The film and video industry is infamous for their disrespect, indifference and neglect of the craft of screenwriting, which is why it’s ironic that the Oscars have two screenwriting categories; Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Screenplay.
This year a record eight of the nominated writers also directed their screenplays
Best Adapted Screenplay
THE IRISHMAN by Steven Zaillian
Zaillian won in 1994 for Schindler’s List. This effort is an adaption of Charles Brandts’ book I Heard You Paint Houses which deals with the biggest hit in mob history through the confessions of Frank Sheeran to the murder of Jimmy Hoffa.
JOJO RABBIT by Taika Waititi
Based on the novel Caging Skies by Christine Leunens, It’s a satire of life under Fascism, set in Nazi Germany and told through the eyes of a lonely German boy – whose imaginary friend is der Führer – who discovers that his single mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their attic.
JOKER by Todd Phillips and Scott Silver
Based on DC Comics’ characters created by Bill Finger, Bob Kane, and Jerry Robinson, the storyline provides a possible origin story for the character. Apparently the graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke (1988) was the basis for the premise.
LITTLE WOMEN by Greta Gerwig
There have been six adaptions of the 1868 novel by Louisa May Alcott. The 1933 version won the Best Adapted Screenplay award at the sixth Academy award ceremony for husband-and-wife team Victor Heerman and Sarah Y. Mason. About her version, Gerwig says: “I didn’t change the language from the book. I didn’t make it more modern. I wanted them to say it as it was, but at lightning speed. Because I thought, if you throw these lines away as if they were you and your sisters talking, suddenly it seems so much more fresh and exciting. It’s that strange thing where going back to the source infuses it with a modernity that seems like you’ve made it up.”
THE TWO POPES by Anthony McCarten
The screenplay has scenes in English, Spanish, Italian, and, unbelievably, Latin. Based on his own stage play “The Pope,” it is a complex verbal dance between Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio. When asked about the intricate content of his screenplay, McCarten, who received a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination for The Theory of Everything in 2014, said: “There was a lot of research… you’re always walking on sacred ground when you’re doing anything about historical characters but [this] was especially sacred — literally sacred ground… so you have to get it right. And the way you try to get it right is to absorb all the information you can — the broad picture stuff, the political attitudes, the statements, but also then the eccentricities, the personal foibles which give you a real insight into their deeper character.”
Best Original Screenplay
1917 by Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns
This First World War drama is partly based on a story about “a messenger who has a message to carry”, told to Mendes by his grandfather. The screenplay was written in a way that would make it look like a real-time story. Cinematographer Roger Deakins didn’t know that the plan was to film it to look as if the action unfolds in a single shot until he received the script: “That was a bit of a shock.”
KNIVES OUT by Rian Johnson
You start with a corpse. It’s a murder. There are suspects, each with a good motive. And then you have the investigator. Johnsons’ homage to the whodunit genre is not a period piece as so many films in this genre seem to be; rather it is set squarely in contemporary American society. “We didn’t want to just re-skin an old genre – it was, how do we reflect America right now?”
MARRIAGE STORY by Noah Baumbach
The screenplay is about the breakdown of a marriage, but Baumbach maintains that the film is hopeful and “… really about starting again.” He wrote the screenplay to highlight the process that a married couple have to go through when entering the divorce system, and tried to present both sides of the story with understanding, making sure to not leave out the characters flaws. “They start in a place of innocence and then they go through an adventure that often is quite crazy and surreal and mad, and because of this, particularly the divorce system in America and the legal system, it can be extremely scary for people.”
ONCE UPON A TIME . . . IN HOLLYWOOD by Quentin Tarantino
In an interview with Esquire, Tarantino revealed that the film was originally conceived as a novel, and that he had spent five years writing it before concluding that it should be a screenplay. Set in Hollywood in the 1960’s, Tarantino’s script is about two men facing obsolescence. “We follow Sharon, who is truly living the Hollywood life. Then Rick, who is doing better than he thinks he’s doing. He has a house, some money, and he’s still working. Then Cliff represents a guy who has dedicated his entire life to this industry and has nothing to show for it. He is part of Hollywood, but he lives in Panorama City in a trailer. Make no mistake: Hollywood is his life, but he is not a citizen. These three social strata are important to the story.”
PARASITE by Bong Joon-ho and Han Jin Won
If this screenplay was to win, it would be the first non-English screenplay to win since Pedro Almodóvar’s Talk to Her, in 2003. It is a story about two homes — an upstairs family and a downstairs family, and the narrative explores every available rung on the ladder of class aspirationalism. “There are people who are fighting hard to change society. I like those people, and I’m always rooting for them, but making the audience feel something naked and raw is one of the greatest powers of cinema. I’m not making a documentary or propaganda here. It’s not about telling you how to change the world or how you should act because something is bad, but rather showing you the terrible, explosive weight of reality. That’s what I believe is the beauty of cinema.”
Most of these screenplays are available for download for free from our archive here.