Oscars 2016 Category Breakdown: Best Original Screenplay
Every year before the Oscars I break down each of the 24 categories. I do this to familiarize everyone with the category, how it typically goes, voting-wise, historically and also as a precursor to my picks article, allowing me to get most of the heavy lifting out of the way beforehand.
What I do is go over each category’s history, give you all the previous winners and nominees, then list the current year’s nominees. And then I’ll go over how each of the guilds (if there is a corresponding guild) have voted, how that corresponds to the Oscars (some guilds mean a lot to how a category will play out. Others mean nothing). It’s basically everything you need to know in order to make an informed decision when you make your picks on Oscar night. And then I also rank the nominees at the end in terms of where I see them in terms of their likelihood to win. So you know what the general favorites are.
Today is Best Original Screenplay. Hint: Musicals don’t win.
|Year||Best Original Screenplay Winners||Other Nominees|
|1940||The Great McGinty||Angels over Broadway
Dr. Erlich’s Magic Bullet
The Great Dictator
|1941||Citizen Kane||The Devil and Miss Jones
Tall, Dark and Handsome
Tom, Dick and Harry
|1942||Woman of the Year||One of Our Aircraft Is Missing
Road to Morocco
The War Against Mrs. Hadley
|1943||Princess O’Rourke||Air Force
In Which We Serve
The North Star
So Proudly We Hail!
|1944||Wilson||Hail the Conquering Hero
The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek
Two Girls and a Sailor
Wing and a Prayer
Music for Millions
What Next, Corporal Hargrove?
|1946||The Seventh Veil||The Blue Dahlia
Children of Paradise
Road to Utopia
|1947||The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer||Body and Soul
A Double Life
|1948||No Award Given.||No category.|
|1949||Battleground||Jolson Sings Again
Passport to Pimlico
The Quiet One
|1950||Sunset Boulevard||Adam’s Rib
No Way Out
|1951||An American in Paris||Ace in the Hole
David and Bathsheba
Go for Broke!
|1952||The Lavender Hill Mob||The Atomic City
The Sound Barrier
Pat and Mike
|1953||Titanic||The Band Wagon
The Desert Rats
The Naked Spur
Take the High Ground!
|1954||On the Waterfront||The Barefoot Contessa
The Glenn Miller Story
Knock on Wood
|1955||Interrupted Melody||The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell
It’s Always Fair Weather
Mr. Hulot’s Holiday
The Seven Little Foys
|1956||The Red Balloon||The Bold and the Brave
|1957||Designing Woman||Funny Face
Man of a Thousand Faces
The Tin Star
|1958||The Defiant Ones||The Goddess
|1959||Pillow Talk||The 400 Blows
North by Northwest
|1960||The Apartment||The Angry Silence
The Facts of Life
Hiroshima Mon Amour
Never on Sunday
|1961||Splendor in the Grass||Ballad of a Soldier
La Dolce Vita
General della Rovere
Lover Come Back
|1962||Divorce, Italian Style||Freud
Last Year at Marienbad
That Touch of Mink
Through a Glass Darkly
|1963||How the West Was Won||8 ½
The Four Days of Naples
Love with the Proper Stranger
|1964||Father Goose||A Hard Day’s Night
One Potato, Two Potato
That Man from Rio
Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
|1966||A Man and a Woman||Blowup
The Fortune Cookie
The Naked Prey
|1967||Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner||Bonnie and Clyde
Divorce American Style
La Guerre Est Finie
Two for the Road
|1968||The Producers||2001: A Space Odyssey
The Battle of Algiers
|1969||Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid||Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice
The Wild Bunch
|1970||Patton||Five Easy Pieces
My Night at Maud’s
|1971||The Hospital||Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion
Summer of ‘42
Sunday Bloody Sunday
|1972||The Candidate||The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
Lady Sings the Blues
Murmur of the Heart
|1973||The Sting||American Graffiti
Cries and Whispers
Save the Tiger
A Touch of Class
|1974||Chinatown||Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
Day for Night
Harry and Tonto
|1975||Dog Day Afternoon||Amarcord
And Now My Love
Lies My Father Told Me
|1977||Annie Hall||The Goodbye Girl
The Late Show
The Turning Point
|1978||Coming Home||Autumn Sonata
The Deer Hunter
An Unmarried Woman
|1979||Breaking Away||All That Jazz
…And Justice for All
The China Syndrome
|1980||Melvin and Howard||Brubaker
Mon oncle d’Amerique
|1981||Chariots of Fire||Absence of Malice
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
An Officer and a Gentleman
|1983||Tender Mercies||The Big Chill
Fanny and Alexander
|1984||Places in the Heart||Beverly Hills Cop
Broadway Danny Rose
