So here we are on the precipice of awards season and things are about to kick into high gear. New York critics will soon speak up, as will the “please-come-to-our-party” invitation winners from the National Board of Review. And we have one more category to speculate upon before we start officially locking in nominees and declaring others in real trouble of being overlooked. There has been a chicken-and-egg factor to the screenplay race over the years.  From 1999 to 2008, only four Best Picture nominees (Moulin Rouge, LOTR: The Two Towers, Master & Commander, and Ray) failed to pick up a Screenplay nomination as well. Since the Academy moved to 10 nominees in ’09, there have been three (Avatar, The Blind Side, Black Swan) that were not deemed script-worthy. For 2011 we might have ten nominees or we may only have seven Best Picture candidates. Who knows? But we can look at what films could have an extra power boost in their corner.

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THE LEADERS
If we go back to the first column of the season on the Best Picture race, we should be able to fill in four slots right away; two in each script category. Woody Allen seems certain to grab his 15th writing nomination for Midnight In Paris and be joined by first-time nominee Michel Hazanavicius for his work on The Artist. Do not let the “silent” part fool you into dismissing it. Over on the adaptation side both Tate Taylor (The Help) and the team of Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon & Jim Rash (The Descendants) should have little trouble making the cut. After that, it is anybody’s game.

ADAPT OR DIE
Sticking with those who got a little headstart with source material, the Adapted Screenplay category is both wide open and nearly closed up. It is hard for anyone to argue that Steven Zaillian & Aaron Sorkin’s Moneyball is not a tight contender at this point, leaving room for only two more films that the public has not even seen yet. Steve Kloves has never been honored for his contributions to the Harry Potter series and though his work has been exemplary – especially down the stretch – the field may just be too crowded to give him an honorary nomination at this point for The Deathly Hallows Part 2. It should also be safe to dismiss the plays in the field. Neither The Ides of March nor A Dangerous Method have drawn sufficient raves to keep them around. Could the memoirs brea kthrough? Well, many consider the script for My Week With Marilyn to be its weakest element and unless the one for We Bought A Zoo (sneaking in theaters this weekend) is more Cameron Crowe than Aline “27 Dresses” Brosh “I Don’t Know How She Does It” McKenna, it probably does not stand a chance.

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There is talk about Rampart and We Need To Talk About Kevin, but the awards talk will probably end with Woody Harrelson and Tilda Swinton’s potential nominations. What about the other period pieces on the docket? Albert Nobbs is already going to be fighting to get Glenn Close that fifth Actress spot. Can it do the same for her as co-screenwriter? John Logan got nominated for Scorsese’s The Aviator, but can he find a place in either category for his work on Hugo or Rango? Peter Straughan’s resume is less impressive (The Debt, How To Lose Friends & Alienate People) and even if Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is his best work, look at what is still in the running. If the category is too stuffed for Steven Zaillian to pick up a dual nomination for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, how many want to bet against the potential of War Horse and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close as titles more likely to fit into that chicken-and-egg scenario?

ORIGINALITY IS HARD
This may turn out to be one of the most difficult categories of all the majors to call. Unless The Iron Lady or In the Land of Blood and Honey turn out to be stunners, we have likely seen all the original candidates. Aside from the aforementioned Rango, plus Midnight In Paris and The Artist, how much room will be made for comedy this year? Bridesmaids seems to be the most likely contender. (Apatow productions The-40-Year-Old Virgin & Knocked Up, both received Writers Guild nominations.) Which means Crazy Stupid Love will unfortunately be forgotten. There is also the darker and dramatically-laced comedies to flood the field with 50/50, The Beaver, Win Win and Young Adult. That would be one solid list of nominees right there. Of course there is still Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia, but he has never received a writing nod, might have a little trouble with his Cannes Nazi comments and is facing a smorgasbord of indie titles (Like Crazy, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Shame, Take Shelter, The Tree of Life) all hoping for a little recognition.

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Next week we shall begin to analyze how the critic awards and nominations factor into this year’s races and make our first shifts to the early percentages that you have seen right here.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY NOMINEE CHANCES
1. Woody Allen (Midnight In Paris) – 75%
2. Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist) – 75%
3. Kristen Wiig & Annie Mumolo (Bridesmaids) – 40%
4. Tom McCarthy (Win Win) – 35%
5. Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life) – 33%
6. Diablo Cody (Young Adult) – 30%
7. Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter) – 25%
8. Will Reiser (50/50) – 25%
9. John Logan (Rango) – 25%
10. Sean Durkin (Martha Marcy May Marlene) – 20%

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY NOMINEE CHANCES
1. Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon & Jim Rash (The Descendants) – 75%
2. Tate Taylor (The Help) – 70%
3. Steven Zaillian & Aaron Sorkin (Moneyball) – 65%
4. Eric Roth (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close) – 50%
5. Richard Curtis & Lee Hall (War Horse) – 50%
6. Steven Zaillian (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) – 35%
7. Adrian Hodges (My Week With Marilyn) – 30%
8. John Banville, Glenn Close & Gabriella Prekop (Albert Nobbs) – 25%
9. Peter Straughan (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) – 22%
10. Steve Kloves (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2) – 20%

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