Bloggers, critics and, more importantly, bookmakers in America and beyond have been warning for weeks that one of the hardest categories to predict in this year’s Oscar race is the Best Original Screenplay.
It is not so because five first rank scripts have created an unprecedented fierce competition in the category, but rather due to the fact that the guidance that usually shapes up after the precursors all along the award season is in this case atypically inconclusive.
The Hurt Locker’s Mark Boal (in the picture, with Kathryn Bigelow) is the official frontrunner, since Bigelow’s film won top honours from the Writers Guild of America (WGA), the most obvious and influential reference when it comes to predict the writing accolades at the Oscars. Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds was, however, curiously absent of the WGA shortlist and hence the importance of Boal’s victory is relative.
Rumours around specialised press and film blogs had it that Basterds had been snubbed at the WGA because its production company, Weinstein Co., had failed to send screeners to the membership of the Guild. There was a pinch of truth in the statement, but today I finally found a clear answer to this annoying mystification in an article in the LA Times: Weinstein Co. didn’t indeed send screeners to the Guild, but it was no slip or oversight, but simply because Inglorious Basterds (and other Weinstein films like A Single Man or The Road) were ineligible for the WGA Award because its writers are not members of the Guild.
The Golden Globes, another precursor that might have influenced the Oscar race, has no value since it doesn’t distinguish between original and adapted scripts and gave its writing prize to Up in the Air. The credibility of the Globes in the writing category was also undermined by the incomprehensible presence of It’s Complicated among the finalists.
In my opinion, The Hurt Locker and Inglorious Basterds have a 50-50 chance of winning the Oscar, with the Coen Brothers a far shot of pulling an upset in case the two favourites split up the vote and cancel themselves out. Up and The Messenger have, I believe, no real chance of a win, although I haven’t seen the latter yet.
Since the precursors are not that revealing, Academy members will simply vote to the film which, in their opinion, has the better script.
Some people have criticised The Hurt Locker for its lack of “story”, which indeed would be a handicap for any film aiming at being recognised for its screenplay. As I said in the blog entry about Bigelow’s Oscar bid for Direction, the film doesn’t lack story, but consciously eludes the conventions of narrative through the use of a succession of unbearably tense vignettes that nevertheless don’t harm the script’s technical perfection. What we witness in the film is not a story in the conventional meaning, but a fight, not of a soldier or of a country, but the combat between man and death or, what is far more frightening, between man and the threat of death, and the ultimate attraction it triggers in the human soul. The film starts with a quote that says ‘war is a drug’, and the viewer goes out of the theatre convinced of the accuracy of that statement. There you have the story.
Basterds tackle a similarly thorny subject matter, in this case WWII, and turns it into a mucking farce with all the in-house ingredients of a Tarantino film. The Academy would undoubtedly like to recognise again (he won for the script of Pulp Fiction) the technical and visual virtuosity of Hollywood’s enfant terrible, but some of its members might face the moral dilemma of awarding someone who mocks the Holocaust. I have to admit that I was not bothered by the film’s arguable irreverent approach to the subject, and the Jewish community seems to have embraced the film, but I have the impression that, in the moment of casting their ballots, Jewish voters, or anyone sensitive to the Holocaust for that matter, might refrain from voting for the film, lest they might feel ashamed in some years’ time for having bestowed an award for best story of the year to a tale that is, after all, a moral aberration. There is an undisputable touch of genius in Tarantino’s script: the creation of the unforgettable Colonel Hans Landa. Landa’s character, however, was brought to life by a memorable performance by Christoph Waltz, and he will be duly recognised for his work.
Mark Boal for The Hurt Locker
Joel and Ethan Coen for A Serious Man
Oren Moverman, Alessandro Camo, The Messenger
Bob Peterson, Pete Docter, Up
Quentin Tarantino, Inglorious Basterds
Here is my verdict:
WILL WIN: Mark Boal for The Hurt Locker
SHOULD WIN: Mark Boal for The Hurt Locker
POSSIBLE UPSET: Quentin Tarantino for Inglorious Basterds (not so much an upset as an alternative winner)