In what’s become an annual tradition, last weekend’s Writers Guild Awards weren’t much of a trial heat for the Oscars. Membership requirements repeatedly keep out many of the higher-profile Academy Award contenders. And sometimes the two branches, even when they both love certain scripts, disagree on where to slot them. Behold the miraculously adapted-original screenplay for Whiplash, of which the shenanigans that led to its “exclusion” here at least excuse me from having to fantasize about how thrilling voters likely find Damien Chazelle’s 50 shades of gay panic. (Ed gets that honor of unpacking the whole gory mess, so stay tuned.) That glitch aside, this slate is still a four-for-five match with the guild’s.
We’d be dense not to consider the potential for the WGA-ineligible Birdman to act as a true wild card in this race, given its late-innings surge across all the (other) guilds. But it has four things working against it: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr., and Armando Bo. The last time a quartet won this award was over half a century ago, when a roster filled with foreign films and sex comedies all but forced voters to endorse Pillow Talk. In fact, it’s been nearly a whole decade since a non-solo screenwriting effort has managed a win, and that was only when Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco conjured up the powers of Rush Limbaugh’s 101 people who are really screwing America to allow a victory for the screenplay to Crash (the majestic theme to Whiplash’s flatulent variations). Also not working in Birdman’s favor is the fact that its snarky, meta, media-saturated posturing is somehow not in a lane of its own here, though Dan Gilroy’s dazzlingly bellicose Nightcrawler, a surprising Oscar non-player, certainly carries the profile of a lone-wolf screenwriting nominee. Its fanbase will be pointing to its failure to win here as a badge of honor for years to come.
Which likely lifts the other two films locked in a best picture pas de trois with Birdman to the top. Both nods give the Academy an opportunity to anoint, Beck-style, well-respected multi-threats (in this case, writers who also direct, not songwriters who can also play the tambourine). For as much grace as Richard Linklater’s Boyhood achieves, its structure is just as apt to be dismissed as guided entirely by serendipity, leaving the door open for some to muse, like Patricia Arquette’s tearful mother, that they “just thought there would be more.” In contrast, Wes Anderson’s script for The Grand Budapest Hotel positively flaunts its matryoshka-doll, story-within-a-story-within-a-story-within-a-story structure.
Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Could Win: Boyhood
Should Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel