Christopher Nolan

For once I pity the Oscar voters. This year’s five nominees for Best Original Screenplay are all so worthy, that picking a winner is quite a daunting task. Take a look at the nominees: Another Year (written by Mike Leigh). The Fighter (Screenplay by Scott Silver and Paul Tamsay & Eric Johnson; Story by Keith Dorrington & Paul Tamsay & Eric Johnson), Inception (Written by Christopher Nolan), The Kids Are All Right (Written by Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg), and The King’s Speech (Written by David Seidler). Scripts that would have been clear winners in any other year, would have to be the darkest of dark horses to win this year. What’s most impressive about these nominees is that each of them is truly an original.

Okay, so two of them are based on actual events – The Fighter and The King’s Speech – but these were written without source material which means the writers, on their own, mind you, had to sort through all the research and testimonies, sorting fact from embellishment, finding the best pieces and putting them all together. Oh, and then imagining what these people might have actually said in the given situations. Trust me, it’s not easy. I digress, but it’s only because one of these scripts is my projected winner, so more on that later.

The first two nominees up for discussion make a clear case for just how ridiculous the idea of choosing a “winner” in art can be. Both The Kids Are Alright and Inception should be the odds on favorite here. Of the five, these are the two most original and, for me personally, the better scripts. But how to choose? They couldn’t be more different. The Kids Are Alright is a  family drama about how a lesbian couple’s lives are turned upside down when their adopted children decide to seek out their sperm-donor father. Despite the unconventional family dynamics, it is perhaps the most realistic portrait of marital relationships since David Lean’s classic Brief Encounter. It’s timely, funny, and the dialogue is spot on – close our eyes, and it could be you or any of your friends talking.

Inception, of course, is the mind and genre-bending story of a group of thieves who can access your dreams and steal your ideas. Admittedly, it could be hard to follow at times, but was there any other writer swinging as hard for the fences as Christopher Nolan was with this? You gotta love they guy’s ambition. Here’s a sci-fi-heist-film-noir like no other. If The King’s Speech is to be upset, it can only be by this one. Nolan did win the Writers Guild Award too. The Academy is surely feeling the outrage of the public over Nolan’s exclusion in the Best Director category, where he’s been routinely ignored. Perhaps they’ll throw him a bone? I doubt it, but if there’s to be an upset, it’s neck and neck between these two very distinct pieces of writing.

You may think that Another Year is the sore thumb here, the most obvious candidate for “it’s an honor just to be nominated.” But consider: this is writer Mike Leigh’s fifth nomination in this category. It’s also his third straight in terms of his filmography (i.e., not calendar years), after Happy-Go-Lucky in 2009 and Vera Drake in 2005. I dare say in any other year, he’d be the clear winner. Even if in any other year there were more compelling candidates, he’d be the front-runner if for no other reason than finally awarding they guy the Academy’s been trying to award for years. Alas, Mike Leigh is that darkest of dark horses I mentioned. Hopefully he’ll get his someday, for Mike Leigh deserves recognition for his unique style of filmmaking. For those who may not know, his process is unlike any other. Leigh workshops with his actors for months, creating characters and situations entirely out of improvisation.  After all that work, not even the actors know what or how he’ll use the material until they see the script. In this case, it’s the story of one year in the life of a an ageing couple and their spinster friend who heartbreakingly realizes that she may grow old alone. How Leslie Manville, as the spinster, isn’t even in the running for Best Actress is beyond my comprehension, but again I digress…

On to The Fighter, the scrappy underdog story of welterweight boxer Micky Ward, who makes an unlikely return to the ring with the help of his recovering crack addict brother, Dicky. A script like this could have easily coasted on the Rocky model and while it shares some of that film’s inspirational tone and sentiment, it also dares to dig a little deeper. It takes an honest approach to the sometimes dark complexities of family, loyalty, and  the struggle to be your own person and chase your own dreams. With all the attention on Christian Bale, it’s a shame that the writers won’t be getting the recognition they deserve.

The King’s Speech, has everything going for it – it’s a period piece, tugs at the heart strings (both of which the Academy loves) and has a runaway train of momentum going into the ceremony. It doesn’t hurt that the writer, David Seidler, is in his 70s and the average age of Academy voters is also in the senior citizen range. But it would be a mistake to chalk this up to favoritism or as an attempt to stick it to the younger establishment of ageist Hollywood. The fact is the script is great. I went into it already bored – a stuffy British drama about a speech impediment? And yet the first scene alone nearly had me in tears and it keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout. Credit some solid performances, but credit David Seidler, too.  After all, he had to write words for a character who has trouble saying them! It’s not necessarily what I think should win, but I think it will win.

Road to the Oscars Series:

January 27: Live Action Short – Kit Bowen

January 29: Animated Short – Savanna New

January 31: Documentary Short Subject – Christa Youngpeter

February 1: Documentary Feature – Rebecca Rose

February 3: Foreign Language Film – Savanna New

February 4: Animated Film – Nate Freiberg

February 7: Visual Effects – Ani Khashadoorian

February 9: Sound Mixing – Dennis Callahan

February 10: Sound Editing – Sasha Mitchell

February 11: Original Score – Adam Spunberg

February 12: Original Song – Adam Spunberg and Savanna New

February 13: Makeup – Katie Mae Peters

February 14: Costume – Jax Russo

February 15: Art Direction – Steve Neumann

February 16: Film Editing – Hannah Depew

February 17: Cinematography – William Paul Jones

February 18: Original Screenplay – Jeremy Martin

February 19: Adapted Screenplay – Sasha Mitchell

February 20: Supporting Actress – Kacy Boccumini

February 21: Supporting Actor – Rebecca Rose

February 22: Actress – Rebecca Rose

February 23: Actor – Kit Bowen

February 24: Director – Adam Spunberg

February 25: Picture – Kit Bowen

February 27: The Academy Awards