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Fantasy and Realism Jostle for Place in Original Screenplay Category

This year’s crop of contenders in the best original screenplay category includes a few seasoned scribes such as Kenneth Lonergan (“Manchester by the Sea”) and Nicholas Martin (“Florence Foster Jenkins”). But there is also a wealth of impressive neophytes like Matt Ross (“Captain Fantastic”) and Noah Oppenheim (“Jackie”) just beginning to make their mark.

Captain Fantastic
Bleecker Street Media
Written by: Matt Ross
This story about a father coming to terms with his (and his late wife’s) unconventional ideas about raising children off the grid in the lush, leafy wilderness is beautifully rendered, with rich and poignant dialogue about everything from literature to philosophy to the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution. The screenplay explores modern society, family dynamics, the aftermath of suicide on a family, and even Noam Chomsky.

Florence Foster Jenkins
Paramount
Written by: Nicholas Martin
The world’s worst opera singer — played by arguably one of the world’s greatest living actresses, Meryl Streep — is front and center in Martin’s uplifting, spirited screenplay that proves the power of pursuing a dream no matter what the obstacles.

Hell or High Water
CBS Films
Written by Taylor Sheridan
Sheridan’s script about two brothers — one an ex-convict with serious anger management issues; the other a divorced dad estranged from his son — as they commit a series of West Texas bank heists to save their family’s ranch from foreclosure is gritty, suspenseful, and wildly atmospheric.

Jackie
Fox Searchlight
Written by: Noah Oppenheim
An icon of elegance and beauty, rarely do we catch a glimpse of Jacqueline Kennedy unravelling emotionally. In this raw, nuanced portrait of Kennedy in the days following the assassination of her husband, President John Kennedy, we watch the first lady get drunk, down pills, and weep profusely. The drama, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Intl. Film Festival, is also a showcase for Jacqueline Kennedy’s immeasurable grace and strength under the most extraordinarily tragic circumstances.

La La Land
Lionsgate
Written by: Damien Chazelle
A love story between an aspiring actress and a frustrated jazz pianist set against the backdrop of a Los Angeles that’s at times so cute it seems plucked from a Pinterest page, Chazelle’s big-screen musical about how a budding relationship weathers major career changes in the 21st century is in turns fantastical and heartbreaking.

The Lobster
A24
Written by: Efthymis Filippou and Yorgos Lanthimos
Single men and women unable to find a suitable mate within a 45-day period of time are turned into animals and released into the woods in this bleak dystopian drama, which won the Jury Prize at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, as well as an assortment of other international kudos.

Loving
Focus Features
Written by: Jeff Nichols
Nichols’ quiet and economical script punctuates the unflinching love and steadfast devotion between Richard and Mildred Loving, who take their case to the Supreme Court after violating a state law that forbids interracial marriage in 1960s Virginia.

Manchester by the Sea
Amazon
Written by: Kenneth Lonergan
A frontrunner in the best picture, screenwriting, acting, and directing categories, Lonergan’s lugubrious yet life-affirming drama focuses on an extended Boston-area family learning to navigate its way through life after being hit with a series of devastating losses.

Moonlight
A24
Written by: Barry Jenkins
Jenkins’ three-act script examining the life of a young man from a dysfunctional family in 1980s Miami is as tender as it is haunting. Hailed as one of the best films of the year by critics, “Moonlight” relies on understated elegance to express what it’s like growing up, grappling with your emerging sexuality, and coming to terms with familial strife.

20th Century Women
A24
Written by: Mike Mills
Inspired by his relationship with his own mother and sister growing up in the 1970s in Santa Barbara, Calif., Mills’ coming-of-age story about a teenage boy essentially being raised by three women — his mother, an artist-housemate and a beguiling, tow-headed neighbor — paints an endearing and oft-humorous portrait of feminism and sexual awakening in the year before Ronald Reagan became president.

Zootopia
Disney
Written by: Jared Bush, Phil Johnston
A kids movie that exploded at the box office and plays on myriad adult levels, this animated tale about a sweet female bunny who longs to join the police force is rife with themes of racism, gender politics, and police brutality.

ALSO: Oscar nominee Steven Knight’s highly anticipated World War II romantic drama “Allied,” starring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard, is also primed for key awards consideration in the writing category.

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