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.