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Blueprints: Standout sequences in Original Screenplay winners

by Jorge Molina

Last Sunday, in a ceremony filled with joyful surprises, heartbreaking disappointments, and Emma Stone’s shocked tearsGreen Book won Best Original Screenplay.  Instead of driving into Peter Farrelly, Brian Currie and Nick Vallelonga’s screenplay, let’s take a look at the last ten years of winners of Best Original Screenplay (2008-2017), and a standout sequence in each. Because somehow Viggo Mortensen folding a pizza in half and Mahershala Ali learning how to eat fried chicken are now among their peers.

The King's Speech, Django Unchained, Her, Birdman and more are after the jump...

2017 – Get Out
Written by Jordan Peele

On Jordan Peele’s groundbreaking horror examination of race relations, tensions come to a climax when the audience realizes that the person we thought was Chris’s (Daniel Kaluuya) only ally, his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams), was actually working against him the whole time. Losing your car keys will never be as anxiety-inducing.

2016 – Manchester by the Sea
Written by Kenneth Lonergan 

Lonergan’s screenplay is a deconstruction of a man’s grief and guilt, and his multiple attempts to start over and regain human connection. On perhaps the scene that gained Michelle Williams her supporting actress nomination, Lee (Casey Affleck) has a run-in with his ex-wife Randi, in which they discuss the tragedy and baggage that they both carry at all times.

2015 - Spotlight
Written by Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer 

The ensemble piece revolves around the Boston Globe’s exposé on the epidemic of sexual assault by the Catholic Church. On one of the movie’s most heart wrenching, and yet sobering moments, reporter Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) interviews one of the victims about his experiences suffering abuse during childhood, thus putting one human face to the countless statistics that the newspaper had been dealing with.

2014 – Birdman
Written by Armando Bo, Alexander Dinelaris Jr., Nicolás Giacobone & Alejandro G. Iñárritu

In this one-shot wonder, Iñarritu plays with the tropes of artistic ego an identity as viewed through the eyes of a fading superhero star (Michael Keaton) trying to regain relevance and integrity. However, as a confrontation with his estranged daughter (Emma Stone) suggests, he refuses to move forward with the times, mentally paralyzed and afraid, unable to let go.

2013 – Her
Written by Spike Jonze

Jonze’s sci-fi melodrama tries to cope with our inability to connect in a world where every single person is more interconnected than ever. Theodore  (Joaquin Phoenix) falls in love with the newest operative system on his phone, named Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), a bodiless voice that offers him everything he needs when he needs it. However, at one point. Samantha transcends that existence and must leave Theodore behind. 

2012 – Django Unchained
Written by Quentin Tarantino 

Although one of Tarantino’s less sharp screenplays, and the one with most problematic potholes to avoid, the film does contain one of Leo DiCaprio’s strongest and most against-type performances. After welcoming Django (Jamie Foxx) and Dr. Schultz (Christoph Waltz) on his plantation, Calvin Candie (Di Caprio) discovers their true intentions during a dinner, and lets them know how he feels, not mincing any words.

2011 – Midnight in Paris
Written by Woody Allen

Depending on what exactly you’re looking for in his movies (if anything at all these days), this might be Allen’s last great screenplay. After Gil (Owen Wilson) is magically able to travel back to the Paris of the 1920s every night, he walks into a restaurant where some of the most renowned artistic minds of the time get together to drink and philosophize. However, he will learn that romanticizing a time that is not your own comes with its trappings.

2010 – The King’s Speech

Written by David Seidler

One of the most traditional screenplays to have a recent win in this category, this is a story of resilience and personal growth. King George VI (Colin Firth) deals with a crippling speech impediment, unfit for a king to rule. But when he finds therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), he will put into use the most unorthodox methods to help him overcome it.

2009 – The Hurt Locker
Written by Mark Boal

This is not a film that is particularly well-known for its dialogue, but rather for its sobering look the PTSD of Iraq war soldiers. After finally returning home safely, James (Jeremy Renner) realizes on a routine grocery run that his homebound routine is not giving him the fix of adrenaline and excitement that he has trained his body to need. Not shortly after, he enlists again. 

2008 – Milk
Written by Dustin Lance Black 

This is a movie that soars in political speeches and interpersonal dynamics, much like its real life subject. The most moving and resonant moment comes when, just moments before he is murdered, Harvey Milk (Sean Penn), the first openly gay man elected to a public office in San Francisco, receives a phone call from a kid contemplating suicide. He tries to give him some hope. 

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Reader Comments (13)

I cried just reading that scene from Manchester by the Sea.

March 1, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJess K.

That Manchester scene is amazing. Michelle Williams really knows how to pick films.

I always forget that Her won, and it always makes me happy it did.

March 1, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

That's a generally strong bunch of winners. I can't say that I particularly enjoyed Django Unchained but it was pretty unique, and though I think Her is wildly overrated it was also well-done. Get Out & The Hurt Locker are great, my favorites.

March 1, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRob

Best Original Screenplay was always my favorite category. "Green Book" winning over... all remaining 4... was not great and kinda spoiled it. I'm disappointed, "The Favourite" should have got it.

March 1, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTheDrMistery

Since 2011 -- when the current system of "between 5-10" nominees for best picture was codified -- they've given this award to a writer who's also a director (often with a best director nomination or a corresponding best picture win). The screenplay prize has become a kind of default best picture/best director award.

March 1, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

A mostly very strong group, with the weakest being "The Hurt Locker," "The King's Speech," and "Django Unchained." Winners those years should have been "A Serious Man," "Another Year," and "Amour" (although "Moonrise Kingdom or "Zero Dark Thirty" would have been excellent choices).

March 1, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

I saw every Original Screenplay nominee last year and would have been fine with any of them winning -- even 3 BILLBOARDS but only because of the ending.

DJANGO might have won in part because Tarantino breaks many rules in screenwriting and basically writes them as novels.

March 1, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJakey

Ranking of the winning screenplays:

1. Get Out
2. Her
3. Birdman: or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance
4. Spotlight
5. Manchester by the Sea
6. Midnight in Paris
7. Django Unchained
8. The King's Speech
9. Green Book

March 1, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

Great post.

March 1, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Disappointed The Favourite didn't win. And Manchester by the Sea is such a terrific film, heart breaking really.

March 1, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterbrandz

Nathaniel you’ve put a slight disappointment under the kheartbreaking disappointments’ hyperlink. Please replace for accuracy. Regards Ed.

March 1, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterEditor

Get Out is cool but it should have been Lady Bird, right?

March 2, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

How did we get from Get Out to Green Book?

March 3, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterCraver

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