Thursday, February 13, 2014

2014 Oscar Predictions: Best Screenplay

With the Oscars fast approaching, I'm going through my predictions for the awards category by category. So far, I've covered Best Picture, Director, Actress, Actor, Supporting Actress, and Supporting Actor. Feel free to check those out. 

Now, here are my predictions for which films will take home the awards for best screenplay-- both original and adapted.


American Hustle
Blue Jasmine
Dallas Buyers Club

Will Win: American Hustle

An impressive lineup, the nominee with the best shot at winning best picture is also the film with the best shot of winning best screenplay. And why not? It's a smart script which tells a convoluted story in a concise and entertaining manner. But perhaps the biggest boon for it in this category is that it is not really a major player in any other major category. Despite the film's warm reception by the Academy (it is tied for the most nominations) and its contender status early in the race, the film's momentum has cooled and it looks like it's going to mostly be out of the running. None of the four nominated performers are frontrunners (Jennifer Lawrence has a chance, but she's looking less and less likely) and it will most likely finish in second place for Best Picture which, of course, is as good as coming in ninth. And the film is not a major player in any of the "minor" awards either. The Academy will want to give this film something, and Original Screenplay is looking like its only bet. If American Hustle does not receive any awards, by the way, it will be tied with The Turning Point and The Color Purple for having the most nominations without a win.

For a while, it looked like this category might have some competition from Woody Allen for Blue Jasmine, but with the renewed controversy surrounding him (and the fact that Blue Jasmine is far from his best work) it's very unlikely. Nebraska's screenplay is nice, but unassuming-- which is the same reason it won't win other awards like Best Director or Best Cinematography either. And Dallas Buyers Club is a strong film, but the screenplay is not necessarily one if its main strengths. That means that American Hustle really only has one competitor. And while I think Hustle has the definite edge, it's possible that this other film will win. And, coincidentally, it's the one that I think should win!

Should Win: Her

Spike Jonze is best known as a director-- and has directed some of the best screenplays around (notably Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, both by Charlie Kaufman). I like Kaufman's screenplays better, but Jonze does a great job and puts forth a screenplay which should win on its originality alone. I wasn't as swept off my feet by the relationship between Theodore and Samantha as many were-- I thought it was nice, but wouldn't call it the "most believable movie romance of the year," as I've seen it touted by others. But the fact that Jonze made the film work at all is a testament to both his direction and his writing.


Before Midnight
Captain Phillips
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street    

Will Win: 12 Years a Slave

As with the Original Screenplay category, the winner here will be the one that has the best chance of winning the Best Picture award. 12 Years a Slave will get it. There's not really much else to say.

The only real competition 12 Years a Slave has here is from The Wolf of Wall Street for its fast-paced and Scorsesean script. There is also the sentimental choice of Before Midnight. It's the only one of these five to not be nominated for Best Picture and while these other films have multiple nominations in other major categories, this is Before Midnight's only nomination. For those who don't know, it is the third in a trilogy (the first two were Before Sunrise and Before Sunset) that started in 1995-- all three films star Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke as the same characters. Richard Linklater's trilogy is rather beloved and the Academy might want to give the whole endeavor some recognition. For me, it's the most likely upset here, but I still call it for the safer bet of 12 Years a Slave.

Should Win: Philomena

 12 Years a Slave is a great film, and it's an important film. But for me, it succeeds because of Solomon Northup's devastating story, Steve McQueen's powerful direction, the beautiful performances of Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong'o, and the sheer willingness of the production design to make the audience uncomfortable when necessary. I'm not trying to knock the film at all, but, for me, the screenplay is really lacking. The dialogue feels clunky, and unnatural. If not for the intense realism of the production design, then I think the screenplay would just feel very unbelievable. As a script it's seriously lacking for me, and I really don't think it should win here.

So which film would I choose? I'd choose Philomena-- which I've already gushed about in other posts. Now, this is a film which also features strong performances and direction, as well as a great story, but the screenplay happens to be one of its major strengths and I'm so glad it got some recognition in this category. The story of Philomena Lee trying to find her long lost son takes many surprising twists and turns, and they are revealed perfectly-- giving the audience just enough information to keep them on their toes. When a plot twist occurs, it packs a mean punch. The screenplay is wonderfully paced, and manages to keep a consistent tone throughout-- which is no small feat considering the film's wild mixture of charming comedy and serious story of deception. This film manages to do heartwarming without the cheese, and paints a realistic portrait of two of the most endearing characters of film this year (Philomena as played by Dench, and former reporter Martin Sixsmith, played by Steve Coogan in an underrated performance).

What are your thoughts? Am I being unfair to 12 Years a Slave? Which films do you think had the best screenplays of the year? Let me know in the comments!

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