2014 Oscar Race: Best Original Screenplay

It’s February, and that means its Oscar time around this blog. This is the first of nine blog pieces set to roll out between now and the Oscars on Sunday, March 2, all of which will be breaking down (what I consider) the eight major races – Picture, Director, both writing and all four acting categories. 

Like with most things on this blog, this will be a mix of fact, popular opinion and my opinion – the three of which don’t often intersect. Then I’ll post my Oscar scorecard right before the show as best I can – I’ve seen each of the films in the eight categories I’m covering, but not across the board.

On to today’s posting: Best Adapted Screenplay.

The Nominees
American Hustle (Eric Warren Singer, David O. Russell)
Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen)
Dallas Buyers Club (Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack)
Her (Spike Jonze)
Nebraska (Bob Nelson)

What Will Win: American Hustle (Eric Warren Singer, David O. Russell)
What Could Win: Her (Spike Jonze)
What Should Win: Her (Spike Jonze)
What Should Be Here: Fruitvale Station (Ryan Coogler)

This is the first (but probably by no means the last) time I’m going to talk about “spreading it around”. So this is going to touch on a lot of other categories.

What we have this year in virtually every category is a ton of great films – really, it was a great year in Hollywood, for both the mainstream and the independent pictures. There’s almost a dozen films which would be heavy hitters in more average years.

But the race, which can be determined through January awards like the Directors Guild and even to an extent the Golden Globes, has really boiled down to three: 12 Years A Slave, American Hustle and Gravity. There’s already talk about how Oscar voters are jockeying their ballots to make sure each of these films gets their due. Which means that many other films will be left out in the cold.

That will almost certainly happen here, with American Hustle being the only one of the three in this category (Gravity missed a writing nod, and 12 Years was adapted from a book).

You’ll hear a lot from me about American Hustle – it was a polarizing film in my own mind. On one hand, you find some of the richest crafted characters that had to just jump off the page when you read the screenplay. On the other, you see a story lacking in any significant structure which often misfires with inconsistent story-telling techniques throughout the film.

Frankly, a lot of that comes down to the editing for me. Director David O. Russell rushed the film through production to get it ready for Oscar season. As good as the film was (and it was good), I wonder how much better it could have been if it had hit in October 2014.

Her, on the other hand, is wildly original and yet familiar – a love story for the 21st (22nd?) century. It’s slow, but deliberately, allowing us to see each turn and pitfall of its human-on-program love story as well as witness the wonder of the birth and development of Samantha.

Site note: Scarlett Johansson was BRILLIANT as Samantha and fully deserves some sort of Oscar recognition. I submit that it’s high time that the Academy create an “alternative performance” category with 3-5 nominations per year, regardless of gender. Johansson could have been recognized, as well as actors like Andy Serkis who should have won years ago for playing Gollum (Lord of the Rings) or Caesar the ape (Rise of Planet of the Apes).

Nebraska is another which would win in a weaker year. Bob Nelson’s script was typical Alexander Payne (I found it hard to believe that he didn’t write it) – smart and sarcastic, spare but soulful. Blue Jasmine and Dallas Buyer’s Club are good films, but they were made by their performances – Cate Blanchett and Matthew McConaughey elevated their films to greatness even beyond their solid writing.

To end this, Fruitvale Station was one of seven films I gave four stars to which were eligible for Oscar contention. Michael B. Jordan was the breakout, but it was Coogler’s passion for the subject which shone through on every frame. With 10 potential nominees, I thought that a writing Oscar nomination was the least that the Academy could do – but apparently not. Shame – more people need to see that great film.