Oscar Breakdown: Best Original Screenplay

By  · Published on February 24th, 2011

This article is part of our Oscar Week Series, where you will find breakdowns and predictions for all of the major categories.

As I mentioned in the Best Adapted Screenplay post, the process of making a film involves thousands of moving parts and pieces from the actors to the director to the caterers and beyond, but arguably the most integral aspect of the process is the script. I say arguable, but I’m only being polite. The script is the most important part of a film… it’s responsible for the words coming out of the actors’ mouths, for the shifts in story, for the very tale itself. Actors bring it to life and the director makes it a visual reality, but it all starts from the script.

Some folks may argue otherwise, but an original screenplay is far tougher to write than one adapted from a previously existing source. The heavy lifting has all been done for you when the story beats are already laid out in a book, play, or previous film. An original screenplay demands the writer create and craft everything from scratch, from the characters to the story, and the ones who get it right deserve a bigger statuette than their “Adapted Screenplay” contemporaries. And yes, I’m kidding. Anyone who completes a screenplay, whether it be an original or an adaptation, whether it win an award or not, whether it gets produced or not… you have my respect and awe.

The nominees are listed below with my prediction for winner in red…

Another Year (by Mike Leigh)

Why It Was Nominated: Mike Leigh’s film tells a simple but loving story about a single year in the life of a long-married couple as they interact with family and friends. The actors are established talents as opposed to movie stars, and they do a fantastic job turning the words on the page into living, breathing people. Leigh’s scripts provide a deceptively simple glimpse into the daily lives of fairly normal people, and the Academy eats this low-key shite up like bangers and mash.

Why It Might Win: Leigh’s seven past Oscar nominations include five for Best Screenplay, but he’s never won. It’s possible his time has finally come.

Why It Might Not Win: The same… five previous nominations for Best Screenplay but he’s never won. The Academy seems intent on recognizing his simple slices of life, but they don’t seem all that interested in bestowing the actual award.

The Fighter (by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson)

Why It Was Nominated: I’d like to say the nomination is due to the fact that many years ago I worked at a Media Play store in Rochester NY with Scott Silver’s younger brother, but while true that correlation is pretty absurd. (Or is it?!) Instead this film earned a nom due to its Rocky-like ability to introduce real working class characters and then follow their struggle to the top. It mixes an exciting underdog story with a conflicted family dynamic and features no fewer than four compelling and vividly drawn characters.

Why It Might Win: While one of the script’s greatest strengths is the number of strongly written characters, special attention is due to the diversity. In a business constantly clamoring for better roles for women, this script resulted in meaty enough roles to garner two nominations for Best Supporting Actress. That alone is a feat worth rewarding.

Why It Might Not Win: As is often the case any accolades for the script are greatly overshadowed by those for the acting by Christian Bale, Melissa Leo, and Amy Adams and the direction by David O Russell.

Inception (by Christopher Nolan)

Why It Was Nominated: Christopher Nolan’s epic sci-fi adventure managed a rare feat in 2010 in that it satisfied audiences looking for big summer entertainment as well as those hoping for intelligent fare with their popcorn. The story about a team of thieves who travel into other peoples dreams is a mind-bender in both its action and ideas, and unlike most films that end when the credits roll Nolan’s script ensured that people would be talking about Inception for days, weeks, and even months later. There’s also the thought that the Academy felt pressured to nominate the film after failing to recognize The Dark Knight… that’s hogwash obviously, but conspiracy theories are fun.

Why It Might Win: Hollywood has long been accused of exhibiting a dearth of originality and ideas, and with 2011 scheduled with a record number of sequels that complaint seems more and more valid. Nolan’s script is an original idea in a summer sea of reboots, remakes, and retreads, and rewarding it with an Oscar could encourage others down the same path.

Why It Might Not Win: There’s only been one science fiction-ish film to win a Best Screenplay Oscar in the last forty years, and that was Charlie Kaufman’s Eternal Sunshine Of the Spotless Mind.

The Kids Are All Right (by Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg)

Why It Was Nominated: Cholodenko has spoken about the process of writing the script and credits Blumberg with much of the humor, but together they’ve crafted a human story that in other hands could have felt divisive or pushy but instead works beautifully as a tale about what it means to be a family. Like the script for The Fighter this film offered up multiple juicy roles resulting in two nominations for the actors, and that number could have easily been doubled with the performances from Julianne Moore and Mia Wasikowska.

Why It Might Win: This is one of the rare nominees for Best Screenplay that not only feels deserved but also isn’t overshadowed by other aspects of the production. The film’s two best assets are its actors and the script in equal measure, and both are receiving appropriate and even acclaim.

Why It Might Not Win: There’s no doubt this film deserves to win, but the critical mojo seems to be propelling the next entry on this list all the way to Oscar night. Voters may also be convinced that Annette Bening will win for Best Actress and therefore not feel compelled to reward it further. Fickle voters.

The King’s Speech (by David Seidler)

Why It Was Nominated: The short answer is that the film was nominated simply for being a British costume drama. But that’s just mean, so the more accurate involves a combination of some fantastic performances with an interesting story pulled from the crevices of history. The story of Britain’s stuttering king was little known before the film and in addition to being of historical import the movie also serves as an inspirational tale about the humanity in us all.

Why It Might Win: The best true stories are the ones that enlighten the viewers to a story or aspects of a story they never knew before, and this one does just that. Also, from 2000 to 2009 there were only two times that the Best Picture winner didn’t also take home the award for Best Screenplay, and since this is one of the two front runners for the top prize…

Why It Might Not Win: Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush (and to a lesser extent Helena Bonham Carter) have been receiving most of the praise aimed at the film with the common theme that the movie itself is a thoroughly solid but unexceptional affair otherwise. Firth in particular appears to be a lock for Best Actor, so does the screenplay really need to win as well?

Who do you want to win?

Check out our predictions for:

Best Adapted Screenplay

Cole’s $100,000 Oscar Predictions

Best Supporting Actress

Best Supporting Actor

Best Original Score

Best Animated Feature

Best Lead Actor

Best Lead Actress

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.