Best Original Screenplay
Will Win: Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly, and Nick Vallelonga, Green Book
As I’ve mentioned before already, Green Book is a bad, bad film. It engages in the kind of white savior clichés that were dated when Driving Miss Daisy came out nearly thirty years ago. It clumsily depicts racism as merely the result of a lack of exposure. It plays its lead’s racism for laughs, almost implying that his racism is more acceptable in contrast to the more overt racism experienced in the Deep South. It’s also been harshly criticized by the family of Don Shirley (played by Mahershala Ali) as being aggressively and offensively inaccurate. But it has a ton of widespread audience appeal, the kind of film that historically does well at the Oscars. It would be a shame to see it win (literally any of the other nominees would be better), but it’s already secured the original screenplay award from the Writers Guild of America, so unfortunately I fear this is happening.
Should Win:Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
I’ve already spent most of this blog post singing the praises of Roma, a film I believe is miles ahead of just about every film it’s nominated against. Contrast its screenplay with Green Book. Where Green Book has been accused of warping history to suit its themes and its writers’ biases, Roma is powerfully authentic. Everything from the dialogue to the plotting feels true to life in a way I haven’t seen in a film in a while. Though Roma is largely an audiovisual experience, offering its storytelling through imagery, its terrific screenplay should not be written off.
Should Have Been Nominated: Hirokazu Kore-eda, Shoplifters
Shoplifters is a beautiful, heartfelt story with an incredibly mature view of family. It bucks the banal, boring explorations of blood-related family and takes a more open-minded viewpoint, examining the bonds between human beings and what constitutes a family. Its story, though deeply rooted in its backdrop (the Japanese Recession), is also universal in its notion that human love can transcend the boundaries of the traditional family structure. There’s a quality of Italian neorealism to it in the way its drama and conflict are grounded in reality; there are no heroes, nor are there villains, just clashing ideas and a society that unfortunately allows people to fall through the cracks.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Will Win: Spike Lee, David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel, and Kevin Willmott, BlacKkKlansman
Conventional wisdom might suggest that Can You Ever Forgive Me? will take the Oscar, given that it won the corresponding award from the Writers Guild of America. But I have a feeling that the trophy will go to BlacKkKlansman, which, along with A Star is Born, is the only nominee for Best Picture in the category (Can You Ever Forgive Me? wasn’t nominated). It would represent Spike Lee’s first competitive Oscar win, something many (including myself) feel is long overdue, and it has the cultural relevance and social commentary that Can You Ever Forgive Me? lacks. Personally, BlacKkKlansman falls a bit short of Lee’s best work, including Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, and Crooklyn. But it’s got all of the ingredients of a great Spike Lee joint nonetheless, a stylized fury that will push it over the edge and finally win the New York filmmaker an Oscar.
Should Win: Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk
For a more low-key examination of racism, one need only look at If Beale Street Could Talk, adapted from James Baldwin’s 1974 novel of the same name. This is Jenkins’s second adaptation, and like Moonlight, he does a terrific job of making the material feel distinctly of his own sensibilities while championing the material’s themes and ideas. If Beale Street Could Talk is about the power of love, not necessarily to fix all of our problems or remove us from trying times, but to give us the strength to survive them as best we can. Jenkins does not sugar coat the harsh realities of racial inequality and widespread prejudice, but he still offers inklings of hope, understanding the clear distinction between pessimism and true realism.
Should Have Been Nominated: Armando Ianucci, Ian Martin, and David Schneider, The Death of Stalin
Armando Ianucci is probably my favorite political satirist of the moment. Whether he’s writing about the British parliament in his BBC series The Thick of It, the diplomatic parties in its excellent quasi-spinoff film In the Loop (nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay itself), or the White House in HBO’s Veep, Ianucci has sharp comedic instincts, crafting dialogue that feels distinctly insider while also universally funny. The Death of Stalin adapts those instincts to tell the story of the Soviet Union, and the power grab that took place following the death of Joseph Stalin. Ianucci’s signature political cynicism shines through in spades here; like The Thick of It’s Department of Social Affairs or Selina Meyers’ staff in Veep, the higher-ups in the Soviet regime are power hungry twits themselves, stepping over each other to claim whatever bit of authority they can get their grubby hands on. The Death of Stalin is a riotously funny but equally incisive commentary on the universal flaw of political systems: that they are run by human beings, who are naturally self-centered and frequently incompetent.