OFF THE CARPET: Original players

Posted by · 2:44 pm · November 16th, 2009

(from left) Jeremy Renner and Evangeline Lilly in The Hurt LockerWhen I had the unmitigated gall last week to project a set of winners for this year’s Oscar race, I was a bit startled at how easy Mark Boal’s script for “The Hurt Locker” slid into the Best Original Screenplay slot.  Looking over the landscape of contenders in the category, it’s a little obvious why such a somewhat non-traditional entry would be pegged as a frontrunner: this is a pretty thin year for original screenplays.

That should take nothing away from Boal’s work, which is certainly commendable.  But beyond Pixar’s “Up” (penned by Pete Docter and Bob Peterson) and the Coen brothers’ “A Serious Man” (my pick for best-in-show in the category), there isn’t much competition for Boal’s play at the statuette.  I even find myself struggling with two more solid bets for nods after that trio.

Fox Searchlight, however, is making some pretty strong moves on behalf of “(500) Days of Summer,” written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber.  The pair has already been cited by the Hollywood Film Festival as well as the Hamilton Behind the Camera awards.  Given the studio’s campaign prowess (and the undying spirit of the film’s champions), it makes sense to expect a spot to be reserved for the film here.

To fill out the set, you’ve got a slot that is undeniably up for grabs.  So let’s dig into the field and see what we come up with.

For my money, there are four contenders that should be in the conversation, but aren’t likely to tickle the Academy’s fancy.  The first is Lars Von Trier’s “Antichrist,” a potent blend of catharsis and horror that resonates for some, disgusts others.  Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s “Sugar,” meanwhile, landed too early to register for awards season, but still surviving as one of the year’s best films (in a great year for cinema), it’s difficult not to concede the script its props.

Then there is Brock Norman Brock and Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Bronson,” a brilliant, mad chamber piece of a sort that is more a showcase for Tom Hardy’s blistering portrayal than anything else.  And there is a concentrated effort afoot to get some notice for Hardy (things curiously showing up on my doorstep lately, his name finding its way into conversations, etc.), but the artistry and the structure of the script deserve commendation.

Sharlto Copley in District 9Finally, Duncan Jones’s “Moon” is a brilliant film that likely won’t get a fair shake this season, and that’s fine.  I’m content knowing that a modest little sci-fi piece such as this can be modestly put together, have a profound thematic impact and add fuel to the fire for Sam Rockwell’s case for more leading man parts.  A nomination here would be a perfect tip of the hat to a pretty good year for the sci-fi genre.

With those titles out of the way, let’s look at the scripts that do have a fighting chance.  And speaking of sci-fi, there are a pair of films that could slide in despite genre bias.

The first is Neil Blomkamp and Terri Tetchell’s “District 9,” which made a big impact at the box office this summer and left many wondering if it could play a hand in awards season.  Like “Moon,” the film features a brilliant leading turn and a script that is actually about something beyond the eye candy on-screen.

Meanwhile, James Cameron’s “Avatar” (talk about eye candy) is going to be right there in the mix.  Cameron did not receive an Oscar nod for penning 1997’s “Titanic,” though the WGA certainly saw fit to tip their hat his way.  It’s left to be seen whether “Avatar” has enough substance to warrant discussion here, but an eye should certainly be kept on it here, in a weak race.

Indeed, it might be the weakness of the field that allows for lesser work from Quentin Tarantino to slide in, as “Inglourious Basterds” is still chugging along, has a home video release on the way next month and is the only original screenplay contender in The Weinstein Company’s stable.  Or Jane Campion, whose “Bright Star” was a critical darling but faded almost instantly.  This could be a place where passionate voters make their case.

Inglourious BasterdsForeign films aren’t generally eligible for WGA consideration, so a blind-siding nomination for Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon” is certainly possible come January, or perhaps comedy will tickle the Academy just enough to vote Nancy Meyers into the field with “It’s Complicated” (starring Oscarcast co-hosts Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin).

