We’re onto Part 2 of the Oscar Warrior’s picks for whom the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) are likely to honor at the 83rd Annual Academy Awards, and we’re wrapping things up with our thoughts on the screenplay and directing categories and Best Picture.
You can read Part 1 here.
UPDATE: We’ve added a few comments following the announcement of the DGA Nominations on Monday, January 10.
This category is always one of the exciting ones because the Academy writing branch is such a diverse group, including a few directors who have been nominated for their writing, and they don’t always go to the most obvious choices either. For instance, last year Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman’s screenplay for The Messenger was nominated despite it not receiving a Best Picture nomination. Other recent surprises include Courtney Hunt’s Frozen River, Tamara Jenkins’ The Savage, Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale and other indie fare. Even so, one can expect that both of the screenplay categories will be presaged by the recent nominations by the Writers Guild of America (WGA).
Thought for a while to be the frontrunner for Best Picture, it would make sense that David Seidler’s screenplay for Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech (Weinstein Company) is likely to be honored by the Academy writers, since they’re likely to appreciate the terrific dialogue and wordplay that lays the groundwork for the film’s terrific performances. The fact that screenwriter David Seidler has a great story to go along with his screenplay, being a former stutterer himself, adds the type of personal touch that the Academy thrives on, and you better believe that The Weinstein Company will have the screenwriter appearing at special Academy screenings to remind them. The fact that the screenplay was snubbed by the WGA due to their antiquated rules about screenplays needing to go through their system is a shame, and it does hurt its chances at winning the Oscar since only one previous screenplay has won in this category without having a WGA nomination beforehand, that being Pedro Almodovar’s Talk to Her.
The Top Contenders:
It took ten years for director Christopher Nolan to get his long-in-development screenplay for his sci-fi epic Inception (Warner Bros.) produced, and it’s an amazing premise and visual spectacle that the Academy writers should appreciate, although it’s chances of winning in this category have slipped down a bit with the film’s strengths being more about Nolan’s direction and the visuals than the actual dialogue or script. Even so, with The King’s Speech chances hurt by its lack of a WGA nomination, then this could be the category where Nolan finally gets his due, having previously been nominated for his co-writing credit on Memento.
The original screenplay Oscar has often gone to a film that took the indie route with films like Little Miss Sunshine and Juno winning in past years, which does give Lisa Cholodenko’s screenplay for The Kids Are All Right (Focus Features) a leg up in the race. That said, the film may be a bit too edgy for the more conservative Oscar folk to select it as their favorite even if the writers will surely appreciate it enough for a nomination.
Another similarly inspirational tale as The King’s Speech is David O. Russell’s The Fighter (Paramount), which tells the story of “Irish” Micky Ward. The screenplay is written by Scott Silver, who wrote 8 Mile but has never been nominated before, and Paul Tamasy, whose credits include Air Bud, and it took many years for them to finally get the film produced to such fantastic results.
The last slot is very likely to go to the screenplay for Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (Fox Searchlight) by Mark Heyman and Andres Heinz, although that has the roadblock of being a genre film, and like most thrillers, it’s more about the mood and tone of the direction rather than the actual screenplay. Despite Aronofsky having been considered a filmmaking wunderkind since his 1998 debut, none of his own original screenplays have been nominated and even his previous film The Wrestler was omitted from this category though some might feel that the writing in that was stronger.
If Black Swan doesn’t get a screenplay nod, then the alternative is likely to be one of the below:
British film vet Mike Leigh has been nominated four times for his original screenplays, the last time being for his previous movie Happy-Go-Lucky and it’s fairly clear that he’s liked and respected by the Academy writers enough that they’re just as likely to honor his latest Another Year (Sony Pictures Classics) in the same way, although the film arguably isn’t as immediate as his previous ones. As in past years, Leigh’s screenplay won’t get a WGA nomination since he works outside the system.
Considering how many people enjoy Robert Duvall’s performance in Aaron Schneider’s Get Low (Sony Pictures Classics), there’s a slight possibility that his words written by Chris Provenzano and C. Gaby Mitchell will be praised by the Academy’s writers, but it didn’t get nominated by the WGA so there’s a chance that the studio hasn’t made the effort to put the money into pushing the movie for anything other than Best Actor.
Nicole Holefcener’s Please Give received a WGA nomination this past week, but we think it may just be acting as category filler that lucked into a nomination, since so many other stronger screenplays were declared ineligible.
Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine (The Weinstein Co.) is all about the dialogue and interaction, but it also involves so much improvisation on set (unlike Leigh’s films which use improvisation in the rehearsal phase which he then turns into a screenplay) that it may not necessarily be seen as a “well-written movie.” An even greater longshot is the screenplay for Alejandro Iñárritu’s Biutiful (Roadside Attractions), although the Academy has often honored Spanish language screenplays like the one for Y Tu Mama Tambien, Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth and Pedro Almodovar’s Talk to Her, which pulled a surprise win in this category in 2003.
The Story So Far:
HFPA/Golden Globes (one category with five nominees): The Kids Are All Right, Inception, The King’s Speech
BFCA/Critics Choice: Another Year, Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kings Are All Right, The King’s Speech
WGA: Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, Please Give
NYFCC: The Kids are All Right
Predictions: Another Year, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, The King’s Speech (alternates: Black Swan, Blue Valentine)
For the first year in many, there seems to be more movies based on original screenplays in the running for Best Picture than for adapted ones, although historically, more films based on adapted screenplays have won Best Picture than original ones. Other than the WGA nominations, the USC Scripter award is another strong precursor in this category and there is quite a bit of overlap between the two this year.
There is little question in any minds that this year is the one where Aaron Sorkin finally wins his much-deserved Oscar for his screenplay that was the basis for David Fincher’s The Social Network (Sony), because the movie is so driven by its dialogue and the distinctive and innovative way they tell the story of Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook. This is one of the few slamdunks on Oscar night to win, so it’s really only about what’s going to fill in the other four gaps.
The Academy has nominated the screenplay for a Pixar movie six times going back to Toy Story and including every recent Pixar movie going back to Finding Nemo, but excluding Cars. The screenplay for their 2010 offering, Toy Story 3 (DisneyPixar), was written by Oscar-winning screenwriter Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine), but being a threequel, it automatically ends up in the Adapted category and it will be Pixar’s first-time nominated in this category rather than Original. Like many of Pixar’s previous films, the screenplay wasn’t eligible for a WGA nomination, though the Academy has different rules, which is why so many Pixar screenplays have been honored.
However you feel about Joel and Ethan Coen’s True Grit (Paramount), there is no denying that it’s another great script, this time adapted from Charles Portis’ novel, making it their third time nominated in this category, having won previously for No Country for Old Men and their original screenplay for Fargo.
Since those three are shoe-ins, that only leaves two more slots to be filled.
Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy’s second collaboration to tell trapped hiker Aron Ralston’s story in 127 Hours (Fox Searchlight) is an amazing adaptation that most filmmakers might consider unfilmable and the screenplay is as strong as James Franco’s performance as Ralston. If 127 Hours gets the screenplay nod, it will get into the Best Picture race as well.
An even likelier screenplay that should claim the fifth slot is Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone (Roadside Attractions), based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell. Like True Grit, this is very much a film driven by its dialogue, and though it joins the list of screenplays that will be snubbed by the WGA, it could take over for one of the scripts they do include in their adapted category. Winter’s Bone was nominated for a USC Scripter Award that’s given out to book adaptations, which is another strong precursor in this category.
Many stageplays have been adapted for the screen and been honored by the Academy and David Lindsay-Abaire’s adaptation of his own Rabbit Hole (Lionsgate) is a really strong one. Lindsay-Abaire already received a Pulitzer for the play and the screenplay has already been nominated for an Indie Spirit award but it’s still fairly low-profile compared to the other movies.
Ben Affleck’s second film as a director, the crime-drama The Town (Warner Bros.) is thought to have the potential to be nominated for Best Picture, similar to Martin Scorsese’s own Boston-based drama The Departed, and if it does, it stands a good chance that the screenplay Affleck adapted from Chuck Hogan’s “Prince of Thieves” along with Aaron Stockard and Peter Craig will get nominated in the adapted category, and it has a WGA nomination already. It was bypassed for a USC Script award in favor of Roman Polanski’s adaptation of The Ghost Writer (Summit), which has been gaining some ground in recent months despite coming out earlier in the year.
Laeta Kalgridis’ adaptation of Dennis LeHane’s Shutter Island (Paramount) for Martin Scorsese is certainly a strong one, but with the movie not even being considered worthy of a Best Picture nomination in a year with ten slots, it’s likely the screenplay will be shut out as well.
Sadly, Michael Konyves’ amazing adaptation of Mordecai Richler’s Barney’s Version (Sony Pictures Classics) isn’t going to get the credit it deserves.
