90th Academy Award Predictions: The Screenplays

The Screenplay Awards are arguably the most entertaining race at the Oscars. Not only is it the most predicative of the Best Picture race (no film has won without a Best Screenplay nomination since 2007), but this is the category that most often rewards the most fascinating projects (Her, The Lobster, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, There Will Be Blood, Almost Famous, and more earned nominations here). This means that some of those interesting projects audiences love that are too weird for the Academy can earn some love in these prestigious categories. This year will be an interesting one, as one of the two is the most competitive races this year and the other…isn’t. Let’s break down these two categories so you can see just what I mean, shall we?

Best Original Screenplay

As mentioned last year, Best Original Screenplay is the most bizarre category the Academy presents. It is the most likely to reward every possible genre, from comedy (Bridesmaids) to thriller (Ex Machina) to biopics (Straight Outta Compton/Spotlight) to horror (The Sixth Sense). Last year, we saw a high-concept sci-fi romantic dramedy (The Lobster), a family dramedy about coming of age in 1979 (20th Century Women), a heist thriller exploring life in a dying community (Hell or High Water), a modern musical (La La Land), and the eventual winner, a drama exploring grief and its effect on family life (Manchester by the Sea). So as you can see, anything’s possible.

Alexander Payne’s Downsizing

I think I’ll start with the far and away frontrunner for this award, Alexander Payne. Almost every film Payne has been involved with has been nominated for its writing, including Election, Nebraska, and eventual winners Sideways and The Descendants. His newest film, Downsizing, is a sci-fi comedy satire following a world so overcome with overpopulation that people volunteer themselves to be shrunk down to 1/8th the size of a normal human in order to live the life of luxury, and it was co-written with his longtime writing partner Jim Taylor. This seems in line with previous winners/nominees like Her, The Lobster, Midnight in Paris, and more, and should easily be the frontrunner, sight unseen.

Darren Aronofsky’s mother!

After that, things become a little hazier. In a year of impressive horror films, it will probably be a smart bet that one will be nominated. But which one is anyone’s guess. Could it be the not-very-scary The Shape of Water, or perhaps the early blockbuster Get Out? Both are possible, but if I had to bet on one, it would be Darren Aronofsky, who received acclaim for the similarly themed Black Swan. Aronofsky wasn’t nominated for Swan, but he’s proven that the Academy is open to his brand of psychological thrillers, and I think that his Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?-esque horror film will prove “original” enough for the Academy. Similarly, the Academy loves when auteurs add their own twist to a definitive genre film. Think of how last year’s Hell or High Water changed heist films, or how The Grand Budapest Hotel changed the Lubitch-ian screwball comedy. This includes the small-town thriller Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, the mystery thriller Wind River, the family dramedy The Florida Project, and the Coen Brother/George Clooney film noir Suburbicon. That last one has a very good chance of receiving a nomination, but I’m going with the new Paul Thomas Anderson sexual-fashion thriller, Phantom Thread. Early reports are that the film is a very-British Fifty Shades of Grey, and if the film ends up like a modern Peter Greenaway film, he could be looking at yet another nomination for his incredible writing abilities. In fact, I would bet on it.

Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk

This leaves two more spots, and if history is any indicator, it will be a historical film, either detailing an important event or an important historical figure. There’s an excellent chance that Darkest Hour receives a nomination, especially after its writer received a (undeserved) nomination for The Theory of Everything. However, I’m going to go with the two frontrunners for Best Picture, Dunkirk and Detroit. Both films have strong writers, prestige-y ideas, and stylish execution. If anyone falls away, I think it will be the fairly basic and not super-successful Detroit, but I would call Dunkirk, with its clever set-up and dazzling execution, a dangerous but solid lock. I think that Christopher Nolan and Mark Boal will both receive nominations.

There are several other brilliant films that could receive nominations. Animated films like Coco have a great history in the category. Weird films like Brigsby Bear deserve the love, even if they likely won’t receive it. And then there’s the elephant in the room: The Big Sick. Beloved by everyone, beautifully written, and a modest box office hit, the film is exactly the type that often squeezes into the category (see Bridesmaids, Four Weddings and a Funeral, My Big Fat Greek Wedding). You can see the full list here, and you can see the Top Five listed below.

