Sunday, June 23, 2024

The Case For A Historic Oscar Best Picture, Director & Screenplay Split In 2023

Major Oscar history could be made across four of the most significant above-the-line categories at this year’s Academy Awards! Keen observers may notice a particularly strong case of “spreading the wealth” when it comes to some of the biggest winners come Oscar night. Right now (as reflected in the current NBP odds), this year’s show could very realistically produce a result that has never happened in the modern era of the Oscars’ history: there could be four different films walking away with prizes for Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, and Original Screenplay.

The most likely scenario for this would look something like this: “Everything Everywhere All at Once” winning Best Picture, Steven Spielberg winning Best Director for “The Fabelmans,” “Women Talking” winning Best Adapted Screenplay, and the Original Screenplay prize going to “The Banshees of Inisherin.” As it stands, this result is very close to what was predicted in the odds, with the only deviation being Spielberg moving from second to first in Best Director. It should be noted, too, that this same history could be made, for example, if “The Banshees of Inisherin” and “Everything Everywhere All at Once” switch in Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay, respectively, or even if “The Fabelmans” manages a Best Picture win with either Daniels or Martin McDonagh win Best Director without a corresponding screenplay win for their movies, though this looks significantly less likely. Let’s dig into the history and factors behind these possibilities.

First, a history lesson and an explanation of the “modern era” caveat: To begin with, it should be noted that the screenplay categories as we know them today- split into Adapted and Original- have been that way only since the 29th Academy Awards in 1957 (with a couple of on/off iterations before; we’ll look at that more below). Never- not one single time- since 1957 have four different films split Best Picture, Director, and the two screenplay categories at the Oscars. The Best Adapted/Original screenplay categories of 1957 replaced a stretch in which there were three screenplay-adjacent categories: Best Screenplay (the predecessor of today’s Best Adapted Screenplay category), Best Story and Screenplay (the roots of the modern Best Original Screenplay), and a third Best Story category, which recognized the best achievement of adaptation of any unpublished (even original!) dialogue-less prose plot story into a proper full screenplay.

The most recent example of such a four-way split comes all the way back in 1953 at the 25th Academy Awards. The prizes for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, and Story and Screenplay went to “The Greatest Show on Earth,” “The Quiet Man,” “The Bad and the Beautiful,” and “The Lavender Hill Mob,” respectively. However, if you want to include the defunct and slightly extraneous Best Story category, that also went to “The Greatest Show on Earth.” For those of you who don’t buy that as a full split, you need to look a whole twelve years further back into Oscar history to find a genuine full split- but you will find it. At the 13th Academy Awards in 1941, working with categories for Best Original Screenplay, Screenplay (which is another predecessor of today’s Best Adapted Screenplay category), and Original Story, five different movies split these top honors. “Rebecca” won Best Picture, John Ford won Best Director for “The Grapes of Wrath,” Best Original Screenplay went to “The Great McGinty” while Best Adapted Screenplay went to “The Philadelphia Story,” and Original Story was given to “Arise, My Love.” If you don’t count 1953’s case, then it has been a whole 82 years since such a divide happened.

As a bonus bit of trivia, another pseudo-split also occurred at the very first Academy Awards in 1929! There were more familiar Best Original Story and Adaptation prizes for writing (which would change the following year immediately into a single writing category), and “Underworld” and “7th Heaven” respectively won, but two directing categories- Comedy and Drama. Frank Borzage did win Best Director (Drama) for “7th Heaven” (matching with Original Story), while “Two Arabian Knights” won Best Director (Comedy) and “Wings” won the very first coveted Best Picture prize. If you dismiss the slanted splits of 1953 and 1929, our sole precedent for a pure split in Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay categories came singularly in 1953. Can the 2023 Oscars rewrite the historical narrative for the first time in 82 years? At the moment- it looks like yes.

