OSCAR GUIDE: Best Writing (Original Screenplay)

Posted by · 10:33 am · January 31st, 2011

The race for Best Original Screenplay is full of worthy competitors this year.  Four Best Picture nominees and the year’s best screenplay period make up the field, and even if there are a few that should have been in the mix, I find it difficult to argue with what squeaked through in the end.

The writing categories can sometimes be interesting to watch on Oscar night.  The Academy can mix things up, but only within the Best Picture landscape, as these awards have gone to a non-Best Picture competitor just six times in the last 20 years.  Nevertheless, all signs seem to be pointing to one film to dominate the show, and this category is no exception.

The nominees are:

“Another Year” (Written by Mike Leigh)
“The Fighter” (Screenplay by Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson; Story by Keith Dorrington & Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson)
“Inception” (Written by Christopher Nolan)
“The Kids Are All Right” (Written by Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg)
“The King’s Speech” (Screenplay by David Seidler)

Pretty solid on the whole.  The only unfortunate thing to me is that the excitement over a potential surprise can’t be aimed toward the one script that deserves it above the competition.  Which brings me to…

Leading into the nominations announcement, it was beginning to look like “Another Year” had not caught on in time to register at all.  Lesley Manville had come up wanting throughout the season and the film didn’t have the best showing with the BAFTA, but the writers branch of the Academy has spoken up for Mike Leigh consistently over the years.  He managed to pull off a nomination for “writing” one of his most mature, thoughtful and astutely crafted films to date.  But he’s also facing stiff competition in the form of four Best Picture nominees, so that’s like all she wrote.  Nevertheless, Leigh found textures and profound rhythms that the other contenders in the field could only have hoped to achieve, so it’s rather a shame that his nomination will, yet again, have to serve as his reward.

One film that began to catch fire within the Academy the last two months is “The Fighter,” even moving into a competitive position with the year’s two frontrunners.  The screenplay, from credited writers Keith Dorrington, Eric Johnson, Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy, clearly bears the scars of extended development with a lot of cooks in the kitchen, so it’s rather incredible that it came out as complete and organic as it did (though plenty of that credit is owed to the film’s director).  Being a Best Picture nominee is always a plus in the writing categories, and it can frequently be a great place to reward a film that doesn’t really compute for voters in other fields.  But there are at least two contenders here that are more likely to walk away with the statuette than this scrappy underdog, I’d say.

Poor Christopher Nolan was once again slighted by his fellow directors this year, but his writing peers saw fit to extend a second nomination his way.  And when you think of the accomplishment that is “Inception,” it’s more striking to note a single name on its screenplay rather than scores of ghost writers and re-writers and script doctors, as is the tendency of blockbuster Hollywood cinema.  That, in and of itself, is a statement.  Nolan’s film gestated in his mind for over a decade and became an incredibly complex burst of high concept, ORIGINAL, creativity.  And this would be a lovely place to pay some respect that direction, but it’s tough when you have the Best Picture frontrunner leading the way.  Regardless, Nolan is still in the early days of what will surely be a lengthy, well-rewarded career.

The spoiler I’d watch for in this field is actually “The Kids Are All Right,” from Stuart Blumberg and Lisa Cholodenko.  In many ways, it’s a classic Best Original Screenplay winner, affording a chance to award comedy and send a bit of a social statement on Oscar night.  The film has seen a long road to this moment, beginning way back in Park City, Utah in January of 2010, and remains a favorite in the Academy.  And after last year’s shocker in the Best Adapted Screenplay field, I’m not willing to call these races over no matter how bright the writing may appear on the wall.  Despite personal misgivings about the judgment leveled toward one character, I’m comfortable considering this a thoughtful script that really nails intimate relationships in a unique way.  It would make a handsome winner.

But in all likelihood, David Seidler, after years of working, will look like an overnight success in about a month’s time.  “The King’s Speech” was an incredibly personal journey for him, as he once suffered from stammering himself and saw in the story of King George VI a chance to tell a lovely tale of friendship and overcoming a profound obstacle while tapping into the insight of his own experience.  He came up with a wonderful showcase for actors and a story that brings audiences to their feet in applause.  And in so many ways, it’s a classic Academy yarn.  But it’s also one worth cheering for despite the cynicism that has accompanied the late stages of this Oscar season.  Once again, I’m not willing to stick a fork in either of the races when the Academy can be as frisky as it was last year, but it feels right.

Will win: “The King’s Speech”
Could win: “The Kids Are All Right”
Should win: “Another Year”

Should have been here: “Four Lions” (in lieu of “A Prophet,” which was not eligible)

Check out my current rankings for this race at its dedicated Contenders page here.

Who do you think deserves to win the award for Best Writing (Original Screenplay)? Have your say in today’s sidebar poll!

