The State of the Screenplay Races

THR's awards expert Scott Feinberg examines the top 10 contenders in the best adapted screenplay and best original screenplay Oscar categories.
Chris Helcermanas-Benge/Summit Entertainment

What follows is my latest assessment of the two Oscar categories devoted to screenplays -- best adapted screenplay and best original screenplay -- along with commentary about which contenders in each have positive and negative momentum at the moment. I welcome your thoughts in the comments section at the bottom of the post.

PHOTOS: Oscar Show Moments

Best Adapted Screenplay

1. Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash (The Descendants)
Payne, who won this category seven years ago, appears to be the frontrunner again. Last week, he and his co-adapters of Kaui Hart Hemmings' novel won the NBR's best adapted screenplay prize and were nominated for best screenplay by the Indie Spirits.

2. Stan Chervin, Aaron Sorkin, Steven Zaillian (Moneyball)
This moving adaptation of Michael Lewis' best-seller was released way back in September and had begun to fade from the discussion, but then last week the New York Film Critics chose its star Brad Pitt as its best actor and the film as its best screenplay, and seem to have revived interest in it.

3. John Logan (Hugo)
The charming film version of the popular kids book The Invention of Hugo Cabret is red-hot at the moment, making Logan -- who was previously nominated for best original screenplay Gladiator (2000) and The Aviator (2004) and might also earn a nod in that category this year for Rango -- an increasingly good bet.

4. Richard Curtis, Lee Hall (War Horse)
This take on the hit Broadway play of the same title was penned by two previous nominees for best original screenplay -- for Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) and Billy Elliot (2000), respectively -- but it's only just beginning to screen, so the jury is still out on its prospects.

5. Tate Taylor (The Help)
The the strongest element of the film is its performances, not its script (which has yet to be recognized by any awards-dispensing group), but I expect that enough voters will want to champion its message to propel it into the field.

6. Eric Roth (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close)
Roth, who won this category's Oscar 17 years ago for Forrest Gump (1994) and has been nominated for it three other times since then, is back with another deeply moving film set against a historical backdrop.

7. Steven Zaillian (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
The New York Film Critics Circle delayed their vote in order to screen this second adaptation of Stieg Larsson's hit book -- the first in English -- and then elected not to recognize it in any category. The NBR, on the other hand, named star Rooney Mara as its best breakthrough actor and the film as one of the year's 10 best.

8. Bridget O'Connor, Peter Straughan (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)
This thickly-layered adaptation of John le Carre's novel, which many have struggled to follow, is in a rut: it was completely shut out by the National Board of Review and New York Film Critics Circle, and not even the British Independent Film Awards could find room for it in their screenplay category.

9. Hossein Amini (Drive)
It turns out this neo-noir actioner has more than just a cult following -- last week, the New York Film Critics Circle awarded it best supporting actor (Albert Brooks); the Indie Spirits nominated it for best feature, best director, best actor (Ryan Gosling), and best supporting actor (Brooks); and the NBR named it one of the year's top 10 films.

10. George Clooney, Grant Heslov (The Ides of March)
The buzz for this political-thriller has come to a virtual standstill, with awards-dispensing groups passing on it even though embracing it might result in having Clooney -- who, along with Heslov, scored a best original screenplay Oscar nod six years ago for Good Night and Good Luck (2005) -- show up at their events.

Best Original Screenplay

1. Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)
Just because it's silent doesn't mean it didn't have a great script laying out its various scenarios, as Indie Spirits voters acknowledged by nominating it for best screenplay last week, capping off a stretch in which it also was named the year's best film by the New York Film Critics Circle and one of the top 10 films of the year by the NBR.

2. Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris)
Though there are passionate supporters of this May release, they haven't been able to propel it to any awards attention, thus far, which is a bit troublesome: it was denied nods for pic, director, or screenplay by the Indie Spirits, and was completely shut out by the Gotham Awards and NBR. (The fact that Allen never puts his name on screeners of his films can't help matters.)

3. Mike Mills (Beginners)
Somewhat unexpectedly, this little indie has come surging back to life, winning best feature (in a tie with The Tree of Life) and best ensemble at the Gothams; earning best supporting actor honors (Christopher Plummer) and a spot on the list of the year's top 10 indie films by the NBR; and garnering feature, director, supporting actor, and, yes, screenplay nods from the Indie Spirits.

4. J.C. Chandor (Margin Call)
Chandor's first script was strong enough and timely enough to attract a horde of A-list actors, and the resulting film is now a runaway hit on VOD. Last week, he received Indie Spirit nods for best first film and best first screenplay; was named best debut director by the NBR (which also listed the film as one of the year's top 10 indies); and won best first feature from the New York Film Critics Circle.

5. Tom McCarthy (Win Win)
McCarthy, a giant on the indie scene, was nominated in this category two years ago for Up (2009), and should have been on at least two other occasions, as well. This film came out way back in March, but seems to have stuck in people's minds: it just scored a best screenplay Indie Spirit nod and was chosen as one of the year's top 10 indies by the NBR.

6. Will Reiser (50/50)
Reiser's semi-autobiographical script about cancer has provoked laughter and tears from audiences since its release in September, and now it's getting rewarded for it: last week, he won the NBR's award for best original screenplay and was nominated for the Indie Spirit Award for best first screenplay.

7. James Ward Byrkit, John Logan, Gore Verbinski (Rango)
An animated film has scored a best original screenplay nod in five out of the last eight years -- Finding Nemo (2003), The Incredibles (2004), Ratatouille (2007), WALL-E (2008), and Up (2009) -- but every one of those came from Pixar, whereas this one does not. Still, with industry stalwarts like Logan and Verbinski involved, maybe that trend can be broken.

8. Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life)
Malick's latest film is, like The Artist, largely silent, but the strange and moving scenarios of which it is comprised are unmistakably his own. People remain deeply divided over the film itself, but it had enough supporters to win best feature at the Gothams and best actor and best cinematography at the NYFCC.

9. Dustin Lance Black (J. Edgar)
The film just hasn't clicked critically (it has a dismal 41% rating on Rotten Tomatoes) or commercially (after over four weeks in release it still hasn't recouped its $35 million budget), and the basis of several of its central claims have been called into serious question, which may explain why it has been a virtual non-factor on the awards circuit, thus far.

10. Diablo Cody (Young Adult)
Though many find the script's central character to be utterly repugnant, it never hurts to have high-profile champions like Quentin Tarantino, who said at the Hollywood Awards, where Cody was honored for her script, that she is "in the class of a Paddy Chayefsky [and] William Goldman."

comments powered by Disqus