Tomorrow, the Writers Guild of America will announce its 2014 award winners, and whichever scribe(s) waltz off with the Original Screenplay prize may do the same on Oscar night, as all five nominees in the category were replicated by the Academy's writers branch. The result of the WGA's Adapted Screenplay race, however, won't prove as keen a barometer of what might go down at the Dolby on March 2. Only three of the guild's Adapted Screenplay contenders—Before Midnight, Captain Phillips, and The Wolf of Wall Street—made it onto Oscar's shortlist, and even if one of them triumphs, breezing past Tracy Letts's opus about familial dysfunction, August: Osage County, and Peter Berg's bizarrely recognized soldiers-as-mincemeat shit show Lone Survivor, there's still the seemingly impassable hurdle of John Ridley's script for 12 Years a Slave, which, though ineligible for WGA honors (you can get those exclusion deets here), looks like Oscar's indisputable frontrunner. Steve McQueen's chilly directorial shortcomings may underscore what's weak in Ridley's take on Solomon Northup's memoir (namely an undernourished depiction of the precious family from which our hero is stripped), but it feels nuts to bet against the one script in this field tied to a plausible Best Picture winner.
At least one member of our note-passing pundit clique thinks the long-shot spoiler here is Philomena, which was also embraced by Oscar after WGA disqualification, and may have Judi Dench groupies endorsing its disarmingly twisty narrative. And if Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope can't topple Ridley's pedestal, perhaps Terence Winter can manage it, pulling himself to the top as if yanking a phone cord in a tranquilized stupor, and emerging victorious for bringing Wolf of Wall Street to the screen with a record number of f-bombs. If you ask us, the folks who truly deserve this trophy are three uncannily synchronized collaborators—kindred spirits who, over nearly a quarter-century, have fostered the most organic movie love story of our time. Like its swoony predecessors, Before Midnight may play like improv in the hands of Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, but the script the actors penned with director Richard Linklater was meticulously realized, not to mention highly rehearsed before the final cut was wrapped. The result is an alarmingly adult, achingly bittersweet crescendo to a most welcome saga. And while we think it's as silly as you do that an original sequel finds itself in Adapted Screenplay contention, we wouldn't begrudge any gold that might be inched in this movie's direction.
Will Win: 12 Years a Slave
Could Win: The Wolf of Wall Street
Should Win: Before Midnight