Oscar Handicap 2008: Screenplays

Our annual Oscar Handicap series continues with a look at the writing categories.

(For explanations as to how our scoring system works, make sure to read our first article in the series, Best Picture of the Year, linked at the bottom of this article.)

As a writer myself, I admire the hard work and dedication it takes to create a story that can crawl above the din of the seemingly millions of screenplays floating about. While many will say coming up with an original story is the tougher job, I believe it is the adaptation that is trickier. You have to find the balance between what to keep and what to cut, pleasing the author (if they are still alive) and/or the fans of the work. If the importance of the writer was not evident before, the effects on the industry by the just-ended WGA strike should hammer home how everything really does begin with the written word. Ellen Page could not have stolen America’s heart without the words of Diablo Cody. Roger Deakins could not have made those indelible images with The Assassination of Jesse James if Andrew Dominik has not written such a poetic screenplay. And that screenplay could have never existed without Ron Hansen’s splendid novel. This is where it all begins, and any director who says a screenplay is just a blueprint is just an egotistical jackhole who needs to go back to making music videos and Planters commercials.

Best Original Screenplay

The Breakdowns

1) Best Original Screenplays have won for a film with at least one acting nomination 28 of the past 29 times (96.55%). Advantage: Juno, Michael Clayton, The Savages

2) As long as you’re not the one who wrote the lowest grossing nominee at the time of the announcements, you’ve won 26 of 29 times (89.66%). Advantage: Juno, Lars and the Real Girl, Michael Clayton, Ratatouille

3) A film also nominated for Best Director has won for Best Original Screenplay 23 of 29 times (79.31%). Advantage: Juno, Michael Clayton

4) A film also nominated for Best Picture has won for Best Original Screenplay 23 of 29 times (79.31%). Advantage: Juno, Michael Clayton

5) Best Original Screenplay winners have had stories set in the present day 22 of 29 times (75.86%). Advantage: All screenplays

6) Original Screenplays mainly set in the United States have won 21 of 29 times (72.41%). Advantage: Juno, Lars and the Real Girl, Michael Clayton, The Savages

7) Non-comedies have won for Best Original Screenplay 20 of 29 times (68.97%). Advantage: Michael Clayton

8) Screenplays with only one credited writer have won 20 of 29 times (68.97%). Advantage: Juno, Lars and the Real Girl, Michael Clayton, The Savages

9) The winner of the WGA Award for Original Screenplay goes on to win the Oscar 17 of 29 times (58.62%). Advantage: Juno

By The Numbers

The belle of the ball has been Ms. Cody, the tattooed one-time exotic dancer, but the numbers actually give Tony Gilroy a very slight advantage. Considering Gilroy has been fighting in the Hollywood trenches for three decades, crafted the screenplays for the Bourne series, is a Friend of George and it would be remiss not to honor one of the top nominees of the year somewhere, look for Gilroy to prevail here.

Juno (Diablo Cody): +1, +2, +3, +4, +5, +6, -7, +8, +9 (189 of 261, 72.41%)

Lars and the Real Girl (Nancy Oliver): -1, +2, -3, -4, +5, +6, -7, +8, -9 (123 of 261m 47.13%)

Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy): +1, +2, +3, +4, +5, +6, +7, +8, -9 (195 of 261, 74.71%)

Ratatouille (Screenplay by Brad Bird, story by Jan Pinkava, Jim Capobianco and Brad Bird): -1, +2, -3, -4, +5, -6, -7, +8, -9 (110 of 261, 42.15%)

The Savages (Tamara Jenkins): +1, -2, -3, -4, +5, +6, -7, +8, -9 (127 of 261, 48.66%)

Personal prediction for Best Original Screenplay: Michael Clayton

Personal choice amongst these nominees: Michael Clayton

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Breakdowns

1) The Best Adapted Screenplay has been awarded to a best picture nominee 27 of the past 29 times (93.10%). Advantage: Atonement, No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood

2) As long as you’re not the one who wrote the lowest grossing nominee at the time of the nominations, you’ve won 26 of 29 times (89.66%). Advantage: Atonement, Away from Her, No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood

3) Screenplays with only one credited writer have won 23 of 29 times (79.31%). Advantage: Atonement, Away from Her, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, There Will Be Blood

4) The winner of the Writers Guild award in this category has also won here 22 of 29 times (75.68%). Advantage: No Country for Old Men

5) A film also nominated for Best Director has won for Best Adapted Screenplay 21 of 29 times (72.41%). Advantage: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood

6) Unlike Best Original Screenplay, the Best Adapted Screenplay winners have had stories set outside the present or the past decade 19 of 29 times (65.52%). Advantage: None (and thus will not be factored into the percentages this year)

7) If this nomination is your film’s only one, fuggedaboutit (0%). Disadvantage: None (and thus will not be factored into the percentages this year)

By The Numbers

Quite often, when the top two contenders for Best Picture are also nominated in the same screenplay category, the one that ends up winning here does not take Best Picture. An Anderson win here should be a good tip-off that No Country will get Best Picture.

Atonement (Christopher Hampton): +1, +2, +3, -4, -5 (91 of 145, 62.76%)

Away from Her (Sarah Polley): -1, +2, +3, -4, -5 (66 of 145, 45.52%)

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Ronald Harwood): -1, -2, +3, -4, +5 (56 of 145, 38.62%)

No Country for Old Men (Joel Coen & Ethan Coen): +1, +2, -3, +4, +5 (102 of 145, 70.34%)

There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson): +1, +2, +3, -4, +5 (104 of 145, 71.72%)

Personal prediction for Best Adapted Screenplay: There Will Be Blood

Personal choice amongst these nominees: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

All articles in this series:

Best Picture of the Year
Best Director
Best Actor and Best Actress
Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress
Best Cinematography
Best Score, Best Editing and Best Art Direction
Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Foreign Language Film
Best Animated Feature

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