Without directors there would be no movies. Directors use their vision and knowledge of the medium to bring us the images and stories that we love. Clearly some do it better than others and a few of those who demonstrate the skills needed to succeed at the highest levels are recognized with Oscar nominations. Now, to get there the directors need stories. Enter the writers. To take it all the way down to its basest level, without writers there would be no film. You could look at them as the most important piece of the puzzle, for better or for worse. Just like the directors, writers also are recognized, but they have two categories, one for original screenplays and one for adapted screenplays. Not all of our films are original ideas, you know!
The Oscar for best direction has been around as long as the awards themselves. The first award was given in 1927 to Frank Borzage for Seventh Heaven and Lewis Milestone for Two Arabian Knights. That first year had an award for dramatic films and one for comedic films. It was the only year that this has happened. The award has had a straight run right through to the modern day. However, there were a couple of years where they actually announced the finishing order of the directorial nominees in the 1930s. The most interesting year was 1935 when the second highest vote-getter wasn't a nominee but a write-in candidate, Michael Curtiz for Captain Blood. Makes me wonder how often there are write-ins? Something tells me not very often.
Unlike the award for directing, the writing Oscars have had a different path. Originally there was an award for Best Adapted Screenplay and one for Best Story. This would last until 1940 when the Best Original Screenplay award was introduced. The Best Story award would continue on until it was retired after the 1956 ceremony.
Without further adieu, let's take a look at the three categories, their nominees, and who I think will win.
Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker, James Cameron for Avatar, Lee Daniels for Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, Jason Reitman for Up in the Air, Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds.
The front-runners here are Kathryn Bigelow and James Cameron. Their respective films have really been gathering a head of steam, with both winning numerous awards and Avatar becoming the highest grossing film of all time. I would tend to agree with them, although I would like to say Quentin Tarantino is in the mix. It is more likely Tarantino will come in third place.
Lee Daniels did a wonderful job bringing grit, humanity, reality, and honesty to Precious. That said, it is not really a flashy film and is more centered on the characters. This would make this film a dark horse. Also in this category is Jason Reitman. Up in the Air is a very good film, but Reitman's style is that he doesn't have a style. He has a good sense of pacing and knows how to make a scene work, but I do not see him being a favorite of the Academy.
My final word is to say Kathryn Bigelow wins. The Hurt Locker has a great visual sense, a stylized flair, and an intimate intensity that is second to none. It is an involving film that leaves politics out of the Middle East and focuses on the men on the ground.
Best Original Screenplay
The Hurt Locker: Mark Boal; Inglourious Basterds: Quentin Tarantino; The Messenger: Alessandro Camon, Oren Moverman; A Serious Man: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen; Up: Bob Peterson, Pete Docter, Thomas McCarthy.
The one film I have not seen here is The Messenger. I have heard good things about it, but it never played at a theater near me. It is not because I did not see it, but I do not believe this will win. At the same time I do not believe Up will either. I just have to say that the silent montage is some of the strongest and most effective scenes written this year.
The race is going to come down to The Hurt Locker and Inglourious Basterds. Even that I do not believe will really be much of a race. I would love to see Quentin Tarantino walk away with the prize, something to put next to his Pulp Fiction statue. In the end, I foresee Mark Boal winning for The Hurt Locker. The screenplay is quite strong and does a fine job of putting us right there in the action. It did win the Writers Guild award which could be an indicator that it will take the big one too.
Best Adapted Screenplay
District 9: Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell; An Education: Nick Hornby; In the Loop: Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche; Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire: Geoffrey Fletcher; Up in the Air: Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner.
This is all but a lock for Reitman and Turner. They turned in an incredibly timely and very well written screenplay for Up in the Air. I love seeing the District 9 nomination, but much like its Best Picture nod, it really does not stand much of a chance. An Education I found a bit surprising as most of the buzz I have heard centers around Carey Mulligan's nominated performance.
Precious was very well written, but it also crams a lot of issues into its runtime. While it all works in the end and is done with skill, I feel it may be a bit much. Not to take anything away as it is very well written, I just don't feel it is the best. The last nominee is In the Loop, a movie I think I would like. It is a political satire that has moments of poetry in cussing, judging by clips I have heard.
Again, this is Up in the Air's to lose and I do not think it will. It is smart, witty, touching, and hits on many levels. It has also won a Writer's Guild award and the Golden Globe.
Be sure to tune in Sunday March 7, 2010 to see if I am close.