95th Academy Award Predictions: The Screenplays

With the acting categories securely in our rearview mirror, I thought now was the perfect time to turn our attention to the Screenplay categories. Alongside Best Director and Best Editing, the Screenplay categories are your best bet at predicting Best Picture. But the joy of the Screenplay categories is far deeper than that: this is the Academy’s best chance to nominate the most fun, original films of the year – everything from Beverly Hills Cop and Back to the Future to Stand By Me and Shrek have popped up here. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the contenders for Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Best Original Screenplay

Best Original Screenplay is possibly the most exciting category at the Oscars. Beyond the previously mentioned films, previous nominees and winners include Her, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Get Out, Parasite, Bridesmaids, and most Pixar movies. This also makes it the hardest category to predict, as one would have to wait until the end of the year to see what’s been popular or wholly original. Last year, I managed 2/5 in my earliest predictions – Don’t Look Up and Licorice Pizza felt like locks, Belfast was not yet on my radar, King Richard should not have been nominated, and I had no idea The Worst Person In The World would be so perfect. So, who will be joining their sacred ranks?

The goal here is to have a balance of big, smart crowd-pleasers as well as Oscar contenders. In recent years, the field sadly has tended to lean towards the latter, so that’s how my predictions will be as well, at least to start. Because of this, I had to cut a handful of my original contenders, either due to flopping or a rough campaign. Thirteen Lives was one of my earliest contenders, but Amazon has so thoroughly f*cked it, I have to cut it for the time being. Cha Cha Real Smooth barely managed to register on Apple TV (unlike last year’s winner CODA), so it seems out as well. And Armageddon Time is so polarizing, A24 isn’t bothering with the fall festivals; it seems like it has run its course.

So who does this leave? Well, two films that were locked in from the beginning that still feel likely are The Fabelmans and Babylon. The Fablemans is your likeliest bet – Spielberg has yet to be nominated as a writer (despite his several other nominations), and between winners like Green Book and Belfast and nominees like Roma and Minari, autobiographical contenders are a sure thing. The Fabelmans feels like a pretty safe lock to me. As for Babylon, Damien Chazelle has tallied two writing nominations out of three films (Whiplash and La La Land). His newest film is a big epic about the decline of Old Hollywood (like The Artist and Once Upon a Time In Hollywood), mixed with some moral debauchery (see: Wolf of Wall Street). So long as the film lands big, expect Babylon to earn a writing nomination.

While your big contenders are the most obvious locks, the next thing you’ll want to look for are smartly written, dialogue-focused pieces. If there’s smart, quotable dialogue, you’ve got a real shot at a nomination – just look at Trial of the Chicago 7, First Reformed, Hell or High Water, Spotlight, and so on. This gives some credence to previous-nominee Sam Mendes’ period romance Empire of Light, which is supposedly a major contender in several categories (not to mention the fact that Olivia Colman’s last five films and shows all earned awards or nominations for their writing).

It would also bode well for Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin, my original choice before it was confirmed to be an adaptation of a play. So instead, I’m going with the Cannes winner Triangle of Sadness. Ruben Östlund has been on the verge of a nomination here for years now (Force Majeure and The Square), and his class satire seems like the perfect place to break through. Look for this to be Sadness’ big nod.

And finally, we have that film that always gets a Best Picture nod on the strength of its screenplay. Don’t Look Up only received a handful of nominations outside of writing, so it stands as a glowing example. The same goes for the Coen BrothersA Serious Man. The Big Short and Knives Out likely just missed out on Best Picture nominations, and were honored in the writing categories. So for my final pick, I’m going with the one film that deserves a writing nomination more than any other: Everything Everywhere All At Once. The Daniels’ magnum opus is a brilliant feat of writing and direction. It feels like a major Oscar contender (box office and critical smash) if the Academy can just embrace its weirdness. If that happens, expect a Best Picture nomination. If that doesn’t, writing feels like the best way to reward the highest-grossing A24 film to date.

That’s where my head’s currently at with Best Original Screenplay. Obviously, there are so many other contenders in the running, based on originality or popularity. Worst Person, Parasite, Roma, and Amour indicate support for International contenders, so one mustn’t ignore Bardo, Broker, or Decision to Leave – all of which had a shot at making this list. One must also remember the Academy’s love for true stories (King Richard, Judas, Green Book, Spotlight, etc.), so keep an eye on The Woman King, Till, and Elvis. Oh, and never forget that big crowd-pleasers fare well here, so if gay rom-com Bros or traditional rom-com Ticket to Paradise are big hits, they could absolutely shake up the race. You can see my Top 5 below, as well as the full list of contenders right here.