Best Adapted Screenplay

James Ivory, Call Me By Your Name

On the other hand, we have Best Adapted Screenplay. Often thought of as the more “artsier” category of the two, this year we have a much smaller pool to pick from. Sure, there are some heavy hitters in contention, but overall, there’s barely five to nominate, let alone declare a frontrunner. I suppose if there are two “locks” for the category, they would be Call Me By Your Name and Mudbound. Mudbound perhaps has the best chance, considering it’s based on a modern classic, it has a topical story, and is a major Best Picture contender. However, I’m giving the edge to James Ivory for Call Me By Your Name. For years, Ivory has been a beloved Hollywood director, receiving three nominations for Best Director. In recent years, Ivory has taken to screenwriting, and has recently adapted the coming-of-age drama for auteur Luca Guadagnino. The film is supposedly too sexual and dry for the film to be a major Oscar contender, it is right up the alley for the Hollywood writers, and I highly suspect this will be the film’s sole reward with the Academy.

Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin

After that, things become a crapshoot. It’s a matter of balancing artsier films, popular fare, and intelligently written farces. Will the Academy lean towards something like Wonderstruck, You Were Never Really Here or The Beguiled? Will they go for something popular like The Disaster Artist or Murder on the Orient Express? Time will tell, but I’m going with two films by previous nominees. The first is The Death of Stalin by Armando Iannucci. Iannucci’s spent the last six years getting nominated by the television industry for Veep, and before that he receive an Oscar nomination for adapting his own television show in In the Loop. He will now turn his satiric eye to the death of a dictator, and after a brilliantly scathing trailer, I think he will continue the love here (assuming the film comes out this year). The other will be Jason Hall’s directorial debut Thank You For Your Service. Now, I’ve been vocally critical of Hall’s American Sniper. That was a poorly written film, and its Best Adapted Screenplay nomination is a dark stain no the Academy. However, the one thing I will give him is he cares deeply about the troops. And as long as he doesn’t let himself be blinded by that love to a degree he neglects his writing, he could receive another nomination for his adaptation of the journalistic novel following soldiers returning home from Iraq to an uncaring V.A. system. It’s perhaps the weakest of the potential nominees, but then again, so was Sniper.

Meryl Streep in The Post. She didn’t write it, but she’ll probably be nominated anyway

This leaves us with one contender, and this is the most questionable nominee. Not because I isn’t deserving – I’m sure it will be. I just can’t tell where it will fall. People believe it to be both an original and adapted screenplay, and I haven’t found any definitive evidence either way. That film is The Post, the newly renamed film by Steven Spielberg (formerly The Papers). The Post was written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, and it will be a surefire nominee for wherever it’s nominated. The question is, which is it? For now, I’m predicting it as an Adapted Screenplay, but should it be determined that the film is an original screenplay, I will update the list accordingly.

Obviously, the elephant in the room here is Richard Linklater’s Last Flag Flying. The film is coming in hot, but I haven’t seen enough evidence that I should take out any of these five. However, should The Post go Original, or should Linklater work with the material better than Jason Hall, you can bet this film will move higher on the list, and maybe earn Linklater his first Oscar. You can see the full list here, and the Top Five listed below.

That covers the Screenplay contenders. Tune in tomorrow for the Features predictions!

Best Original Screenplay

  1. Downsizing – Jim Taylor & Alexander Payne
  2. mother! – Darren Aronofsky
  3. Phantom Thread – Paul Thomas Anderson
  4. Dunkirk – Christopher Nolan
  5. Detroit – Mark Boal

Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. Call Me By Your Name – James Ivory
  2. Mudbound – Dee Rees and Virgil Williams
  3. The Death of Stalin – Armando Iannucii, Ian Martin, & David Schneider
  4. The Post – Liz Hannah and Josh Singer
  5. Thank You For Your Service – Jason Hall

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