And The Screenwriting Oscars Go To…

With the 85th Academy Awards just over a month away, it’s time for Hollywood insiders to start some serious campaigning – or other nefarious activities, depending on whether or not you think Jennifer Lawrence was joking when she made her comments about Harvey Weinstein during her Golden Globes acceptance speech.

For the rest of us film-geeks, it’s time to start the annual “who will win vs. who should win” debate and making our official picks for Oscar night. Whether it’s through your office, your close friends, people you know on Twitter, or a random group of strangers, Oscar Pools are a time honored tradition.  Friendly wagers between friends and the Oscars go together like…two things that go really well together and aren’t at all illegal or grounds for immediate termination.

At ScriptMag, we want to help give our loyal readers a leg up by breaking down the race for the two awards that mean the most to screenwriters – Best Adapted and Best Original Screenplay. With so many other awards seemingly preordained, these two screenwriting Oscars categories can make all the difference in who comes out on top, and we want it to be you.

Ready? Let’s do this!

Best Screenplay, Adapted

Argo

Written by Chris Terrio (first time Academy Award nominee)

Download the script here.

Synopsis:  When six Americans take refuge in the Canadian embassy in Tehran during the 1979 hostage crisis, U.S. government agent Tony Mendez turns to Hollywood for help.  Working with a producer and a makeup artist, he devises a rescue mission that centers on the creation of a fake film production company scouting locations in Iran.

Adapted From:
A combination of a 2007 Wired magazine feature story, and chapters from Tony Mendez’s CIA memoirs.

My Thoughts:
For me, the standout aspect of Terrio’s script is the way he interweaves the seriousness of what’s in Iran, with the humorous aspects of a Hollywood production. Not only do both aspects work on their own merit, but they mesh together well, with neither taking anything away from the other.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Written by Lucy Alibar & Benh Zeitlin (Zeitlin is also nominated for Best Director)

Download the script here.

Synopsis:  In an isolated Louisiana swampland known as the Bathtub, young Hushpuppy and her father are part of a community that lives outside of the structure of modern society.  When rising flood waters threaten the area, the young girl’s resourcefulness and lively imagination are called into play as the region’s residents face the approaching disaster.

Adapted from:
Lucy Alibar’s play, Juicy and Delicious

Fun Facts:

  • Zeitlin and Alibar originally met at summer camp as teenagers.
  • This is Behn Zeitlin’s first feature length film (and he landed an Oscar nom. Not a bad start).

My Thoughts:
Quite simply, it’s a beautiful story, beautifully told. That’s really all there is to say about Beasts.

Life of Pi

Written by David Magee (previously nominated for Finding Neverland (2004))

Download the script here.

Synopsis: Young Pi, the son of zookeepers in Pondicherry, India, finds the world he knows swept away when his family sells the zoo and sets sail for Canada with a few of its remaining animals.  A storm capsizes the ship and only Pi escapes, set adrift in a lifeboat that is also the refuge of an enormous Bengal tiger.

Adapted From:
Yann Martel’s  2001 novel Life of Pi

Fun Facts:
Magee also wrote the script for Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day (2008)

My thoughts:
While most of the attention has been going to the film’s Director, Ang Lee, it’s Magee’s work that molded what many considered to be an unfilmable book into a Best Picture Nominee.

Lincoln

Written by Tony Kushner (previously nominated for Munich (2005)

Download the script here.

Synopsis: With the Civil War coming to a close and the freedom granted to the slaves by the Emancipation Proclamation called into question, Abraham Lincoln seeks to pass a thirteenth amendment to the Constitution that will outlaw slavery everywhere in the United States.  Facing opposition from many quarters in Congress, Lincoln uses his vast political powers to gain allies in his fight.

Adapted From:
Doris Kearns Goodwin’s non-fiction  account of the time, Team of Rivals

Fun Facts:
Kushner won the Pulitzer Prize for his play, Angels in America

My thoughts:
Kushner does a great job of showing the toll that great actions can take on great men, and the script reads as slightly less schmaltzy than it became after Spielberg got his hands on it.

Silver Linings Playbook

Written by David O. Russell (Russell is also nominated for Best Director)

Download the script here.

Synopsis: Pat Solatano is released into his parents’ care after eight months of treatment for a bipolar disorder.  His recovery seems far from certain, however, when he stops taking his medication and becomes increasingly obsessed with winning back his estranged wife, a plan that leads him to embark on a complicated relationship with a troubled young woman whose husband has died.

