2021 Oscar Predictions – Best Original & Adapted Screenplay

It is good to preface the Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay categories with the usual spiel about the Writers Guild Awards (WGA). It has been very common, since 2000, for the WGA award and the Academy Award to go to the same movie in these categories. There is the occasional split, but there are usually a reasonable explanation as to why this occurs (for example, The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King pulled off a massive sweep at the Oscars due to the Academy wanting to honor the series as a whole, while the WGA gave it to a much smaller film, American Splendor).


Original Screenplay – The Nominees:

  • Judas and the Black Messiah
  • Minari
  • Promising Young Woman
  • Sound of Metal
  • The Trial of the Chicago 7

Will Win: Promising Young Woman

Could Win: The Trial of the Chicago 7

Dark Horse: Minari

I had The Trial of the Chicago 7 taking this one prior to the Writers Guild Awards. Not that Sorkin’s script was my favorite of the year (far from it, actually). But it is the didactic, speechifying type of script that the Academy tends to eat up.

On the flip side, Promising Young Woman winning the WGA and the Oscar makes perfect sense. It is a zeitgeist-driven movie that repurposes generic elements for something more politically motivated (another thing the Academy likes to eat up). It is also a more recent release, which is not always a major factor in awards stock, but the buzz around the drop of Promising Young Woman seems much louder than that of Trial (which released way back in October). The Trial of the Chicago 7‘s awards season stock continues to drop as we move along. So much so that I might even give the edge to a Minari or Judas and the Black Messiah in this category.

I think Promising Young Woman is a safe bet, and it will be a safer bet if Carey Mulligan wins the Screen Actors Guild award on April 4 [Update: Mulligan did not win the SAG award]. That will be the sign that Promising Young Woman is a serious Oscar contender.

Adapted Screenplay – The Nominees:

  • Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
  • Nomadland
  • One Night in Miami
  • The Father
  • The White Tiger

Will Win: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Could Win: Nomadland

Dark Horse: One Night in Miami

I think it is safe to say that both The White Tiger and The Father are not contenders in this race. Netflix’s The White Tiger is not a heavy contender in this awards season at all. It has received nods here and there, including a Writers Guild Award nomination for its screenplay. It would be a major upset for the film to win here. The Father at least has nominations in other categories, where The White Tiger does not. But Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller’s screenplay did not receive a WGA nomination.

To be fair, neither did Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland. But Nomadland is a soft favorite for Best Picture, so that could tip the scales here. I am highly tempted to back the upset by picking Zhao’s film over Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, the film that won the WGA. Borat certainly has the political overtones that would appeal to the Academy. Not to mention that the first Borat film also received an Oscar nomination in the screenplay category, so it is not as if the crude content of the film is an overt turnoff to voters.

To show it from another perspective, since the WGA made the Adapted Screenplay one category in 1985 (it used to split between comedy and drama) there are only two instances where the Oscar Best Adapted Screenplay winner was not nominated for the WGA award (Amadeus in 1985 and The Last Emperor in 1987). And in the case of The Last Emperor, the WGA did nominate it as an Original Screenplay (for reasons I am not completely clear on). For Nomadland to win in this category, it would have to go against over 30 years of historical precedent.

If I were putting money on it, and if I didn’t want to worry about losing that money, I would probably choose Borat. But I can foresee something of a Nomadland sweep (not to the same extent as the Parasite sweep of last year, but perhaps a Picture-Director-Screenplay sweep).

As always, thanks for reading!

—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)

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