In keeping with a tradition that has marked three of the last four ceremonies, all five original screenplays are either authored or coauthored by their directors, proving the auteur theory is alive and thriving at this year’s Oscar ceremony. Mysterious and contemplative rules this roost, with some of the most exciting new (and veteran) directors tackling bold new material, including pain, privilege and progression, and a hearty blend of all of them in some cases.
THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN
Oscar winner McDonagh reunited his “In Bruges” costars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson for what could be his most meditative film to date. “The original iteration of the script was about seven years ago, McDonagh said. “I sent it to both boys and I remember Colin kind of liked it and Brendan had issues with it. And I reread it and had issues, too. So then I completely threw that away and didn’t think about it. But then about three years ago I reread it, and the first five minutes were quite good. It’s basically the same five minutes as in our film now.”
EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE
Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
The Daniels’ wild ride through multiverses, the rigidities of parenting, Asian identity, growing pains and some very interesting foodstuffs would have been a dizzying undertaking for an audience had it not contained relatability and a bursting heart that could melt away any prejudgments by its audience. “We were constantly forgetting why we’re doing it,” coauthor Kwan said. “So just putting up these really simple Post-it Notes with very simple quotes — like, really cheesy stuff — gave us the freedom to run away from it every now and then, only to be called back to those ideas.”
Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner
The idea of turning director Spielberg’s personal collision of tense family upbringing and upstart cinematic brio as a young man into high drama germinated as a possible movie idea almost 20 years ago. “Steven told me about it on the first day of filming [2005’s] “Munich” — this thing that happened when he was a teenager with a camera and his parents,” Kushner said. “I thought, ‘It’s amazing that this is part of his story.’” The result is a vibrant distillation of these two artists’ personalities, culminating in a movies-are-life chronicle in a year that needed one more than any other.”
Field’s delicate, precise screenplay about a legendary, EGOT-winning fictional composer (Cate Blanchett) presents a perfect 3-out-of-3 for the filmmaker’s nominations in the Oscar screenplay categories. “Tár” is his first nod for an original script (2001’s “In the Bedroom” and 2006’s “Little Children” are adaptations). Field reflects on this change of pace: “Working with Tom Perrotta (on ‘Children’), Jess Walter, Joan Didion, and Jonathan Franzen, I must admit that I’ve been openly envious of their ability to break ground first and, to use a tired phrase, world-build,” he said. “I learned a tremendous amount from working with all those writers, but took real pleasure being able to escape this one time to a world of my own making.”
TRIANGLE OF SADNESS
Two-time Palme d’Or winner Östlund’s comedy of manners (or spectacular, glorious lack thereof) showcases his lacerating gaze at human foibles but also a sense of melancholy and innate understanding of his characters. It’s all put through a rigorous, riotous three-act structure that leads up to one of the year’s most-debated denouements. “When I’m writing a script, I talk endlessly about the film to everybody I meet,” Östlund said. “And I love to observe how people react when I’m pitching the film. So you could say I’m using a lot of other people’s brains to write the script.”
“Everything Everywhere” is the most-nominated film of the year. “Banshees” is tied for second and comes from a celebrated playwright. And “The Fabelmans” is a chance to reward Hollywood royalty, Steven Spielberg, for his most personal movie and his celebration of moviemaking. Not to dismiss Todd Field and Ruben Östlund, but this category brings a showdown that could offer clues to the Best Picture winner.