Best Original Screenplay, 2002
(Click on the linked film titles for reviews of the corresponding films.)

Todd Haynes
Far from Heaven


Beloved by its fans, even if hasn't crossed over to a wide audience, Far from Heaven is a critical darling and a heartfelt favorite for its core demographic. Bill Condon's Gods and Monsters, another gay-themed fantasia on genre filmmaking, scored a Screenplay Oscar in 1998 through the same combination of a loyal cult, a distinctive cinematic voice, and a relatively weak field.

That Far from Heaven succumbed in races where it shoulda been a contenda (Picture and Director, debatably, but Supporting Actor, Art Direction, and Costume Design even more patently) has confirmed what its fans suspected all along: this movie is too cagey with its emotions and too formalized in its design to meet the Academy's tastes. Original Screenplay is traditionally a place where bold, creative visions get honored (The Piano, Pulp Fiction, Fargo), but if Oscar indeed follows this impulse, he could follow it to Almodóvar.
Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, and Kenneth Lonergan
Gangs of New York

A picture that has garnered more admiration than adoration could use a race like this: a field without a clear frontrunner and no other Best Picture nominees to stand in its way. All three screenwriters are held in the highest esteem within the industry, and Gangs has the combined virtue of being in English, of playing to mall audiences, and of having not a single sitcommy bone in its body.
The Writing categories are the ones where being in a foreign language and catering to sophisticated tastes are not liabilities, and may even be advantages. The other four entrants have their detractors, but they also have spirited adherents, exactly what Gangs lacks. Even fans of the film are not likely to be overheard championing its screenplay, whose presence in this category (rather than the Adaptation derby) still smells of opportunism.
Nia Vardalos
My Big Fat Greek Wedding

There has never been anything like it: a made-for-scraps independent movie that becomes a $200 million hit, a comedy targeted to grandmothers and immigrant communities that outgrosses Goldmember, an adaptation of a one-woman show that expands itself capably into an ensemble romp. Screenwriter-star Vardalos is the engine behind not just the film but its already-legendary success; Oscar is bound to be susceptible.
Did anyone notice I called this an "adaptation"? People have groused for weeks about the late-year change in backstory that suddenly had Vardalos writing her screenplay before she took her tales to the stage. The artistic credibility problem of a film that has already become a sitcom is matched, then, by a controversy around its cynical shuffling of categories—everyone knows that Charlie Kaufman and David Hare would have whomped it. Is this too bald-faced a maneuver for the Academy to countenance?
Pedro Almodóvar
Talk to Her

Ruled ineligible by the Writers Guild for its own awards, Talk to Her's script has no trophies to its credit but has nonetheless generated positive buzz through the awards season. The Director nomination for Almodóvar proves his popularity within the Academy, as did his Foreign Film win for All About My Mother in '99. And we all know the Academy has a soft spot for dizzy-acting, European celebrity auteurs...but unlike Roberto Benigni, Almodóvar is an artist you can get in bed with and still respect yourself in the morning.
It has been done—Claude Lelouch won this award for 1966's A Man and a Woman—but winning a screenplay Oscar is a very hard thing for a foreign-language picture to do. Haynes' and Cuaron's pictures may well split the same body of voters, leaving a wide gap open for Cinderella story Nia Vardalos.
Alfonso & Carlos Cuarón
Y tu mamá también

A considerable hit given its national origin and challenging content, this Mexican post-millennial road movie brought some old formulas (teen getaways, nostalgic memory pieces, sexual initiations by older, wiser women) to vibrant new life. Like Talk to Her, Y tu mamá was never submitted as a Foreign Film contender by its home country (Mexico instead gave that honor to Perfume de Violetas in 2001), so this is Oscar's first chance to recognize it. Y tu mamá shares several virtues with Talk to Her (forceful originality, piquant sensuality, adventurous genre mixing, gorgeous photography) but also carries some risk factors (sexual frankness, explicit anticorporatism, lurking sentimentality, a longer-ago release date) that put Almodóvar's movie in better stead.

WHO WILL WIN: Nia Vardalos, My Big Fat Greek Wedding
While the arts-first crowd dukes it out over Haynes and Almodóvar, the middlebrow voters who think good, clean fun is its own paramount virtue will flock to Vardalos' side. And this loose approach to category isn't a new thing: Dog Day Afternoon, whose opening credits list the articles on which it was based, won Best Original Screenplay in 1975—over a field with two foreign entries, one of which had a corresponding director nod. With Oscar, history repeats itself more often than not.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Todd Haynes, Pedro Almodóvar, or the Cuaróns
All of these men did everything we ask our writer-directors to do: create films that strike out in singular new directions, challenge our thoughts and feelings while not denying us entertainment or pleasure, remind us that the movies can reward our senses in ways that other mediums cannot. Choosing between them seems churlish, though if pressed, I'd check Almodóvar's name.

...AND WHO OUGHTA BEEN INVITED: Good for the Writers Guild for handing their prize to Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine, an impressive if admittedly uneven feat of witty didacticism that challenges categories in a good way. If only Oscar had thought of it. And in the perennial series of Oscar oversights that is Spike Lee's career, count 25th Hour as another neglected gem.

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