Adapted From:
Matthew Quick’s 2012 novel Silver Linings Playbook

Fun Facts:

  • Previously received a Best Director nomination for The Fighter (2010)
  • Also wrote and directed Three Kings (1994) and Flirting With Disaster (1999)

My thoughts:
It’s a beautifully quirky script that sings off the page. Russell (and some of the credit has to go to Quick) have proved that the Romantic Comedy genre isn’t dead, it’s just waiting for someone to care enough to do something original with it.

And the winner is…

For my money, Silver Linings Playbook should take home for the Oscar for not only being a slick and smart script, but for revitalizing an entire genre. David O. Russell has had a distinctly hit or miss career, but Silver Linings has him back at the top of his game. I think the Academy get this one right – Russell will, and should, win the night.

Best Screenplay, Original

Amour

Written by Michael Haneke (Haneke is also nominated for Best Director)

Download the script here.

Synopsis: In the final months of her life, a retired music teacher and her husband of sixty years struggle with the debilitating effects of two strokes on both her health and her quality of life.  As Georges cares for the increasingly unhappy Anne, the pair finds the nature of their life together irrevocably changed.

Fun Facts:

  • Haneke has 23 writing credits stretching all the way back to 1974
  • He wrote and directed the original Funny Games (1997), which was remade by Hollywood in 2007 with Naomi Watts and Tim Roth

My thoughts:
The script for Amour is a character piece of true pain and beauty. It’s a shining example to all writers of what you can do while still writing to your budget.

Django Unchained

Written by Quentin Tarantino

Download the script here.

Synopsis: German bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz buys a slave named Django and promises him his freedom once he has helped Schultz track down the criminals he is seeking.  But Django has a wife who was sold off years ago, and his partnership with Schultz may offer him a chance to find her.

Fun Facts:
This is Quentin Tarantino’s fifth Academy Award nomination, having previously been nominated in Best Original Screenplay and Best Director categories for Inglorious Basterds (2009) and Pulp Fiction (1994), for which he won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

My thoughts:
Django is one of those scripts that the more I think about it, the less I like it. It’s overly long (landing right around 200 pages), doesn’t feature any real character arc for its Protagonist, and doesn’t feature any real subplots to the main narrative (not a necessity, but it would be a plus). All in all, it’s my least favorite work of Tarantino’s to date (excluding Grindhouse and Four Rooms).

Flight

Written by John Gatins (first-time Academy Award nominee)

Download the script here.

Synopsis: When commercial airline pilot Whip Whitaker reports for his next flight after a night of drinking, his crew suspects that he may not be fit to fly the plane.  Following a crash during which he executes a daring series of maneuvers that saves the lives of nearly everyone on board, Whitaker is proclaimed a hero…until a blood test taken at the crash scene reveals both alcohol and drugs in his system.

Fun Facts:
Gatins has been in the game a while, having previously written Hard Ball (2001), Coach Carter (2005), and Real Steel (2011)

My thoughts:
I didn’t personally care for Flight outside of the amazingly terrifying crash sequence at the beginning. The script reads more like a Hallmark Movie that a major motion picture and, especially towards the end, gets more than a little preachy. Without Denzel’s stellar performance (as usual) I don’t think Flight would have taken off the way it has.

Moonrise Kingdom

Written by Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola (Coppola is a first-time Academy Award nominee)

Download the script here.

Synopsis: Suzy lives with her family in an island lighthouse off the east coast, where she has won the heart of twelve-year-old Sam, an orphaned Scout spending his summer at camp.  Over the year since their first meeting, the two have grown closer through their letters to each other and are planning to run off together for a week in the wilderness when Sam returns to camp.

Fun Facts:

  • Wes Anderson received a previous nomination in the Best Screenplay category for The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), and directed The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) which was nominated as Best Animated Film.
  • Roman Coppola also co-wrote Anderson’s last film, The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
  • Anderson co-wrote his first feature film, Bottle Rocket (1996) with his college friend, Owen Wilson. The film was originally a short which garnered a lot of attention at Sundance, eventually landing in front of James L. Brooks, who decided to ask Anderson to create a feature length version.

My thoughts:
The script for Moonrise Kingdom has all of the trademark Wes Anderson aspects you’ve come to expect (for good or bad depending on your opinion of the auteur), but it recaptured some of the heart that has been missing from a lot of his work since Rushmore (1998).

Zero Dark Thirty

Written by Mark Boal

Download the script here.

