Thursday, February 29, 2024

The Anatomy Of The 2024 Oscar Race For Best Original Screenplay

When nominations for the 96th Academy Awards were announced, Justine Triet’s “Anatomy Of A Fall” performed incredibly well. The film landed precisely where it was widely predicted — Best Picture, Best Lead Actress (Sandra Hüller), Best Original Screenplay, Best Editing — and even earned a coveted Best Director spot in the thick of a very competitive race. This particular mix of nominations is something of which to take note. “Anatomy Of A Fall” joins heavy hitter contenders “Oppenheimer” and “Poor Things” as the only three films this year that were nominated for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, and Editing. Considering this quartet of achievements, it’s easy to argue that “Anatomy Of A Fall” could be among the Academy’s top five films and could be poised to win at least one award.

Of all the categories for which “Anatomy Of A Fall” is nominated, Best Original Screenplay seems to be the film’s best bet to win. “Oppenheimer” takes frontrunner status in Picture, Director, and possibly also Editing, while Lead Actress has become a nail-biter between Lily Gladstone (“Killers Of The Flower Moon“) and Emma Stone (“Poor Things“). Some precursors have shed light on this award season so far, such as “Anatomy Of A Fall” winning Best Screenplay (and Best Non-English Language Film) at the Golden Globes, a promising start for Triet and co-writer Arthur Harari. While the film missed out on a Best Original Screenplay nomination at the Critics Choice Awards, the eventual winner (“Barbie“) poses no direct competition to the category, having since moved to Adapted Screenplay.

Technically speaking, “Anatomy Of A Fall” hasn’t lost a significant precursor yet, nor has it lost any steam — from winning the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival to leading the 2024 César Awards with eleven nominations. With this surge of support, could we be looking at our next Best Original Screenplay winner? Before looking at each of the fellow nominees’ chances, let’s revisit some recent Oscar history. Once upon a short-lived time, from the early to mid-2000s, the Academy favored lone Original Screenplay wins. Once the 2010s rolled around, the pendulum swung to this category, being one of the multiple wins for a film (for instance, 2012’s “Django Unchained,” 2014’s “Birdman,” and 2019’s “Parasite“). In fact, seven out of the ten original screenplay wins during this current decade were not lone wins for their respective films. So far, the 2020s have seen a return to the lone trend; Best Original Screenplay was the only Oscar win for 2020’s “Promising Young Woman” and 2021’s “Belfast,” and then 2022’s “Everything Everywhere All at Once” swept the Oscars with seven wins that included Original Screenplay. Among this year’s nominees, the pendulum could swing back to the lone win, and “Anatomy Of A Fall” would be the likeliest nominee to continue that trend.

Given the Best Picture, Director, and Editing competition, the Academy doesn’t have ample opportunity to award “Anatomy Of A Fall” in such places. However, with nominees like “The Holdovers” and “Maestro,” both are heavily predicted to win at least one other category (Best Supporting Actress and Best Make-Up & Hairstyling, respectively). If Academy voters want a victory for “Anatomy Of A Fall,” Best Original Screenplay has the clearest path. A similar sentiment can also be shared for “Past Lives” and “May December,” but “Anatomy Of A Fall” has a particular edge that the rest of the nominees do not. Over the past thirteen years, ten films that won Best Original Screenplay were also nominated in the Best Director category. The only film with a Best Director nomination from this year’s Best Original Screenplay nominees is “Anatomy Of A Fall.”

Looking at the recent Oscar history of international features can also shed some light on where “Anatomy Of A Fall” might fall. Since the 1990s, only two international features won Best Original Screenplay: 2002’s “Talk to Her” and 2019’s “Parasite.” Pedro Almodóvar and Bong Joon Ho both fall into the category of winning Original Screenplay while also receiving a Best Director nomination and/or win. Almodóvar, in particular, presents an interesting possible parallel to Triet. Time will tell whether “Anatomy Of A Fall” can follow a similar trajectory to “Talk to Her,” which also won the Golden Globe for Best Non-English Language Film. On Almodóvar’s path to the Oscars, he was nominated and won two BAFTAs for Best Non-English Language Film and Best Original Screenplay. “Anatomy Of A Fall” is BAFTA-nominated in both categories and has more than double the nominations (7 in total).

