For screenplay Oscars, auteurs have the advantage. Academy voters give creators extra points for controlling their visions.
Getting a boost during the pandemic is any film that debuted to real, live audiences at a film festival in 2020, like Sundance. That’s where writer-director Lee Isaac Chung won the jury and audience awards for “Minari” (A24) , a semi-autobiographical drama starring Steven Yeun as a Korean immigrant farmer trying to support his young family. And actress-writer-director Emerald Fennell (“The Crown) also nabbed raves for “Promising Young Woman” (Focus Features), starring Best Actress frontrunner Carey Mulligan as a woman who acts out her grievances against unsuspecting men. Fennell picked up WGA ane BAFTA nominations and the win at the Critics Choice Awards.
Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”) wrote and directed timely history lesson “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” which moved from Paramount to Netflix during the pandemic in order to reach audiences before the November election. The film brings back to life the dramatic 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, as protesters outside the International Amphitheatre clashed with police and the National Guard as the world watched. Sorkin also follows the later conspiracy trial of the Chicago 7, from protest leaders Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen), Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), and Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) to their charismatic attorney, William Kunstler (Mark Rylance). Sorkin scored WGA and BAFTA bids as well as a Golden Globe win.
Director Darius Marder and his brother Abraham collaborated on the WGA-nominated script for “Sound of Metal (Amazon), which details the journey of a heavy metal drummer (Riz Ahmed) who loses his hearing and moves through denial to acceptance in a new community.
Late-entry 1968 biopic “Judas and the Black Messiah” (Warner Bros.) also features Black Panther Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya); the script comes from Will Berson and director Shaka King from a story by Keith and Kenny Lucas, and picked up a WGA nomination.
Focus Features/Courtesy Everett Collection
The contenders are listed in order of their likelihood to win; no film will be deemed a frontrunner until I have seen it.
Emerald Fennell (“Promising Young Woman”)
Aaron Sorkin (“The Trial of the Chicago 7”)Lee Isaac Chung (“Minari”)
Will Berson and Shaka King (“Judas and the Black Messiah”)
Abraham Marder & Darius Marder (“Sound of Metal”)