Best Original Screenplay, 2004
(Click on the linked film titles for reviews of the corresponding films.)

John Logan
The Aviator


Being the only Best Picture contender in this lineup can't hurt, especially given that it's the runaway leader in total nominations. Scripter John Logan has been a reliable go-to fellow for efficient originals and effective doctoring jobs, so good will has probably accumulated in the industry. Star-studded scope of the project looks good on paper.

The Aviator seems like more of a directorial extravaganza than a writer's coup, and some of the skeptics' major points—how did Hughes go "bankrupt" so many times and still have billions of dollars?—stem from flaws in the structure and orientation of the script. Even if Logan is approaching name-brand status among writers, he isn't name-brand like Charlie Kaufman.
Charlie Kaufman,
Michel Gondry,
and Pierre Bismuth

Eternal Sunshine of
the Spotless Mind

The category is called Original Screenplay. Though actually it isn't. It's called Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. Forget what I said before. The category is called Original Screenplay. Wait, have I said something like this before? (P.S. Ingenious romantic cult-hits-in-the-making should have an easy road, à la The Usual Suspects in 1995.)
If the Academy really felt good about this film, it wouldn't have straggled to the finish line with only two nominations. The Aviator's overall Oscar momentum may be impossible to squelch, especially since Kaufman has been a frontrunner-turned-runner-up in each of his previous nomination years.
Keir Pearson and
Terry George

Hotel Rwanda

The bravery and desperate cunning of Paul Rusesabagina are adroitly captured in this no-frills screenplay, which also serves as a halfway-credible primer in the basics of the Rwandan genocide; Hollywood might choose to soothe its residual guilt at turning away its attention when the real genocide was actually happening.
If they really felt like doing that, Hotel Rwanda would have placed in a few more categories. Plus, compared to the grandiosity of The Aviator, the virtuosity of The Incredibles, and the luminosity of Eternal Sunshine, this movie comes across as one that wrote and directed itself.
Brad Bird
The Incredibles

This film has a better shot of winning than any of the previously nominated 'toons in this category (Toy Story, Finding Nemo, or, in the Adapted division, Shrek). Partly this is because the film was so well-liked that a Best Picture nomination was legitimately possible, partly because there will be plenty of voters who find the Aviator and Eternal Sunshine scripts to be not their cup of tea, and partly because Bird is widely credited (whether or not this is true) with bringing new levels of thematic layering and adult sophistication to an animated feature.
At the same time, I am sure there are still some animation snobs trolling around in the Academy, and since Bird is destined to win that Animated Film Oscar, voters may opt for one of the frontrunners here after all.
Mike Leigh
Vera Drake

Leigh's three nominations in this category since '96 are often looked at askance: if his screenplays are largely derived from the actors' own improvisations, then as Tina might say, what's Leigh got to do with it? Here's what: pruning and fine-tuning all that dialogue, structuring and ordering the scenes, keeping an eye out for thematic clarity and consistency, knowing where to start the story and where to end it (something Leigh is particularly good at). Still, his nominations are often looked at askance. He's got an uphill battle to climb, especially if his Director and Screenplay nominations are both regarded as sufficient rewards in themselves.

WHO WILL WIN: Is personal bias clouding my judgment? I am really hoping Eternal Sunshine has got this one in the bag, which would be nice, since that way the American masterpiece of 2004 won't go totally Oscar-less.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Weren't you listening just now, or did you have your memory wiped? See above—okay? Okay!

...AND WHO OUGHTA BEEN INVITED: At least the Academy came up with a strong, fully unembarrassing list, but two polar-opposite movies, the sobering fact-based drama Maria Full of Grace and the cheeky, fact-dismantling whatzit I ♥ Huckabees both feel like existential absences.

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