Screenplay consideration is currently divided into two categories: adapted and original works. Now may be the time, however, to add a third subgroup: everything by Charlie Kaufman.
Kaufman is up for a third time — “Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation” were also nominated — for his off-the-wall script “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” for which co-star Kate Winslet also landed a nom.
“Adaptation” losing out to “The Pianist” was certainly a surprise in 2003 but chances are that Kaufman will make amends now, finally cashing in for a script that bends time and imagination. His works throw structure out the window — something voters looking for originality should appreciate.
The Acad bestowed a leading 11 noms on “The Aviator” and included screenwriter John Logan on that list as well. He spent five years — and 15 drafts — on the Howard Hughes biopic and had to whittle it down to a specific period of Hughes’ life: from the making of “Hells Angels” to some 20 years later, when his legal battles to keep control of his airline and his compulsions were consuming him.
Unlike Kaufman, Logan had to do exhaustive research on his script, needing to stay true to the authenticity of the period — from the early 1930s to the mid-1950s — and voters might want to reward him for all that intensive homework.
“Hotel Rwanda,” written by director Terry George and Keir Pearson, is certainly the most heartfelt of the noms and succeeds in that it’s more than just a screenplay but a history lesson as well.
While most of the world wasn’t even aware that nearly 1 million Rwandans were being brutally murdered in 1994, the story of hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina was virtually unknown.
Rusesabagina saved more than 1,000 refugees from being slaughtered, and a film that enlightens the masses about his unselfish heroism can easily be embraced by the Academy. And the fact that both Don Cheadle and co-star Sophie Okonedo were both nominated is testament to voters’ appreciation of the pic.
“Vera Drake” was one of the biggest winners on nominations morning in that it did well in two categories (original screenplay and director) where it was a considerable longshot.
Keeping true to his tight-lipped British characters, Mike Leigh’s prose is never long-winded and always to the point. The film’s heavy subject matter lends itself to being a taut script with little room for frivolity.
The nom for “The Incredibles” marks the second year in a row a Pixar film has been recognized in this category. While Disney probably would’ve been much happier with a best picture nod, the screenplay nomination is sign from voters that animation is more than just a series of beautiful pictures.
Current kudos: BAFTA (nom), Broadcast Film Critics (nom), Golden Globes (nom), WGA (nom)
Oscar pedigree: “Gladiator” (nom)
Why it’ll win: In this category, Oscar voters often have a soft spot for biopics, as when Akiva Goldsman won in 2002 for “A Beautiful Mind.”
Why it won’t: The success of the film seems to be based more around the work of DiCaprio and Scorsese. While the screenplay is solid, there’s nothing particularly memorable about it.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondry and Pierre Bismuth
Current kudos: BAFTA (nom), Boston Film Critics (nom), Broadcast Film Critics (nom), Golden Globes (nom), WGA (nom); National Board of Review (win), Online Film Critics (win)
Oscar pedigree: “Adaptation” (nom), “Being John Malkovich” (nom)
Why it’ll win: To undo his unjust defeat a couple of years back when the brilliant “Adaptation” lost to “The Pianist.” No way he goes 0-for-3.
Why it won’t: The time-warping storyline may have confused some and older voters might be looking for something less existential.
Keir Pearson and Terry George
Current kudos: WGA (nom)
Oscar pedigree: George, “In the Name of the Father” (nom)
Why it’ll win: While Cheadle and Okonedo have little chance to win, this is a category in which the Acad can acknowledge the important message of the film.
Why it won’t: That wouldn’t be particularly fair to the other scripts here that are probably a bit more polished than this one.
Current kudos: Online Film Critics (nom)
Oscar pedigree: None
Why it’ll win: Not just a toon with stunning visuals , the dialogue managed to be funny, sincere and, at times, downright emotional in its portrayal of an almost typical American family.
Why it won’t: No matter how good the material, voters continue to have a hard time considering animation — in categories such as picture, direction and screenplay — on the same level as live action. Their loss.
Current kudos: San Diego Film Critics (win)
Oscar pedigree: “Secrets & Lies” (nom), “Topsy-Turvy” (nom)
Why he’ll win: Takes abortion — a difficult mainstream subject — and doesn’t turn it into a polemic, no matter what side of the issue you stand.
Why it won’t: There will be those, of course, who feel Leigh leaned too much one side or the other and will want to exact their judgment by voting against him.