When evaluating Oscar contenders, I used to look at movies like "Middle of Nowhere" above and conclude, "Well, it's too small to contend for best picture, but it's a good screenplay candidate."
Then I realized that this wasn't really true. Much, much more often than not, best picture nominees also grabbed screenplay nominations, and vice versa. For the past decade, this was true whether the best picture field numbered five or 10.
In the eyes of Oscar voters, the answer to that question has almost always been no: A best-picture nominee could virtually count on a screenplay nomination -- until recently.
With awards season already percolating, it's high time to for a look at the screenplay races. And the changes in voting last year offer food for thought that will be troubling to some, but a source of hope to others.
From now until Thanksgiving weekend, seven key Oscar contenders hit theaters: "Skyfall" and "Lincoln" today, "Anna Karenina" and "Silver Linings Playbook" the following Friday and "Life of Pi," "Hitchcock" and "Rust and Bone" on either side of Turkey Day. In addition, the long-awaited "Zero Dark Thirty" (from the "Hurt Locker" writer-director team of Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow) should begin screening to insiders during that time.
For any of these films, the chances of netting screenplay honors would typically be tied to their best picture possibilities. From 2004-08, when there were five best picture nominees each year, 24 of those 25 received either an adapted or original screenplay nomination. (The lone exception was 2004's "Ray.")
When the Oscars expanded best picture nominations to 10 (in time to honor the top films of 2009), the field of finalists grew more crowded, but the correlation hardly changed. Of the 20 films nominated for best picture those next two years, only three struck out in screenplay: 2009's "Avatar" and "The Blind Side" and 2010's "Black Swan." In other words, during an eight-year period, only four nominated pictures didn't receive noms for screenplay.
Then in 2011, the Oscars matched that total in a single year.
The screenplays of best picture nominees "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," "The Help," "The Tree of Life" and "War Horse" did not, apparently, impress the Acad. In contrast, "Bridesmaids," "The Ides of March," "Margin Call," "A Separation" and "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" all received original or adapted screenplay bids, while failing to secure best picture noms. ...
Click here for the rest of the article, which also offers a breakdown of adapted vs. original contenders.