Synopsis: In the aftermath of 9/11, as the trail in the hunt for Osama bin Laden seems to grow cold, a determined CIA agent begins a painstaking, decade-long search for the Al Qaeda leader.  For Maya, direct experience of terrorism steels her resolve to find bin Laden and leads her to trust her own instincts regarding the best course of investigation to pursue.

Fun Facts:

  • Boal was a freelance journalist when he wrote a 2004 article called “Death and Dishonor” which was published by Playboy magazine. Writer/director Paul Haggis read the article, and used it as inspiration for his film, In The Valley of Elah (2007). And that was his break into Hollywood.
  • Boal is a previous Oscar winner, having taken home statues as a writer and producer for The Hurt Locker (2009)

My thoughts:
Zero Dark Thirty is another gritty war drama that captures the dedication (and obsession) that it took to capture Osama bin Laden. While I didn’t find the script as captivating as The Hurt Locker due to a lack of character development (unlike Django, I felt this was justified from a story aspect, but it kept me at arms-length from the Protagonist), it’s still an extremely well written script that’s taut with drama.

And the winner is…

This is a tough one. The smart money is on Mark Boal to take home his second Academy Award for Zero Dark Thirty. A lot of voters simply won’t be able to resist the story of how we brought down the mastermind behind 9-11, and I won’t be terribly disappointed when it does win. But if it was my choice (and it’s not), I’d let Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola take the little golden man home. Moonrise Kingdom is the lovely, quirky, heartfelt story we’ve been waiting for from Anderson for some time, and his unique voice is one that deserves to be rewarded.

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11 thoughts on “And The Screenwriting Oscars Go To…

  1. Brad JohnsonBrad Johnson Post author

    Jay – respectfully disagree away 🙂 That’s part of what makes film such a wonderful art form…it speaks to everyone in a different way.

    To me, there was no growth to Django’s character. He was a slave. Three minutes in, he was freed and became a bounty hunter. And that’s about it. As a character, he doesn’t really evolve any further.

    We’ll see on Oscar night, if QT can take home his second Academy Award!

  2. Jay

    Nice article, but I have to respectfully disagree with you on Django. I think to diminish the art of creativity in a Film award is not appropriate. Combine that with adding humor and freshness to an immensely serious and dark piece of American history was astounding in my opinion. Django’s arc of slave to bounty hunter is present but not the emotional fulfilling realization that is present in other films.

  3. Brad JohnsonBrad Johnson Post author

    Thanks for the comments, everyone!

    Jerz – With both categories, I actually did both my opinion on who should win, and who I thought the Academy WILL select. I think SLP is deserving, and I also think voters will lean that way as well. We shall see – that’s part of the fun for this time of year!

    Jim – I think you’re right for the most part, though you could make an argument that it is possible to have a protagonist who you don;t want to succeed, simply because what they WANT isn’t what’s best for them, and by failing at their goal, they’re actually better off.

    Hunter – If you were an Academy voter, who would you cast your vote for in the Best Adapted Screenplay Category. Let’s hear a prediction 🙂

  4. Jim Foohey

    I saw Moonrise Kingdom twice this week on DVD. That brilliant script has my vote too. It was the funniest movie I’ve seen in a long time. I laugh just thinking about those scenes with the fish hook earrings . I found myself constantly rooting for Sam and Suzy, two quirky kids who love each other and want to be together. Isn’t that what a good protagonist is supposed to be, someone you always root for?

  5. Jerz

    It looks like you went more for your opinion than a prediction. If I were a betting man I’d stay away from Silver Linings. It was cute/interesting/quirky but Lincoln screams “Oscars.”

  6. Ngaire Genge

    Obviously, judging a screenplay is hellish different than judging the finished film. When it comes to picking a favourite in this category, I tend to approach each screenplay from a reader’s viewpoint, not the viewer’s. Does the written word have legs or doesn’t it? In the adapted category, does the written word confidently embrace the original and does it stand up in a different format? So, excluding brilliant direction and acting and cinematography, the pages that sing for me are “Life of Pi” and “Amour.” As always, just my two cents. Can’t wait for Oscar night! 🙂

  7. Daniel Delago

    Brad, those are two solid choices. I completely agree that ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ is the Best Adapted Screenplay due to the witty and biting dialogue. The dinner banter between Cooper and Lawrence is genius. ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ is a front runner but like you mentioned, there was zero character development. Jessica Chastain’s character had no backstory, no boyfriend, no hobbies, no real personality and that to me is a big no-no in screenwriting. My vote goes to Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola’s brilliant script, ‘Moonrise Kingdom.’

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