Oscars 2021: Writers Come Into Focus as Final Draft Awards Tip Contenders

Aaron Sorkin, Steve McQueen, Sofia Coppola, Ramy Youssef, and Radha Blank will accept Final Draft Awards on March 2, 2021.
Sofia Coppola
Sofia Coppola
PMC Studios

Sometimes it’s a question of who shows up. Awards shows are the drum beat that builds to a crescendo at Oscar time. This year, with a long way to go until theaters reopen in major markets and Oscar nominations are announced on March 15, 2021, would-be contenders need every honor, tribute, and prize they can get.

On the campaign trail is Oscar-winner Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”), the writer-director of well-reviewed Netflix courtroom drama “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” about the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention riots as well as the subsequent trial, who is participating in various virtual conversations and tributes from the safety of his home office, from my recent Writers Guild Foundation interview and recent awards in Mill Valley, Middleburg, and Montclair, to the upcoming SFFILM Awards Gala on December 9.

The Oscar races for Adapted and Original Screenplay are coming into focus as well. Sorkin is among several honorees at the upcoming Annual Final Draft Awards to be presented (online) on March 2, 2021. He will accept the Final Draft Zeitgeist Award, “honoring a writer whose work speaks powerfully to the culture and what’s going on in the world right now,” stated a press release.

Two Storyteller Awards will be presented to two other Oscar winners: Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”), whose hit festival series “Small Axe” (November 20, Prime Video), will receive the Storyteller Award (TV), and Sofia Coppola will get the Storyteller Award (Film) for her father-daughter New York comedy “On The Rocks” (AppleTV+). The Final Draft Awards will also honor two rising writers with New Voice Awards, for television (Ramy Youssef, for his Hulu series “Ramy”) and film (Radha Blank, for Netflix’s “The Forty-Year-Old Version”).

Aaron SorkinSFFILM

Every year, it seems, there are far more Adapted Screenplay Oscar contenders, with scripts based on plays, novels, and other prior work, than Original. Auteurs often earn greater respect from Academy voters. This year’s batch include directing nominee Paul Greengrass (“United 93”), who adapted Paulette Jiles’ post-Civil War novel “News Of The World” (December 25, Universal) with writing nominee Luke Davies (“Lion”); Oscar-winner Charlie Kaufman (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”), who adapted twisty comedy “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” (Netflix) from Iain Reid’s novel; Chloé Zhao, whose road movie “Nomadland” (Searchlight) is adapted from Jessica Bruder’s memoir; and writer-director Ramin Bahrani, who adapted India rags-to-riches tale “The White Tiger” (Netflix) from the Man Booker Prize-winning novel by Aravind Adiga.

Also adapted from novels are Lee Daniels’ biopic “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” (Paramount), adapted by playwright Suzan-Lori Parks from the novel by Johann Hari, and the Jane Austen classic “Emma” (Focus), adapted by Eleanor Catton (“The Luminaries”) for rookie director Autumn de Wilde.

Among the stage adaptations are “The Father” (Sony Pictures Classics) which French playwright-turned-director Florian Zeller based on his popular play (“La Pere”); “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (Netflix), which was adapted by actor-writer-director Ruben Santiago-Hudson (“Lackawanna Blues”) from the 1982 play by August Wilson; and Regina King’s “One Night in Miami” (Amazon Studios), adapted by Kemp Powers from his Olivier Award-nominated play about the fateful 1964 meeting with friends Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.,) and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge).

And Sacha Baron Cohen is back with political agitprop “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” (Amazon Studios), a hilarious yet poignant father-daughter comedy credited to nine writers, including Baron Cohen. Thirteen years back, the original “Borat” nabbed a Screenplay nod.

See our Adapted Screenplay Oscar Predictions here.

Spike LeeArrivals, Day 5, 76th Venice Film Festival, Italy - 31 Aug 2019
Spike Lee
Arrivals, Day 5, 76th Venice Film Festival, Italy – 31 Aug 2019Simone Comi/Venezia/IPA/Shutterstock

Besides Sorkin and Coppola, many Original Screenplay auteurs are in the Oscar running this year: Oscar-winner Spike Lee (Netflix’s Vietnam drama “Da 5 Bloods,” written by Lee and fellow-“BlacKkKlansman” Oscar-winner Kevin Willmott, Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo); Oscar-nominated Christopher Nolan (Warner Bros.’ time-twister “Tenet”); Oscar-winner Pete Docter (Pixar’s animated “Soul”), who shares writing credit with Mike Jones and Kemp Powers (“One Night in Miami”); Sundance and Berlin prize-winner Eliza Hittman (Focus’ abortion drama “Never Rarely Sometimes Always”); Lee Isaac Chung (A24’s autobiographical Sundance jury and audience award-winner “Minari”); and Miranda July (Focus’ black family comedy “Kajillionaire”).

Not taking credit for rewriting his late father Jack Fincher’s “Mank” (Netflix) script is David Fincher, who directs the sprawling slice-of-Hollywood-life about screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, who co-wrote Orson Welles’ 1941 classic “Citizen Kane.”

See our Original Screenplay Oscar Predictions here.

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