likely you’ve seen them: 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, American Hustle, Nebraska, The Wolf of Wall Street. If you haven’t seen those five by now you’re probably the wrong person to be voting on the highest achievement of the year in film. But giving you the benefit of the doubt that you really HAVE been that busy and that your television hasn’t otherwise been occupied by True Detective or the Olympics (are you kidding me?) – you will likely have seen all five in the next week before final ballots are due. But there’s less of a chance you’ll have seen the screenplay nominees.

4/5 of the adapted screenplays are from Best Picture contenders, and 4/5 of the original screenplays are from Best Picture contenders.  You have to go back to 1998 to find a year when the Adapted Screenplay winner was not a Best Picture contender.  And you have to go back to 2004 to find an Original Screenplay winner that wasn’t a Best Picture contender. It is even more difficult to not be represented in Best Picture now that the Academy has expanded to more than five nominees.

This year is full of  great works in both the original and the adapted screenplay categories.  Some of the writers are first time nominees.  Strangely, most of the stories are true stories.  Some of the original works are those of the author’s imagination entirely, cut from whole cloth.  Others are faithful adaptations of well known, or little known, books.

The two main precursors for the screenplay category are the Writers Guild award and the Scripter.  Unfortunately, several key films in the race weren’t eligible for the WGA, like John Ridley’s 12 Years a Slave and Steve Coogan’s Philomena.  Not being eligible for the award meant that they did not go up against the WGA winner, Captain Phillips.  However, all three screenplays were represented at the USC Scripter Awards, where John Ridley’s adaptation of Solomon Northup’s memoir, won.  All three were again represented at the BAFTAs, where the screenplay for Philomena triumphed.

Continue reading…

Writers-Guild-Awards

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

  • American Hustle, Written by Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell; Columbia Pictures
  • Blue Jasmine, Written by Woody Allen; Sony Pictures Classics
  • Dallas Buyers Club, Written by Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack; Focus Features
  • Her, Written by Spike Jonze; Warner Bros.
  • Nebraska, Written by Bob Nelson; Paramount Pictures

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

  • August: Osage County, Screenplay by Tracy Letts; Based on his play; The Weinstein Company
  • Before Midnight, Written by Richard Linklater & Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke; Based on characters created by Richard Linklater & Kim Krizan; Sony Classics
  • Captain Phillips, Screenplay by Billy Ray; Based on the book A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea by Richard Phillips with Stephan Talty; Columbia Pictures
  • Lone Survivor, Written by Peter Berg; Based on the book by Marcus Lutrell with Patrick Robinson; Universal Pictures
  • The Wolf of Wall Street, Screenplay by Terence Winter; Based on the book by Jordan Belfort; Paramount Pictures

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The WGA will announce their nominees tomorrow morning. Usually this happen around 10am.

The rules for inclusion at the WGA awards usually exclude many of the year’s best scripts – and thus, can sometimes render the WGA awards not useful come Oscar time. Kris Tapley announced the films that would be excluded this year and that includes John Ridley’s 12 years a Slave, the likely winner, or certainly the strongest contender, for the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar.

In the original screenplay category, there are so many strong contenders heading into the race – American Hustle and Her are right at the top of the list.  But there is also Inside Llewyn Davis, Blue Jasmine, Nebraska, The Butler, Dallas Buyers Club and more.

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Two years ago, A Separation took Asghar Farhadi from being an acclaimed filmmaker in his native Iran, to a renowned figure in global cinema. The film won dozens of awards worldwide, including the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, in addition to Farhadi being nominated for Best Original Screenplay. Farhadi’s latest film, The Past, came roaring out of the gate at Cannes this year where it won two awards. It recently received Golden Globe and Critics Choice nominations for Best Foreign Language Film.

The Past begins with Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) returning from Iran to Paris to finalize his divorce from his wife Marie (Oscar-nominee Berenice Bejo). He must confront her, her children, and her new love Samir (Tahar Rahim), whose wife is in a coma following her failed suicide attempt. Although the film begins with the promise of moving forward, the members of this fractured and reconstructed family must confront the well-kept and not-so-well-kept secrets of a painful past.
Sony Pictures Classics is releasing The Past in limited release on Friday, December 20th. In anticipation, I had the pleasure of interviewing Farhadi again, two years after our last conversation about A Separation. Here’s what Farhadi shared with me about constructing the narrative of this family, working in a language he didn’t speak, and crafting The Past.

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I caught a screening of Kill Your Darlings last night as was surprised to find a film that had been written off by most of us who blog about the Oscars. The film received some good notices by critics but nowhere near enough to make it stand out amid the more buzzed about films this year. But it is a movie that should not be overlooked, no matter what the critics say.

