In a town where there are more screenwriters than there are people you’d expect that more original screenplays would get produced. It hardly ever happens and when it does, it only sometimes turns out well for all involved. Not every great director can write, and even fewer great writers can direct. Some can do both. Most can’t. This year’s best original screenplays are almost all the work of writer/directors, with a few collaborations in there too.
Two of the best adapted screenplays this year, Beasts of the Southern Wild and Argo are mostly original works that must be called adapted because them’s the rules. Argo was based on a magazine article but all of the flourishes and style come from Chris Terrio. Beasts was based on Luci Alibar’s play but since it’s so far removed from anything we can imagine on stage the film feels as original as you can get.
Winning Best Picture from an original screenplay when the director is also the writer is extremely rare. It happened recently with The Artist, and before that, with Crash, which was co-written by Paul Haggis. But ordinarily, Best Picture comes either from an adapted work or from a collaborative effort when the writer and director are two different people.
We’ve covered the strongest contenders for adapted, now let’s take a look at Original Screenplay standouts from 2012.
Mark Boal’s screenplay for Zero Dark Thirty. Telling the true story of a classified op landed Bigelow and Boal right in the middle of a partisan battle, but beyond that, how do you tell this story and have it not be “just another Hurt Locker”? By taking the story into Maya (Jessica Chastain’s) internal world, Boal was able to make better sense of the mission not yet accomplished when The Hurt Locker ended. The first film was about characters who had no control over what was happening to them and no power to win a war that couldn’t be won. Their efforts were subverted at every turn and death took them out at random. It was that calling, that hollow fear that Boal’s script for Zero Dark Thirty answers. Maya’s relentless hunt for the terrorist who ordered the hijacked planes that led to two wars that ultimately killed over 6,000 American soldiers seems to answer what ails us. We should be satisfied when they finally carry out the raid in what she calls “100% certainty” that they have the right guy. But Zero Dark Thirty wouldn’t be a great screenplay if that was how it ended.