Thrillers thrived throughout year
“The Social Network”
Aaron Sorkin (based on Ben Mezrich’s book, “The Accidental Billionaires”)
After reading Mezrich’s 14-page book proposal, Sorkin crafted a 162-page script deconstructing the evolution of Facebook into the Internet’s most ubiquitous social-networking site.
Why it might win: Sorkin’s ability to seamlessly weave multiple viewpoints together with cynical sensibility and clever, insider dialogue has brought the film critical praise, sustained media attention and B.O. receipts nearing $100 million.
Maybe not: Social networking and a rapid-fire paced film about its growth isn’t for everyone, especially older Acad voters who have abstained from friending.
— Addie Morfoot
Simon Beaufoy, Danny Boyle (based on Aron Ralston’s book, “Between a Rock and a Hard Place”)
It’s not a tale lacking a dynamic central character or life-and-death drama, so what’s the drawback? The answer: Having to tell that tale with your character and drama immobilized in a remote canyon. Working with one arm essentially tied behind their backs, Beaufoy and Boyle teased out a memorable, not to mention illuminating, character study.
Why it might win: Turning such an intimate, near-one-man show into major cinematic entertainment is a certifiable accomplishment that voters might consider unsurpassed in 2010.
Maybe not: The film might be seen as more of a directorial achievement or a triumph for lead actor James Franco.
— Jon Weisman
“How to Train Your Dragon”
William Davies, Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders (based on Cressida Cowell’s book, “How to Train Your Dragon”)
A boy named Hiccup and a dragon named Toothless are the unlikely stars of this screenplay contender, which offers a charming coming-of-age story. Forget that the film is animated; you can make the case that the storytelling depth on the page rivals the best live-action scripts.
Why it might win: Though “Toy Story 3” has gotten more publicity, “Dragon” has a passionate fan base in the industry.
Maybe not: Battling “Toy” within its genre, as well as prejudice against the genre, are two big strikes right off the bat.
— Jon Weisman
David Lindsay-Abaire (from his play)
Tackling the grimmest of subjects, Lindsay-Abaire explores the unforeseen emotional terrain a married couple (Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart) must stumble through in the aftermath of losing their child, a minefield that includes risk-laden gropes for outside comfort, misunderstood behavior and a poignant understanding of what lies ahead.
Why it might win: As play adaptations go, it feels opened up without being self-consciously so, with Lindsay-Abaire deploying wit, mystery and prickliness as skillfully as the expected breakdowns.
Maybe not: Getting an audience to care for two grief-stricken parents isn’t exactly the toughest job for a screenwriter. — Robert Abele
Joel Coen, Ethan Coen (based on Charles Portis’ book, “True Grit”)
Rather than remake the 1969 John Wayne film, the Coens sought a more faithful, tauter version of Portis’s grimly witty tale of frontier vengeance.
Why it might win: Voters may warm to the Coens honoring a classic novel rather than making it obviously their own.
Maybe not: The dialogue’s stylistic archness could be a turn off.
Peter Craig, Ben Affleck, Aaron Stockard (based on Chuck Hogan’s book, “Prince of Thieves”)
Affleck’s third co-written feature screenplay is a large-scope tale of grand larceny, unlikely romance and betrayal, about a robber smitten with the teller of a bank he held up.
Why it might win: Acad voters are fans of Affleck’s writing, not to mention that pic has earned comparisons to “The Departed,” which the Acad also honored.
Maybe not: Oscar has already paid tribute to pics (“Departed,” “Mystic River”) set in and around certain violent enclaves of Boston, and might find “Town” not to be in the same neighborhood from an awards standpoint. — Addie Morfoot
“Toy Story 3”
John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich (story); Michael Arndt (screenplay)
“Toy Story 3” overcame the potential third-part-of-a-trilogy pitfalls with a vengeance, earning some of the best reviews the Disney/Pixar franchise has ever received, largely by pushing its plastic heroes into ever darker, more gut-wrenching and existentially uncertain territory.
Why it might win: Pixar pics have been consistent bridesmaids in this category, but this dialogue-rich script might finally be the bride. Arndt, an original screenplay winner for “Little Miss Sunshine,” is well-liked by the Academy.
Maybe not: Voters could be content to recognize the film for best animated feature.
— Justin Chang
Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini (based on Daniel Woodrell’s book, “Winter’s Bone”)
Winner of the Waldo A. Salt screenwriting award at Sundance, this skillful adaptation of Woodrell’s Ozarks-set crime novel is a pulsing whodunit with a deeply immersive sense of place, blending suspense and sociology to the point where the two are virtually indistinguishable.
Why it might win: Strength of its direction and performances aside, “Winter’s Bone” is a writer’s achievement, distinguished by a faultless dramatic structure and daringly stylized folksy-poetic dialogue.
Maybe not: Pic is almost relentlessly bleak, and regional authenticity for some is condescending caricature to others.
— Justin Chang
IN THE MIX:
No suspension of suspense in 2010 scripts, with thrillers thriving throughout
It’s been an especially strong year for thrillers, many of them adapted from existing works. “The Ghost Writer” is virtually a page-by-page translation of Robert Harris’ novel “The Ghost,” but nonetheless manages to breathe onscreen as an eerie paranoid suspenser whose barbed one-liners have been polished by Harris and helmer Roman Polanski to a high gloss.
“Fair Game,” an account of the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame, was culled from the memoirs of Plame and her husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson. Brothers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth re-create the political and domestic drama of a famous D.C. marriage in strikingly intimate detail, adding a soupcon of spy-thriller inventions.
And one of the year’s biggest specialty release successes was the violent Swedish suspenser “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” adapted by Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg from the first book in Stieg Larsson’s ubiquitous trilogy, with most of its twists intact.
While “Never Let Me Go” never developed the B.O. momentum or critical traction needed for a prominent awards contender, voters could choose to honor Alex Garland’s achingly restrained treatment of Kazuo Ishiguro’s much-loved speculative fiction. And the Academy’s affinity for fact-inspired stories could endear them to “The Way Back,” despite the liberties writer-director Peter Weir took with Slavomir Rawicz’s account of four Siberian Gulag escapees.
Among other screenplays likely to get some support: “Barney’s Version,” “I Love You Phillip Morris,” “Love and Other Drugs,” “Secretariat” and “Shutter Island.”
— Justin Chang
Stalking the perfect ending
Original screenplay contenders | Adapted screenplay contenders