The first thing you have to know about Kill Your Darlings is that it features a couple of standout performances – first among them, rising star Dane DeHaan is given a chance to really show what he is capable of as an actor. In a couple of years he will be the biggest thing in town. This was obvious from the short minutes he had in Spielberg’s Lincoln. Every so often an unknown comes along and you recognize that rare and necessary combination that will eventually launch them into the stratosphere. If you watch Kill Your Darlings, you will be knocked back by DeHaan. The film’s cinematographer luxuriated in DeHaane’s aqua blue eyes – the camera loves his face. But as you’ll see, it isn’t just about his looks. He embodies Lucien Carr, one of the many wild muses that inspired the Beat Poets, specifically the young Allen Ginsberg.
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Indiewire writes of Enough Said’s box office:

$240,000 in 4 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $60,000 Though not unheralded, this new comedy from Nicole Holofcener (“Please Give,” “Friends With Money”) was not expected to open among the top platform grosses for the year, nor to be so clear a winner over “Rush.” It turns out to be Fox Searchlight’s top limited opener since “The Tree of Life” (the company often opens its top films like “Black Swan” and “The Descendants” in more than two cities). This ranks as the third best limited opening of the year (after “Blue Jasmine” and “The Place Beyond the Pines”).

Nicole Holofcener has been kicking around Hollywood as a mostly ignored, but somewhat appreciated, female auteur.  Her stories are meditative, modern takes on adult life (remember adults?) – not any that can be plugged into the kind of formula that reaches across age and geographic boundaries but one that has enormous value in its insight.  Enough Said was also James Gandolfini’s last film, which is generating more interested that it might have otherwise.

In his review for the New York Times, AO Scott wrote of Enough Said:

This movie will make you laugh and leave you in tears. Some of the pathos is the accidental byproduct of seeing Mr. Gandolfini, so playful and alive, in one of his final major movie roles and feeling once again the loss of his remarkable gift. There is also the pang of the empty nest, that mixture of grief and pride that is the special anguish of modern parents.

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Lake Bell’s new film, In a World, has been getting mostly good notices – a rave from the NY Times’ AO Scott, and pretty good reviews from other critics. But what seems to have gotten her more attention is the nude cover on New York Magazine:

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Sex is maybe the most powerful weapon a woman has and she only has it for a short window of time.  This is one of the reasons it is more difficult for any woman over 40 in Hollywood to get a foothold. This is especially true here in America, less so in other countries where women don’t exactly have an expiration date.  But there is no denying that Lake Bell’s cover here would get her more attention from the mostly male bloggers and critics who cover film.  What is it about our sexuality that makes heads turn? Is it just biology?   Does it make people take Lake Bell less seriously? Would, say, a young actor breaking out as a writer/director earn respect, attention or disdain if he were to pose nude on the cover of a magazine?

Lake Bell’s career has been made mostly on her looks, and her body, now she is proving that she can also write and direct pretty well. And yet, showing off her body is still the best way to get people to pay attention to her film.   This is probably true across the board for women – writers, singers, politicians, bloggers: sex sells.    I still put her screenplay on the contender tracker, which I’d have done with or without this cover. I am not sure she is doing herself any favors here, but I also know no one was talking about her movie until she did it.  And so it goes.

 

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The two things that ought to be remembered come Oscar time are probably the standout writing of Jeff Nichols as an American original, and the performance of Matthew McConaughey.

The New York Times’ AO Scott makes it a “Critic’s Pick,” writing:

The central image in “Mud,” Jeff Nichols’s deft and absorbing third feature, is of a boat in a tree. It’s the kind of phenomenon — a caprice of nature that is absurd but also wondrous — designed to enchant adventurous children like Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), two Arkansas boys who discover the boat on an overgrown island in the Mississippi River. They also discover the fellow who claims to own, or at least inhabit, the vessel, a leathery loner whose name is Mud.

Mud is played by Matthew McConaughey in the latest in a series of surprising, intense and often very funny performances following his escape from the commercial romantic-comedy penal colony. “Magic Mike,” “The Paperboy,” “The Lincoln Lawyer” and “Bernie” are all very different (and differently imperfect) movies, but in all of them, and in “Mud,” Mr. McConaughey commands attention with a variation on a certain kind of Southern character: handsome but battered, charming but also sinister, his self-confidence masking a history of bad luck and trouble.

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After the cut you can think outside the Oscar box and choose from among the top 25 Original Screenplays of 2012.

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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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