PART 4: THE WRITING AND DIRECTING AWARDS
This hostless and apparently commercial-hampered and time-constrained 91st Academy Awards arrive on Sunday, February 25th. It’s time to breakdown each category and put some stone cold predictions into digital ink. Throughout the busy awards season, this website’s 2019 Awards Tracker has been my workspace to tally all the early award winners. That prognostication data is cited in these predictions. This column examines the screenplay and directing awards. As I say every year, stick with me and I will win you your Oscar pool!
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
The nominees: Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara for The Favourite, Paul Schrader for First Reformed, Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Curry, and Peter Farrelly for Green Book, Alfonso Cuaron for Roma, Adam McKay for Vice
AWARDS TRACKER DATA: 16- The Favourite, 12- First Reformed, 6- Bo Burnham for Eighth Grade, 3- Boots Riley for Sorry to Bother You, 3- Green Book, six others with one win
Who was snubbed: The glaring contender from the awards season left out here is first-timer Bon Burnham and his brilliant and bold heart punch that is Eighth Grade. I’ve been saying it throughout these prediction articles for 2019, but a big level of domestic independent film was virtually ignored by the Oscars in favor of studio-backed indie shingles. The one breakthrough nominee is First Reformed from the same A24 hub as Eighth Grade. Bo will have to relish winning the Writers Guild of America award from his peers. An Oscar win would have been the better compliment.
Happy to be there: No matter how personal, unique, and soul-cleansing Roma was for Alfonso Cuaron, it’s lack of narrative is not a top-level screenwriting piece worthy of this spot. This was a bandwagon nomination.
Who should win: I normally look down on those Oscar moments (see Best Actress next post) that crown a fair-to-middling late-career success for an elderly-ish performer/artist that caps a career that likely deserved a rightful statuette far sooner. I’d make an exception on my usual frowning for Paul Schrader. His simmering disquiet on First Reformed was masterful. Schrader and the film deserve this win. He’ll get beat by a piece of poppycock.
Who will win: This category has been quite the semi-unpredictable roller coaster. First Reformed led early and then The Favourite from Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara surged ahead and hasn’t looked weak, save for Burnham’s surprise win from the WGA where The Favourite was even nominated due to odd qualification rulints. I think Davis and McNamara hold on to win, but, boy, I’d love to see a senior Schrader step to that stage in irascible shock.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
The nominees: Joel and Ethan Coen for The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott and Spike Lee for BlacKkKlansman, Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty for Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Barry Jenkins for If Beale Street Could Talk, Bradley Cooper and Will Fetters for A Star is Born
AWARDS TRACKER DATA: 10- BlacKkKlansman, 8- Can You Ever Forgive Me?, 7- If Beale Street Could Talk, 4- Audrey Wells for The Hate U Give, 2- Armando Iannucci, David Schneider, Ian Martin, Peter Fellows, and Fabien Nury for The Death of Stalin, and four others with one win
Who was snubbed: To keep beating that forgotten American indie drum, Audrey Wells deserved to crash this party as the second primary female nominee for The Hate U Give to join Nicole Holofcener. Again, it, like many others, was too underseen. Something that wasn’t underseen at all and has a fair argument for being here is the duo of Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole for Black Panther. Comics are real adaptation sources too.
Happy to be there: Four-time Oscar winners Joel and Ethan Coen, are here purely by reputation as Academy darlings. Everything they touch gets nominated. They are the Meryl Streep of the writing and directing pool. Their nomination counts as a bonus get of respect for Netflix following the Roma flagship wave.
Who should win: This is a place where I look at who had the hardest work to bring to the screen. In my eyes, James Baldwin’s prose and poetry had the highest degree of difficulty with the biggest risk of success. My vote would go to Barry Jenkins and If Beale Street Could Talk, my #1 film of 2018.
Who will win: Folks, like the original side, this is a two-horse and unpredictable race. If Best Director is as locked as it looks (see below), this is the perfect and proper spot to honor Spike Lee for the lightning rod that is BlacKkKlansman, along with his writing partners of Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, and Kevin Willmott. Doubt has been cast by the chance to recognize a strong female writer in Nicole Holofcener for her collaboration with Jeff Whitty on Can You Ever Forgive Me? Holocenter and Whitty just shocked Lee and company with the WGA win. That’s a big feather that could be the indicator of an upset brewing. When it doubt, follow the money and Vegas still has BlacKkKlansman. I’m keeping my money on Spike Lee.
The nominees: Spike Lee for BlacKkKlansman, Pawel Pawlikowski for Cold War, Yorgos Lanthimos for The Favourite, Alfonso Cuaron for Roma, Adam McKay for Vice
AWARDS TRACKER DATA: 34- Cuaron, 5- Lee, 3- Lynne Ramsay for You Were Never Really Here. 2- Barry Jenkins for If Beale Street Could Talk, 2- Debra Granik for Leave No Trace, 2- Ryan Coogler for Black Panther, 2- Pawlikowski, and six others with one win
Who was snubbed: In the wake of #MeToo and Patty Jenkins’ success last year with Wonder Woman, one would love to see female representation in this film in the form of Lynne Ramsay or Debra Granik. However, hit the “but” bell again, they were another pair of underseen independent films that didn’t get the promotional push matching the others nominated. The more popular snubs were directing rookie Bradley Cooper for A Star is Born and Black Panther’s Ryan Coogler. In a place where star power earns seats at tables, it was surprising not to see either popular name included.
Happy to be there: The spot-stealer was Pawlikowski as an unprecedented second inclusion of a foreign language film in the Best Director category. Some will call that a just honor and others will call that an indictment on the domestic art scene. Make it both with a congratulations to him and “try harder next time” shot across the bow to the rest of the working talent.
Who should win: Personally, I think a bigger sign of respect for Spike Lee than a screenplay Oscar victory would be a straight-up win for Best Director. No black director has ever won this award and BlacKkKlansman is crafted strong enough, intricate enough as a constructed film, and worthy enough as a symbol to be the pioneer.
Who will win: It would be a monumental upset if anyone other than Roma’s Alfonso Cuaron won this prize. He has swept every major directing award all season, including the peak Directors Guild of America win within the last few weeks. Cuaron is respected and he poured his heart out into Roma. This will be his second Best Director Oscar, putting him in a class with Steven Spielberg, Billy Wilder, David Lean, Clint Eastwood, Oliver Stone, Ang Lee, Elia Kazan, Alejandro G. Inarritu, and others as two-time winners. Only John Ford (4), Frank Capra (3), and William Wyler (3) have more than two. Cuaron is only 57 and could easily join that level in the next two decades.
NEXT: The female acting awards!
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