[Photos: Sony Pictures Classics, The Weinstein Company]

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44 responses so far

  • 1 1-31-2011 at 10:37 am

    tintin(uruguay) said...

    Will win: TKS
    Could win: ———–
    Should win: Inception

  • 2 1-31-2011 at 10:38 am

    Graysmith said...

    Poor Christopher Nolan, he’s going to lose another screenwriting Oscar to a British period piece (re: Memento vs. Gosford Park). Although I guess this time it’s far more expected? I still haven’t forgiven the Academy for that, even if Gosford Park is a great film.

  • 3 1-31-2011 at 10:45 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Gosford Park’s win was absolutely expected, Graysmith.

    I echo Kris’s will/could/should trio, and will throw in a “should have been here” mention for “Everyone Else.” Or “The Illusionist”, if I’m playing by Academy eligibility rules — a posthumous nom for Jacques Tati would have been sweet, however far-fetched.

    I like three of these nominees very much, but still, Leigh is plainly in another league. The fact that he’s about to go 0-for-7 stings. I doubt he’ll ever make something that’ll catch on with enough voters for him to win — he should be a prime candidate for an honorary Oscar one of these days.

  • 4 1-31-2011 at 10:46 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Julian Fellowes was convinced up until the actual night that Nolan would win. But I think most of us knew it’d be the Best Picture nominee that prevailed.

  • 5 1-31-2011 at 10:49 am

    Afrika said...

    The Kids Are All Right deserves this award.

  • 6 1-31-2011 at 10:49 am

    Sam C. said...

    There was a time where I thought Nolan would have a chance here…but it’s Seidler’s all the way.

  • 7 1-31-2011 at 11:09 am

    Kevin K. said...

    For the longest time I was predicting Nolan to actually win this, but alas, those days are gone. I’ve been reading the shooting script that was published a while back, and I have to say, I find it as sharp and extraordinary as ever. I think The Dark Knight is ultimately his best screenplay, but Inception’s structure, discipline, originality, and sheer scope are pretty awe-inspiring. And it also reminds you just how great Lee Smith’s work was, since the screenplay could have easily flown off the rails into impenetrable territory without Nolan’s direction and Lee Smith’s editing to make perfect sense of it all. I’d love Nolan to win here, but it won’t happen. One day he’ll get his, hopefully not for some middle of the road film either. I have to say I do love Seidler’s screenplay for The King’s Speech though, so personally it’s a bit of a tough choice. But for sheer ambition, I have to go with Nolan this time.

  • 8 1-31-2011 at 11:14 am

    Bryan said...

    Thing the that keeps me firmly behind The King’s Speech is that last year, neither Precious nor Up in the Air were considered best picture front-runners (and the winner’s screenplay won over in original).

    I think the momentum of The King’s Speech will keep The Kids are All Right of its heels.

  • 9 1-31-2011 at 11:30 am

    Paul Outlaw said...

    Will win: “The King’s Speech”
    Could win: “The Kids Are All Right”
    Should win: “Inception”

    Should have been here: “Dogtooth”

  • 10 1-31-2011 at 11:31 am

    Graysmith said...


    Speak for yourself.

    Memento was a far hotter script during awards season than Inception has been. It won the LAFCA, the shortlived AFI Awards, the BFCA and it was the film’s sole nomination at the Golden Globes (how often are films GG-nominated just for screenplay?). It didn’t get a WGA nomination because of ineligibility, but other than that it did pretty damn well. Perhaps in hindsight it was completely inevitable that such a brilliant, groundbreaking script would be shunned by the slow-to-catch-on Academy, but at the time I wouldn’t go so far to say that it was “absolutely expected”, unless you mean that from a strictly personal P.O.V.

    Of course, I am biased. It remains one of the greatest films (and scripts) of the past 25 years so maybe that clouded my judgment at the time. Absolutely expected it was not, though.

  • 11 1-31-2011 at 11:34 am

    SC said...

    Given the obvious love for TKS, no way they aren’t going to reward Seidler, this being his big project.

  • 12 1-31-2011 at 11:35 am

    Justin said...

    Still upset Black Swan wasn’t nominated. Nothing that original has come out in years…

  • 13 1-31-2011 at 11:42 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Graysmith: I assure you, the safe money was definitely on Gosford Park that year. It was my first year of covering the Oscars (indeed, Fellowes was my first interview) and I remember it quite well.

  • 14 1-31-2011 at 11:47 am

    Ken said...

    Could win: Not Applicable

  • 15 1-31-2011 at 12:03 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Graysmith: I’m not just speaking for myself — as Kris said, that’s simply how most pundits called the race. Memento was a dark horse, and a win for the film was certainly conceivable, but Gosford Park was the clear favourite going in. (And given past Academy form, plus the fact that the film was a Best Picture nominee, why wouldn’t it have been? Fine script, too.) That’s not really a point you can argue with.

