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. That’s where three-time screenplay nominee Wes Anderson (“The Royal Tenenbaums,” “Moonrise Kingdom,” “Grand Budapest Hotel”) debuted his omnibus valentine to The New Yorker, “The French Dispatch” (Searchlight), which also played the fall circuit, and writer-director Julia Ducourneau took home the Palme d’Or for French Oscar submission “Titane” (Neon), a genre and gender-bending family drama, which also won Toronto’s Midnight Madness award.
Writers branch voters often look overseas for their contenders. Two-time Oscar-winner Asghar Farhadi introduced his Iranian family drama “A Hero” (Amazon) at Cannes, while Oscar-winner Pedro Almodóvar (“Talk to Her”) wowed the fall festival circuit with “Parallel Mothers” (Sony Pictures Classics), starring frequent muse and Oscar-winner Penelope Cruz (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”) as a woman whose infant is switched at birth with a younger mother (Milena Smit), whom she befriends.
Will Smith in “King Richard”
Anne Marie Fox
Also breaking out at fall festivals was “King Richard,” written by Zach Baylin, the true story of Compton native Richard Williams (Will Smith), who groomed his daughters Venus and Serena (Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton) to become superstars.
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 Jamie Dornan and Caitriona Balfe as his parents. “Belfast” could finally win Branagh the Oscar. He’s overdue after five nominations — for directing and acting in “Henry V,” acting in “My Week with Marilyn,” adapting “Hamlet,” and directing the short “Swan Song.”
Oscar-nominated Steven Knight (“Dirty Pretty Things”) collaborated with director Pablo Larrain on the festival success “Spencer” (Neon), a surrealistic peek behind the royal scenes at Christmas, starring Kristen Stewart as the distressed Princess Diana.
This fall Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”) follows up his Oscar-nominated “The Trial of the Chicago 7” with “Being the Ricardos” (December 10, Amazon), which follows the husband-and-wife “I Love Lucy” team of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz (Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem) during a hectic week in Hollywood.
Kristen Stewart, “Spencer”
Contenders are listed in alphabetical order. No film will be deemed a frontrunner unless I have seen it.
Pedro Almodovar (“Parallel Mothers”)
Wes Anderson (“The French Dispatch”)
Zach Baylin (“”King Richard”)
Kenneth Branagh (“Belfast”)
Steven Knight (“Spencer”)
Paul Thomas Anderson (“Licorice Pizza”)
Asghar Farhadi (“A Hero”)
Adam McKay and David Sirota (“Don’t Look Up”)
Aaron Sorkin (“Being the Ricardos”)
Julia Ducournau “Titane”
Fran Kranz (“Mass”)
Mike Mills (“C’mon C’mon”)
Paul Schrader (“The Card Counter”)
Paolo Sorrentino (“The Hand of God”)
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