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Oscars 2020 predictions: 5 candidates for Best Original Screenplay

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Writing is the bedrock of any successful movie, and throughout 2019 we've had a number of memorably imaginative scenarios spun by our favourite film-makers.

In the run up to the 2020 Oscars ceremony on 9th February, we're rounding up five frontrunners in the Best Original Screenplay category.

1. Rian Johnson – Knives Out

Given that most of the acclaim for Knives Out has centred around its fiendishly clever screenplay, it's safe to consider Rian Johnson a frontrunner. 

The man behind Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Looper delivers a devilish mixture of black comedy and whodunnit, honouring genre masters like Agatha Christie while also subverting our expectations. The movie explores the unexpected death of a wealthy patriarch and crime writer, and by placing the victim's rich yet hilariously fractious family under the microscope, Johnson juices his movie with notes of topicality.

It's a spirited ode to the kind of all-star murder mysteries we used to get – think the Albert Finney version of Murder on the Orient Express, or Clue – but done with a bracing streak of self-awareness. By bamboozling the viewer throughout, Johnson confirms his mastery of the genre, and of course he has an excellent cast, fronted by Daniel Craig as detective Benoit Blanc, to help him out.

Knives Out is released in Cineworld cinemas on 27th November. Don't forget about our Knives Out Cineworld Unlimited screening on 25th November.


2. Quentin Tarantino – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Awards heritage usually counts for a lot as far as Oscar voters are concerned – their choice of winner is often swayed by someone who has previously won in the same category. This approach has worked in Quentin Tarantino's favour twice before – having won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar in 1994 for Pulp Fiction, he won again in 2012 for blood-splattered slavesploitation epic, Django Unchained.

He therefore has a significant advantage over the rest of this year's contenders. And Once Upon a Time in Hollywood further gooses its chances by deviously taking pot-shots at the essence of Tinseltown itself – this is the kind of self-aware riff that the Academy Awards love (think Sunset Boulevard). 

Of course, Tarantino's view of the town that made his name is both lovingly romanticised and horribly ironic, a fairy tale depiction of the dream factory that is slowly stripped away thanks to the invasive influence of the Manson family. By toying with our expectations of screen violence – is it better to retreat into fantasy rather than confronting fact head on? – Tarantino offers a kind of self-aware commentary on his own career. It's the kind of artistic statement that is likely to go down very well with Oscars.


3. Jordan Peele – Us

Comedian-turned-horror-auteur Jordan Peele made history with his 2017 hit Get Out: he became the first-ever African-American film-maker to win the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. It was a clear reflection of how effectively Get Out had permeated the popular consciousness – by making liberal racism the target of rib-tickling hilarity as well as creeping terror, Peele placed his finger on the pulse of America better than any other director at the time.

The Oscar win was an announcement: here was the arrival of a film-maker who could combine a social conscience with uproarious entertainment. The omens are therefore good for Us to triumph in the same category, and if anything the film is more ambitious then Get Out. What begins as a chilling story of our shadow selves fans out into a damning statement on the entirety of America, using the imagery of the mid-eighties 'Hands Across America' campaign as a sign of festering human weakness.

With both brains and brawn on its side, consider Us a frontrunner for Best Original Screenplay.


4. Lulu Wang – The Farewell

Writer-director Lulu Wang based The Farewell on her own personal experiences – nevertheless, the film isn't based on a pre-existing property and is therefore best considered for the Original, rather than Adapted, Screenplay category.

The movie is a beautifully understated look at grief and a clash of cultures, as Awkwafina's Chinese-American character Billi is drawn into a complex family crisis. She's informed that her beloved grandmother Nai-Nai has been diagnosed with terminal cancer – but whereas in America they would confront the issue head on, in China it's accepted that the family will bond together to keep everything a secret, finding solidarity in trauma.

In an interview with Terry Gross on the National Public Radio program Fresh Air, Wang eloquently explained the difficulties of basing the movie on her own family. Because her real grandmother is still alive, the lie about her health diagnosis had to be furthered, and the plot of the movie had to be concealed in order so she wouldn't discover the truth.

Such heart-wrenching issues are tackled with an appreciably light touch, and Wang also neatly pivots around the individual crises shared by the various characters. Never do we feel like we're being sold a treacly message, and never do the film's portrayals feel less than authentic.


5. Olivia Wilde – Booksmart

Just when we thought the coming-of-age comedy had been treated to every possible iteration, along comes Olivia Wilde to prove us wrong. The Rush actor transforms into a remarkably confident presence behind the camera with this, her directorial debut, the story of two geeks who are determined to go hog-wild on their final night of high school.

Although the movie is hysterically funny and full of inventive touches (not least the stop-motion doll drug trip scene), Booksmart really resonates because of its truthfulness. The movie doesn't pretend that adolescence offers easy resolutions – the two central characters, brilliantly played by Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever, are at a crossroads in their lives, and the movie offers a sweet message about appreciating the past, rather than attempting to change the future.

Dusting off a tired genre and investing it with fresh life is the sort of noteworthy achievement that may well attract Oscar attention. Booksmart was unanimously acclaimed for the quality of its writing, so consider Olivia Wilde a key player in this year's line-up.

Which of these movies are you tipping for the Best Original Screenplay Oscar? Or are you placing bets on a completely different movie altogether? Let us know @Cineworld.

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