    I was rooting for Memento myself that year, but I didn’t predict it.

  • 16 1-31-2011 at 12:17 pm

    Anita said...

    I think Another Year losing to anyone in this category is a bigger “tragedy” than a lot of the other categories people are throwing around. But I suppose because it doesn’t seem to have an inkling of a chance, nobody gets as worked up.

    It is a credit to how incredible Mike Leigh’s screenplay is that, having said that, I wouldn’t begrudge anyone winning in this category. It is solid.

  • 17 1-31-2011 at 1:13 pm

    Speaking English said...

    “Another Year.” Mike Leigh’s dense, humanistic tapestry is a gorgeous slice of life filled with humor and subtly rendered characters. It’s not a traditional narrative, nor is it especially complex (“Inception”), but it’s deeply moving and shaded with delicate tonal nuances.

  • 18 1-31-2011 at 1:19 pm

    Kevin K. said...

    I have yet to see Another Year since it’s not opened in Texas yet, but I really can’t wait, seeing the praise Kris and Guy showered on it. Hopefully I enjoy it as much as you guys did.

  • 19 1-31-2011 at 1:21 pm

    Afrika said...

    really? did you watch Center Stage? and Showgirls?

  • 20 1-31-2011 at 1:50 pm

    Craig said...

    God, The Kids Are All Right had better not win. It’s a decent screenplay, but I agree with Kris’s statement that it makes judgments towards Ruffalo’s character that, for me at least, undermines the statement they were trying to make, not to mention the fact that two of the most important characters (the kids, of the title) are left completely undeveloped and flat. It’s the least deserving of the five, and shouldn’t have even gotten a nomination.

  • 21 1-31-2011 at 1:52 pm

    Speaking English said...

    It’s not even the treatment of Ruffalo’s character that makes the script to “Kids” unworthy. It’s that contrive soap-opera turn the story takes when Julianne Moore decides to have an affair with him. Lame. Up until that point the movie was quite good.

  • 22 1-31-2011 at 1:57 pm

    Drew said...

    Looks like the WGA will be Cholodenko’s Oscar this year. King’s Speech wins this hands down. I guess Kids would be my personal pick since I have yet to see Another Year.

    Can’t wait to hear your thoughts on the adapted race. I have doubts that even Sokrin is safe there and the academy could just decide to make history and give to the writer of Toy Story 3. Name escapes me at the moment.

  • 23 1-31-2011 at 2:02 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Not a chance they give it to “Toy Story 3.” Michael Arndt has already won, anyway.

  • 24 1-31-2011 at 2:06 pm

    Drew said...

    I’m sure it would set some record as being the youngest person ever to earn two screenwriting Oscars. And I believe it would also the first time an animated feature has won for screenplay. If they can’t make history by giving it best picture then they may as well give it one of the next best things.

    This may be a year where the WGA doesn’t align with the Oscar wins at all.

  • 25 1-31-2011 at 2:46 pm

    Patryk said...

    Will win: “The King’s Speech”
    Could win: “The Fighter”
    Should win: “Another Year”
    Should have been here: “Black Swan”

  • 26 1-31-2011 at 3:43 pm

    Samuel said...

    I’m glad I’m not alone in being unimpressed with the way Kids just completely burns the Ruffalo character. I enjoyed the film well enough, but that turn in the script almost ruined the film for me.

    His character was an average, likable guy just trying to get by and be a part of the lives of his biological children; children who, significantly, sought him out in the first place. He was a screw up, sure, but he didn’t deserve to become the villain at the end.

  • 27 1-31-2011 at 4:19 pm

    SC said...

    Yeah, I couldn’t vote for TKAAR to win screenplay. It has a lot of strengths, particularly creating some very believable characters, but the narrative is a mess. The whole third act pretty much derails it for me, between dropping/villainizing Paul and having Nic and Jules make up without a single conversation or addressing any of their issues (Jules makes a speech, but they don’t talk at any point). And the kids’ little sideplots amount to absolutely nothing. That story needed structural work.

  • 28 1-31-2011 at 4:29 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    The film doesn’t make him a villain, but he does violate that family, and is inevitably punished for it. Jules makes the same stupid mistake, but is punished less severely because, well, it’s her family. The film isn’t saying this a particularly just or democratic outcome, but that’s how families work to preserve and protect themselves.

    Neither does it suggest Paul has been denied any future contact with his biological children — they are essentially adults, and are free to interact with him regardless of their parents’ relationship with him (or lack thereof).

    I find the outcome wholly plausible. It’s life logic, not movie logic — people aren’t reasonable all of the time, nor do they verbally rationalise every one of their emotional decisions.

  • 29 1-31-2011 at 4:43 pm

    MovieMan said...