Again, at this specific moment in the season, the rankings look like this: “Everything Everywhere All at Once” in Best Picture, “The Fabelmans” just behind in Best Director, “Women Talking” in Best Adapted Screenplay, and “The Banshees of Inisherin” in Best Original Screenplay. In-depth arguments can be made arguing for/against these results bearing out come March 12th, all of which are perfectly valid at this point in the season. But for right now, deep passion is pushing “Everything Everywhere All at Once” to the front of the Best Picture race; Steven Spielberg remains relatively strong and deeply respected after winning the Golden Globe despite the BAFTA snub, “Women Talking” looks like a frontrunner in a historically weak Best Adapted Screenplay field, and “The Banshees of Inisherin” continues to fend off others in Best Original Screenplay, including at the Golden Globes (although it did lose to “Everything Everywhere All at Once” at the Critics’ Choice).

It is becoming increasingly clear that this stark divide in relative strength between the screenplay categories is the secret for allowing such a split to happen. In most years, there are strong Best Picture contenders in both screenplay categories; this year, not so much. “Women Talking” pulled off a somewhat surprising Best Picture nomination and shares the category only with “Top Gun: Maverick” (a movie whose screenplay is not so central) as far as other Best Picture contenders. Meanwhile, Best Original Screenplay hosts arguably the three main powerhouses of the year that stand a real shot at winning Best Picture: “The Banshees of Inisherin,” “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” and “The Fabelmans” (ranked first-third in the Best Original Screenplay odds). Add in Best Picture co-nominees “TAR” and “Triangle of Sadness,” and we are looking at the most lopsided screenplay spread in recent memory. It is this situation that appears absolutely necessary for the elusive four-way split.

It doesn’t seem impossible to imagine “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” “The Fabelmans,” and “The Banshees of Inisherin” swapping and switching in Best Picture/Director/Original Screenplay, while “Women Talking” remains the de facto leader of the pack in Best Adapted Screenplay. “The Fabelmans” and “The Banshees of Inisherin” (ranked second and third) made moves to close the gap in Best Picture by winning the respective drama and musical/comedy Golden Globes, keeping the possibility alive of unseating A24’s multiverse phenom. In Best Director, the Daniels now lead, but Spielberg is right behind, and McDonagh is a factor in fourth. All three earned DGA nominations, where a win could shape the race in the final stretch. While McDonagh looks particularly likely to win in Screenplay (as he did at the Golden Globes), there are still plenty of chances for “Everything Everywhere All at Once” or “The Fabelmans” to make a move from their respective second and third positions- including an all-but-certain boost in momentum from winning at WGA, where “The Banshees of Inisherin” was ineligible.

Of course, a lot can change before the 95th Academy Awards. In a handful of recent years, a four-way split like this seemed imminent or at least possible until some of the more surprising upsets created an overlap. For my money, the most recent and likely example of a Best Picture/Director/Adapted/Original split came with “Parasite’s” 2020 shocker sweep of all three of these categories, disrupting a potential “Parasite’s,” “1917,” “Jojo Rabbit,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” split. Looking back, another memorably lopsided Best Adapted/Original Screenplay year (one Best Picture nominee in Best Adapted Screenplay, four in Best Original Screenplay) delivered a plausible potential split in 2018 (and only missed by one!) between “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” “The Shape of Water,” “Call Me By Your Name” and “Get Out.”

The very nature of voting and preferential balloting in Best Picture makes a four-way split like this unlikely: a powerful contender in one of these categories often is often firm in others, and in the case that the Academy surprises us by liking a film more than predicted- like those examples above- these categories go in tandem. A lot of the time, if there is a major above-the-line upset, there are two (or three!). All these caveats and historical reasons to doubt such a four-way split apply to our current season. But as things stand right now, the board looks uniquely situated to break an Oscar trend up to 82 years in the making!

Will the split in Best Picture, Director and the two Screenplay categories happen? Or do you think one film will win more than one? If so, what do you think the split will be? Please let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter account and check out our latest Oscar nomination predictions here.

You can follow Cole and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @CurtissOnFilm

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