Top Screenplay Choices in 2020 Awards Race Present Mix of Indie and Mainstream Fare

Clayton Davis
·7-min read

Original

“Da 5 Bloods”
(Netflix)
Written by: Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee
Lee and Willmott won the
Oscar for adapted screenplay for 2018’s “BlacKkKlansman” and their examination of PTSD and the aftermath of the fallen from Vietnam in “Da 5 Bloods,” encompassing the final performance of Chadwick Boseman, was deeply felt. Netflix is positioning the film to be a strong awards player and Lee is one of those familiar names that the branch will rec-
ognize and likely check off.

“Judas and the Black Messiah”
(Warner Bros.)
Written by: Will Berson and Shaka King (screenplay); Keith Lucas and Kenneth Lucas (story by)
The script’s narrative digs into government corruption and betrayal in such an acute way that has not been portrayed on screen before. While Black Lives Matter and civil unrest are still prominent in the news media and on the streets of our cities, a film in which the outstanding performances of Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield is elevat-
ed by the story will likely hold
the attention of voters.

“Mank”
(Netflix)
Written by: Jack Fincher
A new film by David Fincher is always something that’s going to pique interest in awards voters and cinephiles. A deeper look
into one of the most beloved films ever made is going make that anticipation even greater. The late Jack Fincher (David’s father) could be the first posthumous original screenplay nominee since Massimo Troisi for “Il Postino” in 1995.

“Minari”
(A24)
Written by: Lee Isaac Chung
Coming off a huge year for Asian representation in the Academy in which “Parasite” took home best picture and original screenplay, writer and director Chung’s personal and intimate portrait of an Asian family moving to Alabama is going to touch many voters. This is especially so in a time in which acceptance and tolerance is very much needed.

“Never Rarely Sometimes Always”
(Focus Features)
Written by: Eliza Hittman
Independent filmmaker Hittman turned plenty of heads with the 2017 gem “Beach Rats” and her examination of a teenager seeking medical help with an unintended pregnancy will hit a significant chord, especially as there is a conservative assault
on women’s rights.

“On the Rocks”
(A24/Apple TV Plus)
Written by: Sofia Coppola
Coppola won the Oscar for original screenplay for 2003’s “Lost in Translation,” for which she also was the first American woman to be nominated for director. This love letter to New York City boasting outstanding turns from stars Rashida Jones and Bill Murray is an easy, positive selection.

Palm Springs
(Hulu/Neon)
Written by: Andy Siara
Comedies are never given the proper consideration, but often they find love from the writing branch of the Academy (i.e. “Bridesmaids”). Siara’s rich and vibrant script that showcases plenty of laughs, partnered with love and a moving study of human behavior, could create
its own lane this season.

Promising Young Woman
(Focus Features)
Written by: Emerald Fennell
New screenwriter and filmmaker Fennell has fashioned a gorgeous vehicle for previous Oscar nominee Carey Mulligan, but it becomes another poignant example of the daily struggle
for women.

“Soul”
(Pixar)
Written by: Pete Docter, Mike Jones, Kemp Powers
Animated films have found love in the screenplay categories, especially from Pixar. “Inside Out” and “Wall-E” are prominent examples but the new look at a jazz musician, accompanied with Powers as the first Black director and screenwriter of a Pixar movie, looks ready to put the tearducts into overtime.

“The Trial of the Chicago 7”
(Netflix)
Written by: Aaron Sorkin
In his sophomore directorial effort, Sorkin really hits his stride, but he’s no stranger to the Oscars when it comes to his writing, winning in 2010 for “The Social Network” in the adapted category. With a highly publicized election that has divided the country, this one
will be difficult to ignore.

Adapted

“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”
(Amazon Studios)
Written by: Peter Baynham, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jena Friedman, Anthony Hines, Lee Kern, Dan Mazer, Erica Rivinoja, Dan Swimer (based on the character Borat Sagdiyev created by Sacha Baron Cohen)
Looking to be one of the most-watched films in the streaming platforms history, Sacha Baron Cohen’s hilarious pranks were embraced with his predecessor in 2006. Add in the Rudy Giuliani shenanigans and you have some-thing that will be on the top of minds for quite some time.

“The Father”
(Sony Pictures Classics)
Written by: Christopher Hampton (screenplay), Florian Zeller (based on the play “Le Pere” by and screenplay)
One of the many adaptations of stage plays this year, this hard-hitting drama has the added benefit of garnering what many consider to be a career-best performance from star Anthony Hopkins. The story will resonate especially with the older Academy members.

“First Cow”
(A24)
Written by: Kelly Reichardt, Jonathan Raymond (based on the novel “The Half Life” by Jonathan Raymond)
The independent community has loved Reichardt for years for her beautiful scripts including “Certain
Women,” but she’s failed to make it to the Dolby Theatre. Starting its journey at Telluride in 2019, this may finally be the opportunity to give her the recognition she so richly deserves.

“French Exit”
(Sony Pictures Classics)
Written by: Patrick deWitt
(based on the novel “French Exit”
by Patrick deWitt)
Oscar does like quirky and what director Azazel Jacobs’ constructs with deWitt is something that will garner attention. The New York Film Festival launched the film’s awards run with its premiere, and there’s a focus to get Michelle Pfeiffer her overdue Oscar. If they’re going big for her, this will not be too far behind.

“I’m Thinking of Ending Things”
(Netflix)
Written by: Charlie Kaufman (based on the novel “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” by Iain Reid)
Kaufman is a former Oscar winner for the masterpiece “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” in 2004, though he hasn’t been back to an Oscar ceremony since, despite such gems as “Anomalisa.” The quirky and darkly riveting tale, which showcases brave turns from Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons could stand out.

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
(Netflix)
Written by: Ruben Santiago-Hudson (based on the play “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” by August Wilson)
Playwright Wilson’s “Fences”
was nominated in 2016 posthumously when Denzel Washington took the reins. With George C. Wolfe helming and star turns by Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman, this could be a rally cry for voters to surround.

“News of the World”
(Universal Pictures)
Written by: Luke Davies, Paul Greengrass (based on the novel “News of the World” by Paulette Jiles)
Screenwriter Davies found Oscar love with 2016’s “Lion” and Greengrass is a former director nominee for “United 93.” With the likes of Tom Hanks, and newcomer Helena Zengel, this could be the big studio representation in a film that shows the kindness of mankind.

“Nomadland”
(Searchlight Pictures)
Written by: Chloé Zhao (based on the book “Nomadland” by Jessica Bruder)
This awards season could easily become the year of Zhao, who could score four Oscar nominations in total, which would be the most by a woman in any Oscar year. This intimate and beautiful story that showcases the often- spoken fable that Hollywood doesn’t tell the story of Middle America is vividly told by an Asian woman.

“One Night in Miami”
(Amazon Studios)
Written by: Kemp Powers (based on his play “One Night in Miami …”)
Powers could make history, if nominated, by being the first Black screenwriter to be nommed for adapted and original screenplays (he’s also in the running for “Soul”) in the same year, and the first since Francis Ford Coppola for “The Godfather Part II” and “The Conversation.”

“The Personal History of David Copperfield”
(Searchlight Pictures)
Written by Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci (based
on “David Copperfield” by
Charles Dickens)
A reinvention of a beloved story is always welcomed in Hollywood and coming from “In the Loop” nominee Iannucci is especially heartwarming. With the likes of Dev Patel and Hugh Laurie, the British voting bloc
of the Academy could rally around this lighter selection.

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