Because “Anatomy Of A Fall” was ruled ineligible at the Writers Guild of America (WGA), and their winners are getting announced after the Oscars this year, the only real precursor insight left are the BAFTAs. If “Barbie” wins Best Original Screenplay there, that still bodes well for “Anatomy Of A Fall,” as it wouldn’t have lost to a film in its direct competition. Even if “Anatomy Of A Fall” wins the category at BAFTA, the race won’t be sewn up just yet. Another film has a compelling parallel to a previous Oscar winner. When Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking” was nominated at the Oscars for Best Picture, there was a collective sense of relief about the film’s chances for Best Adapted Screenplay. Polley went on to win the Oscar for writing her adaptation of Miriam Toews’s 2018 novel of the same name. Picture and screenplay were the film’s only two nominations, which can also be said for Celine Song’s “Past Lives” this year. The Academy rarely nominates a film only in these two categories; could “Past Lives” be the start of a trend here? Even if Song misses at the BAFTAs, she would join the company of Polley, in the sense that neither will have had this award leading up to the Oscars. In fact, “Women Talking” received zero BAFTA nominations.

Like “Anatomy Of A Fall,” Best Original Screenplay is the likeliest category for “Past Lives” to win an Oscar. Since its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, Song’s feature directorial debut has received astonishing acclaim. Her Original Screenplay nomination marks the first time an Asian woman has been nominated in the category. Her writing has been a consistent, prominent focus of the conversation around “Past Lives,” from picking up several critics’ group accolades (not far behind “The Holdovers“) to obtaining a nomination at every major precursor.

Payne’s “The Holdovers” is currently leading in critics’ group/organization wins but not in places with the strongest pipeline to an Oscar. For instance, the film won Best Original Screenplay at the National Board of Review (NBR). However, the Academy hasn’t matched the NBR’s original screenplay winners since 2016’s “Manchester by the Sea” and, before that, 2007’s “Juno” (which the NBR tied with “Lars and the Real Girl”). The Golden Globes was a prime opportunity for “The Holdovers” to gain a victory for David Hemingson’s screenplay. Still, the outcome (acting wins for Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Paul Giamatti) could very well repeat at the Oscars. The conversation around “The Holdovers” appears to be most concentrated on the performances (including newcomer Dominic Sessa) — from Randolph sweeping every Best Supporting Actress award to Giamatti picking up steam in Best Actor, with the level of applause indicating how beloved he is in the industry. Though, with the actors at the forefront, so too are their characters and, in turn, the writing. Listening to them connect during a time of loneliness, whether through humor or pathos, makes “The Holdovers” a special comfort.

From “Anatomy Of A Fall” and “Past Lives” to “The Holdovers,” this year’s best original screenplay is made up of primarily first-time nominees in the category. Samy Burch joins the club for Todd Haynes’s “May December.” Co-written by Burch and Alex Mechanik, the story unfolds with many layers, from tabloid culture to the humanity trapped inside those glossy pages. “May December” falls into an Academy tendency more consistent than the lone screenplay win: the lone screenplay nominee. In the last 13 years, nine films received sole nominations in the best original screenplay category, from 2010’s “Another Year” and 2016’s “The Lobster” to 2019’s “Knives Out.” Suffice it to say, the nomination itself for “May December” is the win.

Had “Barbie” competed in Best Original Screenplay as initially thought, which film would have been replaced: “May December” or “Maestro?” Considering the single nomination for “May December” and the seven nominations for “Maestro” (including Best Picture), the Academy clearly favors the latter film. Whether “Maestro” starts picking up major wins remains to be seen, but director/writer/star Bradley Cooper and company have stuck the landing with recognition across the board. The film’s reception would have put it in a much more secure place than “May December” if “Barbie” had been considered an original screenplay. However, given the overall competition in the category, “Maestro” lacks sufficient support to score a win here.

A case can be made for “Anatomy Of A Fall,” “Past Lives,” or “The Holdovers” to take home the Best Original Screenplay Oscar. But which of these films has the edge? Triet’s Oscar nomination for Best Director puts her film in a very compelling place, giving it a specific distinction that the other nominees do not have. The potentiality of splitting votes between “Past Lives” and “The Holdovers” could also leave room for a more straightforward path. In addition, “Anatomy Of A Fall” joins “The Zone Of Interest” in an interesting Oscar statistic that shows its strength: for the first time, two international films are nominated for Best Picture in the same year. The passion for “Anatomy Of A Fall” is clearly present, and without a sweeping frontrunner in Best Original Screenplay, there is an obvious enough path for Academy voters looking to award “Anatomy Of A Fall” somewhere.

What do you think is going to win the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay? Please let us know in the comments section below or on Next Best Picture’s Twitter account. Also, please check out our latest Oscar winner predictions here and the 2023 precursor awards tally here.

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Nadia Dalimonte
Nadia Dalimonte
Editor In Chief for Earth to Films. Film Independent, IFS Critics, NA Film Critic & Cherry Pick member.

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