There are auteurs offering up work considerably below the bars they’ve set (Woody Allen and “Whatever Works,” Pedro Almodovar and “Broken Embraces”), as well as indie hopefuls that could make an unexpected splash, like “Frozen River” and “Away from Her” in years past (Guillermo Arriaga’s “The Burning Plain,” for instance, or Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman’s “The Messenger,” both extremely deserving).  But mainly, it’s a modest, uncompetitive race for five slots.  And of course, it’s difficult to get too excited when profound works like Ramin Bahrani’s “Goodbye Solo” won’t make it within earshot of the conversation.

You can check out my picks in this week’s updated sidebar predictions and read through the field of hopefuls yourself over in the Contenders section.

What would you say the frontrunners are in this year’s Best Original Screenplay category?  Have your say in the comments section below!

→ 35 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Off the Carpet

35 responses so far

  • 1 11-16-2009 at 2:48 pm

    Brian said...

    I could, honestly, see Tarantino stealing this from Boal.

  • 2 11-16-2009 at 2:57 pm

    Hero said...

    Isn’t District 9 Adapted? (Based on Alive in Joburg.)

  • 3 11-16-2009 at 3:07 pm

    JJ said...

    Right now, I think the 5 will come out of these 6 :

    Up, Hurt Locker, Bright Star, Inglourious Basterds, A Serious Man, (500) Days of Summer.

    Voters will want to reward Tarantino and the Coens.

    Most susceptible, to me, is Bright Star and/or (500) Days …

    I think Jane Campion will get votes – though, enough for top 5? And (500) Days – my favorite film of all menti0ned – could come in slightly under the radar.

    I was not wild about Hurt Locker. It would be MY 6th. But I know that’s not the popular thought for this category.

  • 4 11-16-2009 at 3:08 pm

    Michael W. said...

    Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida should be in contention for Away We Go. I was really surprised with how much I liked that film.

  • 5 11-16-2009 at 3:13 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    It started with the short, Hero, but I’m not sure if that’ll make it adapted in the long run or not. It certainly took off liberally from that original narrative.

  • 6 11-16-2009 at 3:14 pm

    Patryk said...

    I think the 5 nominees will be “Bright Star,” “The Hurt Locker,” “Inglourious Basterds,” “A Serious Man,” and “Up.” In a perfect world, “Sugar” would make it.

  • 7 11-16-2009 at 3:17 pm

    Hero said...

    Thanks Kris. It just seems the default mode is to call everything adapted when in doubt.

  • 8 11-16-2009 at 3:26 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Back in early summer, I’d have sworn “Humpday” would end up in the conversation, but the film never caught on like it was supposed to.

    I’m starting to feel really good about a nod for “The White Ribbon,” even if I’m unconvinced of its chances in the foreign-language category. The presence of Jean-Claude Carriere’s name adds a lot of weight.

  • 9 11-16-2009 at 3:30 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    “Fatal Attraction” started as a short, and wound up competing in adapted. By rights, “District 9” should be categorized similarly, I’d think.

    But who knows? These are the people who thought “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” was original, and “Before Sunset” was adapted. (Adapted from what, exactly?)

  • 10 11-16-2009 at 3:34 pm

    Ben M. said...

    I believe District 9’s credits list it as original with no “based on” credit so I assume it will go original. As could be perhaps the short doesn’t count as having been professional produced, like how Good Will Hunting and My Big Fat Greek Wedding got in original despite being written as plays since they have never been professionally done.

  • 11 11-16-2009 at 3:39 pm

    Ben M. said...

    Guy, I think Before Sunset counted as adapted since it was a sequel (based on characters created by- even if I think that should be original).

    But then the year before The Barbarian Invasions was also a sequel and nominated original, the best I can guess is that the film didn’t have a characters created by credit.

  • 12 11-16-2009 at 3:41 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Ben: I know that was their reasoning. But it’s ludicrous.

  • 13 11-16-2009 at 3:59 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    SUGAR! Easily the best script of the year.

    I wish World’s Greatest Dad and Adventureland were in the conversation as well. They have more truth in one page than 500 Days of Summer’s entire runtime.

  • 14 11-16-2009 at 4:52 pm

    aspect ratio said...

