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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

Foreign Correspondent

The Great Dictator

1941 Citizen Kane The Devil and Miss Jones

Sergeant York

Tall, Dark and Handsome

Tom, Dick and Harry

1942 Woman of the Year One of Our Aircraft Is Missing

Road to Morocco

Wake Island

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

1945 Marie-Louise Dillinger

Music for Millions

Salty O’Rourke

What Next, Corporal Hargrove?

1946 The Seventh Veil The Blue Dahlia

Children of Paradise

Notorious

Road to Utopia

1947 The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer Body and Soul

A Double Life

Monsieur Verdoux

Shoeshine

1948 No Award Given. No category.
1949 Battleground Jolson Sings Again

Paisan

Passport to Pimlico

The Quiet One

1950 Sunset Boulevard Adam’s Rib

Caged

The Men

No Way Out

1951 An American in Paris Ace in the Hole

David and Bathsheba

Go for Broke!

The Well

1952 The Lavender Hill Mob The Atomic City

The Sound Barrier

Pat and Mike

Viva Zapata!

1953 Titanic The Band Wagon

The Desert Rats

The Naked Spur

Take the High Ground!

1954 On the Waterfront The Barefoot Contessa

Genevieve

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

Julie

La Strada

The Ladykillers

1957 Designing Woman Funny Face

Man of a Thousand Faces

The Tin Star

I Vitelloni

1958 The Defiant Ones The Goddess

Houseboat

The Sheepman

Teacher’s Pet

1959 Pillow Talk The 400 Blows

North by Northwest

Operation Petticoat

Wild Strawberries

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

America, America

The Four Days of Naples

Love with the Proper Stranger

1964 Father Goose A Hard Day’s Night

One Potato, Two Potato

The Organizer

That Man from Rio

1965 Darling Casanova 70

Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines

The Train

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

1966 A Man and a Woman Blowup

The Fortune Cookie

Khartoum

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

Faces

Hot Millions

1969 Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice

The Damned

Easy Rider

The Wild Bunch

1970 Patton Five Easy Pieces

Joe

Love Story

My Night at Maud’s

1971 The Hospital Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion

Klute

Summer of ‘42

Sunday Bloody Sunday

1972 The Candidate The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

Lady Sings the Blues

Murmur of the Heart

Young Winston

1973 The Sting American Graffiti

Cries and Whispers

Save the Tiger

A Touch of Class

1974 Chinatown Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

The Conversation

Day for Night

Harry and Tonto

1975 Dog Day Afternoon Amarcord

And Now My Love

Lies My Father Told Me

Shampoo

1976 Network Cousin, cousine

The Front

Rocky

Seven Beauties

1977 Annie Hall The Goodbye Girl

The Late Show

Star Wars

The Turning Point

1978 Coming Home Autumn Sonata

The Deer Hunter

Interiors

An Unmarried Woman

1979 Breaking Away All That Jazz

…And Justice for All

The China Syndrome

Manhattan

1980 Melvin and Howard Brubaker

Fame

Mon oncle d’Amerique

Private Benjamin

1981 Chariots of Fire Absence of Malice

Arthur

Atlantic City

Reds

1982 Gandhi Diner

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

An Officer and a Gentleman

Tootsie

1983 Tender Mercies The Big Chill

Fanny and Alexander

Silkwood

WarGames

1984 Places in the Heart Beverly Hills Cop

Broadway Danny Rose

El Norte

Splash

1985 Witness Back to the Future

Brazil

The Official Story

The Purple Rose of Cairo

1986 Hannah and Her Sisters Crocodile Dundee

My Beautiful Laundrette

Platoon

Salvador

1987 Moonstruck Au revoir, les enfants

Broadcast News

Hope and Glory

Radio Days

1988 Rain Man Big

Bull Durham

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…

1990 Ghost Alice

Avalon

Green Card

Metropolitan

1991 Thelma & Louise Boyz N the Hood

Bugsy

The Fisher King

Grand Canyon

1992 The Crying Game Husbands and Wives

Lorenzo’s Oil

Passion Fish

Unforgiven

1993 The Piano Dave

In the Line of Fire

Philadelphia

Sleepless in Seattle

1994 Pulp Fiction Bullets Over Broadway

Four Weddings and a Funeral

Heavenly Creatures

Three Colors: Red

1995 The Usual Suspects Braveheart

Mighty Aphrodite

Nixon

Toy Story

1996 Fargo Jerry Maguire

Lone Star

Secrets & Lies

Shine

1997 Good Will Hunting As Good as It Gets

Boogie Nights

Deconstructing Harry

The Full Monty

1998 Shakespeare in Love Bulworth

Life is Beautiful

Saving Private Ryan

The Truman Show

1999 American Beauty Being John Malkovich

Magnolia

The Sixth Sense

Topsy-Turvy

2000 Almost Famous Billy Elliot

Erin Brockovich

Gladiator

You Can Count on Me

2001 Gosford Park Amélie

Memento

Monster’s Ball

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

Finding Nemo

In America

2004 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind The Aviator

Hotel Rwanda

The Incredibles

Vera Drake

2005 Crash Good Night, and Good Luck

Match Point

The Squid and the Whale

Syriana

2006 Little Miss Sunshine Babel

Letters from Iwo Jima

Pan’s Labyrinth

The Queen

2007 Juno Lars and the Real Girl

Michael Clayton

Ratatouille

The Savages

2008 Milk Frozen River

Happy-Go-Lucky

In Bruges

Wall-E

2009 The Hurt Locker Inglourious Basterds

The Messenger

A Serious Man

Up

2010 The King’s Speech Another Year

The Fighter

Inception

The Kids Are All Right

2011 Midnight in Paris The Artist

Bridesmaids

Margin Call

A Separation

2012 Django Unchained Amour

Flight

Moonrise Kingdom

Zero Dark Thirty

2013 Her American Hustle

Blue Jasmine

Dallas Buyers Club

Nebraska

2014 Birdman Boyhood

Foxcatcher

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Nightcrawler

2015 Spotlight Bridge of Spies

Ex Machina

Inside Out

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

The Lobster

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.

Rankings:

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.

– – – – – – – – –

Tomorrow is Best Supporting Actor.

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