I wrote not long ago about how weak this year's crop of Best Supporting Actor candidates seemed to be on the surface (at least in terms of Oscar potential). Well, that weakness is loaded compared to Best Original Screenplay. Again, that's not a comment whatsoever on quality. I'd give Sean Durkin or Lars von Trier an Oscar in a second for Martha Marcy May Marlene and Melancholia, respectively. But I'm not high on either of those films' chances in this or any other Oscar category (except the outside shot I think Elizabeth Olsen has in Best Actress...more on that next week).
So, what original screenplays do have serious Oscar potential. I've narrowed it down to ten. Here they are in order of likelihood to be nominated.
Midnight in Paris — Woody Allen's latest has hung around on the fringe of the Best Picture race all year. In fact, it still might be able to eke out a nomination. But in Original Screenplay, it's the easy frontrunner. Not only is it a genius premise, but the execution is almost flawless. Yes, Rachel McAdams' character should have been more developed, but that problem seems minor in a film that does so much right, and nothing is more right than Allen's screenplay.
The Artist — A weird film to be the runner-up contender, but if the popular sentiment is behind Michel Hazanavicius' silent ode to old Hollywood, it could win this prize by default.
Young Adult — Diablo Cody is (inexplicably) a former winner in this category, and word is strong for her latest screenplay in director Jason Reitman's new film. As long as it's the departure from Juno I've been promised by most, I'll won't have any major complaints. Regardless, I think she's in.
Rango — The absence of Pixar in this category is glaring, but perhaps John Logan could fill the void with his writing for the year's standout animated film. I feel much less certain about this one than I do the three preceding it, but just a glance at the rest of the list should make it clear why this one is all the way up at #4.
Contagion — I still think Steven Soderbergh's latest is one of the best films of the year, and one of its chief strengths is its screenplay (courtesy of Scott Burns). The biggest obstacle for it, however, is the fact that the film doesn't appear to be a contender in any other category. So will the writers even bother?
Win Win — Tom McCarthy's film is nothing without its tender screenplay, but like Contagion, the film doesn't have much hope outside this category. Plus, it's much smaller than Soderbergh's film and opened way back in March. Three strikes, perhaps.
J. Edgar — Clint Eastwood's film certainly won't have any visibility troubles for Academy members, but most reviews cite Dustin Lance Black's screenplay as film's biggest issue. Its profile is too high to ignore completely, but the vocal detractors will probably keep it out of the final five.
50/50 — One of the strongest screenplays of the year would have a much better shot had the film opened in December. I just think it came and went too fast for any sort of Oscar buzz to take off.
Bridesmaids — A longshot, maybe, but people really loved this movie. If Academy members laugh as much as the general public, why wouldn't they consider recognizing the folks who wrote the jokes?
Beginners — See also: Win Win. Except I didn't find this one very good.