The Story So Far:
HFPA/Golden Globes: 127 Hours, The Social Network
BFCA/Critics Choice: 127 Hours, The Social Network, The Town, Toy Story 3, True Grit, Winter’s Bone
WGA: 127 Hours, I Love You, Phillip Morris, The Social Network, The Town, True Grit
USC Scripter Award: 127 Hours, The Ghost Writer, The Social Network, True Grit, Winter’s Bone
LAFCC: The Social Network
Predictions: 127 Hours, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit, Winter’s Bone (alternate: The Town)
The Directors Guild of America (DGA) won’t announce their nominations until Monday, January 10, and that’s usually a strong precursor for the Academy’s choices, though sometimes they miss one with the likes of Sean Penn and Christopher Nolan being recent examples of DGA nominees who were snubbed by the Academy’s own nominations. The directors that do get nominated are also a strong indicator of which five Best Picture nominees really should be considered the five favorites (out of the ten nominations) being that no film in recent memory has won Best Picture without its director at least getting a nomination.
UPDATE: Now that the DGA have announced, the entire Oscar picture is much clearer, because the DGA has often gone 1 for 1 with the Academy as well as picking the five Best Pictures back when it was just 5. Their omission of the Coen Brothers and Danny Boyle in favor of David O. Russell for The Fighter is rather telling about where the industry lies in terms of their favorite movies of the year and that gives a lot more strength to that film overall.
With the love for The Social Network, it seems like this may be the year for David Fincher to finally win an Oscar, and it’s somewhat surprising he’s only been nominated once before, and that was for his previous film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. It’s not like Fincher has much to complain about if he does win, since he’ll have done so earlier in his career than the likes of Roman Polanski, Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood. Then again, Fincher isn’t known for doing lots of press or publicity, compounded by the fact that he’s been in the middle of filming his next movie even before The Social Network was released. One also has to wonder how many Academy voters will feel that the film is as much a directorial achievement as it is a film that benefits from a fantastic script and cast. The film certainly isn’t as flashy as many of Fincher’s other movies, nor any of the other offerings.
As mentioned above, Christopher Nolan’s directorial vision is what makes Inception such an amazing entry into Oscar season and his nomination is almost guaranteed, especially with so many film fans feeling that he should have been nominated for The Dark Knight two years ago.
With so many people loving The King’s Speech, it’s a sure bet that director Tom Hooper will get some of the credit even if it’s also not as flashy as some of the other movies. Hooper is essentially in the same boat as Jason Reitman for Juno and the directors of Little Miss Sunshine where he’s not quite as known but has delivered a well-loved movie that he has to be given at least some of the credit.
The last two slots will go to two of the following four, but one of the strongest possibilities is Joel and Ethan Coen for their Western True Grit (Paramount), which would be their third nomination as directors and their first since winning the Oscar for No Country for Old Men in 2008. The fact that they’ve won so recently puts them further down as favorites to win, though, and their movie is more likely to finally get their director of photography Roger Deakins his much-deserved Oscar. UPDATE: The Coens’ omission by the DGA is somewhat telling that not everyone is crazy about the movie and there’s a good possibility they will be snubbed for another directing nomination even though they’re still safe in screenplay and other categories.
Danny Boyle’s recent win for Slumdog Millionaire will also put him at a disadvantage to even get him a nomination for his latest film, 127 Hours (Fox Searchlight), even though the film is quite an amazing directorial achievement. With his position being weak, that should allow one of the two below to slip into the nominations. UPDATE: Also not nominated by the DGA, and they may feel, like the Academy, that Boyle’s win two years ago means it’s time to get a few newcomers into the race.
With his fifth movie Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky seems to have finally created a film that can appeal to mass mainstream audiences as well as the fans of his bizarre twist on classic genre tropes. While the film has been getting universal approval for the performance by Natalie Portman, there’s no denying that the film has a spectacular look and feel to it that could only be attributed to what Aronofsky did with the material. In fact, Aronosky stands a better chance at being nominated for his direction than for the film’s screenplay, which isn’t quite as driven by its dialogue as it is the director’s vision and the performances. UPDATE: His DGA nomination gives Aronofsky a very comfortable placement to get his first Oscar nomination ever.
The same can’t be said for David O. Russell’s The Fighter, which is so driven by the performances and the interactions of the ensemble cast that it’s more likely to be nominated for its screenplay than Russell’s direction, although if the DGA nominates Russell then it’s likely that the Academy will follow suit. The only thing really holding him back is his famous temper, which has been the butt of many jokes on YouTube since footage of his on-set rants have leaked onto the popular video site. The film is well-directed but it’s not perfect nor does it feel as visionary as some of the other films which puts it at a disadvantage for a nomination. UPDATE: In fact, if the DGA chooses to nominate Russell for their awards, there’s a good chance that other directors empathize with his on-set frustrations and they’ll nominated him for an Oscar as well.
