Wednesday, January 4, 2012

OSCAR PREDICTIONS 2012: The Screenplays

Ok, here we go. It’s time to start talking Oscars as awards seasons starts picking up steam. The previous two years I have been 35 for 45 in my predictions as I work my way through the screenplays, the performances, the directors, and Best Picture. Here’s to hoping I can break through that barrier and at least get to 36. But this year, the options feel greater, the fields wider. Let’s see how this goes…


Best Adapted Screenplay feels stronger this year at the top than the field of Original screenplays. It thins out considerably, but there are four scripts I see as true locks. First up is Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of Billy Beane’s Moneyball. The book was a smash hit, examining new theories and strategies for building a professional baseball team, seemed like an unfilmable commodity. But Zaillian and Sorkin fill the pages with wit and sharp dialogue. Right behind Moneyball is The Descendants, and the screenplay from director Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon. While the film wasn’t my favorite, there is no doubt it will collect a handful of nominations this season.

The next tier of surefire nominees includes Hugo and The Help. Based on the children’s book by Brian Selznick, John Logan screenplay for Hugo expands on a minimalist story to create a wondrous look at the birth of film. The Help is the crowd pleaser of the year, and Tate Taylor’s screenplay from the novel by Kathryn Stockett is sure to be recognized. This leaves the ever-elusive fifth slot, and a bevy of adaptations looking to grab a nomination.

I would say Steven Zaillian’s adaptation of Stieg Larson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is the frontrunner for this fifth slot. The novel is a worldwide sensation and David Fincher’s film is a slick adaptation. But Zaillian’s sure nomination for Moneyball may hinder his chances at a double nod. Other possible chances include Hossein Amini’s screenplay for Drive or George Clooney and Grant Heslov’s adaptation of The Idea of March, but these films feel like long shots for many awards. That leaves Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and the adapted screenplay from Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan. The convoluted storyline and challenging narrative is picking up a little more steam in recent days as the film reaches wide release. It has the best chance to fill out that fifth slot.

Moneyball – Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin, Billy Beane (book)
The Descendants – Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash, Kaui Hart Dennings (novel)
Hugo – John Logan, Brian Selznick (book)
The Help – Tate Taylor, Kathryn Stockett (novel)
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – Bridget O’Connor, Peter Straughan, John le Carré (novel)


This category feels both wide open and significantly thinner than adapted. I see only one sure bet for Best Original Screenplay, and that is Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, a delightful script and Allen’s best in decades. Right behind Midnight in Paris is, oddly enough, a screenplay for a silent film; Michel Hazanavicius’ story for The Artist is succinct. And I am certain it was quite a challenge to tell a story without the advantage of expansive dialogue. There are very few title cards throughout the film, but plenty of direction needed in the screenplay. After these two surefire nominees, the field expands greatly and the possibilities all seem to be on equal footing for the final three slots.

Terrence Malick’s seminal film, The Tree of Life, surely must have been a challenge, especially given the amount of time Malick worked on the story. A lot of the nominations for the film depend on momentum for the picture, so a nod for screenplay is a 50/50 proposition. Which leads me directly into the next possibility, and a film I feel will be recognized here and only here; Will Reiser’s screenplay for the always-difficult “cancer comedy,” 50/50, should get notice. It is a personal film for Reiser, and has a steady following of admirers that could push it over the top. And again, we are at the fifth and final slot for a nomination.

There are a handful of possibilities once again, and none of them feel like they have a grip on the fifth nomination. There is Thomas McCarthy’s screenplay for Win Win, but I feel like the comedy nomination will be Reiser’s 50/50. There is Mike Mills screenplay for Beginners, another comedy with a slim chance. Continuing this train, there is Kristen Wiig’s script for her crowd –pleasing comedy Bridesmaids, but the film feels too far in the rearview mirror to be noticed. Steve McQueen and Abi Morgan’s screenplay for Shame would be my pick for the nomination, but I have a feeling the film will be rewarded with a Best Actor nomination and not much else. I am going to go out on a limb here and pick Asghar Farhadi’s screenplay for the Iranian family drama, A Separation. This is a film fresh in the minds of voters, and is on many best of lists this year. It could be a dark horse, and I think it could shore up this fifth slot.

Midnight in Paris – Woody Allen
The Artist – Michel Hazanavicius
The Tree of Life – Terrence Malick
50/50 – Will Reiser
A Separation – Asghar Farhadi