Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
J.C. Chandor, Margin Call
Asghar Farhadi, A Separation
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, Bridesmaids
Like the best guest list for a United Nations banquet, the nominees for Original Screenplay include an Iranian (Farhadi), a Frenchmen of Lithuanian extraction (Hazanavicius), three New Yorkers (Allen, Chandor and Wiig) and an Angeleno (Mumolo). Wiig and Mumolo, who fashioned the smarter-than-it-needed-to-be script for Bridesmaids, would be the first female duo to be win in this category. If they were to win. Which they won’t. Neither will Chandor, a Merrill Lynch executive’s son who, in the indie Margin Call, applied family and found knowledge to his sharp screenplay about Wall Street in its self-inflicted financial crisis.
Allen, the Academy’s favorite distant pen pal, has been an Oscar finalist in each of the past five decades. The voters have graced him with 23 nominations — 15 for Original Screenplay, six for Director and one for Actor — but his only win since copping Screenplay and Director (and, indirectly, Best Picture) for Annie Hall in 1978 was a Screenplay award for Hannah and Her Sisters in 1987. In other words, Allen is the Streep of scripters. Will this year be different? Midnight in Paris has a cunning narrative, with Francophile Owen Wilson disappearing into the city’s bohemian past as the clock strikes 12; and it’s Allen’s biggest hit, in real dollars, since Hannah. If he were to win for the third time in this category, he would pass Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder and Paddy Chayefsky to become Oscar’s most honored writer of original scripts.
A Separation, with its adroit weaving of the domestic anxieties sundering two Teheran families, has received almost unanimous critical acclaim and a little audience love, earning more than $2 million in North American art houses; that’s a blockbuster number for a film in Farsi. A win for the movie, aside from serving as Hollywood’s declaration of détente toward Iran, would be unusual but not unprecedented. Three foreign-language pictures have previously won this Oscar: the German-speaking Swiss film Marie-Louise in 1946, Pietro Germi’s Divorce, Italian Style in 1963 and Pedro Almodóvar’s Spanish-language Talk to Her in 2003.
Then there was The Red Balloon, Albert Lamorisse’s enchanting fantasy about a boy (the director’s son Pascal) who discovers a balloon that thinks for itself. At 34 mins., it’s the only short film to win Original Screenplay (in 1957). The movie also has virtually no dialogue. In other words, or no words, The Artist would not be the first French “silent” film to win Original Screenplay. In most other years, Midnight in Paris would be the favorite, with A Separation the wild card. But we’re hazarding the merest guess that Academy members, having checked boxes for The Artist in the Picture, Director and Actor categories, will realize that the movie’s initial genius is in its cunning, buoyant script, and give Hazanavicius another well-earned prize.