The Story So Far:
HFPA/Golden Globes: Aronofsky, Fincher, Hooper, Nolan, O’Russell
Predictions: Darren Aronofsky, Joel and Ethan Coen, David Fincher, Tom Hooper, Christopher Nolan (alternate: David O. Russell*)
*UPDATE: Although his DGA nomination now puts him more likely to get an Oscar nomination with the Coens being moved to “alternate”
Now we come to the Big Kahuna, and frankly, with ten nominations in this category for the second year in a row, there isn’t as much of a challenge in figuring out at least eight to nine of the potential nominees from the other categories, particularly screenplay and directing. The real challenge will be to figure out which movies will be this year’s The Blind Side or District 9, movies that did so well commercially that it was impossible to completely neglect them in the Oscar race. It’s really those movies that will fill in the ninth and tenth slots rather than the Top 5 movies, which essentially will coincide with the five directors nominated. In fact, it’s also those five that are the only ones that can be taken seriously to win Best Picture, since just getting into the Top 10 isn’t enough to be a serious consideration to win. The Producers Guild of America (PGA) has already announced its ten nominees, which theoretically could line up 1 for 1 to the Academy’s choices, but being nominated only by producers, they do tend to go for more commercial box office successes over artsier indies.
Right now there are two movies on everyone’s lips that have gotten almost unanimous acclaim or approval from a variety of groups:
The critics are all going ga-ga over David Fincher’s The Social Network, and in fact, it’s not only the highest ranked movie to appear in the most Top 10 lists as well as the movie that’s pretty much swept most if not all of the critics awards so far. Few movies have done that well among the critics and not went on to win Best Picture–last year’s The Hurt Locker for example–although there will always be a divide between the Academy and film critics that might in fact hurt The Social Network‘s chances at winning. Even so, The Social Network will probably be included in many of the technical awards such as editing and cinematography as well as screenplay, directing and acting nominations, the three things that are fairly crucial to a Best Picture win.
Then there’s Tom Hooper’s period flick The King’s Speech, which was thought to be this year’s Shakespeare in Love, a film that’s such a huge crowdpleaser that it appeals to a wide range of Academy voters, particularly the actors who make up the largest percentage of the group. The movie hasn’t received as many critical nods as an overall film as much as it has received raves for Colin Firth’s performance, and that has inevitably moved it further down the ranks in terms of winning Best Picture. Not receiving a WGA nomination for its screenplay due to reasons mentioned above also hurts its chances–not that it hurt Best Picture winner Gladiator, a rarity–but this is exactly the type of movie that could pull an upset on Oscar night, especially if it wins the Best Ensemble award from the Screen Actors Guild. Then again, there’s a very good chance, that could go to The Social Network as well.
The Strongest Contenders:
One movie that has been gaining ground in recent months is David O. Russell’s The Fighter, a similarly crowd-pleasing film as The King’s Speech. Since it’s guaranteed at least three, possibly four, acting nominations, as well as a screenplay nod and possibly Russell a directing nomination, there is certainly going to be the awareness and popularity needed to make it a true contender. (As mentioned earlier, if Russell gets a directing nomination, that just helps the film’s chances at pulling an upset even more.)
The same can be said for the Coens’ Western True Grit, which is quickly becoming one of the true contenders as its impressive two-week box office is putting it ahead of The Social Network in terms of being a commercial success, although as we saw with James Cameron’s Avatar being defeated by The Hurt Locker, Oscar Best Picture is no longer about which movie made the most money.
The Other “Sure Things”
If there were only five nominations in the Best Picture category, some might feel Christopher Nolan’s Inception is one of the movies likely to get snubbed similar to his 2008 offering The Dark Knight. The lack of potential acting nominations does put the movie at a disadvantage since the actors make up such a large percentage of the Academy, but that hasn’t stopped previous winners like The Departed, Crash–they each had one acting nomination–or The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, which had none. There’s a chance that the movie being seen more as an ensemble of actors, although being snubbed by the Screen Actors Guild for their own ensemble award. Where the film does excel is on a technical level and those mostly-male divisions of the Academy are likely to make this movie one of their favorites, which puts it into play to get into the Top 10 along with Nolan being nominated for his writing and direction.
While DisneyPixar’s Toy Story 3 is looking very likely to once again win in the Animated Feature category, and it’s almost guaranteed to get another screenplay nomination, it’s still a fairly new idea that an animated film could be considered in the Best Picture category, especially since the Animated Feature category was introduced in 2001. Before Up last year, which was helped by the doubling of the nominees, an animated film hadn’t been nominated for Best Picture since Beauty and the Beast in 1991, and no animated feature has ever won before. Part of this may be the fact that many Academy members still see animated movies as “kids’ stuff” and it’s going to be a long time until we see that changing.
Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right was one of the movies that SAG nominated in the Ensemble category and it does have a similar indie appeal as other movies they’ve picked such as Sideways and Little Miss Sunshine, neither which won Best Picture. There’s a good chance that it will win the Golden Globe in the Comedy/Musical category, because let’s face it, the other four nominations in the category are a complete and total joke, but that should help raise its awareness going into Oscar night. Already having WGA and PGA nominations will also help greatly.
Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan also received a SAG Ensemble nomination, as well as nominations by most of the precursor groups in a number of categories, and though much of the focus is being put on Natalie Portman, there’s no question that the film’s innovative filmmaking and storytelling has made it a favorite. Although it may not necessarily get screenplay nod and Aronofsky is still fighting it out with one or two other directors, the movie’s chances at being considered one of the year’s ten best is fairly well cemented.
The Category Filler:
And this is where we get down to the real nitty gritty, because with those eight movies guaranteed to get into the Best Picture race, that leaves two open slots for over 250 other movies released in 2010, though really, there are only four or five movies that have any sort of chance of being considered.
Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours (Fox Searchlight) reunites much of the same team that put together the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire, but in recent weeks, the film seems to have been losing some heat, maybe because it hasn’t really delivered at the box office. Some feel that the graphic nature of James Franco’s severing his own arm has made many people nervous about seeing it and that could be true with many Oscar voters.
Debra Granik’s Sundance award-winner Winter’s Bone was thought to be one of the lower-budget indies that would get into this year’s Oscar race because it is such a strong film even if it didn’t necessarily do huge business when released. It was ignored both by the PGA and the WGA, which normally wouldn’t be a good sign that the movie has the type of grassroots support in the industry that could carry through to the Academy, although the previous nominations by other groups for Jennifer Lawrence should get Academy members intrigued enough to check out the just-released DVD. I wouldn’t write this one off just yet.
On the other hand, Ben Affleck’s crime-drama The Town has received both WGA and PGA nominations as well as having been a significant box office hit when released in September. While it hasn’t gotten very much critical support since its release, Jeremy Renner’s supporting performance has been showing up in many of the precursors, and there’s no question that Academy members will make sure to watch their screener. Like some of the other movies mentioned above, the film does have its supporters and maybe if more Academy members lived in Boston, this would be more of a shoe-in.
John Cameron Mitchell’s drama Rabbit Hole based on David Lindsay-Abaire’s stageplay may be seen as a dark horse longshot right now, because it really hasn’t been receiving quite as much attention as the other films, plus it opened later in the season. That said, it’s also the type of classic emotionally-charged drama that’s likely to be taken to heart by the Academy’s acting branch in a similar vein as The Hours, In the Bedroom, Ordinary People, On Golden Pond and if the screenplay gets a nomination, then the film might follow suit, essentially bumping out one of the three above.
At this point, it looks like Martin Scorsese’s thriller Shutter Island (Paramount), starring Leonardo Dicaprio, will be his first non-doc since Gangs of New York to not be up for anything at the Oscars, which may be why Paramount decided to move it from its original November release date to early February where it proved to be another solid box office hit for the director.
The Story So Far:
HFPA/Golden Globes: Drama Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The King’s Speech, The Social Network Musical/Comedy Alice in Wonderland, Burlesque, The Kids Are All Right, Red, The Tourist
AFI Top 10: 127 Hours, Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids are All Right, The Social Network, The Town, Toy Story 3, True Grit, Winter’s Bone
BFCA/Critics Choice: 127 Hours, Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The King’s Speech, The Social Network, The Town, Toy Story 3, True Grit, Winter’s Bone
PGA: 127 Hours, Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The King’s Speech, The Kids Are All Right, The Social Network, The Town, Toy Story 3, True Grit
SAG Ensemble: Black Swan, The Fighter, The Kids Are All Right, The King’s Speech, The Social Network
NYFCC: The Social Network
Predictions: 127 Hours, Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, The King’s Speech, The Social Network, The Town, Toy Story 3, True Grit (alternates: Winter’s Bone, Rabbit Hole)
The Social Network should win Best Picture, barring unforeseen circumstances.
Picture: The Social Network
That’s it for Part 2 and if we have time before Sundance, we’ll try to write something about some of the other categories, such as the Animated, Documentary and Foreign Language categories. If not, look for an update sometime in February with our thoughts on some of the other categories.