Matt and Matt’s Oscar Countdown: Best Screenplay 2017

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By Matt Paolizzi and Matt Soderberg, Co-Student Life Editor and Opinion Editor

Woohoo! Oscars season, baby! We don’t know about all of you, but we are pumped! Nothing gets us more excited than Nomination Reveal Day and we’ve been staring at the list since Day 1. Matt Paolizzi gave some of his preliminary thoughts in an earlier piece, but after careful re-watches we’ve arrived at our final predictions leading up the the show on Sunday. We’ve been covering these awards for a long time and while this may be our last Oscar preview, we have no regrets! Thank you all, and let the speculation commence!

The first category we take a look at is arguably the most important: screenwriting. Across these two groups, the best writers in Hollywood and beyond took ideas and built stories and worlds out of them. In a loaded year, here are the nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Screenplay.


 

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Nominees

“Arrival” – Eric Heisserer from “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang
“Fences” – August Wilson from “Fences” by August Wilson (posthumous nomination)
“Hidden Figures” – Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi from “Hidden Figures” by Margot Lee Shetterly
“Lion” – Luke Davies from “A Long Way Home” by Saroo Brierley and Larry Buttrose
“Moonlight” – Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney from” In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” by Tarell Alvin McCraney

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Matt Soderberg

Should Win – “Moonlight” 

Barry Jenkins and Terrence Alvin McCraney’s adaptation of McCraney’s once-shelved stage play is as haunting as it is sparse. Told in three parts, this forthright look at a black, gay young man coming of age feels incredibly human. For those that haven’t seen the film, don’t be thrown off by the easy labeling of Moonlight as “Oscar bait.” The film resists that label and so many more as Jenkins and McCraney say so much with so few words. The other nominations stretch (as the adapted category often does) for greatness. Arrival’s script is truly terrific and features one of the greatest and most understated twists in recent cinema. It is, undoubtedly, the smartest alien movie since “Alien.” Fences’ nomination is an ode to the late August Wilson, but its subjects are so meant for the stage it feels strained. Lion embraces its sentimentality and gives the impossible tale it tells believably. Hidden Figures’ brilliance is found more in its historical value and performances than its script. Look for Moonlight to pull in a trophy as the Academy shies away from offering Jenkins its director’s honor.

Will Win – “Moonlight”

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Matt Paolizzi

Should Win – “Moonlight”

At first glance this might appear like a tossup category in favor of “Moonlight,” but “Arrival” and “Fences” provide intriguing alternatives. “Arrival” netted the WGA award for best Adapted Screenplay as “Moonlight” was slotted in as a contender for Original Screenplay. While Moonlight won that category and thus becomes the frontrunner, Arrival showed that it is still respected and deservingly so. It’s a wonderfully written movie, weaving in and out of being an accessible drama and an “out there” sci-fi voyage. “Fences”, written for the screen by the original playwright, the late August Wilson, only proves what he showed with the original Broadway production: he was a master of the intimate and a great creator of emotion. This award is still “Moonlight’s” to lose. The work of both Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney (the author of the source material) is wonderful to behold. The dialogue is more sparse than in some films, though it doesn’t reach “The Revenant” levels of quietness, but it still limits the conversations of its characters just enough so that every word spoken remains powerful and thought provoking. Those early monologues delivered by Mahershala Ali during the first part of the film still stick with me. but expect tougher competition than one might expect.  

Will Win – “Moonlight”

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Best Original Screenplay

The Nominees

“Hell or High Water” – Taylor Sheridan
“La La Land” – Damien Chazelle
“The Lobster” – Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou
“Manchester by the Sea” – Kenneth Lonergan
“20th Century Women” – Mike Mills

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Matt Soderberg

Should Win – “Manchester by the Sea”

Kenneth Lonergan’s script is the soul of Manchester, and this is its most important category. The story of a Boston janitor floating through tragedy and sorting through depression is written in dialogue so understated and powerful it makes the whole film feel sublimely real. Lonergan resists so many sentimental and easy pathways to joy in order to offer up a movie that maybe most closely resembles the year 2016. There isn’t a superfluous note in the script, and Lonergan deserves to win here before being overlooked as director.
Great screenplays abound, however, in the category. The Lobster grabs its only real nomination here- if you haven’t seen it yet, I strongly urge you to. It will be without a doubt the strangest film you have ever seen, and I say that with extreme confidence. Underneath its overwhelming quirk, however, is a brilliant story about the relationship culture we have (from personal experience, I would not recommend this for a date night). Additionally, Taylor Sheridan (the rising star of low-budget high-quality thrillers) follows up 2015’s Sicario with a barren tale of two brothers trying to save their farm in Hell or High Water. An underrated movie in general, Sheridan’s script may not win, but it’s a continuing sign of his growing star. La La Land gets a nod here, but… well, the Academy got a little carried away. It’s brilliant, but is overshadowed by some other screenplays that didn’t get nominated (*cough* Paterson *cough*). 20th Century Women rounds out the group and Mike Mills delivers such a profound look at his own childhood that we can’t help but feel invited. The script is all at once very sad and downright hilarious and I heartily recommend a watch.

Will Win – “Manchester by the Sea”

I don’t see the Academy messing this one up. Anyone who sees spotlight is blown away by how powerful its dialogue can be – exactly what this category should be honoring. The movie will unfortunately be shut out in the bigger categories, so expect it to get the nod here.

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Matt Paolizzi

Should Win – “Manchester by the Sea”

One of the more interesting categories, Best Original Screenplay has two frontrunners, “Manchester by the Sea” and “La La Land,” with a host of other deserving candidates. I appreciated the addition of the darkly funny “The Lobster” to this list. I would have loved if it got some other nomination nods but hopefully “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” director and screenwriter Yorgos Lanthimos’s next film, will gain him some deserved attention. “Hell or High Water” is the best western since 2007’s “No Country for Old Men” and “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.” It reeks of desperation, brought out by its clever and well-written dialogue. However, it’s gearing up to be quite a night for “La La Land,” and “Manchester by the Sea” gives this titan a worthy adversary. You can’t ignore this film. It grips you. Kenneth Lonergan shows himself to be one of the greatest chroniclers of tragedy in our time. His attention to detail is superb; no bit of speech is wasted. It is within this framework that such astounding performances like that of Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams were able to happen. “La La Land” may be a tempting choice for some of the voters with its snappy upbeat voice and the jazzy dialogue. It could easily upset “Manchester.” Both lost the WGA award for this same category to “Moonlight”, a controversial placement, so there is no precedent. But the realness of “Manchester by the Sea” cannot be ignored and I fully expect the Academy to give Lonergan the win and complete this great maestro’s comeback.

Will Win – “Manchester by the Sea”

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