|1985||Witness||Back to the Future
The Official Story
The Purple Rose of Cairo
|1986||Hannah and Her Sisters||Crocodile Dundee
My Beautiful Laundrette
|1987||Moonstruck||Au revoir, les enfants
Hope and Glory
A Fish Called Wanda
Running on Empty
|1989||Dead Poets Society||Crimes and Misdemeanors
Do the Right Thing
Sex, Lies and Videotape
When Harry Met Sally…
|1991||Thelma & Louise||Boyz N the Hood
The Fisher King
|1992||The Crying Game||Husbands and Wives
In the Line of Fire
Sleepless in Seattle
|1994||Pulp Fiction||Bullets Over Broadway
Four Weddings and a Funeral
Three Colors: Red
|1995||The Usual Suspects||Braveheart
Secrets & Lies
|1997||Good Will Hunting||As Good as It Gets
The Full Monty
|1998||Shakespeare in Love||Bulworth
Life is Beautiful
Saving Private Ryan
The Truman Show
|1999||American Beauty||Being John Malkovich
The Sixth Sense
|2000||Almost Famous||Billy Elliot
You Can Count on Me
The Royal Tenenbaums
|2002||Talk to Her||Far from Heaven
Gangs of New York
My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Y tu mama también
|2003||Lost in Translation||The Barbarian Invasions
Dirty Pretty Things
|2004||Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind||The Aviator
|2005||Crash||Good Night, and Good Luck
The Squid and the Whale
|2006||Little Miss Sunshine||Babel
Letters from Iwo Jima
|2007||Juno||Lars and the Real Girl
|2009||The Hurt Locker||Inglourious Basterds
A Serious Man
|2010||The King’s Speech||Another Year
The Kids Are All Right
|2011||Midnight in Paris||The Artist
Zero Dark Thirty
Dallas Buyers Club
The Grand Budapest Hotel
|2015||Spotlight||Bridge of Spies
Straight Outta Compton
The WGA is the guild to look at here, but they can only help so much, especially with all the ineligibles and category swaps. But, you know.
- 2015: Spotlight won both the WGA and the Oscar, and two of the WGA nominees went Adapted at the Oscars.
- 2014: Birdman was ineligible for the WGA and won the Oscar. The Grand Budapest Hotel won the WGA.
- 2013: The WGA and Oscar category were the same and Her won both.
- 2012: Django was ineligible for the WGA and won the Oscar. Zero Dark Thirty won the WGA.
- 2011: Midnight in Paris won both, and the category only had two nominees the same.
- 2010: Inception won the WGA, but The King’s Speech won the Oscar. The King’s Speech was ineligible for WGA.
- 2009: The Hurt Locker won both, and the category was only two the same.
- 2008: Milk won both and that was the only similarity between the two categories.
- 2007: Juno won both and the category was 4/5 the same.
- 2006: Little Miss Sunshine won both and the category matched 3/5.
- 2005: Crash won both and the category matched 3/5.
- 2004: Eternal Sunshine won both and the category matched 3/5.
- 2003: Lost in Translation won both and the category matched 3/5.
- 2002: Two different winners, the category matched 3/5. The two winners weren’t nominated on either category.
- 2001: Gosford Park won both and the category matched 3/5.
- 2000: Almost Famous won the Oscar and You Can Count on Me won the WGA, and the category matched 4/5.
So, okay, the WGA, when the winner is eligible, does match up a lot of the time.
Here are all the times the Best Picture winner hasn’t won Best Screenplay:
- 2011, The Artist loses to Midnight in Paris.
- 2004, Million Dollar Baby loses to Sideways.
- 2002, Chicago loses to The Pianist.
- 2000, Gladiator loses to Almost Famous.
- 1997, Titanic isn’t even nominated.
- 1996, The English Patient loses to Sling Blade.
- 1995, Braveheart loses to The Usual Suspects.
- 1992, Unforgiven loses to The Crying Game.
- 1986, Platoon loses to Hannah and Her Sisters.
- 1978, The Deer Hunter loses to Coming Home.
- 1976, Rocky loses to Network.
- 1968, Oliver! loses to The Lion in Winter.
- 1965, The Sound of Music isn’t even nominated.
- 1964, My Fair Lady loses to Becket.
- 1962, Lawrence of Arabia loses to To Kill a Mockingbird.
- 1961, West Side Story loses to Judgment at Nuremberg.
- 1959, Ben-Hur loses to Room at the Top.
- 1952, The Greatest Show on Earth isn’t even nominated.
- 1949, All the King’s Men loses to A Letter to Three Wives.
- 1948, Hamlet isn’t even nominated.
- 1947, Gentleman’s Agreement loses to Miracle on 34th Street.
- 1941, How Green Was My Valley loses to Here Comes Mr. Jordan.
- 1940, Rebecca loses to The Philadelphia Story.
- 1938, You Can’t Take It With You loses to Pygmalion.
- 1936, The Great Ziegfeld isn’t even nominated. (Though there was only one Screenplay category. Also, the nominees were The Story of Louis Pasteur, After the Thin Man, Dodsworth, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and My Man Godfrey. That’s awesome.)