    I agree about it being an off-year for original screenplays, which usually is one of the strongest categories. Plus, many of the best original screenplays of the year are from films that aren’t such obvious contenders, like District 9 and Moon.

    I’d be happy if it ended up being (500) Days of Summer, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, A Serious Man and Up though, and those are currently my predictions.. and I think those would actually make for a really interesting night too since none of them is so obviously the winner.

    The Hurt Locker, as good as it is, doesn’t really feel like a film that would win for screenplay, to me personally it felt more like a director’s film. Inglourious Basterds is really well written but I can’t imagine the wide support it’d need to win, (500) Days of Summer might seem too slight of a film even though it is wonderfully written, and the Coen’s just won a ton of Oscars for No Country for Old Men which I’m sure will hurt their chances.

    ..Which leaves Up. No Pixar film has won for original screenplay, but Up really has the goods and the broad support. You can’t show the growing old montage to anyone without them being moved by it, and it might be the nominee that everyone can rally around. A safe choice by comparison, but still a worthy one.

  • 15 11-16-2009 at 5:08 pm

    Dennis said...

    (500) Days of Summer
    The Hurt Locker
    Inglourious Basterds
    The White Ribbon

  • 16 11-16-2009 at 5:41 pm

    m1 said...

    The Hurt Locker will win.

  • 17 11-16-2009 at 5:42 pm

    Nudgoo said...

    I’m crossing my fingers for a nomination for (500) Days of Summer. My favourite film of the year thus far (that I’ve seen, of course).

  • 18 11-16-2009 at 5:42 pm

    Brian said...

    Every year it seems Pixar *should* win, but never does.

  • 19 11-16-2009 at 6:16 pm

    qwiggles said...

    I’d be really disappointed if Hurt Locker won here — it’s one of those movies that is impressive *despite its screenplay, that a director and a solid cast turned into something special.

  • 20 11-16-2009 at 6:17 pm

    Speaking English said...

    I can’t imagine “A Serious Man” not taking this. With such weak competition it would just be tragic.

  • 21 11-16-2009 at 8:09 pm

    JAB said...

    I really don’t think An Education is going to be as big a player as we’ve been thinking all along. Carey Mulligan, Adapted Screenplay, and Costume Design…

  • 22 11-16-2009 at 8:09 pm

    JAB said...

    the picture you have from Inglourious Basterds might be my favorite scene in the whole movie…the guy with the beard blew me away in his one scene.

  • 23 11-16-2009 at 8:37 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    Let’s not forget that “Borat” was also adapted….

    ….Oh, and totally stole “Thank You for Smoking”‘s spot, which I believe prompted a makeup nod for Reitman the following year, thus robbing Joe Wright….

    And the cycle continues.

  • 24 11-16-2009 at 10:10 pm

    Jim said...

    The Hurt Locker
    A Serious Man
    Inglourious Basterds
    The White Ribbon

    I didn’t even think about Sugar. Still not entirely sure if 500 Days of Summer will slip in. I think The White Ribbon could pull it off, and I’m pretty confident in the first four. Good year, but hardly any definites.

  • 25 11-16-2009 at 10:15 pm

    Joe said...

    Don’t forget The Hangover. Movies that gross $200+ mil aren’t always nominated (see: Transformers), but movies that surprisingly gross $200+ mil always get something, from BP (Sixth Sense) to the consolation nomination (Greek Wedding). Even if we’ve given up on Hangover’s BP shots, I think it’s close to a lock in Original Screenplay. Especially when the screenplay was the movie’s strength.

  • 26 11-17-2009 at 3:46 am

    André said...

    I have a question: isn’t “The Station Agent” and “The Visitor”‘s Tom McCarthy also getting in for “Up”?

    He has story credit for it, and “Eternal Sunshine…” was a shared win for that very reason. In fact, I’m pretty sure the end credits list him simply as “screenwriter” along with Docter and Peterson.

  • 27 11-17-2009 at 3:53 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Joe: If no Judd Apatow film could manage a screenplay nod, I can’t see why things would be different for “The Hangover.”

  • 28 11-17-2009 at 5:06 am

    The Other James D. said...

