Academy voters give creators extra points for controlling their visions; that gives auteurs the advantage in the race for Best Original Screenplay.
Getting a boost during 2021 is any film that debuted to real, live audiences at a film festival like Cannes. Writers branch voters often look overseas for their contenders. Auteur Joachim Trier (and writer Eskil Vogt) landed a surprise nomination for Norway’s International Feature Film nominee “The Worst Person in the World,” a coming-of-age drama starring Cannes Best Actress winner Renate Reinsve, which competes against a slate of high-powered Best Picture contenders.
During the pandemic Kenneth Branagh wrote and filmed a personal story, “Belfast” (Focus Features) which scored the audience award at the Toronto International Film Festival, often a harbinger of a Best Picture contender. Set in 1969, the film stars Jude Hill as Branagh’s nine-year-old self and veteran nominees Dame Judi Dench and Ciaran Hinds as his grandparents. “Belfast” could finally win Branagh the Oscar. He’s overdue, with his three “Belfast” nods (for producing, directing, and writing) added to five past nominations: directing and acting in “Henry V,” acting in “My Week with Marilyn,” adapting “Hamlet,” and directing the short “Swan Song.” So far, Branagh lost the Original Screenplay BAFTA to “Licorice Pizza,” but took home the Critics Choice Award.
Another auteur, Paul Thomas Anderson, is overdue; this year he adds three nominations to his prior eight producing, writing, and directing nods. He could take home the win for “Licorice Pizza,” an unpretentious, relaxed 70s comedy about the powerful bond between an entrepreneurial teenager (discovery Cooper Hoffman) and an older woman (L.A. musician Alana Haim), complete with entertaining turns by Bradley Cooper as producer Jon Peters and Sean Penn in a role inspired by William Holden.
Also winning audiences on Netflix is “The Big Short” Oscar-winning screenwriter Adam McKay’s dead-serious end-of-the-world satire “Don’t Look Up” (story by David Sirota), which boasts a hugely entertaining all-star ensemble. This year McKay adds two nominations (Picture and Screenplay) for a career total of seven (for writing, directing, and producing).
Breaking out at fall festivals was sports biopic “King Richard,” written by tennis enthusiast and first-time nominee Zach Baylin, the true story of driven Compton native Richard Williams (Will Smith), who groomed his daughters Venus and Serena (Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton) to become superstars.
Nominees are listed in order of their likelihood to win.
Paul Thomas Anderson (“Licorice Pizza”)
Kenneth Branagh (“Belfast”)
Adam McKay and David Sirota (“Don’t Look Up”)
Zach Baylin (“King Richard”)
Joachim Trier (“Worst Person in the World”)