Friday, February 4, 2022

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Original Screenplay 2020

The Contenders:

Judas and the Black Messiah
Promising Young Woman (winner)
Sound of Metal
The Trial of the Chicago 7

What’s Missing

My original intent was to put up Best Adapted Screenplay today, but I still have yet to finish the last film, which is the last Oscar movie for me from 2020. That being the case, I decided to go with Best Original Screenplay instead. 2020 was an interesting year for film, and there are a lot of options for Best Original Screenplay. Some of my options here aren’t going to be a surprise but there are a few that, while longshots, would have been interesting. I agree with the Academy’s decision not to give a nomination to Mank, but I’m surprised that this vision of Old Hollywood wasn’t nominated for everything it was eligible for. Horror and science fiction need to be something special to get a look from the Academy, so His House, Possessor, Relic and Sputnik, as good as they are, were never going to get a look. There’s precedent for animated movies go get a look on the screenplay categories. Onward would get a nod from a lot of people, but I’d prefer Wolfwalkers if we’re going to go this way. Both Another Round and Pieces of a Woman would have been interesting choices, even if both are much more acting pieces. As will surprise no one who has read the last few weeks of these, I’m going to stump for Never Rarely Sometimes Always as the biggest miss.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I’m not going to lie—top to bottom, this is the most difficult Oscar race to pick. My placement of Minari on the bottom of this list should not in any way be taken as disparagement against the film. The reason it’s in fifth place for me is simple: I genuinely don’t like some of the important characters. That’s not the movie’s fault, but in a case where I like all of the screenplays, I naturally have to split hairs and look at very small differences in making these judgement calls. Minari is a fine film, but if I’m replacing one movie, it’s the one I’m replacing.

4. There is a great deal to like with The Trial of the Chicago 7, but there are reasons why I’m not going to move it above 4th. The primary reason for that is that there is another film in this group that I think is substantially better and more important than this one. This is a very good movie, and the story is one that needs to be told, but for as good as it is and for as important as it is, it feels like this is the sanitized version of these events. This is Driving Miss Daisy rather than Do the Right Thing, and that makes all of the difference.

3. I like Sound of Metal a great deal, enough that I put it in the top two for Best Picture from this year. The screenplay is good, but for me, it’s the performance of Riz Ahmed, the wonderful work of Olivia Cooke, and Paul Raci’s screen presence that make this work as well as it does. The screenplay, as good as it is, simply isn’t the strongest part of the film. As a character study, this is one of the best in the last ten years. But as a screenplay, I like the nomination, but no higher than third place.

2. Judas and the Black Messiah is the whole package of a film. The screenplay is solid, the direction is great, and the performances are fantastic all the way through—great enough that I’m pleased I don’t have to make a Best Supporting Actor decision between Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield. Honestly, I would have been okay if this had won Best Original Screenplay. It hits all the right points—it’s important, it’s smart, and it doesn’t pull any punches. This is a hard triple threat to overcome for any competing film.

My Choice

1. No shock that I’m going with Promising Young Woman. I said in the review that revenge movies with a woman as the protagonist should be written and directed by women. This is exhibit A in that argument. Promising Young Woman is dark and devious, and paints no one as positive. We root for Cassie because Cassie is acting out from her damaged life, not because she is good or worth cheering for. This is dark and ugly and mean, but it’s also gratifying with just how good the revenge feels. It’s a bleakness that is somehow satisfying with how it turns out. Good for her, kinda, is the ultimate genre. Oscar got this one right.

Final Analysis


  1. I still haven't seen any of those films but I really do love Never Rarely Sometimes Always while I have Promising Young Woman set to be recorded in my DVR (despite some issues with it). I'm very reluctant about watching The Trial of the Chicago 7 due to my disdain towards Eddie Redmayne.

    1. I'm not going to lie--the presence of Eddie Redmayne is my major objection to The Trial of the Chicago 7, but the rest of the film is really very good. It's worth your time.