(This is Part 1 of a five-part series looking at the Oscar nominees in the eight major categories. For Part 2, click here.)
Ten movies’ screenplays are nominated for Academy Awards each year: five original screenplays and five screenplays adapted from another source. This year’s nominees included all nine Best Picture nominees, as well as the third movie in Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy, and offer tighter races than in most years.
Best Adapted Screenplay
12 YEARS A SLAVE (John Ridley)
Adapted from the 1853 memoir of Solomon Northup’s agonizing tale of slavery, Ridley’s screenplay manages to juggle a multitude of characters over a lengthy amount of narrative. More impressively, it details Northup’s life of freedom before his kidnapping and enslavement, making the dozen years Northup spends in slavery all the more excruciating.
BEFORE MIDNIGHT (Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke)
Taking place 18 years after Before Sunrise and nine years after Before Sunset, the third movie in the romantic series find Jesse and Céline on rocky ground, having grown apart as they’ve grown older. The dialogue is clever yet natural and the scenes have a wonderful flow to them, no doubt partially due to the three writers’ familiarity with the characters by this point.
CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (Billy Ray)
The real-life tale of Richard Phillips, a cargo ship captain who was taken hostage aboard his ship by Somali pirates in 2009, is perfectly suited for a Steven Seagal-esque action movie, but Ray smartly turns Phillips’s story into an incredibly tense thriller. Every scene ratchets the tension more, building to a gripping climax the screenplay takes its time to earn.
PHILOMENA (Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope)
Despite the misleading title, Philomena is the true story not just Philomena Lee, a British woman who was forced to give up her son by as a young girl, but also that of journalist Martin Sixsmith, who decided to help her track her son down. Turning Lee and Sixsmith into a modern-day odd couple, Coogan and Pope’s screenplay is the most crowd-pleasing of the ten nominees.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (Terence Winter)
The fourth true story nominated in this category creates a drug-fueled thrill ride that powers the crazy rise and crazier fall of the hubris-courting former stockbroker Jordan Belfort. Despite the length of Winter’s screenplay, he keeps the story moving at a brisk pace, with bitingly funny dialogue, memorably vulgar character, and outrageous scenes of excess.
Best Original Screenplay
AMERICAN HUSTLE (Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell)
In all of David O. Russell’s recent movies, the characters are so fully developed that they feel completely real, and American Hustle is no exception. A loose spin on the Abscam FBI sting in the ‘70s, its screenplay also places the characters in quite interesting and unpredictable situations, like to memorable dialogue that is both believable and hilarious.
BLUE JASMINE (Woody Allen)
Woody Allen, who holds the record for Oscar nominations for screenwriting, scores his 24th nomination with Blue Jasmine, a modern-day Streetcar Named Desire. The story of a rich socialite who finds herself widowed and homeless, Allen’s Jeannette “Jasmine” Francis relies on the kindness of strangers like her sister, while also constantly getting lost in thought remembering the life of luxury she can’t cope with having lost.
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack)
The true tale of Ron Woodruff, a homophobic Texan in the ‘80s who contracted HIV and turned to smuggling drugs from Mexico for fellow AIDS sufferers, Dallas Buyers Clubs could very easily have become a depressing movie. Instead, Borten and Wallack’s screenplay is full of life and hope, allowing Woodruff’s evolution from gay-bashing bigot to tolerant, caring crusader all the more powerful and inspiring.
HER (Spike Jonze)
Jonze may have directed the brilliant Being John Malkovich and Adaptation., but they were written by Charlie Kaufman, not Jonze himself. After flexing his muscles for the first time with Where the Wild Things Are, Jonze hit his stride with the ingenious screenplay for Her, a movie that realistically examines what our relationships with technology and artificial intelligence may very well one day become, while creating a clear, distinct, and all-too-believable vision of the near-future.
NEBRASKA (Bob Nelson)
Nebraska could have simply been a road trip movie, or a one-last-hurrah movie, or as a dysfunctional family movie, but Nelson’s screenplay weaves threads of all three concepts through his dramatic comedy to create something with a wholly original flavour. The characters are believable enough to be both riotously funny and uncomfortably familiar.
How many of the nominated screenplays’ movies have you seen? What screenplays do you think should have been nominated but weren’t? Comment below!