Best Original Screenplay, 2001
(Click on the linked film titles for reviews of the corresponding films.)

Guillaume Laurant & Jean-Pierre Jeunet


Amélie Poulain's fabulous destiny is not just a fairy tale but four or five fairy tales thrown in one: remember the coaxing outdoors of the wizened professor, the dressing-down of that fascist street merchant, the romantic roundelays in the Montrmartre bar, the mysteries of the timed photo booth, the adventures of Amélie's father (and his troll)... Was there no end to Laurant and Jeunet's impish imaginations?

In fact, come to think of it, shouldn't there have been some kind of end, eventually, at some point? Amélie works so well while you're in the theater that it's hard to predict how jumbled and surfeited it seems on later reflection. And that finale's a little drawn-out, n'est-ce pas? And it's in French, which hasn't gone down well with Screenplay voters since Lelouch's A Man and a Woman won in 1966 over a much spottier field.
Julian Fellowes
Gosford Park

No question that Writers Guild victor Julian Fellowes has wrought quite an intricate vehicle for his dozens of characters, doling out enough one-liners, riddles, unexpected connections, and restrained social critique to keep two casts' worth of actors smacking their lips. The film's unexpected lode of nominations implies much wider support than anyone had imagined.
The film's detractors hate the lip-smacking, find the riddles easily unriddled, the connections belabored, and the social critique undetectable. Worse, a lot of them can't speak to the issue of what's in the screenplay because they insist they can't hear it. That's not Fellowes' fault, but it's not going to help him win an Oscar, either. WGA prize a likely reflection of Memento's disqualification.
Christopher Nolan & Jonathan Nolan

Has absolutely no rivals as the most-talked-about screenplay of this year, and probably last year as well. Oscar voters love a high-concept film that gets well-executed, and they are more than happy to reward the scripts that got audiences talking (Thelma & Louise, The Crying Game, The Usual Suspects) even when that means shortchanging top Best Picture contenders (Bugsy, Unforgiven, and Braveheart, respectively).
It lost the Writers Guild Award, but based on a disqualification. It lost the Golden Globe to A Beautiful Mind, but that film has been whisked off into its own race. Non-believers have held that the film's few nominations mean support isn't wide enough—but Suspects had only two nods heading into the 1995 ceremony, too. It won both.
Milo Addica & Will Rokos
Monster's Ball

The end of the year's breakout word-of-mouth hit, insofar as a scaled-down picture by an unproven director and unknown screenwriters suddenly parlayed the notoriously unsellable issues of race and death row into a quietly building indie success. Comparisons to Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner have popped up here and there.
Williams and Faulkner themselves were nominated for Oscars, and they lost every time. Doesn't bode well for their imitators. Plus, Monster's Ball doesn't have the disproportionate buzz or conspicuous gimmickry that frees Memento from the stigma of earning only two nods. In this case, few nominations just equals few nominations.
Wes Anderson & Owen Wilson
The Royal Tenenbaums

Builds on the avid fan base and winning eccentricities of Rushmore to prove that... Oh, never mind —
It's weird how often this happens: a film coasts onto the Screenplay ballot, with every predictor in the country foreseeing its nomination, and no sooner does the nomination happen than it becomes immediately clear that its win prospects are Zero. (I'm also remembering Magnolia, The Truman Show, Erin Brockovich). Tenenbaums seemed cute and nonconformist at the time, but the Actors Branch clearly didn't get it, and without actor support, you're dead in the water in a category like this.

WHO WILL WIN: Unless I'm forgetting something, the Brothers Nolan haven't got a thing to worry about.

WHO SHOULD WIN: I couldn't possibly begrudge a Memento victory, especially if it encourages lily-livered studios to invest more money in projects with challenging story structures. At the same time, Memento seems more superficial with successive viewings, or at least the film seems to project a poker-faced adoration with its own inventiveness. Gosford Park ventures deeper and wider with fewer tricks. Fellowes is even cool enough to leave his film wide-open to (unfair) charges of being inconsequential—one risk which Memento never, ever allows itself.

...AND WHO OUGHTA BEEN INVITED: From the very moment that David Lynch admitted that he only conjured that doozy finale of Mulholland Drive when his pilot got rejected, he probably destroyed his hopes for a Writing nomination. Set aside the fact that hardly a screenplay in Hollywood has ever been written in one unbroken pass (does the phrase "same-day rewrites" ring any bells?) By any rational standard, and probably by a lot of demented ones, the virtues of Lynch's screenplay are formidable. Talk about risky story construction, witty dialogue, subtly threaded character connections—Mulholland Drive brilliantly breaks the rules all along, even before the concluding coups de théâtre.

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