Oscars 2014 Cheat Sheet: Best Original Screenplay

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As is traditional now that the Academy Award nominations have been announced, we’re profiling the nominees in each of the main categories and assessing their strengths and weaknesses going into the competition. We already profiled Best Adapted Screenplay, and today it’s the turn of Best Original Screenplay. It’s a mixed field this year: there are two politically-charged stories set in recent history, two traditional dramas and one future-set love story. Where will the Oscar go?

American Hustle

WHY THEY WILL WIN WHY THEY WON'T WIN 1. The film is a frontrunner for the big prizes, with nominations in all four acting categories, Best Picture, Director and the rest. The screenplay award could be part of a sweep. It also took home this one at the BAFTAs 1. A BAFTA win and a raft of nominations elsewhere – including Golden Globe and Writer’s Guild – is no guarantee that you’ll take a Screenplay prize, and in fact if Hustle wins big, Screenplay might be the token nod to other films. 2. Those Acting nominations are indicative of the film’s strong, vivid characters – and given that most voters are actors, that’s a good sign. They often vote for films with roles they would have liked to play. 2. Did anyone notice what these characters were saying under those extraordinary hairdos? Can anyone still remember any lines? 3. Many voters will remember the huge 1970s scandal that is the basis for the film, giving it bonus points for historical resonance and political impact, which the Academy tends to love. 3. Didn’t anyone else feel that there was a slight disconnect between the more caper-style con stuff and the political procedural? That might hold it back.
Blue Jasmine

WHY HE WILL WIN WHY HE WON'T WIN 1. He’s Woody Allen, for cryin’ out loud, a 24-time Oscar nominee, and he’s returned to form yet again. Emphatically. Doesn’t that deserve a win? 1. Eh, he has Oscars already, and he’ll probably be back on form two films from now. Again. 2. It was also up for a BAFTA and was nominated for a Writer’s Guild award, to round out the set, and comes with what must surely be the ultimate accolade: Cate Blanchett agreed to play it. 2. Even Cate Blanchett’s seal doesn’t absolutely guarantee a film an Oscar win – look at The Good German – and her performance seems the most likely nomination for the film to convert. 3. Maybe if he won he’d give the speech via jazz? Maybe all nominees should be encouraged to play or sing their win? That would be an inducement. 3. Allen has received some very controversial tabloid attention recently, which may scupper his chances.

WHY HE WILL WIN WHY HE WON'T WIN 1. It’s a beautifully told tale of old age – something that many aging Academy voters are all too aware of, and something that is too often ignored. 1. Voters may not like to be reminded of encroaching death. They are, after all, denizens of Tinseltown, where old age is something to be beaten to death with a shovel and a plastic surgeon’s scalpel. 2. It has those BAFTA, Globe and Writer’s Guild Award nominations to give it a winner’s credibility, as well as matching nods for Best Director, Actor, Supporting Actress and Picture. 2. The film seems to have lost a bit of awards momentum since its release, overshadowed by 12 Years A Slave and American Hustle. 3. Nelson wrote a film so melancholic that it had to be shot in black and white! What could be more serious or artistic? 3. That black and white is all a bit depressing, isn’t it?
Dallas Buyer's Club

WHY THEY WILL WIN WHY THEY WON'T WIN 1. This film (and its script) has been an underdog for over a decade, with over 10 drafts to match all those years. Woody Harrelson, then Brad Pitt, then Ryan Gosling, were almost set to play the real-life HIV sufferer Ron Woodroof, before McConaughey stepped in with director Jean-Marc Vallée to make the movie on a shoestring budget. The Oscar voters love an underdog. 1. There isn’t enough buzz around the script (as opposed to the performances), since it perhaps lacks the wow factor of some of the other contenders. 2. It picked up a Writer’s Guild nomination, signalling admiration from other screenwriters, even if it missed out on the BAFTAs. 2. Aside from Acting awards for McConaughey and Leto, the film hasn’t won anything big yet. Getting voters to actually see the film as anything other than The McConaughey and Leto Show may prove difficult. 3. As a real-life story, based on hours and hours of interviews with the real Woodroof, it has a leg-up from the get-go, as real-life scripts add to the watercooler conversation factor. 3. Should the voters ignore the frontrunner here (probably American Hustle) and go for a smaller, indie movie, we suspect they would then go for a bigger name, like Allen or Jonze.

WHY HE WILL WIN WHY HE WON'T WIN 1. The film is a story about humanity, love and relationships, which should overcome Oscar’s fear of anything smacking of science fiction. 1. The last, and really only, time a sci-fi won this award was Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind nearly 10 years ago. And what are these new-fangled computer things anyway? They’ll never catch on. 2. This won the Golden Globe, for what that’s worth, and more importantly took the Writer’s Guild Award. It’s also up for Best Picture, so it has some wind behind it. 2. It has a Best Picture nod but no Director or Acting nominations, which may be a sign that whatever wind is behind it is too mild to blow it all the way to a win. 3. The lead character is called “Theodore Twombly”, which demonstrates some major screenwriting balls. 3. Very few Oscar winners have a cyber-sex scene. Fewer still have a manic pixie dream computer.