    “…Leigh found textures and profound rhythms that the other contenders in the field could only have hoped to achieve…” If only Leigh had gone somewhere with those textures and rhythms. Might have been a different film, i.e. a good one.

  • 30 1-31-2011 at 4:59 pm

    Samuel said...

    @Guy Your explanation does illuminate the ending a little more. It makes sense that it’s about that family, so there’s no real responsibility for the narrative to do anything with Ruffalo’s character. You’re right they didn’t make him a villain, butI felt like the filmmakers made a deliberate attempt to make him unsympathetic.

    Still, I found it unsatisfying and unfair on a guy who was, overall, fairly decent.

  • 31 1-31-2011 at 5:09 pm

    matsunaga said...

    Will win: “The King’s Speech”
    Should win: “Another Year”

    If there’s a “The King’s Speech” upset I’m very willing to see, it will be in this category… I’m fine with “Another Year”… Mike Leigh is as good as ever… Though TKS is very well well written for me despite “historical inconsistencies” people were saying….

  • 32 1-31-2011 at 5:31 pm

    MovieMan said...

    Will win: “The King’s Speech”
    Could win: “The Fighter”
    Should win: “The Fighter”
    Should have been here: “Somewhere”

  • 33 1-31-2011 at 5:43 pm

    PJ said...

    Right on, Guy. The movie definitely doesn’t vilify Paul. It’s just not set on providing a happy ending for all the characters. Jules and Paul made a stupid mistake, and according to the moral logic of the family concerned, only Paul will get punished for it. Of course it’s unfair in an absolute morals sense, but that’s life, and that’s what the film (at least for me) was hammering home for me. The writers could have softened up Paul’s ultimate fate, but it would’ve rang a little hollow given the pains the film took at the start to establish the family as such a tight knit unit.

  • 34 1-31-2011 at 5:52 pm

    Carlo said...

    I am praying for an Inception miracle here but The Kids Are All Right deserves it as well. Any of those two and I’ll be fine.

  • 35 1-31-2011 at 6:39 pm

    Andrej said...

    Sadly I haven’t seen Another Year yet, so as of now…

    Will win: The King’s Speech.
    Could win: The Kids Are All Right, Inception.
    Should win: Inception, The Fighter.

    Should have been here: Dogtooth, Black Swan.

  • 36 1-31-2011 at 6:49 pm

    Craig said...

    I still felt as if Paul was made to look like the villain and, even worse, like an idiot. When he suggests to Moore’s character that they just go with this thing and be together, she sounds like she can’t believe he’d think that was a possibility, but really, it’s not at all ridiculous from his perspective. She did, after all, initiate the entire affair.
    I really enjoyed the film right up to the point where Benning discovers the affair, and then it pretty much fell apart for me. They oversimplified everything: Joni’s scene with the boy was entirely unnecessary, her drunk driving (DRUNK DRIVING) was seemingly forgotten immediately after the scene ended, and the reconciliation of the family just seemed completely phony to me. The whole thing felt rushed and unrealistic.

  • 37 1-31-2011 at 6:52 pm

    Ibbs said...

    I was thinking about the past few years where the category essentially came down to the WGA winner and the one that could have potentially won WGA but wasn’t eligible. Hurt Locker vs. Basterds, Milk vs. WALL·E, etc. Clearly, that would have been Kings vs. Kids this time around with the edge to Kids, but seeing the more or less unanimous reaction to The King’s Speech and David Seidler impressing everyone he comes across with his stories and in person eloquence, I’m sure he’s got this.

    It would be great to give Mike Leigh a career Oscar for his seventh or so nomination, though — I’d say that Another Year is his most personal, and powerful, work.

  • 38 1-31-2011 at 9:16 pm

    Rashad said...

    Inception should win.

  • 39 2-01-2011 at 4:14 am

    RichardA said...

    It’s TKS for me. Close second is TKAAR for the spot on use of “interloper”.

  • 40 2-01-2011 at 5:42 am

    JJ1 said...

    Will win: TKS
    Could win: Inception
    Should win: Another Year

    Leigh is my win this year. Such a great tapestry of characters, dialogue, & narrative.

  • 41 2-01-2011 at 11:23 am

    average joe said...

    Though Inception is a film I love more than the other contenders, I thought the screenplay was a bit of a weak link, with its HEAVY reliance on exposition throughout the first act. To me, Nolan’s direction elevated the first act, making the film consistently involving and cinematic when it could have easily gotten bogged down by all that exposition.

  • 42 2-01-2011 at 11:24 am

    average joe said...

    …which makes the fact that he was nominated for his writing rather than his directing a travesty in my opinion.

  • 43 2-04-2011 at 12:23 pm

    Simon Warrasch said...

    Will win: The King’s Speech
    Should win: INCEPTION (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
    Should win: (Runner up): Another Year

    But i cross my fingers every day for Christopher Nolan and Inception!

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