- 1935, Mutiny on the Bounty loses to The Informer.
- 1932-1933, Cavalcade isn’t even nominated.
- 1931-1932, Grand Hotel isn’t even nominated.
- 1929-1930, All Quiet on the Western Front loses to The Big House.
- 1928-1929, The Broadway Melody isn’t even nominated.
- 1927-1928, Wings isn’t even nominated.
And look at that list more closely: 11 out of 31 times it happened were in the last 40 years. So a third of your list was within 40 years, and two-thirds happened before that. If we go to 50 years, then it’s 14 out of 31, which is less than half. Meaning it doesn’t happen as often recently.
And, to keep the focus narrowed: My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, Oliver! and Chicago are musicals. Not exactly Screenplay winner material. Woody Allen beat two of the remaining ten (and one of them was a silent film). When Woody wins, we understand it. Alexander Payne wins, we understand it. Titanic makes sense as a non-winner. It’s all spectacle. Gladiator, same. Then, you look at what’s left… Rocky loses to Network. Paddy Chayefsky. Totally makes sense. Then, Braveheart… not really a writing kind of movie, and it lost to Usual Suspects. Understandable. Unforgiven… they don’t usually do westerns, and The Crying Game won. Makes sense. And then English Patient losing to Sling Blade… kind of a surprise. And Deer Hunter losing to Coming Home, can’t say about that. It does make some sense, though.
So, ultimately, you can usually see a Best Picture film losing, if it’s gonna happen. This year should be one of those years. Musicals almost never win unless they sweep vote it. And even in sweep vote years, they typically don’t do that.
WGA hasn’t even announced yet, and I’m not even waiting, because I’ve felt all along this category is locked. (Plus, either WGA is gonna back up what I’m about to say here or they’re gonna give it to Moonlight, which really only bolsters the Adapted Screenplay category.)
The only real precursors we have here are BAFTA and BFCA. Which we don’t take as scripture but can use. Manchester by the Sea won BAFTA and it tied with La La Land for BFCA. Technically La La Land has a Globe win as well, but that’s worth about as much as a handful of wooden nickels.
We’re gonna go back to 2011 here, guys. It’s a theme throughout this year’s categories.
Best Original Screenplay
20th Century Women
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
This was pretty much your category. I think Captain Fantastic was the only alternative that could have made it on here. It was that or 20th Century Women for that final spot. Mostly the expected result.
5. 20th Century Women — This was its only nomination. People barely saw the film and no one liked it enough to want to vote for it. Easily the fifth choice, and that’s even with something as weird as The Lobster on this list.
4. The Lobster — It’s a strange nominee, but there is some fervent support out there for it. And there will be a small pocket of people who consider it the most original screenplay of 2016 and will vote for it on that alone. It’s not gonna be nearly enough for it to win, but it’ll be enough to get it more votes than 20th Century Women. Still, we’re looking at three top heavy nominees and these two way, way beneath them in terms of vote-getting. I wouldn’t even minorly consider this or 20th Century Women a contender for the win.
3. Hell or High Water — It’s a weird year when this is the third choice. People loved this movie. People will vote for this script. Here’s the thing, though — it can’t be considered more than a third choice. Does he have a legitimate shot at winning? Absolutely. Am I gonna put a lot of stock into it? Not at all. I can’t. It’s a waste of energy. I can see a lot of variations of how this plays out, and the likelihood of this actually winning is slim. So I’m not gonna waste my time talking myself into that scenario. I’m gonna not take it and just get beat if it happens. I’d be happy with this result, but I can’t see this being anything more than a third choice at the moment. A WGA win might change my mind, but barring that, it’s a third choice and a spoiler at best.
2. La La Land — It tied for BFCA and won the Globe, both of which I didn’t think would happen. It’s a musical. Those never win for Screenplay. But, because of the potential sweep vote and because people do really love this movie, it has to be considered the second choice. It just does. If it wins the WGA too, we might be in some rarified air. Chazelle for Picture, Director and Screenplay. (Though I’m pretty sure he’s not listed as a producer. But still… impressive. But either way, it can’t be the favorite because musicals never win here. I’m going back to 2011 and The Artist, when I talked myself into thinking that it could possibly happen. And then of course it didn’t win. Of course, this movie has dialogue. But even still. It’ll never be the favorite, but theoretically it could win.
1. Manchester by the Sea — BAFTA win, BFCA win (even if a tie) and a likely WGA win. This is your favorite, and even someone with only the most cursory Oscar knowledge could point to this as a favorite and likely winner in this category. It makes the most sense and Screenplay is one of those categories where it’s all about what makes the most sense. Logic actually does tend to win out here. So this is gonna be your favorite and is probably gonna be all of our votes come Oscar night, except for the few of us who decide to go all in on the La La Land sweep vote. But until then, this is the favorite.
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Tomorrow is Best Supporting Actor.