5. Life of Pi - David Magee
For Him: He found way to adapt a beloved book that many thought unfilmable AND please the book’s legions of fans with a very faithful adaptation. That’s got to be worth something.
Against Him: And the something is the nomination. When people criticize Life of Pi, it is mainly at the screenplay stage – the strange bookends, the “twist” ending, and although they are in the book Magee took the heat. When you have two movies that are Best Picture favorites with great screenplays, you don’t get swept to a win with a good one.
4. Beasts of the Southern Wild - Lucy Alibar & Benh ZeitlinFor Them: These two crafted what was obviously one of the most loved films of the year, and while the direction and the performance of young Wallis gets the credit most often, it all started at the screenplay stage.
Against Them: But let’s be realistic here, it IS the direction and the performance that truly make the movie. The screenplay is very good – and they should be glad with the nomination – but that’s all they’re getting.
3. Silver Linings Playbook - David O. RussellFor Him: Easily the most quotable screenplay in this lineup (“Calm down, crazy”), while Russell has never been nominated in this category before, he did get two nominations this year to go along with a previous director nod. They often like to give this award to a writer-director they are not going to award with the Best Director Oscar as a way of rewarding them for the movie as a whole.
Against Him: The screenplay is lightweight compared to Lincoln – that’s not always a bad thing, but just like in the Best Picture category, it usually spells doom. Lincoln won’t win Best Picture if it doesn’t win here – and since I think it will, Russell is out of luck.
2. Lincoln - Tony KushnerFor Him: A hugely praised playwright, adapting a mammoth book by one of America’s best known and respected historians, about America’s most beloved President, passing one of the most important pieces of legislation ever – AND you managed to make the movie witty and entertaining? That should easily win Kushner an Oscar this year.
Against Him: Except some people complained that the movie was nothing but talk, talk, talk – and perhaps that could work against him, despite who meticulously crafted his screenplay is.
1. Argo - Chris TerrioFor Him: Argo has been a player all season long, and while Affleck has gotten the lion’s share of the credit, Terrio has gotten quite a bit of praise himself. With the film out of the Best Director lineup, if it’s going to still make a push to win the Best Picture Oscar it HAS to win this one.
Against Him: This is a Best Picture heavy category, and the three films that have a better chance at taking home the top prize are all nominated alongside him. I’m not saying it’s not going to happen, but I just don’t see it.
Who Will Win: Argo. This makes even less sense to me than Argo winning picture, but the precursers tell us this is your winner.Who Should Win: Lincoln. The epic size and scope of the screenplay is great, but it really is the intimacy of it that makes it truly great. You can argue – and many have – that it is Kushner not Spielberg who is the real auteur of the Lincoln. Don’t know about that, but his screenplay is marvelous.
Least of the Nominees: Life of Pi. It’s a very good screenplay, but it doesn’t really do anything interesting with the novel, or fix its problems. The novels problems are the movies problems as well.
Original screenplay5. Flight - John Gatins
For Him: The film got nominated here with almost no precursor support (that all went to the snubbed screenplay for The Master), so obviously, the writer’s branch really liked the portrait of an alcoholic Gatins wrote – a personal story for him.
Against Him: The film only got one other nomination – for Denzel – so it doesn’t appear the Academy as a whole liked it all that much. The nomination is great – and all he’s likely to get.
4. Moonrise Kingdom - Wes Anderson & Roman CoppolaFor Them: They crafted one of the most original, original screenplays of the year, and were nominated – and won – quite a few prizes for it already. Moonrise Kingdom is a critical favorite, and has some very passionate supporters. Wes Anderson is one of those distinctive directors who has a lot of fans, and since he hasn’t won an Oscar yet, some will want to give him one.
Against Them: The film, idiotically, did not get nominated anywhere else (seriously Art Directors and Costume Designers) so it looks like it was really only the writers who felt passionately about this film. Wes Anderson will most likely win an Oscar some year – but not this year.
3. Zero Dark Thirty - Mark BoalFor Him: He won just three years ago for his brilliant work on The Hurt Locker – and Zero Dark Thirty is an even better written, more tightly structured film than that one was. With Bigelow being snubbed in the director category, if they want to reward the team, this is their only shot.
Against Him: Perhaps the Bigelow snub speaks to the Academy not liking the film as much as the critics did – or perhaps they want to avoid the controversy the film has become. Either way, it could hurt Boal more than help him.
2. Django Unchained - Quentin TarantinoFor Him: Tarantino has become an Oscar favorite with his last two films getting Best Picture nods. He does have an Oscar at home for writing Pulp Fiction, but that nearly 20 years ago (God, I feel old writing that). Django is a big, bold alternate history, and easily the most quotable screenplay of the year. They may feel it’s time to give him a second writing Oscar.
Against Him: But the film is EXTREMELY violent, which will turn off many older voters – and send them running to Haneke’s films. Tarantino rubs many the wrong way, so they may feel that simply nominating him is enough. Django was successful with the Academy – but not as much as Inglorious Basterds was, which lost this award that year to Mark Boal – nominated again this year.
1. Amour - Michael Haneke
For Him: Haneke’s film surprised many by getting into the Best Picture and Director fields, as well as the expected nomination here and in Foreign. It is the only film here that got both those nominations. Haneke has no shot at winning Best Director, but like Pedro Almodovar for Talk to Her, he could easily become that rare foreign director to win here instead.
