PART 4: THE WRITING AND DIRECTING AWARDS
The short turnaround 92nd Academy Awards arrive host-free for the second consecutive year on Sunday, February 9th, barely a month after nominations were announced. The pace has added excitement and urgency right on down to my website’s 2020 Awards Tracker. Let’s start calling some winners. This column examines the writing and directing categories. As I say every year, stick with me and I will win you your Oscar pool!
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
The nominees: Rian Johnson for Knives Out, Noah Baumbach for Marriage Story, Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns for 1917, Quentin Tarantino for Once Upon a Tim… in Hollywood, Bong Joon-Ho and Han Jin-Won for Parasite
Who should be here: Very good cases could be made for Josh Sadfie, Benny Sadfie, and Ronald Bronstein for Uncut Gems, Lulu Wang for The Farewell, Lena Waithe for Queen & Slim, and the four-woman team behind Booksmart in this category, but, if you’ haven’t been able to figure out already, the Oscars are not giving much love to independent film. The big studio shingles and deep-pocketed spenders of all the “For Your Consideration” marketing are winning all of the nomination slots. I don’t like it, but that’s the reality. Those four damn good movies will have to enjoy the Independent Spirit Awards the night before.
Who should feel lucky to be there: It may be the Best Picture frontrunner, but 1917 is the weakest selection of this category. Not every winner has to come from a dialogue-driven movie, but Mendes and Cairns have not won a single screenplay award all season. This inclusion reeks of the blanket treatment for a frontrunner.
Who should win: For me, this is the hardest category of top-level quality of the night. If I could split this award in three places, I would. Rian Johnson’s Knives Out was a deft reinvention of murder mystery stylings and Noah Baumbach his a new personal peak with Marriage Story. Both are under-loved films during this Oscar campaign and I would spread the wealth if I could.
Who will win: However, the smartest and most cunning movie of the year will ascend to win. It is the creative and compelling storytelling from Parasite that is blowing people away more than the acting and the visuals. If Bong Joon-ho will not win Best Director or Best Picture, this is the icing on the cake place to award the Korean film with a second statuette after Best International Feature Film. I think the favor for it is there.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
The nominees: Steve Zaillian for The Irishman, Taika Waititi for Jojo Rabbit, Todd Phillips and Scott Silver for Joker, Greta Gerwig for Little Women, Anthony McCarten for The Two Popes
Who should be here: Once again, I’ll dive to the indie level and say J.C. Lee and Julius Onah should have gotten attention for Luce. That searing thriller is smarter and denser than a few of these nominees.
Who should feel lucky to be there: Both The Two Popes and Joker should be happy to have a nomination here. The Joker nomination feels like the same frontrunner stat-padding 1917 got. Other than using an existing character, there’s really not a true adaptation going on anyway. For The Two Popes, that’s the Academy’s hat-tip to the prim, proper, and traditional.
Who should win: This is going to be a close race. The same senior set that honored Green Book keeps Scorsese and The Irishman’s dreams alive with awards attention. Zaillian has won the second most lead-up awards in this category. At the same time, the industry love for all things Taika Waititi is very thick and he just won the Writers Guild of America and BAFTA awards. He would be an extremely deserving winner.
Who will win: Meanwhile, I’m piling hopes and prayers for an Oscar statement to be made. With the massive pushback towards the Academy’s lack of including deserving female filmmakers in the next category, I think this is the place they do something about it. I’m betting the support is present to give this award to Greta Gerwig for Little Women. It is the most honored adapted screenplay all season and it deserves to finish on top, not out of pity, but out of quality and impact.
The nominees: Martin Scorsese for The Irishman, Todd Phillips for Joker, Sam Mendes for 1917, Quentin Tarantino for Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, Bong Joon-ho for Parasite
Who should be here: Folks, this is not a snowflake rant or a social justice warrior soapbox. There were truly legitimate women filmmakers who should have been in this field. Leading the way is Greta Gerwig for Little Women. A Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay contender doesn’t direct itself.
Who should feel lucky to be there: I’ll be the jerk that says the two more revered names on the list shouldn’t be here for their effusive and pedestrian efforts. Martin Scorsese regurgitated a “greatest hits” album of old standards for The Irishman. While he is extremely good at signing his signature, that’s not a challenge worthy of this award. The same can be said Quentin Tarantino. Sure, Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood juggle stars in a more morose fairy tale than his usual panache, but I can’t call that special for the top filmmaker prize of the night either. Get them out of here.
Who should win and will win: Bong Joon-ho has a fighting chance at an upset here, but he’s getting his all night if he scores in screenplay and foreign film. The sheer technical and artistic fortitude demonstrated by Sam Mendes and the (fine, go ahead) gimmick of 1917 wows for a reason. This is a technician’s win and I couldn’t be more OK with that. Sometimes, talent beats sentiment. Mendes has won the Directors Guild of America Awards, the Golden Globe, and the BAFTA on this hot streak. He’s going all the way.
NEXT: The female acting awards!
LOGO DESIGNED BY MEENTS ILLUSTRATED