    You’re correct, André, at least as far as I can see. I think it’s pretty much a guarantee that Tom McCarthy will at last get a nom. About time as he was definitely robbed for “The Station Agent”, if not for “The Visitor” as well (but last year’s Original Screenplay category was so strong and perfect, I can’t see replacing anybody with him…maybe “WALL·E”, even though I adore the film more than all the others except “Frozen River”).

    And I second what Guy said. But on that same note, since Animated films can’t get WGA nominations, I think “The Hangover” could get its spot THERE, just like “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up” did before it.

  • 29 11-17-2009 at 5:10 am

    The Other James D. said...

    **Just to clarify, I’m aware “Virgin” wasn’t replaced at the Oscars by an animated film that year. The point is that the box office smash comedies can succeed more easily at WGA.

  • 30 11-17-2009 at 11:17 am

    Anonymous said...

    Agree on your picks. Hurt Locker’s script is episodic, but the film turned out good and was well-acted. It will probably get a nomination here.

    Tarantino is a great writer and comes up with funny speeches and situations, but Inglorious Basterds falls apart in the ending with the duel stories. They should have been integrated better. It feels like he came up with one story for one set of actors and then wanted to have another story just so he could hire some other actors he liked, then smushed them all together. He’ll get nominated as he should, but… weak ending.

    The Coens can’t be counted out. This is their most personal film and it shows in the writing the most.

    District 9 is an interesting concept (borrowed from other “fake” documentary genre films), but the script was a mess and the film needed better structuring and themes. Want to keep an eye on director, Blomkamp and Sharlto Copley though! More definately to come.

    Agree with Moon, interesting script, a bit derivative with the Hal-like robot, but really good acting. Moon also slightly falls apart at the end, but Rockwell sustains the implausible throughout and it is a very good first film by Jones, directing-wise. Production design was a bit too much like Kubick’s 2001. Best bet for this is a best actor nomination for Rockwell. Hope he gets nominated!

    Whoever suggested Away We Go for script is out of their freaking gourd. Wanted to like it, but was completely annoyed. If you are going to include small films with small character scripts, I would go Sunshine Cleaning. It was flawed, but interesting. Thought the performances were good by Amy Adams and especially Emily Blunt. Best supporting actress?

    Agree on Anti-Christ. Best chances are probably not for the script, but maybe for Best Actress for Charlotte Gainsbourg and Supporting (?) for Willem Dafoe. Maybe also production design and sound editing. Von Trier should get a directing nomination, but the film will probably be considered too outrageous for that.

  • 31 11-17-2009 at 5:20 pm

    SHAAAARK said...

    A Serious Man
    (500) Days of Summer
    The Hurt Locker
    Inglourious Basterds


  • 32 11-17-2009 at 9:31 pm

    Joe said...

    Guy: no Judd Apatow movie has made $300 million, either. But fair point. The AFI and WGA came knocking, but no Globes or Oscars for Judd. So, Hangover is not a lock. But I still think it’s a pretty good bet.

  • 33 11-20-2009 at 10:54 pm

    John said...

    The obvious picks…
    UP…delightful premise, engaging characters, fun dialogue, powerful character arc, interesting theme.
    INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS: That man’s crazy! This feels like something he would have done back in the ’90’s when he made good movies.
    THE HURT LOCKER: this is the sort of script you can only write with actual experience in the world.
    THE HANGOVER: A tight script, engaging character arcs, intricate plotting… yet somehow feels anarchically out-of-control. Maintaining this level of hilarity for 105 minutes requires damn good writing.
    (500) DAYS OF SUMMER: Jumping aroud in time always draws attention to the writer. Mainly deserves consideration for ignoring the standard tropes of the genre to actually recreate the experience of head-over-heels love being crushed and ground up in a blender. ANNIE HALL meets KRAMER VS. KRAMER for the texting generation.

  • 34 11-21-2009 at 9:42 pm

    Rob said...

    How is Inglourious Basterds an original screenplay? Isn’t it a credited (albeit very loose) remake of an Italian film?

  • 35 11-22-2009 at 3:24 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Rob: Title only.