  1. The Fabelmans
  2. Babylon
  3. Empire of Light
  4. Triangle of Sadness
  5. Everything Everywhere All At Once

Best Adapted Screenplay

When it comes to Adapted Screenplay, the rules are relatively similar, yet still radically different. Here, you still look for the flashiest, most dialogue-heavy pictures (the actors love those), but you also want to look for the most dedicated respect for the source material. Outside of The Big Short, vast departures rarely land. Last year’s predictions were wildly off – CODA was not yet on my radar, although I did manage to get runner-up The Power of the Dog. In the Heights bombed on arrival. And Blonde was pushed to this year, while Next Goal Wins is still leaving me with blue b*lls. So, am I doubling down on Blonde this time around? Let’s find out.

As with Best Original Screenplay, dialogue is king. Whether it’s CODA or The Father or Jojo Rabbit or BlacKkKlansman or so many films over the last 90+ years, voters love a screenplay that crackles. So writers who have a knack for dialogue-heavy screenplays move to the front of the pack. This means Florian Zeller adapting his own play, The Son, and Noah Baumbach’s Don DiLillo adaptation White Noise. Zeller is a previous writing winner, having adapted The Father two years ago. While The Son is a less-flashy piece than the former, it does feature several big scenes for its actors – and that’s all the vapid acting branch needs to check the box. As for White Noise, as we learned with Dune last year, if you successfully adapt an unadaptable novel, you get a nomination. White Noise could be the most mediocre film ever, but if two-time nominee Baumbach pulls it off, expect a writing nomination for his troubles.

Two of the biggest whispers of the season are should-have-been nominee Rebecca Lenkiewicz (for Ida) for She Said and previous nominee Sarah Polley (Away from Her) for Women Talking. In Lenkiweicz’s case, history is on her side, as the Academy loves a barn-buster journalism movie – All The President’s Men and Spotlight both have Oscars, while fictional works like Absence of Malice are at least nominated. With She Said, Lenkiewicz tells the story of the women who brought down Harvey W*instein – if she nails the story, this could be a major contender. For Polley, the early word is that her adaptation of Miriam Toewes’ novel is nothing short of extraordinary, telling a complex, dark story in a brilliant way. As a beloved-previous nominee, if the film is the well-written tour-du-force that’s been promised, she may be hard to ignore.

Now, for a while, my final slot seemed like a pretty easy given. Martin Scorsese films always get writing nods, it’s a given. So for months, Killers of the Flower Moon was my final film in contention. But then, a rumor broke that Moon would be pushed until next year. And then the rumor received more and more corroboration. And now, despite no evidence that Apple TV+ is planning on pushing Scorsese’s newest epic, it feels all but confirmed that this will be their move. So who am I replacing it with? Well, as mentioned above, I recently learned that Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin is technically based on one of his plays. And two of McDonagh’s last three films (In Bruges and Three Billboards) earned writing nominations. Which makes sense – McDonagh is a master of wordplay. So if The Banshees of Inisherin – a clever commentary on a divided Ireland – is a major contender, expect McDonagh to be in the hunt for his first Oscar right here.

So this is where my head is at pre-festival season for the Oscars. Looking through the other contenders, it is easy to see Melanie Laurént’s The Nightingale breaking through – if, you know, it’s ever released, as well as Lila Neugebauer’s PTSD drama Causeway. If Apple TV handles the campaign correctly, previous-winner Peter Farrelly (this will never feel right) could earn a nomination for his feel-good war film The Greatest Beer Run ever. Speaking of previous nominees, the sequel to Knives Out, titled Glass Onion, could benefit if other nominees fail to materialize – never underestimate Netflix or Rian Johnson. And remember: the Academy loves a smart, clever adaptation that sticks to what makes film great without rocking the boat. So long as Hulu makes it eligible, Fire Island could absolutely sneak in based on how it adapts Pride and Prejudice. You can see the Top 5 listed below, as well as the full list of contenders right here. Oh, and if you want to see the full list of up-to-date Oscar contenders in every category, then go ahead and click here. I’ll see you all later this week for a look at the Feature categories.

  1. She Said
  2. Women Talking
  3. The Banshees of Inisherin
  4. The Son
  5. White Noise

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