Where the adapted screenplay category is a barren wasteland this year, the original screenplay category is absolutely stacked. Pretty much all of the major awards contenders this year were in the original category and most of my favorites were as well. In fact I probably could have filled two categories worth with original screenplay nominees and still would have been better off than I would have been having to scrounge together five adapted nominees.
- Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance): So many movies today are completely bereft of ideas, so when a movie comes along that almost seems to have too many ideas for its own good it’s downright refreshing. Using snappy dialog and meta cleverness, the four person writing team behind Birdman have (somewhat improbably) crafted a smart and highly entertaining bit of theatrical cinema.
- Boyhood: I don’t really know how much of Boyhood was written when Linklaters started shooting the movie in 2002, I suspect that he had some outline in mind and that he more or less finalized a draft in each period of filming, but damn if he didn’t make it seem completely of a piece by the end. Linklater does an amazing job of coming up with perfectly relatable moments to capture his character in the midst of and makes this level of naturalism seem effortless.
- Leviathan: The previous Andrey Zvyagintsev films I’ve seen have been very quiet and emotional, but Leviatthan is a lot more verbose and dense. The film is essentially a Job like tale of a man having his life fall apart because he dared to challenge authority and unlike the Hollywood version of such a story, the little guy is not allowed to prevail at the end. Zvyagintsev’s screenplay is bitterly subversive, deeply cynical, and darkly comic.
- Mr. Turner: Biopics are generally very hard to write in interesting ways, but when just the right subject is selected by just the right writer they can be some of the most compelling cinema available. Such is the case with Mr. Turner which works in part because its audience is not likely to be familiar with the subject and doesn’t go in with preconceptions. Mike Leigh didn’t seem to have many preconceptions himself and was able to make his life a complex one full of contradictions.
- Winter Sleep: Like Leviathan the screenplay for Winter Sleep seems surprisingly talky when compared to its director’s previous work. Written by Nuri Bilge Ceylan and his wife Ebru Ceylan, the film tells a rich tale about an arrogant man coming to terms with the fact that he isn’t as well liked as he thinks he is and that he’s been living a life that has been in many ways bereft of meaning. Film characters are rarely as well realized as the people in this film and the screenplay never becomes so verbose that it stifles the film’s visual sensibilities.