Since we’re all making end-of-the-decade lists, here’s another for you. Only two movies in the last 10 years have won the best picture Oscar without also taking a screenplay honor — the mostly silent “The Artist” and Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy film “The Shape of Water,” which was relegated to the Sunken Place by Jordan Peele’s “Get Out.”
And since just seven movies overall have won best picture without also at least earning a screenplay nomination (“Titanic” being the last), the writing categories could prove to be a crucial test for 2019 aspirants like “1917,” “Parasite” and “Ford v Ferrari.”
Here’s how they’re shaping up as we close out the year.
Quentin Tarantino, “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood”
Noah Baumbach, “Marriage Story”
Bong Joon Ho, “Parasite”
Lulu Wang, “The Farewell”
Rian Johnson, “Knives Out”
On the cusp: Pedro Almodóvar, “Pain and Glory”; Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns, “1917"; Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, “Dolemite Is My Name”; Jason Keller, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth, “Ford v Ferrari”; Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Susan Haskins and Katie Silberman, “Booksmart”; Jordan Peele, “Us”
Here you have an array of movies mounting robust Oscar campaigns — “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood,” “Marriage Story,” “Ford v Ferrari” — competing against critically acclaimed indies like “Parasite” and “The Farewell,” a commercial crowd-pleaser (“Knives Out”) and a movie that would have likely been a commercial crowd-pleaser (“Dolemite”) if it had been released by a studio other than Netflix.
Tarantino, Bong and perhaps Baumbach could also land nominations for director. Wang deserves strong consideration too for “The Farewell,” a delightful, emotionally astute family story that should be an absolute Oscar lock for its screenplay. And though writers branch voters haven’t been generous to international cinema of late, “Parasite” seems inevitable here as well for its brilliant structure and audacious melding of satire and heart-wrenching social commentary.
“1917" also merits consideration for its structure and for the effective, restrained way it tells its story of two British soldiers embarking on an impossible mission. But it’s a little shy on its word count, and voters tend to gravitate toward screenplays packed with verbiage. That bias could bode well for Johnson’s wickedly entertaining “Knives Out,” a masterfully crafted whodunit that stands out as one of the season’s most pleasurable diversions.
Steve Zaillian, “The Irishman”
Greta Gerwig, “Little Women”
Taika Waititi, “Jojo Rabbit”
Anthony McCarten, “The Two Popes”
Todd Phillips and Scott Silver, “Joker”
On the cusp: Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom, “Toy Story 4"; Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”; Destin Daniel Cretton and Andrew Lanham, “Just Mercy”; Julius Onah and JC Lee, “Luce”; Lorene Scafaria, “Hustlers”
I’d make a case for “Luce,” adapted by director Julius Onah and JC Lee from Lee’s thoughtful 2013 play. It explores questions of privilege, race and power, embracing ambiguity and challenging viewers to form their own opinions about its protagonist, a 17-year-old black honor student who may be hiding behind a brilliantly constructed facade. It picked up three Film Independent Spirit Award noms last month, so it should at least be on voters’ watch lists.
“The Irishman,” “Jojo,” “The Two Popes” and “Little Women” seem fairly secure. I’ve already written about my “Jojo Rabbit” blind spot; by nominating it, writers branch voters would be showing their approval for Waititi’s decision to add a bumbling Adolf Hitler as a comic foil. (The Nazi dictator wasn’t in the source material, Christine Leunens’ novel “Caging Skies.”) I’ll grant that it was a bold move, and even those possessing mixed feelings about the final product admire Waititi’s audacity.
The final spot could go to the latest “Toy Story” movie. “Toy Story 3" earned a nomination nine years ago, and the fourth chapter managed to reinvent the franchise just enough to prove satisfying. “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” and “Joker” are also possibilities, pitting sweetness against numbing cynicism. Look for despair, by way of a billion-dollar worldwide gross, to prevail. (Happy holidays!)