Best Original Screenplay, 1999

Alan Ball
American Beauty


Ball has picked up citations from the Writers Guild and the Hollywood Foreign Press, and he is responsible for this year's seeming Oscar juggernaut. Screenplay has been selling well commercially, which suggests an unusually high degree of popularity, recollective of support for past winners like The Piano and Pulp Fiction.

American Beauty feels destined to clean up in a lot of other categories, and Oscar voters sometimes pull a perverse trick of abandoning the writers of the films they reward everywhere else. Remember when The English Patient won nine Oscars but no Screenplay award? That twist in The Sixth Sense may be impossible to ignore.
Charlie Kaufman
Being John Malkovich

The category is, after all, titled "Original Screenplay," and nothing seen on screen this year was more original than Kaufman's pop-comic psychological fantasia. Several other Kaufman scripts have since been bought and moved into production, suggesting a mini-star being born before our eyes.
Low nomination turnout means that too many voters still write off Malkovich as excessively weird. By the same token, if indeed Kaufman stays around for a while in Hollywood, he may have other chances to win.
Paul Thomas Anderson

Yet another sprawling and deliriously thrilling L.A.-epic from the Boogie Nights auteur. Anderson has actors behind him in a big way, unless they're mad that he barely hired any new people for his third film. Wrote some scenes for Tom Cruise and Julianne Moore in particular destined to be remembered in screenwriting How-To manuals.
Magnolia has proven to have an even more rarefied niche appeal than Being John Malkovich, and some people question whether Anderson is actually inventive or just good at recycling old tricks. And you know Those Things That Fell From The Sky? People don't get that.
M. Night Shyamalan
The Sixth Sense

The twist. Look, it worked for The Crying Game and The Usual Suspects, and as in the case of Neil Jordan's gender-politics thriller, The Sixth Sense is in danger of being shut out if not rewarded here. Just as 1992's Unforgiven sweep failed to encompass its Screenplay, voters may want to vary up the results and toss the Indian wunderkind a trophy.
Older voters may be turned off by the picture, especially if they dismiss it as horror fare. Shyamalan himself appears to have run into some ego-related PR problems in Hollywood, though Quentin Tarantino's win in 1994 proves that ego and Oscar can coincide.
Mike Leigh

Leigh's script has the most literary language of the bunch, and period films traditionally do well in the writing categories.
Little buzz, small audiences, and a general perception that Leigh cedes too much of the writing responsibilities to his cast.

WHO WILL WIN: Alan Ball is being treated like an uncontested front-runner, but I have a sneaking feeling that Shyamalan could spoil a perfect Beauty sweep. Maybe because I like making at least one prediction that goes against the grain, I'll opt for a Sixth Sense upset.

WHO SHOULD WIN: All in all a remarkably strong category. Magnolia was altogether my favorite of the films, and Topsy-Turvy was probably the most disciplined and detailed piece of writing, but perhaps I am so overjoyed that a picture as superficially gonzo but cerebrally challenging as Being John Malkovich could get made that I want to put all my eggs happily in Charlie Kaufman's basket.

...AND WHO OUGHTA BEEN INVITED: Unlike the Adapted Screenplay category, for which five solid nominees could barely be scraped together this year, smart original scripts existed in unusual abundance. I cannot detract from any of the nominees in this, Oscar's highest-caliber roster for 1999, but Boys Don't Cry, Man on the Moon, Toy Story 2, eXistenZ, and even The Blair Witch Project strike me as legitimate contenders. Maybe we could eliminate the Adaptation category altogether and double the nominees here?

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