Oscar: Original screenplay

Why he’ll win: Already recognized with nods from the WGA and Film Independent’s Spirit Awards to name but a few, Black’s spec script not only gave Sean Penn the role of a lifetime but hit a timely chord as Proposition 8 was passed on the eve of the film’s release.

Maybe not: He’s young, unknown and has a few more years of racking up projects before he’ll get that gold. The success of “Milk” belongs to Penn and Van Sant for keeping the story on track.

Critical quote: “Milk is a powerful drama stirringly told. Milk may have been martyred at the prime of his political life, but screenwriter Dustin Lance Black does not attempt to sanctify him. Rather, we get a clear-eyed portrait of a man who is idealistic, determined, sardonic and ambitious,” says Claudia Puig of USA Today.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more