Against Him: But Talk to Her was idiotically NOT chosen by Spain to be in the Foreign Language film race, meaning that if the Academy wanted to give him an Oscar that year they HAD to give him the screenplay nod. Since Haneke will almost certainly win the Foreign Film Oscar, they may well go with someone else here.
Who Will Win: Amour. Flip a coin, heads it’s Django, tails it’s Amour. Truly a very tight two way race that I have no idea how it will turn out, but I sense Amour coming on strong down the stretch.Who Should Win: Django Unchained. Haneke’s film is better, Boal’s screenplay more tightly constructed, but neither are as daring, innovative or quotable as Tarantino’s revenge slavery spaghetti Western, so it gets my vote – barely.
Least of the Nominees: Flight. This is actually a VERY good screenplay, but the other four are great, so it’s not good enough this time.
Director5. Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
For Him: Zeitlin had to run a long distance race from Sundance to nomination morning, with a lot of ups and downs, and he still managed to get nominated. Even more impressive, Beasts is a decidedly strange film, and the only directors who get nominated for those are usually well established auteurs – not first timers fresh out of the gate. They obviously love him.
Against Him: Against the kind of competition he faces, Zeitlin has no chance of winning. The nomination will do great things for his career, and he should be proud, but he can go to the ceremony assured that he will not have to make any kind of acceptance speech that night.
4. David O. Russell, Silver Linings PlaybookFor Him: The once thought of bad boy – for fighting with George Clooney and Lily Tomlin on set – has redeemed himself with his last two films. Silver Linings, like The Fighter, has earned him a Best Director nod, and it is a film that will be pushing to try and win the top prize. People really do seem to love it – and unlike Lee and Spielberg, Russell has no Oscar on his mantel.
Against Him: Comedies are tough sells for the Director Oscar – just ask John Madden who didn’t win for Shakespeare in Love or Rob Marshall who didn’t win for Chicago (a comic musical). Even if Silver Linings can pull off the upset in the big category, I don’t see Russell being able to pull it off here.
3. Ang Lee, Life of PiFor Him: His toughest competition – Spielberg and Russell – had great screenplays which helped a lot, while Lee’s accomplishment is much more his own. There are few films as visually mesmerizing this year than Life of Pi, a film the Academy obviously adores a great deal. And while Lee has already won – which can sometimes hurt – Spielberg has already won twice, so it shouldn’t hurt as much.
Against Him: Does anyone truly love Life of Pi? I know others truly love Lincoln and Silver Linings (and Beasts and Amour for that matter), but it seems most of the people have a great deal of respect for Life of Pi, but little love. Perhaps I’m way off base here, but I think that lack of passion makes this a little harder for him to win.
2. Michael Haneke, AmourFor Him: The director category was thrown for a loop when two of the sure things were left out, which may mean we know far less than we expect. Considering the two frontrunners that actually had their director’s nominated– Lincoln and Silver Linings – could be seen more as screenwriter’s triumphs than directors, perhaps the Academy will look elsewhere – and Haneke’s masterful control of the medium is truly breathtaking. The film is obviously well liked by the Academy as a whole, or else it never would have gotten into the Best Picture lineup. With everything going haywire this year, why not?
Against Him: That’s probably all wishful thinking on my part. Haneke will get his Oscar this year – in Foreign Language – and if he has a second one coming to him, it will be for his screenplay. No director of a Foreign Language Film has ever won this – but I think Haneke has as good of as shot as anyone in stopping that streak.
1. Steven Spielberg LincolnFor Him: He’s Steven Spielberg! The most successful filmmaker in history, known for crafting audience friendly hits that also do well with the critics and awards crowd. With Lincoln, he delivered his most intimate film to date – and a film that seems to be on its way to winning the Best Picture Oscar. It’s tough to see them vote for Lincoln for Best Picture without voting for Spielberg – and even if Silver Linings sneaks in, I still think Spielberg will win Director.
Against Him: He’s Steven Spielberg! The most successful filmmaker in history, who some people downright hate to an unreasonable degree. Lincoln, much more so than Schindler’s List or Saving Private Ryan, his two previous director victories, was a screenwriter’s film. If they want to go visually dazzling, they’ll go with Ang Lee. Plus, only three directors have ever won three Oscars (William Wyler, Frank Capra and John Ford. Only two directors in history (Frank Borzage, and Ford again) have won more than one Oscar for a film that didn’t win Best Picture – which is looking more and more like the case here (Ford, by the way, did that 3 times).
Who Will Win: Steven Spielberg, Lincoln. This is very odd year, as all the precursors suggest that Ben Affleck will win – except he can’t, because he wasn’t nominated. And so, this becomes a guessing game more than anything else. I would shocked to see Zeitlin take this, not so shocked about the other four. Whoever does win can thank their brethren in the Academy ranks – because if the Academy as a whole could vote for him, Affleck would win.Who Should Win: Michael Haneke, Amour. Haneke is a modern master, and Amour is his most accessible film to date. His control over the medium and the audience is absolute. He should win an Oscar this year.
Least of the Nominees: Again, I hate to single anyone out, since they all did fine work. But if I had to, I’d say that David O. Russell’s greatest achievement with Silver Linings Playbook was in the screenwriting, not directing stage.