Best Original Screenplay

Her 2

This year, like in the Best Adapted Screenplay category, nearly every single writer nominated will be attending the Academy Awards for the first time.  Only two writers out of the seven nominated have received Oscar nominations previously: David O. Russell and Woody Allen.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Original Screenplay:

WINNER: Spike Jonze (Her)

Spike Jonze ScreenplaySpike Jonze has created in Her one of the most interesting and mischievously comedic films in his well-established career, and here, the movie truly comes alive because of his inimitable script.  It is a science-fiction tale, set in the not-so-distant future, about a man who falls in love with his operating system.  The loving relationship between Theodore and Samantha in the film is so incredibly vivid, jumping off the page and into our hearts, despite the fact that we never see Samantha, since she is not a real person.  A main character that operates from a purely oral standpoint, lacking any visual component, must be presented with incredibly substantive dialogue in order to work, and Jonze gives Samantha more of a voice than anyone else could ever dream up in his or her mind.  This screenplay is the epitome of the term “original” in “original screenplay,” and Jonze is more than deserving of this award this year.  Spike Jonze has never previously been nominated in any screenwriting categories at the Academy Awards.

2. Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell (American Hustle)

Singer and RussellA year after penning an Oscar-nominated screenplay in Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell has again received an Oscar nod for his script in American Hustle, co-written by Eric Warren Singer.  Silver Linings Playbook was my favorite film of 2012, and last year I personally named the script from SLP as the Best Adapted Screenplay.  Again, David O. Russell has penned an incredible screenplay, and clearly the collaboration with Singer has proven worthwhile.  American Hustle was a thoroughly entertaining movie with more wit than I knew what to do with, but it was this distinct characteristic from most of David O. Russell scripts that shined bright again here.  Eric Warren Singer has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award; David O. Russell was previously nominated as a writer for Silver Linings Playbook (2012) in the Best Adapted Screenplay category.

3. Bob Nelson (Nebraska)Bob Nelson

The black-and-white Nebraska was pure Alexander Payne at his best, but one of the immaculate moments from the movie was Bob Nelson’s script.  Nelson created some memorable characters, some unforgettable scenes, and one incredibly exceptional journey between a father and his son.  The dialogue was on point, and it gave each actor plenty of chances to make an impact on the film.  I hope to see more from Nelson in the near future because this film proves he is a remarkable talent.  Bob Nelson has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

4. Woody Allen (Blue Jasmine)

Woody AllenWoody Allen is one of the greatest and most critically recognized screenwriters in the history of motion pictures, and once again a script of his has made its way to cinema’s greatest night—the Oscars.  Even though the bulk of Allen’s writing nominations came pre-2005, he still proves that he will always be a force to be reckoned with in the screenwriting world.  In Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen created a wide range of wild and wacky characters, but his finest accomplishment in this film is the title character of Jasmine, played by Cate Blanchett.  Over the course of nearly forty years, Woody Allen has become synonymous with obsession, and in Jasmine, Allen has created one of the most absolutely neurotic characters modern cinema has ever known.  For this alone, Woody Allen is deserving of being back at the Oscars.  Woody Allen is the most nominated screenwriter in Academy Awards history; this nomination in the Best Original Screenplay category marks his sixteenth (an Oscars record), and he has previously won on three occasions for Annie Hall (1977), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), and Midnight in Paris (2011).

5. Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack (Dallas Buyers Club)

Borten and WallackEven though the plot in Dallas Buyers Club is based on a true story, Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack have written an original piece about the previously unexplored subject matter of Ron Woodruff and his HIV-positive diagnosis in the mid-1980s.  All of the hype surrounding this film has been focused on both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto’s marvelously inspirational acting performances, but without an effective script, these portrayals would carry little weight, no pun intended.  This wonderfully written script gave both McConaughey and Leto’s characters an encouraging voice, and it is because of this that both Borten and Wallack have been nominated.  Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack have never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

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Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 9 – Nebraska

Nebraska - BP

Nebraska is a film directed by Alexander Payne, with a screenplay by Bob Nelson.  The film tells the story of Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), an old man from Montana who believes he has won $1 million in a sweepstakes.  Even though he does not believe his father has won any money at all, David Grant (Will Forte), Woody’s son, agrees to drive him to Nebraska to collect his winnings.  Along the way, the two Grant men encounter a wide range of characters, from greedy family members to a ruthless old friend of Woody’s.

US-ENTERTAINMENT-PREMIERE-NEBRASKAI have only seen two of Alexander Payne’s films, Election (1999) and The Descendents (2011), and I love them both; in Nebraska, Payne has created another film that I can now add to the list of his works that I greatly enjoy.  The entire film is shot in black and white, and honestly, I could not see this film working in color.  The characters are either tremendously brash or exceptionally bland; thus, the “black and white” style works utterly well.  The film is hilariously comedic but only in the subtlest ways, and Payne brings an established reputation to this tempestuous project.

NEBRASKAAs in many of the films that I rank highly each year, Nebraska thrives on a well-assembled, tremendous-performing cast.  The film is led by a wonderfully refreshing performance from one of Hollywood’s greats, Bruce Dern.  His character is plainly committed to traveling to Nebraska to collect his winnings, no matter how much his family tries to convince him of it being a hoax, and the innocent, blatantly ordinary man is highlighted on the screen thanks to a triumphant portrayal by Dern.  Equally as terrific is Will Forte in his portrayal of Woody’s son David.  An actor only known for his long stint on Saturday Night Live and his below-average film career, Forte significantly impacted this film for the better.  He uses his comedic background to illuminate his character’s witty dialogue, but it was the dramatic scenes that will stick in my head the most about Forte’s performance.

June Squibb cemetaryOne of the best performances in the film, though, comes from June Squibb as Kate Grant, Woody’s loud-mouthed, opinionated wife.  The veteran Squibb gives an absolutely hilarious performance as Kate, hysterically elucidated in many scenes, including one where she flashes her downstairs mix-up (Old Gregg reference) to the tombstone of one of Woody’s relatives.  When, at times, the film seems dry or bland, Squibb’s character quickly comes to the rescue in a blaze of straight-shooting glory.

Aside from Payne’s distinct filmmaking style and each actor’s skilled performances, the film’s hidden gem is the score—if ever a film’s musical composition matched the tone and color of the movie in such a brutally perfect way, it is this one.  Nebraska is rated R for some language.

Nebraska trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UT5tqPojMtg

Academy Award nominations for Nebraska:

Best Picture (Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa, Producers)

Best Actor (Bruce Dern)

Best Supporting Actress (June Squibb)

Best Cinematography (Phedon Papamichael)

Best Director (Alexander Payne)

Best Original Screenplay (Bob Nelson)

Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of the Year:

10. Captain Phillips

11. Her

12. Philomena

13. Fruitvale Station

14. The Place Beyond the Pines

15. Dallas Buyers Club