Now that all of the guilds and precursors have announced their winners, we know what’s winning at the Academy Awards this upcoming Sunday, March 27 … right? Not so fast. Below, I dissect two categories that are giving me a massive headache ahead of the 2022 Oscars ceremony: Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Screenplay.
Best Adapted Screenplay
After taking home both the Writers Guild of America and BAFTA Awards for Best Adapted Screenplay, “CODA” writer-director Sian Heder now seems like a safe bet for the Oscar. The last film to lose this Oscar race after winning both those prizes was “Up in the Air” (2009), which was bested by “Precious” — a film that hadn’t won a single major screenplay award in the lead-up to the Oscars but presumably benefited from the former film’s behind-the-scenes drama. While it’s true that “CODA” faced only one of its Oscar rivals at WGA, “Dune” (Eric Roth, Jon Spaiths and Denis Villeneuve), it notably edged out all four at BAFTA, including the WGA-ineligible “Drive My Car” (Ryūsuke Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe), “The Lost Daughter” (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and “The Power of the Dog” (Jane Campion).
The last film to win this Oscar after being ineligible at WGA and losing the BAFTA was Best Picture winner “12 Years a Slave” (2013), whose path to victory “Drive My Car,” “The Lost Daughter” and “Power” would want to emulate this year. But worth noting is that “12 Years” had snagged significant screenplay prizes from two non-industry groups, the Critics Choice and USC Scripter Awards, en route to the Oscars. This year, these awards were won by two different films, with “Power” snagging the Critics Choice and “The Lost Daughter” the USC Scripter. Of these two films, “Power” is more akin to “12 Years” as it’s very much in the hunt to win Best Picture. Conversely, “The Lost Daughter,” whose only other noms are for acting, would be the first film to win a screenplay Oscar without a Best Picture bid since the expansion of the latter category in 2009. But given that Campion is the overwhelming favorite to win Best Director, voters may feel inclined to reward Gyllenhaal here if they want to spread the wealth a bit.
Should that be the case, Gyllenhaal, however, would have to duke it out with some of her competitors. That includes the writers of “Drive My Car” and “Dune,” two Best Picture nominees whose directors — Hamaguchi and Villeneuve, respectively — are shortlisted here. While each director can be acknowledged in one other category — Hamaguchi in director and Villeneuve in picture — both appear to have their best shot at nabbing an award here. If I had to give one of their films the edge though, it would be “Drive My Car” as it’s the more literate film while “Dune” is more of a technical achievement and has another chance at winning for “Part II.”
Finally, there’s Heder, who is the same position as Gyllenhaal, in that she was not nominated for director and thus cannot be honored anywhere else for her film (note: she was not a producer on “CODA” and therefore isn’t accredited for its Best Picture nom). Ultimately, she probably just gets a boost from this fractured field, considering she’s already proven she can beat her Oscar competition and headed into voting with the most momentum of any of the nominees.
Best Original Screenplay:
After looking to cement its frontrunner status following its BAFTA victory, “Licorice Pizza” (Paul Thomas Anderson) took a hit when it lost the WGA to “Don’t Look Up” (Adam McKay and David Sirot), which had also been in the running at the BAFTAs. In retrospect, “Don’t Look Up’s” win is one we should have seen coming since McKay is a previous winner for “Saturday Night Live” in Best Comedy/Variety Talk Series and for “The Big Short” (2015) in Best Adapted Screenplay and the film features a highly original concept. Now, the hurdle for “Licorice Pizza” is that the last film to win this Oscar after losing the WGA to a rival nominee was “Almost Famous” (2000), which fell to “You Can Count On Me” at WGA and won BAFTA in the latter’s absence.
The difference between WGA and BAFTA screenplay winners is that the former reflect the choices of a single guild while the latter have been chosen by the entire membership since 2013. For that reason, BAFTA can be a better indicator of which films have broad support, which you typically need to win an Oscar since all branches of the academy vote for the winners. With that said, neither “Don’t Look Up” nor “Licorice Pizza” boasts an Oscar nomination total that would suggest it has mass appeal in the academy. Though both are Best Picture nominees, “Don’t Look Up” missed director and was shut out of acting while “Licorice Pizza” was blanked both in acting and below the line.
The two nominees that apparently have well-rounded support are “Belfast” (Kenneth Brangh) and “King Richard” (Zach Baylin), which have seven and six total nominations, respectively. As opposed to “King Richard,” which hasn’t been able to pocket a major screenplay award, “Belfast” wasn’t eligible at WGA but won over both “Don’t Look Up” and “Licorice Pizza” at Critics Choice. The fifth nominee, “The Worst Person in the World” (Joachim Trier and Eskil Vogt), was also ineligible at WGA and surprised many with its citation here, it’s only one outside of Best International Feature. Although its victory here would be unprecedented, given that it’s not a Best Picture nominee and was snubbed at BAFTA, it might have enough passionate support to capitalize on this wide-open field.
What this race could ultimately come down to is narrative. While McKay won Best Adapted Screenplay for “The Big Short,” Anderson and Branagh are still without Oscars despite eight and five previous bids to their respective names. This year, both have corresponding picture and director nominations and each has won one major screenplay prize. The advantage Branagh has is that “Belfast,” with both acting and below-the-line noms, ostensibly has more broad appeal than “Licorice Pizza” and features a personal story from the writer-director. The most recent film whose path to an original screenplay Oscar win “Belfast” would have to follow is “Birdman” (2014), which was also ineligible at WGA and lost the BAFTA (to “The Grand Budapest Hotel”). But unlike “Belfast,” which hasn’t won a single industry award outside of Best British Film at BAFTA, “Birdman” had raked in a ton of industry prizes, including the DGA and PGA Awards, heading into the Oscars. There, the film was able to convert this precursor support into a Best Picture victory — an award “Belfast” isn’t expected to grab this year, per our odds.
Of course, “Licorice Pizza” isn’t pegged as a frontrunner for the top prize either and also hasn’t won a single industry award outside of Best Original Screenplay at BAFTA. But given that BAFTA has membership with AMPAS and Anderson beat all his Oscar rivals save for “The Worst Person in the World” there, it might be the best bellwether to predict the champ in this fragmented race.
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