It wasn’t until after I assembled my nominees for the Best Original Screenplay that I realized that these five disparate screenplays had one thing in common: they were all either written or co-written by their directors. Then I remembered that the exact same thing happened last year. Why is that? Simple, the only people in Hollywood who have the power to make movies that aren’t based on existing properties anymore are established filmmakers who can really push things through. Or it’s just a coincidence? Well considering that the exact same thing happened last year, I think not.
- American Hustle: American Hustle was originally written by Eric Warren Singer under the title “American Bullshit” and it spent two years on the famous “Blacklist” of unproduced screenplays before it was picked up, re-written, and re-titled by David O. Russell. The script is a very quietly clever work which zags whenever you expect it to zig; when you expect it to be a simple morality tale it proves to be more ambiguous, when you think it’s going to get self-serious is becomes a farce, and when you think it’s going to get real plot-heavy it focuses in on the characters.
- Blue Jasmine: The placement of Blue Jasmine in this category is a little tenuous, as the film borrows heavily from Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire.” I even considered tossing it over to the Adapted category in spite of the fact that its officially credited as an original screenplay, but that category was more competitive and this seemed like the path of least resistance. Anyway, Woody Allen does it again. Allen does a great job of creating a dark comedy that manages to be topical and universal at the same time and walks a fine tightrope in making its audience both sympathetic with and repulsed by its protagonist.
- Inside Llewyn Davis: The Coen Brothers have long been known for their funny dialogue, but they would have been forgotten a long time ago if that’s all they had to offer. Their latest film, Inside Llewyn Davis is a difficult little character study which certainly features that signature dialogue, but it’s in many ways overshadowed by the screenplay’s many other virtues. I guess the most important of these virtues is that it creates a flawed but endearing and always fascinating central character.
- Short Term 12: Writer/Director Destin Daniel Cretton based his film Short Term 12 on his own experiences working at a home for troubled youths. Normally that would have been a recipe for a twee and self-indulgent exercise, but Cretton instead had the wisdom to focus his film not on the character who is ostensibly based on himself, but instead focuses on the more interesting veteran workers at the facility. The resulting movie has the authenticity of personal experience but lacks the normal indie clichés I’ve come to expect from movies like this.
- The World’s End: A lot of modern comedy is derived from the personalities of the actors within them and the improvisations that they bring to the table. Nothing wrong with that, but a byproduct of that is that the movies all too often feel a bit messy and ramshackle. Edgar Wrights films on the other hand feel a lot more controlled, planned, and structured. The World’s End in particular really feels like its interested in telling an actual story in addition to eliciting laughter and is one of the better examples of a mainstream comedic screenplay.